Minnesota Vikings fans haven’t truly felt optimistic about their squad since 2009, when a KSTP helicopter followed Brad Childress and Brett Favre from the airport to Winter Park—giving us all that creepy O.J. Simpson-in-the-white-bronco feeling.
It’s been a rough couple of seasons since that NFC Championship run—turning the most positive and supportive fans into pessimistic cynics.
Hell, if I had been assigned this piece before April’s NFL draft, it would have been difficult to conjure up much.
I mean, seriously, what is there to be optimistic about a team that loses their star running back to an ACL injury—in a game the Vikings end up winning by the way—which cost the franchise the No. 2 overall pick and a shot at robbing Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder blind?
GO VIKES! THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT! KEEP IT UP, BOYS! SKOL!!!
The thought of all that makes me nauseous to say the least.
However, general manager Rick Spielman took the first step in heading this team in the right direction. Just about 30 minutes before the draft was to kick off, he pulled one over on the Cleveland Browns and traded back from No. 3 to No. 4, while picking up valuable draft picks and still landing the player they targeted all along.
It’s not nearly the package the Vikes could have received had they possessed the keys to Robert Griffin III, but it is better than nothing.
With that being said, let’s examine five other reasons to be optimistic about the Minnesota Vikings in 2012.
Matt Kalil brings a lot of hype to this offensive line—so much so that it’s overshadowing the job that John Sullivan has done, which is become one of the very elite centers in the NFL.
Another small piece that has been overshadowed is the addition of Geoff Schwartz, who could be the key piece in getting the line to gel.
He’s a solid guard who’s entering his fourth season at the age of 25. Schwartz started three games as a rookie for the Carolina Panthers and all 16 games in his sophomore season.
Unfortunately, a hip injury forced him to miss the entire 2011 season. This shouldn’t be a concern as the reports point to him being 100 percent healthy.
If this is true, and he can build off of his good 2010 season, the Vikings offensive line could actually become one of their strengths.
Fans may not like him because of his off-field issues, but Chris Cook will be a welcoming sight back at the corner position.
Another sight for sore eyes will be rookies Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson.
Smith will be one of the opening-day starters at the safety position, and hopefully someone who’ll step in and contribute with big plays—something the Vikings have been lacking since the days of Darren Sharper.
Robinson probably won’t see much time on defense right away, but could eventually work his way into nickel situations later on in the season.
Zack Bowman and Chris Carr come to Minnesota and become immediate upgrades over the likes of just about anyone who saw playing time last year at the corner position.
Bowman comes over from the Chicago Bears and brings experience with the Cover 2 system, having played in Lovie Smith’s system for the past four seasons.
His experience with zone schemes should allow for him to transition quite nicely into Leslie Frazier’s system.
Where Josh Robinson could make an instant impact is in the return game.
He posted a combine-best 40-time of 4.33 and has the kind of athleticism that will make him a nightmare in the open field.
Rookie fourth-round pick Jarius Wright will also bolster the return game.
He wasn’t used that much as a returner in college, but his ball-handling skills—along with his speed and quickness—will come in handy either returning punts or kicks.
Rookie quarterbacks don’t usually start 10 games at the NFL level before going through a full offseason program, but that’s exactly what happened to Christian Ponder.
As a result, he showed flashes of brilliance, although they were minor. He mostly showed exactly why OTAs and a full offseason are so critical.
Now with 10 starts under his belt and a full camp coming up in August, Ponder’s understanding of this offense should grow by leaps and bounds.
With a better grasp of the offense and new pieces around him, this kid will start to really show fans why there is hope for the future.
A big monkey off the organization's back is the stadium bill getting passed, and not having to worry about whether or not this team will be playing in L.A.
There’s no doubt that was a major distraction and now with all that nonsense in the rear view, everyone—franchise and fans alike—can get back to simply focusing on football.
Email Brian: Brian.Dezelske@gmail.com