Where the Minnesota Vikings Stand in Preseason Week 3
They've bolstered the offensive line and the secondary, and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder looks very solid in his first year with a real offseason. There are still some questions, but for the large part it has been a great offseason and preseason.
Let's start off with the most critical guy in the offense—and no, it's not Peterson.
Peterson is important, but in terms of the future of this franchise, in this league and this division as they stand today, Ponder is a bigger deal.
The NFL today is a passing league, and the NFC North—once called the Black and Blue Division for it's hard-nosed running style and tough defense—is as pass-happy as any other.
In that world, Ponder is more critical than Peterson. You could make the argument that they've had Peterson for years without a Super Bowl win, and the time they most recently sniffed a title was when they had Brett Favre.
Ponder appears to have made some strides forward this offseason, his first real offseason after last year's was lost to the labor conflict. Adding Matt Kalil has made a difference, if just to settle Ponder down in the pocket and help him trust his line more so he can get to his progressions.
He still lacks a deep group of targets. After Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson—who is suspended for three games—there are a lot of question marks.
However, he's made some good first steps, so the hope is that he will continue positively during the season.
So far, so good.
OK, so with Ponder out of the way, we can move on to the guy we've been anxiously tracking since he blew out his MCL and ACL last year. Adrian Peterson has pushed himself as hard as I have ever seen any player rehab before.
It's been rough, and I can imagine the Vikings straining between keeping him sidelined or giving in and letting him play.
We won't see him this preseason, but I would be fine with that were I a Vikings fan. You have to think long term, not short. Peterson may not get a heavy workload in the first few weeks, but as Toby Gerhart has proven himself a capable option, it's not a problem.
Furthermore, it looks like Peterson is going to be fine. I've said before that 80 percent of Peterson is better than 99 percent of the league, but it's good to see him beating Harvin in wind sprints uphill.
We really won't know what he's capable of until he gets hit, bu so far it seems he is in good shape for the season.
This is a less firm area, but the team believes it has made some significant strides.
The problem is, a lot of the issues in 2011 were due to injury, and we won't really see if they can avoid that until they play.
Adding Harrison Smith in the draft has been a big plus, and either Jamarca Sanford or Mistral Raymond can pair with him at safety. My bet is Raymond, but whichever way they go, it will be an improvement.
Ultimately, though, Antoine Winfield has to stay healthy and Chris Cook needs to stay focused, as the cornerbacks will get a ton of work in this division.
Matt Kalil is an obvious upgrade, but it's been interesting to see the ripples as Charlie Johnson pushes to left guard and the change it has rendered in Ponder.
It remains to be seen if guys like Phil Loadholt and Brandon Fusco can hold the right side—Fusco was supposed to be competing with Geoff Schwartz, but the former Panther is hurt, so Fusco is back at right guard.
So far, it appears that the line is jelling, and ultimately that's all that matters. It will be good to get a full look at them when they play this weekend.
The division has, in many ways, discounted their contribution, and it feels like they are already assuming wins anytime the Vikings are their opponents.
This is good—I know fans don't think so, but it can be good for a team to be underestimated. Their owner may expect a big season, but most pundits expect a handful of wins.
This will put a big, fat chip on the team's shoulders and motivate them.
If there is one thing I've learned following the NFC North this year, it's that everyone outside of Minnesota has already given up on the Vikings.
That is just fuel for a few upsets, I'd say.
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