5 Minnesota Vikings That Need to Step Up This Season
Last season, the Minnesota Vikings fought injuries and poor play on the way to a 10-loss season.
With the Bears and Packers playing in the NFC Championship game last season and the Detroit Lions adding more talent through the draft, the Vikings are going to have to do a lot to get out of last place in the NFC North.
After last year's failed Brett Favre finale and a limited amount of time to get first-round pick Christian Ponder up to speed, the team brought in veteran Donovan McNabb to run the offense for at least one season.
With many players remaining from the team that almost went to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, the Vikings are in "win now" mode.
In order to succeed this season, everyone on the team is going to have to put in a better performance than what they did last season. Here's a look at five players whose season could determine whether the Vikings go 6-10 or 10-6.
Last year, the Vikings traded out of the first round with the Detroit Lions and ended up making cornerback Chris Cook their first pick early in the second round.
After suffering a knee injury early in the season, Cook never really got back to 100 percent. A season-ending ACL injury to starter Cedric Griffin didn't help, but it didn't matter because Cook was having trouble staying healthy as well.
If the Vikings want to be better on defense, they need to get better play out of the secondary. Cook managed only 21 tackles in six games last season and the Vikings really need at least a decent year out of him.
He has good size (6'4") to match up with bigger receivers and if he gets on the field, it will allow Antoine Winfield to move inside, where he's proven most effective. Also, Winfield is in the late stage of his career, and it would be nice for the team to know they have a serviceable replacement when he calls it quits.
Cook doesn't have to be a top-10 shutdown corner, he just doesn't have to allow big plays, and he will get plenty of opportunities if he stays healthy.
After a strong rookie performance in 2009, Phil Loadholt regressed in his second season as the Vikings' starting right tackle. He seemed slow off the ball and made made too many mental errors that lead to mistakes or penalties.
The team's offensive line needs to bounce back this season. With nearly every player having recovered from some sort of injury last year and the addition of left tackle Charlie Johnson, Loadholt needs to provide the line with some stability.
After spending the lockout working out to get into better shape, Loadholt could be the dominating force the team thought he could be when the drafted him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
If the Vikings want to show improvement over last season, they need Loadholt and the rest of the offensive line to stay healthy and eliminate mistakes.
Brian Robison has always been a decent backup for the Vikings, but this year, he's going to have to step his game up.
During the offseason, the team made it clear that Robison was going to be their new starting defensive end opposite Jared Allen when they signed him to a three-year deal. The team obviously has faith in him, but the main concern with him is that he's played all along the line his whole career and had only been used in certain situations.
Robison needs to prove he can be an every-down player in order to help the defensive line this season. It will be very important that this line gets after opposing quarterbacks, especially with such a shaky secondary.
With Jared Allen and Kevin Williams taking so many double-teams, there should be plenty of opportunities for Robison to make some noise in the backfield (although the same was said about Ray Edwards).
Right now, the job is Robison's to lose, but second-year player Everson Griffen has shown up ready to play this year and is enough competition for Robison to prove whether he deserves the job or not.
Bernard Berrian first signed on with the Vikings before the 2008 season and had a promising first year in Minnesota. He caught 48 passes for 964 yards and seven touchdowns while leading the league in yards per catch with an average of 20.1.
In 2009, the Vikings signed quarterback Brett Favre and Berrian's numbers took a hit. Although he had seven more receptions than in '08, he had nearly 350 less yards and only four touchdowns.
Last season was even worse. Inconsistent play and poor quarterback performances lead to him to only 28 receptions and no touchdowns.
It is arguable that Berrian and Favre were never fully on the same page, but that is yet to be proven. This offseason, Berrian restructured his deal and showed up to camp looking forward to be part of new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense.
Berrian needs to rebound from his poor season to help the Vikings receivers, and even though he is confident he will do so, he needs to show it on the field.
To most defensive ends, an 11-sack season would be great. By Jared Allen's standards, 11 sacks means there is room for improvement.
Despite reaching double-digits in sacks for the fifth time in seven years and grabbing a pair of interceptions, Allen never seemed to show up in games last year. He put up the numbers but lacked the game-changing performances that made him a feared force in the NFL.
As mentioned before, if the Vikings are going to show improvement over last season, they are going to need better play from the defensive line. With two new starters on the line and Kevin Williams possibly suspended for the first four games of the season, Allen needs to be the anchor on the line.
He's the kind of player who can rally the other players with his play as well as pump up the crowd. When Jared Allen is fired up, chances are the whole defense is fired up.
If Allen can amp up the defense and return to his dominating form, the Vikings will be able to win more games than last season.