Grading the Minnesota Vikings' Job of Addressing Their Weaknesses
Last season the Minnesota Vikings were not bad, they were horrible. That's to be expected of a team that finishes 3-13 and has the third overall pick in the draft.
They started the season with a bang when Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown. But then reality set in when quarterback Donovan McNabb's first pass as a Viking resulted in an interception. He didn't exactly instill a lot of confidence when he finished the game 7-of-15 for only 39 yards.
Things didn't get any better, as McNabb would go 1-of-5 as the starter, averaging only 171 passing yards per game.
Head coach Leslie Frazier addressed the quarterback situation and named then-rookie Christian Ponder the starter in Week 7.
As one of the worst seasons in Vikings' history came to a conclusion, the team's weaknesses were apparent.
The Vikings needed help on the offensive line, a receiver or two to complement Percy Harvin, some depth at linebacker and the defensive backfield.
When the Vikings lost Adrian Peterson to a devastating knee injury in Week 16, there was the need to find a capable running back to back up Toby Gerhart.
Now that general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier have finalized the 53-man roster, at least until Jerome Simpson returns from a three-game suspension, it's time to assess how well they did in addressing the team's weaknesses.
The Vikings did the most to address the offensive line that allowed 49 sacks. That was one less than the Vikings defense recorded to lead the NFL. The biggest improvement was made with the drafting of Matt Kalil.
WalterFootball.com ranked Kalil as the top left tackle in the 2012 draft and projected him as a franchise tackle in the league for the next decade. As a junior last year at USC, Kalil did not surrender a sack the entire season.
The addition of Kalil allows Charlie Johnson to move to guard, replacing Steve Hutchinson, who had not been able to play an entire season since 2009. Johnson is better suited to play guard, a position he started at for all 16 games in 2008 with the Colts.
At the other guard position, second-year player Brandon Fusco takes over for Anthony Herrera. Like Hutchinson, Herrera had been injury prone, not playing an entire season since 2008.
With these roster moves the Vikings get a lot younger—seven and eight years, respectively.
The Vikings' offensive line will be much better than last season.
While Harvin led Vikings' receivers with 87 catches for 967 yards and six touchdowns, no one else stepped up. The next best receiver was Michael Jenkins, who played in only 11 games, starting seven of them. Jenkins finished with only 38 catches for 466 yards.
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In order to address the deficiency at wide receiver the Vikings had 12 players in training camp, including two wide receivers taken in the draft, another two rookie free agents and three free agents.
The biggest addition to the team was the free-agent signing of Simpson to a one-year contract. He finished third last season on the Bengals with 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
With Simpson missing the first three games, that leaves only fourth-round rookie Jarius Wright among the wide receivers to open the season who was not with the Vikings last year. That means the biggest improvement to the roster is not from who they added, but rather who they lost—and that would be Bernard Berrian.
That's not much of an upgrade.
According to the current Vikings depth chart, the starters will be Harvin and Jenkins.
Without a true downfield threat, the Vikings will continue to struggle with the passing game.
Grade: C-minus—they open with the same starters as last season.
Last year the Vikings opened the season with a new starter at weak-side linebacker, Erin Henderson. This year Jasper Brinkley takes over as the starting middle linebacker.
Brinkley, a fifth-round draft pick from 2009, finished his rookie season making four starts in place of E.J. Henderson after he broke is leg—the only four starts he has made. The concern with Brinkley is that he missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a hip injury that required surgery. It's been two full seasons since he started a game.
A bigger concern is if anything happens to any of the starting linebackers. Right now the backups include Marvin Mitchell, a five-year veteran with one start; Larry Dean, an undrafted rookie from last year; and Audie Cole, the Vikings' seventh-round draft pick this year.
Grade: B—at least we know what we're getting with two of the three starters. Hopefully we won't have to find out how deep the linebacking corps is.
With the second-fewest interceptions and the most touchdown passes allowed, this was the weakest position for the Vikings last season. The Vikings' pass defense was so bad that it set an NFL record, going nine games without an interception.
The weakest was exposed after losing Antoine Winfield to a broken clavicle and Chris Cook to a domestic abuse charge. Things got so bad the Vikings signed Benny Sapp before the game in Week 11. Released by the Dolphins following a Week 1 loss to the Patriots, Sapp had not played for almost two months.
The Vikings signed a dozen cornerbacks to their roster during training camp. They drafted Josh Robinson in the third round and added another four rookie free agents. Along with four returning players, they signed another three free agents.
After the conclusion of training camp, the Vikings made a deal with Arizona to acquire A.J. Jefferson. Along with Robinson, these are the only new additions among the six cornerbacks on the roster.
Jefferson is an upgrade over Cedric Griffin, who was attempting to come back from ACL injuries to both knees in less than nine months in 2010. Robinson will be better than Asher Allen, who retired after suffering a concussion last season.
Grade: C—the Vikings are still counting on Winfield and Cook as the starters. The former is at the end of his career and the latter has yet to live up to his potential.
The Vikings have not opened consecutive seasons with the same starting tandem at safety since 2007, when Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith were playing next to each other. That lack of consistency accounts for some of the struggles the Vikings have had.
This season the Vikings will open with a second-year player and a rookie at safety. According to the unofficial depth chart on Vikings.com, Mistral Raymond is the starting strong safety and Harrison Smith will start at free safety.
Another rookie, Robert Blanton, Smith's teammate at Notre Dame, backs up Raymond. Last year's starter Jamarca Sanford will back up Smith. Andrew Sendejo completes the depth chart. Sendejo went undrafted in 2010 and spent time with the Cowboys and Jets before the Vikings signed him last November.
On the positive side, there's potential for Raymond and Smith to play alongside each other for a long time. On the other hand, expect plenty of mistakes as these two go through their growing pains in the NFL.
Grade: B—the Vikings add talent, but lack experience.
What grade do the Vikings get for improving the roster?
It's clear the Vikings are going to rebuild the team with a major youth movement. Of all the additions to the team, free-agent tight end John Carlson was the oldest player at 28 years old.
Don't expect a quick turnaround, but it will provide plenty of opportunities for Frazier and his staff to show off their coaching abilities.
Overall grade: C-minus.
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