Minnesota Vikings: Recapping the Latest Buzz Heading into Training Camp
Believe it or not, training camp begins for the Minnesota Vikings just two weeks from Friday.
And while NFL fans have been inundated with every little detail from Johnny Manziel's life and the continued mishaps of his prospective teammate, Josh Gordon, things have been considerably quieter surrounding the Purple during their offseason.
That's a good thing.
The last days of summer for NFL players will see Minnesota players relaxing and healing up as they prepare to take on the rigors of an NFL season.
Training camp will have an entire new feel this year for the Vikings as new head coach Mike Zimmer brings a completely different style to the proceedings than that of his predecessor, Leslie Frazier.
Where Frazier was calm and collected to the point of being a bit boring, Zimmer will light a fire under his players and fellow coaches with an old-school football mentality. Zimmer brings longtime head coach Norv Turner with him as his offensive coordinator.
Turner never had overwhelming success as a head coach, but nobody doubts his offensive genius, and Vikings fans look forward to seeing what he can do with a slew of gifted skill-position players at his disposal.
As we count down the days until camp, we take a look at some of the latest buzz surrounding the Vikings.
Does Teddy Bridgewater Have a Chance to Start?
New Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Tuner was on local sports talk radio earlier this week, and while he didn't come right out and say that Matt Cassel would be the starting quarterback, he stated on The Paul Allen Show (via KFAN.com's AJ Mansour) that he thought Cassel was "getting himself ready to really have a good year."
Later in the interview, Turner said of Bridgewater, "Teddy's been really, really impressive and a lot further along then I expected him to be."
All of this begs the question above: Does Bridgewater have a chance to be the Vikings starting quarterback?
Unlike the coaching staff before them, who may or may not have been "encouraged" to start certain quarterbacks on certain occasions, Zimmer and Turner are both hugely respected, longtime coaches who you can be certain will always make player decisions based on what's best for the team.
While Matt Cassel will open camp as the starter, and he should; there is nothing written in stone that says Bridgewater can't beat him out for the job.
ESPN.com's Mike Sando recently talked to a group of NFL executives and had them rank the league's starting quarterbacks and Cassel came in 28th out of the 32 ranked (subscription required).
While that might not be a ringing endorsement, Cassel has certainly proved he can put up some good numbers when he has good players around him. Now 32 years old, Cassel played well enough last year to earn the right to start camp as the first-team quarterback.
Once again, that doesn't mean that Bridgewater can't beat him out.
You don't move up into the first round to take a quarterback that you don't think is ultimately going to be your starter. That said, the quarterback shouldn't just be given the job either.
Turner has been around NFL offenses long enough to know how these things work. All things being equal, Cassel will be the starting quarterback. But if Bridgewater proves that the team is simply better when he's at the helm, he'll get the nod.
Cassel's sample size at this point is big enough that the Vikings pretty much know what his ceiling is. If he's playing well, he can lead a team to plenty of victories. Bridgewater is obviously a rookie, and there will be a learning curve.
Bridgewater has always been a quick study, though, starting at a powerhouse high school in Miami as a sophomore and taking just three games as a freshman to become the starter at Louisville.
The Vikings will have a spirited competition at quarterback during training camp. How quickly Bridgewater can shake off the rookie mistakes, which will most surely come, will go a long way toward whether or not he can convince Zimmer and Turner that he deserves to start.
What Vikings fans can take heart in is that the Vikings coaches seem to be heading into camp with an open mind. Whoever plays the best will get the starting nod.
How Good Can Cordarrelle Patterson Be in 2014?
Of all the players on the Minnesota Vikings roster, perhaps nobody is more important to a successful turnaround in 2014 than second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson was simply electric during a rookie season that saw him score nine touchdowns. It wasn't just the number of scores either, it was the manner in which he got them. Four touchdown receptions, three rushing touchdowns and two more on kickoff returns.
And it wasn't just the variety of ways he scored touchdowns either. It was the spectacular fashion in which he did them that has Vikings fans thinking they may have the second coming of Randy Moss on their hands.
A 105-yard kickoff return on the first play of the game against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 15. A 109-yard kickoff return against the Green Bay Packers on the first play of the game on Oct. 27. Patterson only took 12 handoffs on the year, but they included 33-, 35- and 50-yard touchdown romps. Among his four receiving touchdowns was a 79-yard scamper off a screen through the snow against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 8.
Patterson's highlight reel from his rookie season is something to behold. And he makes it look easy; like an eighth-grader playing sandlot ball with some fifth-graders.
So what to expect in 2014?
Patterson, as reported by Kevin Patra of NFL.com, recently told NFL Media's Akbar Gbajabiamila that he would be a, "top-five playmaker in 2014."
Nobody who watched Patterson play during his rookie season is going to doubt him, especially considering offensive guru Norv Turner will be drawing up plays to maximize his talents.
Seven different times a Turner-coached receiver has led the NFL in yards per reception. Turner coached probably the most nondescript pair of 1,000-yard receivers ever in 1999 with the Redskins, when Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell both turned the trick. Neither one of them ever came close to 1,000 yards before or after that.
As for what Turner's offense will do for Patterson?
Consider that as a rookie, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon caught 50 passes for 805 yards. Turner became the Browns offensive coordinator last year, Gordon's second in the league, and he saw his numbers skyrocket to 87 catches and a league-leading 1,646 yards in just 14 games.
Having said that, Gordon is certainly more polished as a route-runner than Patterson is. Patterson will have to soak up everything his coaches and teammates are telling him and work hard at reading defenses and figuring out how to get open.
A top-five playmaker? He certainly has the talent.
Breakout Year for Kyle Rudolph?
It should be noted here that Josh Gordon isn't the only member of the Cleveland Browns who had a breakout year under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Tight end Jordan Cameron, who'd been a backup his first two years in Cleveland, made the Pro Bowl last year after catching 80 passes for 919 yards and seven touchdowns in Turner's offense.
Those numbers have to be pretty exciting to Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.
As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling reports, Rudolph has himself in top shape as he heads toward training camp later this month.
Rudolph showed flashes of stardom during his second season in 2012, catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns. He followed that up by winning the MVP award at the Pro Bowl and seemed poised for a huge 2013 season.
Rudolph was playing well last year, but not spectacularly, before and ankle injury sidelined him for the year after only eight games.
One would have to think that Rudolph is chomping at the bit to get the 2014 season going. At 6'6", 260 pounds with massive hands, Rudolph has ideal size for a tight end and is the quintessential red-zone target.
The Vikings are full of pass-catchers who are ready to find out what they are capable of with better quarterback play than they've had over the last three seasons. Expect Rudolph to finally have his breakout season in 2014.
The Strong Safety Spot Is Up for Grabs
If Jamarca Sanford could catch, we might not be having this conversation.
Sanford, who's started at strong safety for Minnesota for the last three seasons, has just two career interceptions in 70 games. In a league where the ball is in the air as much as it is, that just isn't good enough.
Nobody can question Sanford's play against the run or his contributions to the Vikings defense as one of its vocal leaders. He's a "glue guy" that all teams need to be their best.
For Minnesota's defense to turn things around from a disastrous 2013, they are going to need their secondary to generate far more turnovers than they have over the past few seasons. Sanford isn't terrible in coverage, but he hasn't been able to come up with too many balls when he's had the opportunity to.
With that said, he's going to have to win his job again in training camp, and there are a number of guys who will be trying to take it from him.
In the mix are veterans Robert Blanton, Kurt Coleman, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum. All of those players, like Sanford, are solid, even tenacious tacklers. However, the starting job will probably end up going to the guy who can make the most plays against the pass.
As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling wrote in May, head coach Mike Zimmer is looking for players who can defend the pass.
Rookie Exum is perhaps the most intriguing player in the mix. A converted cornerback out of Virginia Tech, the Vikings' sixth-round pick might be the best athlete of the bunch, and his ball skills could separate him from the pack.
Harrison Smith will start at one safety spot for the Vikings. Who will start at the other? Well, the ball is about to go up in the air in Mankato at the end of the month.
Charlie Johnson vs. David Yankey at Left Guard
Fifth-round draft picks aren't normally expected to jump into the NFL as starters in their rookie seasons.
Second- or third-round picks? That's another story, and we bring that up because although the Vikings selected Stanford guard David Yankey in the fifth round in May, most draft analysts had given Yankey a second- or third-round grade.
The immediate buzz after the draft was that Minnesota had gotten a steal in Yankey, who, at 6'5", 315 pounds has ideal size for an NFL guard. Yankey was a smart and dependable player at Stanford, where he was voted captain for his senior season.
Yankey will come in to camp expected to battle veteran Charlie Johnson for the starting left guard spot. Minnesota has had great continuity in their offensive line over the last two seasons, but Johnson's play has certainly dipped in that time, and now at 30-years old, he might be better suited to a backup position.
Much will depend on how quickly Yankey can adjust to the speed of NFL line play and get himself adjusted to the nuances of playing at the highest level. He has tremendous leg strength and could be an ideal fit between center John Sullivan and left tackle Matt Kalil.
The Vikings will have several intense positional battles at training camp, and the left guard spot will certainly be one of them. Even if Yankey doesn't win the job out of camp, it would be surprising if he wasn't starting at some point during the season.