The offseason has been busy for the Minnesota Vikings, stirring up excitement and debate in a near simultaneous fashion. The team looks to improve in several key areas, with difficult decisions pending for the front office heading into the 2013 season.
General manager Rick Spielman has made a point to bring in talent through free agency and the draft, but those players will only be as successful as the opportunities provided before them. High-potential athletes strive when coached appropriately and fail when their strengths are misdirected.
That's the important point here: getting it right when the fate of a player or coach's career is at stake. One decision or fundamental approach can make the difference between a winning season and one of disappointment and regret.
The following slides examine five key decisions that must be made prior to the upcoming season. While some areas may evolve into the season, the front office will need a well-constructed game plan before kickoff on Sept. 8 against the Detroit Lions.
Be sure to comment on the decisions you feel will give the Vikings the best chance to have a successful season.
Statistics courtesy of NFL.com, unless otherwise noted.
Joe Webb's career thus far is a perfect example of how one key decision can impact the success and perception of a player. The fourth-year veteran was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
Although playing quarterback his junior and senior season, Webb was drafted by the Vikings as a prospect at wide receiver, a position he played in 2007 as a sophomore. The UAB standout's athleticism was nearly unparalleled by players in his draft class at either position, posting a 42.5-inch vertical and a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.
However, former head coach Brad Childress decided Webb was best suited for quarterback, resulting in rare opportunities to develop at wide receiver. An unimpressive three years later and we are back at evaluating the 6'4", 220-pound talent as a route-running option for the Vikings.
The question now lies in whether Minnesota will keep Webb on the 53-man roster or if the front office will focus on other positions to fill the final spots on the team. Given the lack of depth at receiver this past year, it may be worth keeping Webb for his athleticism, understanding of the route-tree and overall team character.
Cordarrelle Patterson may have cost the Minnesota Vikings multiple draft picks in moving up to draft the wide receiver from Tennessee, but he also could fill multiple positions for the team come September.
With explosive ability once the football enters his hands, Patterson's role with the Vikings has been debated since his draft selection in April.
The signing of Greg Jennings provides the Vikings a No. 1 wide receiver, with second-year player Jarius Wright likely occupying the slot following the trade of Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks.
The decision for the Vikings now is whether Patterson immediately assumes the second wideout spot.
In addition, Patterson excelled at returning kickoffs and punts in college, two positions the Vikings are still evaluating in finding the right fit. The former Vol looks to have the upper-hand in replacing Harvin as a kickoff specialist, but may watch from the sidelines on punts.
Let's also not forget that Patterson averaged 12.3 yards per carry running the ball in college, with three touchdowns on his resume.
With the amount of potential bubbling under the surface, the Vikings coaching staff will need to properly utilize this playmaker during the upcoming season, with creative play calling a prerequisite for success.
The debate at linebacker for the Vikings received another wrinkle this week with the signing of former Green Bay Packer Desmond Bishop.
Although he missed all of 2012 with a hamstring injury, Bishop recorded 142 tackles and five sacks as an inside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 defense.
Erin Henderson was reportedly not fazed by the Vikings' interest in the former 2007 sixth-round draft pick, as he continued to proclaim that he will play the "Mike" this season. After the signing was finalized, Henderson reiterated his stance and stated that there are no plans for him moving back to weak-side linebacker.
If that's the case, it's possible that Bishop could slide to the outside, a move that the six-year veteran has endorsed given his versatility at the position. However, it seems like an odd move to have both players out of position from their more experienced roles.
Rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges could still work his way into the mix, although it's unlikely that he will start at the "Will" given Bishop's signing, but should still see playing time in a backup role.
Adrian Peterson was an absolute workhorse in 2012, recording 2,097 rushing yards on 348 attempts. Only Arian Foster had more carries than the league MVP with 351.
Out of Minnesota's total offense, the team had a ratio of nearly 50/50 for rushes and passes, with 486 plays attempted on the ground and 483 through the air.
This begs the question for 2013: Will the Vikings continue to game plan for an offense that hands the ball off to Peterson nearly 22 times a game?
According to head coach Leslie Frazier, it's not imperative for Peterson to reach 2,000 yards, implying a softened workload for a running back that helped lead the Vikings into the playoffs with a 10-6 record last season.
Peterson will continue to be the focal point for Minnesota, but it's likely his carries per game will dip given the additional weapons on the team. This should help him stay fresh and prepare for runs during which local announcer Paul Allen has become accustomed to exclaiming, "He's loose!"
The play of Christian Ponder throughout the 2012 season can easily be categorized as a mixed bag. He began the season with a 4-1 record, one that saw him lead the NFL through the first two games with a 75.8 completion percentage and post a solid 110.1 passer rating during that same time period.
Then the proverbial wheels fell off for Ponder, as the team went 2-5 and appeared destined for collapse. During this stretch, the second-year quarterback recorded completions on 8-17 in passing for 58 yards and 11-22 for 63 yards. His passer rating was 35.5 and 37.3 in both games, respectively.
And while the Vikings finished with a 4-0 flurry to reach the playoffs, Ponder still had limited opportunities passing, going 11-17 for 91 yards and 17-24 for 131 yards in two games.
The debate will continue this offseason whether Ponder's below-average performance statistically was more a product of his own talent level or of those around him.
Regardless, an important decision the coaching staff—predominantly offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave—will need to make leading into the first game of the season is the play selection for Ponder.
Not only as simple as purely calling additional passing plays for a team that ranked 28th in the NFL in attempts, but Musgrave will need to decide whether to dial up plays intended to cover more than 20 yards in the air.
If Ponder can perform at the level displayed in the two-game bookends at the beginning and end of the season—a four-game period where he averaged 230.8 yards per game and a 105.5 passer rating—the coaching staff should feel comfortable opening up the playbook.
Add in the new options at wide receiver and the Vikings may see a significant spike in Ponder's downfield attempts, forcing defenses to play a more honest scheme, something the offense rarely saw in 2012.
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