Where These 6 Vikings Stars Must Improve in 2013
Big caution before diving into this slideshow.
The term "star" is used very loosely. The Minnesota Vikings wouldn't have enough players universally accepted as "stars" to make it past two or three slides.
The term "star" refers to any player who was an impact starter (sorry Jamarca Sanford and Letroy Guion, this wouldn't apply to you).
These six players have all demonstrated the ability to be standouts at their respective positions but could improve in some way (as you'll see, it could be relative to on-field or off-field issues).
Chris Cook: Stay on the Field for the Entire Season
This improvement, to an extent, is beyond Chris Cook’s control.
Football is a violent and physical game. Things happen and injuries are often unavoidable.
But through the first three years of his career, Cook has never played an entire season.
He missed 10 games during his rookie season with multiple knee injuries, 10 games in 2011 because of off-field issues and six games in 2012 with a broken wrist.
The off-field issues are what Cook really has to avoid. Minnesota isn’t as hardcore as it once was at maintaining stellar off-field conduct, but if he screws up again, you can bet Minnesota will consider severing ties with Cook.
What Cook can do to avoid injury is work his tail off this offseason to be in the best shape possible come training camp. Being at peak physical condition may not have helped him with the injuries he suffered during his rookie season or in 2012, but it can't hurt.
Percy Harvin: Relationship with Organization
A lot has been and will be written in the future about Percy Harvin’s situation with the Vikings organization. Believe what you want, but where there is smoke, there is some sort of fire.
Regarding many of the rumored grievances Harvin has against the organization, he has a very good case to make. For example, his role in the offense. Especially given the limited talent of the skill players outside of Adrian Peterson, Harvin should be able to do as much as he wants in the offense and Minnesota should look to acquiesce those requests.
But on berating the coaching staff and avoiding the organization (outside of head trainer Eric Sugarman) after being placed on injured reserve, he has to change his ways.
Players of Harvin’s importance don’t abandon the team in the middle of a playoff push. They’re there to support their teammates. Yes, he has the right to rehab his injury the way he wants. But if he truly cared about the organization and his teammates, he would have been in Minnesota through the end of the season and then departed for Florida.
On the berating of coaches, it seems that head coach Leslie Frazier and Harvin have a strong relationship and that the two are OK. But Harvin can’t produce many more sideline outbursts like he did at Seattle.
Kyle Rudolph: Consistency
It’s been a big offseason for Kyle Rudolph already, as he was named the MVP of the Pro Bowl after catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns.
Rudolph is on the verge of becoming an elite pass-catching tight end. He has the physical skills (6’6” and 258 lbs with 10 3/4-inch hands) but he needs to do a better job of producing consistently.
Since Rudolph was named to the Pro Bowl, he did plenty right in 2012 (five catches for 122 yards), but there were three games in which he failed to record a single reception. That's inexcusable.
Some of those struggles can be attributed to the inconsistent play from quarterback Christian Ponder. Even the best receivers in the game will struggle if they have an unreliable quarterback.
But Rudolph isn’t blame-free. He can do a better job of creating separation from defenders and doing so more quickly.
Christian Ponder: Become More Comfortable in the Pocket/Consistency
How quickly Christian Ponder is able to progress in these two areas will determine, in part, the success of Minnesota in 2013.
This league is built for teams with strong quarterback play to succeed. Minnesota got lucky and had a running back who produced one of the best seasons in the history of his position. The Vikings cannot count on that again.
Ponder has to develop the ability to successfully maneuver within the pocket. For a second-year pro, he evacuated the pocket far too quickly while going through his progressions. Evading the pocket is certainly necessary from time to time. The pass rush must be avoided. But he departed too many times where there was no rush and because he was uncomfortable.
The former Florida State Seminole must also work on his consistency.
Ponder put his team through quite a roller coaster ride this season that ended with arguably the best performance of his career in Week 17 vs. the Green Bay Packers (16-of-28 passing for 234 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions).
Then he had games where he completed under 50 percent or fewer of his passes while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and under 100 yards passing (he accomplished that feat twice: in Week 7 and Week 9).
It’s too bad for the Vikings and their fans that Ponder wasn’t able to follow up that performance by playing in the Wild Card Game at Lambeau Field. It would have been interesting to watch.
Chad Greenway: Make More Big Plays
The beginning of the 2012 campaign was an exciting time for Chad Greenway.
He was flying across the field, making plays left and right. He was on pace for the best season of his career and was making big plays.
It’s tough to be too critical of Greenway. He finished with 148 tackles, which was the third most in the NFL. But that total wasn’t enough to get him onto the original Pro Bowl roster.
Why is that?
Well, Greenway doesn’t make many spectacular plays. He’s not at or behind the line of scrimmage making tackles for losses nor does he force many turnovers.
But to begin 2012, he showed glimpses of progressing as a playmaking linebacker. He had a huge sack of Alex Smith on third down in Minnesota's Week 3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers and added another one. He recorded a lone sack the rest of the season.
This is a tall task for Greenway. At 30 years old and with six years of experience, he may be what he is at this point (six career interceptions, seven forced fumbles and 11.5 sacks).
But if he wants to become more than a fringe Pro Bowl player, which is still damn good, then he better thrust himself closer to the line of scrimmage, making plays and forcing turnovers.
Adrian Peterson: Pass Protection
Adrian Peterson was the named the NFL’s most valuable player. He led the NFL in rushing and missed breaking the single-season rushing record by nine yards while rushing for 12 touchdowns.
There’s not much to complain about relative to Peterson, but he can still improve.
Typically, Minnesota took Peterson off the field on third downs for much of this season in favor of Toby Gerhart. That’s because Peterson’s blitz pickup isn’t up to par. Let’s just say he struggles a bit.
It’s not as if Gerhart is phenomenal at blitz pickup. Peterson could improve and get onto the field more frequently on the all-important down.
This isn’t to say that if Peterson surpassed Gerhart at picking up the blitz that he would stay on the field on every third down, but it would benefit the Vikings if their star player were in a position to impact the game more frequently in third-and-long situations.