Minnesota Vikings: 6 Things We've Learned This Offseason

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IMay 25, 2012

Minnesota Vikings: 6 Things We've Learned This Offseason

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    With the Minnesota Vikings' OTA's set to begin May 30, the offseason is (for the most part) over. Barring an unexpected trade, the roster will be what it will be.

    The Vikings, for the most part, are still the same team that walked off the field on Jan. 1 and finished 3-13 in 2011.

    They made a few free-agent signings, none of which overwhelmed the NFL community. But where the Vikings made their headlines was at the 2012 NFL Draft, where they made two trades within the first round. It was a big headline draft for Minnesota.

    Now that the offseason is basically completed, it's time to look at what we learned since it began.

Adrian Peterson TBD

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    Playing with nothing to be gained from a victory, Adrian Peterson tore his ACL in Week 16 of what was, at the time, a 2-12 season.

    His injury put a huge dent into Minnesota's prospects for 2012, and there's been little word about when Peterson will be ready in 2012.

    Peterson, in a Star Tribune piece published on May 10, said he plans to be ready to go in the season-opener on Sept. 9. He said he's "over 50-percent, as far as [his usual] cutting and being explosive."

    Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, in that same piece, wouldn't go as far to say that.

    "You know he's to the point now where he's really safe to do just about anything," Sugarman told the Star Tribune. "We gradually ramp him up to functional activity and when we get to the point where he's comfortable and has normal strength back to the other side, or better than the other side, and can function as he needs to, then we make that decision."

    With Peterson's status for 2012 up in the air, look for Toby Gerhart to get a majority of the work in the backfield. Gerhart himself is recovering from an MCL injury, but has said he'll be ready to go in Week 1.

Secondary Is on Notice

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    This tidbit should go without saying.

    Minnesota's secondary allowed 4,019 passing yards (seventh most), 34 touchdown receptions (most in the league), quarterbacks to complete 68.1 percent of their passes (second worst) and only recorded eight interceptions (tied for fewest).

    Part of the problem was injuries and suspensions with Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, Minnesota's expected starting 2012 corners, missing a combined 21 games. The other part was putrid safety play and limited depth at the cornerback position. 

    The Vikings acquired five defensive backs with a legitimate chance to make the roster: Zack Bowman, Chris Carr, Robert Blanton, Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith.

    With one of the worst defensive backfields in the NFL, statistically speaking, positions across the board should be up for grabs. And they are expected to be. Outside of Cook and Winfield starting at corner, nothing appears to be set-in-stone, although Smith appears very likely to start at safety since the Vikings traded back into the first round to select him. 

    Filling the safety, third and fourth corner positions should make for some competition during training camp.

Expect Many Two TE Sets

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    In 2011 the Minnesota Vikings promised many two tight end sets. They had just drafted Kyle Rudolph in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and had Visanthe Shiancoe back, who was two years removed from an 11 touchdown reception season.

    But Minnesota had far too few two tight end sets for this writer's liking, especially given the limited talent among the team's wide receivers.

    Shiancoe is no longer a Viking but Rudolph remains.

    In 2012 the Vikings signed former Seattle tight end John Carlson to a five-year $25 million contract. to pair with Rudolph. And in 2012 Minnesota promises two tight end sets once again.

    Hopefully this time the Vikings do what they promise ... and then some. Minnesota gave Carlson big money and was the key signing this off-season, while Rudolph has great potential as a pass-catching tight end.

    The Vikings need to get the two of them on the field together as much as possible in 2012. The New England Patriots set the model in 2011 for how to get two tight ends involved in an offense with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Minnesota must do the same with Rudolph and Carlson in 2012.

    When a team pays the type of money it gave Carlson and has a player with the talent of Rudolph, it'd be a shame to not see them on the field more often (and not just as tight ends but as wide receivers too).

The 4-3 Defense Remains

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    So much went wrong in 2011 that the Minnesota Vikings considered scrapping their entire defensive scheme and moving to the 3-4 defense that's growing in popularity across the NFL.

    But that didn't happen.

    The Vikings hired another former pal of Leslie Fraizer's in Alan Williams to be the defensive coordinator after Fred Pagac was demoted back to his position as the linebacker's coach.

    Williams is a disciple of Tony Dungy, and with that comes the need for a 4-3 defense and the Tampa-2 scheme, which Minnesota already had and will continue to have.

    It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff will get Everson Griffen into games. Griffen was the reason many suggested Minnesota implement the 3-4 defense. He recorded 4.0 sacks in the first opportunity he had to display his pass-rushing talents. 

    The move to the 3-4 defense would allow Chad Greenway or Erin Henderson to move inside and allow Griffen to be a starting outside linebacker.

    Minnesota needs as many playmakers on the field as it can get, so hopefully the coaching staff will find a way. Jared Allen and Brian Robison are already top defensive ends, which is Griffen's natural position, so Minnesota will need to think outside of the box.

Front Office Has Faith in Its Linebackers

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    At the end of the 2011 season, I believed the Minnesota Vikings needed to change up their linebacking corp.

    The 2011 starting lineup featured Chad Greenway and the Hendersons: E.J. and Erin.

    Chad Greenway should be a staple in Minnesota's defense until his contract expires after the 2015 season. He recorded 154 tackles in 2011 and 144 in 2010. He's set.

    But the Henderson brothers ... I felt both should have departed Minnesota's roster. E.J. is all set for unemployment, unless he's willing to accept less money, while Erin finds himself back on Minnesota's roster.

    Erin accumulated 70 tackles in his first season as a starter and impressed others more than he impressed me. Walter Football named him as the No. 3 free agent outside linebacker in 2011, but I'm not as high on him as others.

    He still has plenty of time to sway me, as one year is a limited period of time to show a player's skills, but after one I'm not blown away. He didn't make many big plays behind the line of scrimmage, but like his brother he is strong against the run and marginal against the pass. Minnesota thinks similarly to Walter Football and signed him to a one-year deal, which gives him an opportunity to prove himself. We'll see.

    Rumors are abundant that E.J. may get re-signed by Minnesota, but it's time to move on. E.J. is 31-years-old and not getting any better. He hurts the youth movement. That leads us to Jasper Brinkley, the projected starting middle linebacker for Minnesota in 2012.

    Brinkley showed great potential as a run-stopper in his fill-in role in 2009, but struggled mightily against the pass, much like E.J. in 2011. The two having similar skills, minus the leadership skills and knowledge of the defense.

    Hopefully Brinkley gets his shot.

The Rebuilding Mode Is in Full Effect

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    Many fans demanded a big splash in free agency. But that big splash never came.The closest Minnesota came was with its acquisition of John Carlson for five years and $25 million.

    Uncharacteristically, the Vikings made two deals within the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but both were moves that should benefit Minnesota in the long-term.

    What we learned from this off-season was something most already understood: Minnesota is in rebuilding mode.

    General Manger Rick Spielman avoided the temptation to overpay for any veteran players and went with the youth movement. Minnesota acquired 10 players through the 2012 NFL draft, including two first-round picks and cornerback Josh Robinson, whom many believe should have been a second-round pick.

    Instead of acquiring high-paid veteran players through free agency, Minnesota's emphasis was on acquiring younger and lower-priced talent through free agency and emphasizing the draft.

    With most of the same roster back from 2011, the outcome of the 2012 season will rest on improvements made by Minnesota's returning young players and how quickly this year's rookies can make an impact.

    Regardless, no one expects 2012 to be a playoff season for the Minnesota Vikings.