5 Things to Watch as the Minnesota Vikings Start Their 2013 Preseason Schedule
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Yeah, that’s a stretch; the Vikings were carried by Adrian Peterson and his almost-record-breaking season. But the Vikings are a very young team with a big opportunity to improve in all facets of the game in the coming years.
As the preseason approaches this weekend, let’s look at a few areas of the roster we should keep an eye on.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.
Who Is Behind Peterson?
Toby Gerhart with an open running lane.
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Minnesota was carried last season by Adrian Peterson and his 2,097 rushing yards. Can Peterson repeat such a historic season?
History says no.
There are six other members of the 2,000 yards club. None of them ever rushed for 2,000 yards again after joining the notable club. Assuming Peterson can’t rush for another 2,000 yards, the Vikings will need Toby Gerhart to make an impact.
Toby Gerhart rushed 50 times for 169 yards and a touchdown last year, but that isn’t enough to back up Peterson. When teams play Peterson, they have at least eight men in the box. That’s not the case when Peterson hits the bench.
Teams play very loose defense when Peterson is off the field, which means Gerhart should have open running lanes.
Peterson will have another great season, but that’s not enough to carry a team. If Gerhart can effectively spell the league MVP, Minnesota will have a much more versatile offense.
Ponder needs to work on his accuracy.
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To put it bluntly, the Vikings' season depends on the arm of Christian Ponder.
Like I said before, Peterson won’t rush for another 2,000 yards. That means the pressure is on for the third-year quarterback out of Florida State.
In the NFL, it is impossible to win a Super Bowl with a quarterback who consistently turns the ball over. Ponder has a huge turnover issue.
Last season, Christian Ponder threw 18 touchdowns while turning the ball over 17 times. To put that in perspective, he was 23rd in the league in passing touchdowns, just ahead of Brandon Weeden, Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith (who only started nine games). That is simply not good enough for a starting quarterback in the NFL today.
This is Ponder’s last chance to succeed as a Minnesota Viking. If he can improve his turnover ratio to a respectable number, the Vikings have a good chance of making the playoffs again.
If he shows no improvement, the Vikings will be looking for a new quarterback next spring.
How Jennings and Patterson Adapt
The Vikings made a bold decision by trading Percy Harvin during the offseason.
Good decision. Percy Harvin is having hip surgery and is likely out for the 2013 season.
The Vikings made light of a difficult decision by signing Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson. Jennings has a few good seasons left in him, but he won’t be watched too closely during the offseason.
Patterson, on the other hand, is in the spotlight. Because of his insane speed and athleticism, the comparisons to Viking great Randy Moss are everywhere. He even chose No. 84 because of Moss, his childhood hero, according to 1500 ESPN.
The expectations at this point in his very young career are out of hand. Patterson is good, but Moss is one of the greatest receivers of all time. Patterson hasn’t done anything in a real game setting yet.
Patterson will have the chance to prove himself for the first time this weekend. If he has a few good games, he could be lining up with Greg Jennings in Week 1.
Who Steps Up at Linebacker
Mauti rehabbing his knee this offseason.
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Last season, the Vikings were depleted at linebacker with only one consistent starter Chad Greenway. They fixed the problem this offseason by bringing in Desmond Bishop in free agency.
They didn’t stop there. They also drafted two staples of “Linebacker U,” Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. With Greenway, Bishop, Henderson and the two rookies, the Vikings have essentially developed depth at linebacker in one offseason.
Often rookies aren’t able to make an impact, but these two linebackers out of Penn State played phenomenally well.
Let's take a look at two rookies' statistics from the 2012 college season:
Player one is Heisman finalist Manti Te’o from Notre Dame. Player two is Michael Mauti.
Mauti has NFL instincts, athleticism and leadership. His only problem is with injuries, as he injured his left knee in his second-to-last game at Penn State.
If he can fight off the injury bug in the NFL, you will see his name every weekend for a long time.
How Will Xavier Rhodes Play Against NFC North Receivers?
Xavier Rhodes in tight coverage.
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Minnesota cut ties with Antoine Winfield, who has been on the field for the Vikings since 2004. While they did save a good chunk of change, the Vikings needed to find a replacement who could compete against Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall four times a year.
The Vikings spent their first-round draft pick on Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
The 6’1” cornerback will likely start across from Chris Cook. He will be asked to cover the best receiver from every team since he is a first-round pick.
Rhodes has already made an impact during training camp. According to Mike Wobschall of Vikings.com, the Florida State product has impressed with his rare combination of size, strength and speed.
It will be interesting to see how Rhodes lines up against real competition during the preseason. If he can continue to develop, the Vikings won’t even remember Winfield.