Where These 5 Minnesota Vikings Stars Must Improve in 2014-15
Considering the disaster of a season the Minnesota Vikings endured in 2013, the entire team needs to markedly improve heading into 2014.
Just as head coach Leslie Frazier will not be rejoining the team, several players such as Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are also likely searching for a new job next season.
However, with the group of players who are scheduled to return for Minnesota, there are areas for improvement in each of their games, including some of the most high-profile members of the Vikings club.
The proverbial new sheriff in town, Mike Zimmer will demand excellence from his team in a slightly more boisterous manner than seen previously under Frazier.
If each of the following five players can shore up parts of their game, the Vikings should expect a more positive result in the upcoming season.
LB Chad Greenway: Pass Coverage
Chad Greenway has been the recent face of the Vikings linebacking corps, playing in every game since 2007.
He has topped 100 tackles every season from that point—except one—and led the team in tackles for a sixth-straight season in 2013.
With that said, Greenway has been inconsistent in pass coverage, and this season exposed several flaws in the veteran's game.
He has never had dominant speed at the position, posting a 4.76 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but his decision-making was subpar this year, resulting in poor angles and missed opportunities.
According to PFF, Greenway ranked 34th out of 35 outside linebackers in a 4-3 defensive scheme who saw at least 25 percent of their team's snaps. His pass coverage ranked dead last.
There are arguments that Greenway was put in a difficult position given the overall weakness of the defense, but the reality is that he must improve in pass coverage to remain relevant.
With the potential of a defensive scheme change in 2014, Greenway must seriously focus on this part of his game in the offseason.
OT Matt Kalil: Run Blocking
Matt Kalil had a strong rookie season in 2012 after being drafted No. 4 overall by Minnesota. The left tackle was dominant in pass blocking and was part of the offensive line that helped Adrian Peterson rush for a near-record 2,097 yards.
However, the 2013 season saw a rather dramatic regression for Kalil in both blocking situations, but he was especially poor in the running game.
According to PFF, Kalil ranked 48th overall out of 76 tackles and was 59th in run blocking with a minus-7.7 rating.
The Vikings still managed to finish eighth in team rushing with 2,081 yards, thanks in big part to right tackle Phil Loadholt, who was third overall in PFF's rankings for run blocking.
Kalil's primary responsibility will remain protecting the blind side of a right-handed quarterback. But if he can learn some of the techniques employed by his teammate on the opposite side of the line, Minnesota should be a top-three running team in 2014.
WR Greg Jennings: Consistency
The two players never seemed to click on offense, and Jennings had an underwhelming season considering he came in with such high expectations. He finished the year with 68 receptions for 804 yards and four touchdowns.
In comparison to the rest of the league, Jennings ranked 41st in receiving yards and was tied for 57th in touchdowns. This wasn't quite the production the Vikings were looking for at $9 million per year.
Now, to be fair, one can argue that Jennings would have had far better results with Matt Cassel under center all year. His best receiving performance came in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles when Cassel found Jennings 11 times for 163 yards and one touchdown.
However, this was far more of an outlier against a poor Eagles defense that simply padded Jennings' stats. Even with Cassel starting at quarterback over the next two games, the former Green Bay Packer only managed four receptions for 27 yards and five grabs for 44 yards, respectively, scoring zero touchdowns in either game.
In order for Jennings to live up to his big contract, he needs to produce at a more consistent rate for an entire season. Whether that will be at the hands of a current Vikings quarterback, free agent or rookie is yet to be seen, but the overarching theme remains the same.
RB Adrian Peterson: Receiving
Adrian Peterson had high aspirations of becoming more of a receiving threat out of the backfield in 2013, declaring he wanted the ball thrown in his direction more, via Ben Goessling formerly of the Pioneer Press.
"A lot of people have this misconception that, 'Adrian cannot catch the ball.' And that's so false," he said. "They've really never thrown it to the running backs (here). But (Brett) Favre believed in us more and he (was) checking it down to us and getting the ball into our hand in the open field."
Well, misconception or not, Peterson failed to make any sizable impact in the receiving game, recording just 29 grabs for 171 yards and one touchdown. His fumble total in receiving situations was actually higher than his scoring output; he put the ball on the ground twice during the season (fumbling three times in rushing situations).
With a new offensive coordinator and stability at quarterback, Peterson may find additional opportunities to receive the ball out in space. However, he still needs to protect the ball better in these scenarios and fine tune his route-running ability to get open.
S Harrison Smith: Red-Zone Defense
In a sea of poor secondary contribution for the Vikings, second-year safety Harrison Smith has stood out as the shining star in an otherwise forgettable group.
He proved to be one of the league's top rookie defenders in 2012, posting 104 tackles, 11 passes defended and three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
However, the young safety is still learning, and this past season proved there are areas of improvement in Smith's game—primarily his red-zone defense.
In a shortened season due to injury, Smith only saw 537 snaps yet allowed three touchdowns in his coverage area, via PFF.
As pictured above, a painful reminder was the Week 3 touchdown allowed to Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron for the game-winning touchdown.
Smith also allowed a 16-yard touchdown to tight end Jermaine Gresham in Week 16 and a 19-yard touchdown to running back Reggie Bush in Week 17.
Smith will need to captain the Vikings secondary in 2014, with cornerback Xavier Rhodes emerging as another promising player. If the former Notre Dame standout can improve his defensive struggles in the red zone, Minnesota should avoid some of the embarrassment seen this season in the secondary.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.