Minnesota Vikings: 5 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
Right now, the Minnesota Vikings are still in a feeling out period.
I haven't met the whole team yet, I haven't had a team meeting or any of that stuff where I can sit down and talk to them. I haven't been able to talk about techniques or coaching or anything. This is just like, I don't know, a political caucus or something, I guess. Just come out here and talk.
Once Zimmer gets the chance to kick things into gear, this redesigned Vikings roster will finally start to come together.
Success for the Vikings this season will be predicated off of the development of their "homegrown" talent.
No matter which of the two sides of the ball you turn to, the departure of veteran players this offseason has opened the door for familiar faces to come in and show the world what they've got.
Analyzing each player on an individual basis, here are five returning Vikings who will see their roles expand in 2014.
DE Everson Griffen
The 26-year-old defensive end has only shown flashes of dominance so far in his young career. So the loot Vikings general manager Rick Spielman dished out to retain Griffen's services will be one of the biggest storylines to watch unfold this season.
CB Xavier Rhodes
Straying away from last year's Tampa 2 brand of defense, Rhodes should be able to engage more with receivers using his physical prowess at the line of scrimmage.
It's easy to forget that coming out of the 2013 NFL draft, scouts like Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) compared the former Florida State Seminole to Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
The one guy on this roster who has the best chance to transform into a genuine superstar this season is wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Fresh out of the University of Tennessee, Patterson came to the Vikings last season and instantly made an impact.
Returning kicks, running the pigskin and catching passes, the often-bionic Patterson finished his rookie campaign with nine total touchdowns and 2,020 all-purpose yards.
Entering the 2014 season, Patterson is now in a prime position to grow as a wide receiver and become an absolute terror for opposing defenders.
The ingredients for success are all there.
The arrival of offensive coordinator Norv Turner and his Air Coryell attack will give Patterson ample opportunities to make plays downfield.
ESPN.com's Ben Goessling went into further detail talking about Turner's infatuation with stretching the field:
If there's one thing for which Norv Turner has been known in his exemplary career as an offensive mind, it's a deep passing game that has consistently snubbed the West Coast offense principals that had taken over the league.
The best part is, Turner already seems to be focused on the 23-year-old Patterson.
According to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, Turner has created 10 plays that will center on the dynamic wide receiver.
Exciting times are on the horizon for this offense. With Turner now running the show and Patterson figuring out the nuances of the position, this could turn out to be a huge season for the speedster from Rock Hill, SC.
ILB Audie Cole
Vikings linebacker Audie Cole is another guy who will see an expanded role in 2014.
Cole's brief tenure in Minnesota has already become one heck of a story. A former seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, he was waived from the team last year after a November game against the Washington Redskins (per Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune):
The Vikings had every intention of bringing Cole back after the game, provided he wasn’t claimed by another team. This wasn’t a permanent goodbye, but more of a necessary business decision in a pinch.
Luckily he found his way back to the Vikings roster, just in time to step into the middle linebacker role in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers and rack up 11 total tackles.
With a new defensive scheme being implemented by Coach Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards, the present situation at middle linebacker is fluid.
But it was ESPN.com's Ben Goessling who said that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Cole got a chance to win the starting job based on his performance at the end of 2013. With Jasper Brinkley returning via free agency and second-year LB Michael Mauti vying for more playing time, Cole will have to go out and earn the job.
Regardless, based on what we saw him do in a vacuum last year, he's already put himself in a great position to consume more snaps this season.
DT Sharrif Floyd
Another former first-round pick, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will get a chance to become a major factor in Coach Zimmer's bellicose defensive scheme.
Going by Pro Football Focus' count (subscription required), last season Floyd played just 472 out of a possible 1,193 defensive snaps.
Sitting behind Kevin Williams on the depth chart, he got a chance to improve his craft under the longtime Vikings stalwart. With a year of experience now under his belt, Floyd should be able to take a step forward under Zimmer's tutelage.
Though the preconceived notion this offseason seems to be that Floyd will replace Williams as the team's 3-technique defensive tackle, he understands that nothing is guaranteed in this business. Brian Hall of FoxSportsNorth.com asked Floyd if he thought that he was entering the upcoming season as the starter. The former Florida Gator responded by saying, "No, I go into it thinking I'm going to work."
Whether he earns that starting gig or is used in a rotational capacity, Floyd's playing time will definitely inflate this year.
RB Matt Asiata
For the first time since Toby Gerhart was drafted in 2010, there are question marks surrounding the depth this roster has at the running back position.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Adrian Peterson is going to carry the brunt of the load once again running the football. But with Gerhart now part of the Jacksonville Jaguars, finding a competent backup has to become a priority.
The team's decision to re-sign tailback Matt Asiata suggests that he's a candidate to come in and compete for the job.
Asiata isn't the quickest or most explosive runner. Rushing for 166 yards and three touchdowns on just 44 attempts, the 26-year-old did give fans a small sample size of what he can do on the field.
Figuring out his role next season will be predicated on Rick Spielman's decision to address the position. All indications right now point to the Vikings general manager bringing in a collegiate prospect during the upcoming draft.
Talking to Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, Spielman said he's already "honed in on a couple of running backs" in this year's class.
It'll be interesting to watch how Minnesota's front office addresses that position on draft weekend.
However, because of his previous experience with the program, Asiata still should be considered the favorite to backup Peterson entering training camp.
OG Jeff Baca
When you look at the Vikings offensive line, the need for improvement at the left guard position stands out like a sore thumb.
Last year's sixth-round pick Jeff Baca is one guy who should get a real opportunity to replace Johnson. Prior to the 2012 draft, NFL.com highlighted what made the 302-pound former UCLA guard such an interesting late-round selection:
As tenacious a blocker as there is in this draft class. Strong punch in pass pro, stuns tackles to knock them backwards and works to move the line, not just hold his ground. Quick to recognize blitzes. Re-directs blitzers out of the hole, keeps his feet moving to take them away from the play. Shows awareness in assisting teammates in pass protection. Gets after his run target, attacks with a venom.
If the new regime believes that much in Baca's potential, it might ensure that the young interior lineman gets more playing time in his second season.
All NFL free-agency information and stats courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.