Two-and-a-half years after being on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in rebuilding mode. With the top-level talents of Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen still on the team, the Vikings can still turn things around in a short amount of time.
But in order to complete the turnaround, a few players who are flying under the radar must step up their game and prove that Minnesota is no pushover. This team's improvements hinges on the development of these five players.
Last year, Robison started all 16 games for the first time in his career. He racked up eight sacks and recorded three forced fumbles.
But lining up opposite of the best defensive end in the league in Jared Allen should yield much better stats, and the Vikings are expecting nothing less from Robison.
We've seen many teams build a defense from the inside out, including the Vikings a few years back. If Robison can consistently create havoc in the opposing backfield, the defense will immensely improve.
Henderson is the most interesting person on the Vikings defense. Only hardcore fans would be aware that he was one of the better 4-3 outside linebackers in the league last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
For years Minnesota has prided itself on being one of the better run defenses in the league, and Henderson certainly fits the mold for what they are looking for. An extremely underrated player, Henderson needs to take his game to the next level this upcoming season.
Another gem on the Vikings roster is John Sullivan. After taking over for longtime Viking Matt Birk at the center position, Sullivan has flourished into one of the best players at this position.
For an offensive line that has struggled mightily for the last two years, Sullivan's leadership and tenacity are just what the Vikings need.
With the addition of No. 4 overall pick Matt Kalil, the Minnesota offensive line looks to be much improved.
But it will always start with Sullivan in the middle.
After being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, Rudolph had a relatively uneventful season last year due to the fact that he was playing behind Visanthe Shiancoe.
But midway through the season, a change was made. Rudolph started to see the field more and earned the trust of the coaching staff with plays like this.
Built in the same mold as Rob Gronkowski, Rudolph has great hands and is a matchup nightmare for any offense, especially in the red zone. The Notre Dame product is looking to break out this season, and it will open up many other options in the offense.
Even in an offense that features Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, the key to the Vikings offense is Christian Ponder. Although it was an ugly rookie season, Ponder did show flashes of his potential, including his ability outside the pocket.
However, he must continue to progress and not make Minnesota fans question the front office for taking him high in the first round of the 2011 draft.
With a full offseason of preparation, hopefully Ponder can live up to the high expectations placed on him and guide the Vikings back to the playoffs.
There is a lot to look forward to this season, and I refuse to believe that the Vikings will continue to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. There is just too much potential on both sides of the ball.