With the boys at Target Field flatlining before August for the third straight summer, Minnesota sports fans can turn their full attention towards Mankato, where the Minnesota Vikings will report to training camp on Thursday evening and hit the field on Friday morning.
There will be plenty of hooting and hollering both on the field and in the stands where those Minnesota sports fans will finally have better things to talk about than the possibility of trading Justin Morneau for a double-A pitcher.
It's an exciting time to be a Vikings fan, and before we begin to dissect what might be problem areas on the roster, everyone who cheers for the Vikings should take a deep breath and be thankful for how far the franchise has come in such a short time.
Just a season removed from the hideous 3-13 season of 2011, the Vikings head towards the 2013 campaign a legitimate contender in the stacked NFC North Division.
With all due credit to Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings have bounced back faster than a Donovan McNabb 10-yard out pass.
Are expectations off a 10-6 season becoming, perhaps, too high? Absolutely not, Minnesota has done a brilliant job of retooling their depth chart and the national experts are taking notice. NFL.com recently had nine Vikings on its All-NFC North team, far outdistancing the Bears (5), Packers (4) and Lions (4).
Having said that, there's no doubt the 2013 Vikings are still a work in progress and while the roster is certainly far better on paper than it was two years ago, there are still areas that have question marks bigger than their answers at this point.
There’s just no other place to start than with Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder.
And while everyone and their brother has an opinion on Ponder and what his future might be, we've reached a saturation point where everyone should just quiet down and watch for the next month and a half. Except me, of course—I have to finish writing this slide.
Yes, Vikings fans have been hit over the head with the Ponder bat for two years now, but Ponder just hasn’t shown enough over that time for anyone to be comfortable in saying that he can be the quarterback of a championship team.
For every glimpse of progress Ponder has shown in his 26 starts, he’s shown two glimpses of poor decisions and wayward throws. Ponder fans have had every right to claim that he’s been stuck with putrid receivers and Ponder critics have every right to claim that he’s missed far too many times on the simplest of throws.
Asking a rookie quarterback to start on an awful team is asking for trouble, and while we know Ponder will never be Andrew Luck, it’s still far too soon to come to any conclusions on Ponder as a quarterback.
We’ll learn more about Ponder as a quarterback in year three than the first two seasons combined. He’s been around the block now and knows the lay of the land. He’s fully immersed in the Vikings offense and the game should be slowing down for him by now.
It would be completely unfair to say that 2013 is a make-or-break season for Ponder, but he simply has to show more this year than he has so far to convince the Vikings that he’s the quarterback that can lead them to a championship.
The Vikings have now put plenty of talented pieces around Ponder on the offense and it’s up to him to put his stamp on the team. The Vikings are certainly a run-first team, but they still need Ponder to pull his share of the load.
Behind every sputtering NFL passing offense, you can find three things: disgust with the starting quarterback, a usually unwarranted love for the backup quarterback and a ton of moaning about the offensive coordinator.
The Vikings have certainly had their share of all three over the past couple of seasons. And while the “what have we got to lose with Joe Webb?” cries have been silenced forever, the other two gripes are cocked, loaded and at the ready heading towards the 2013 season.
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has taken plenty of shots from Vikings fans over the course of the last two seasons. The belief is that the Vikings offense is far too timid, that the passing scheme is rudimentary and unimaginative.
In Musgrave’s defense, he’s been asked to race in the Indy 500 with a Honda Civic.
From the outside looking in, Musgrave could be applauded for the many ways he devised of getting the ball in Percy Harvin’s hands over the last two seasons. Harvin was the only receiving threat the Vikings had and Musgrave was saddled with a quarterback he couldn’t trust to get him the ball downfield.
It’s a new year and there are clearly better pieces in place for Musgrave and the Vikings offense. Ponder is a good athlete and has a strong arm, so some of his maturation is on Musgrave’s shoulders. Harvin has been replaced with an electric rookie who will do wonderful things with the ball in his hands.
Musgrave’s number one job is to keep feeding the ball to Adrian Peterson. As long as Peterson is healthy, he will be the focal point of the offense. It’s the rest of the skill position players on offense that have to step up and augment the ground game.
It’s high time for Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder and the receiving corps to give defenses more to worry about than just Adrian Peterson.
There’s just no other way to say it: The Vikings passing offense has been pitiful for the past two seasons.
Whether it be the quarterback, the play-calling, the receivers or all of the above, without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings offense would have been stuck in first gear for the entire post-Favre era.
With the beginning of the 2013 season, there are high hopes that the Vikings passing offense will once again take flight.
Gone is the mercurial Percy Harvin, but in his place is the proven, low-maintenance veteran in Greg Jennings. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson is the ace in the hole, the kid who could explode on to the scene and make everyone forget Harvin was ever here.
Kyle Rudolph is coming off an MVP performance in the Pro Bowl, that in itself means less than nothing, but can be taken as a sign that he’s ready to take on a starring role.
Second-year man Jarius Wright was a shot of excitement when given the opportunity to get on the field in the second half of last season. Jerome Simpson and John Carlson are desperate to put horrendous, injury-riddled seasons behind them.
Joe Webb, Greg Childs, Rhett Ellison and others are looking to prove that they can catch balls at the highest level of football.
The Vikings receiving corps will no longer be CFL-caliber. Training camp will offer opportunities to all of those listed above to prove that they deserve to have the ball thrown their way come the 2013 season.
When it comes to the Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle rotation, the list of things we know is pretty short. Kevin Williams will start at the under tackle spot. End of list.
Letroy Guion, Fred Evans and Christian Ballard all took snaps at nose guard last season, and while they all showed glimpses of talent, none of them came close to cementing down a starting job.
The Vikings were more than happy to add their first pick in the first round, Sharrif Floyd, into the mix. The Vikings had no idea that Floyd would drop to them with the 23rd pick and were ecstatic to be able to add him to their stable of defensive tackles.
Floyd will ideally take over the under tackle spot from Williams at some point, but he’ll begin his rookie season in a rotation that probably gives snaps to everyone listed above, with the hot hand getting the majority of playing time.
Williams has been a constant force in the middle of the Vikings defensive line for a decade, but he’s got a lot of tread on his tires and will be more effective given some snaps off. Neither Guion or Evans is probably good enough to be a starting nose guard in the NFL, but neither is a gaping hole either. Ballard is undersized, but has more talent than those two and he’ll get time subbing in for Williams and taking snaps at nose guard.
Floyd will start out watching and learning from the group of veterans, but the playing time will be there for the taking. Floyd is a high-end talent who’ll be tough to keep off the field.
The Vikings need better play from the middle of their defensive line than they got last season to be an improved defense. They have to be both more stout against the run and more of presence in the pass rush.
The Minnesota Vikings will play a wait-and-see game as to who ends up starting at middle linebacker and at weak side linebacker.
After letting go of Jasper Brinkley in the offseason, the Vikings told last year’s weak side linebacker, Erin Henderson that he would be moving to the middle and taking over the spot where his brother E.J. started for the better part of eight seasons.
Erin was excited about the move and felt he could play a bigger role on the defense from the middle.
Then the Vikings went out and signed middle linebacker Desmond Bishop after the Green Bay Packers let him go to save money.
Now who starts where is sort of up in the air as the Vikings begin training camp on Friday. It’s a good problem to have, as without the addition of Bishop, the Vikings probably would have been starting a rookie at the WILL spot.
On the record Bishop has said that he can play either position and he really doesn’t mind which one the Vikings steer him towards. Henderson has indicated that he wants to play in the middle and the guess is that he’ll probably get the first crack at the job.
The concern for the Vikings is that neither player has ever played as a true middle linebacker. Bishop played in the middle of the Packers 3-4 alignment, so he has more experience playing on the inside than Henderson does.
If the Vikings play their cards right, they’ll give both plenty of reps at both and figure out how it stacks up best for the team. It seems to make more sense to keep Bishop in the middle and leave Henderson where he was, but if Henderson turns out to be a better fit in the middle than Bishop, that’s where they’ll play him.
The Vikings should have some pretty good depth at linebacker with veteran Tyrone McKenzie, second-year man Audie Cole and rookies Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.
However things shake out, the Vikings need improved play from both positions than they had in 2012. Chad Greenway is the known quantity at strong side linebacker, and whoever takes on the other two spots has to be more productive than Brinkley and Henderson were last season.
The returning members of the Vikings’ secondary return just five interceptions from 2012, three from Harrison Smith and two from Josh Robinson.
Playing in the pass-happy NFC North, the balls will be flying all over the place, so for the Vikings defense to take a step forward in 2013, they’ll need their defensive backs to make more plays.
Minnesota is certainly on the right track, adding first round pick Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State this year, who will join 2012 picks Smith and Robinson in the secondary rotation.
The Vikings will certainly be young in the secondary, starting Smith and fourth-year man Chris Cook, who’s only played in 22 games in his career. The other starters are more than likely going to be rookie Rhodes and one of Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond or Robert Blanton, none of them having a ton of starting experience.
Josh Robinson will likely take over the slot corner position vacated by Antoine Winfield, and while Robinson shows a ton of potential, he can’t be expected to play at Winfield’s level just yet.
Though young, the Vikings defensive backs have a much higher bar than most of their units in the past decade, with first-round talents in Smith and Rhodes joined by Robinson, Cook and the trio vying for the other safety spot.
The best expectation for Minnesota is that Smith, Robinson and Cook take big steps forward and that Rhodes can step right in and be a playmaker.
The one certainty is that in the NFC North there will be plenty of balls flying through the air, and the Vikings secondary has to come up with more takeaways for the team to reach its goals of winning the division and making a nice run in the playoffs.