If continuity is as beneficial as many NFL experts claim, then the Minnesota Vikings offense should be in great shape this season. The only players not returning that had any impact at all last season are TE John Carlson and RB Toby Gerhart, and they were both back-ups. Let’s take a look at the different positions and see what we have in store for this season.
Offensive Line: The offensive line returns intact with 5th round pick David Yankey possibly pushing so-so guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco for playing time. Matt Kalil (LT), John Sullivan (C), and Phil Loadholt (RT) are the anchors that make this unit of the better ones in the league, and if the guard play improves, this group could be one of the best in the league. And with a QB who doesn’t hold on to the ball forever (see: Christian Ponder), the O-line should be that much more effective.
Running backs: Yes, Adrian Peterson is starting to rack up the miles on his legs, but I wouldn’t count out the 29 year-old superstar just yet. Peterson is an athletic freak, so there is plenty of reason to believe he will extract an extra year or two of top level performance compared to other RBs. New Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner has said AP will be more involved in the passing game, something that can boost the RBs productivity without him having to grind through the line of scrimmage. It has always been a mystery to me why Peterson hasn’t been involved in the passing game more over the years (his hands can’t be that bad, can they?).
With Peterson getting more touches through the air, back up RB Matt Asiata may get a few extra carries, but the non-AP RB that excites me most is rookie Jerick McKinnon, a super-strong, super fast scat back that has “all purpose threat” written all over him. If McKinnon develops, he could be a weapon in the running, passing, and return games. Turner loves these types of change-of-pace players, and hopefully McKinnon is his next success.
Wide Receivers/TIght Ends: A talent-depleted joke just two years ago, now the receivers group may be the best unit on the team. Greg Jennings is a top level talent with several high end years left in him, Jerome Simpson is an acrobat in a helmet who is a solid 4th WR, Jarius Wright is a capable slot receiver whose potential is still unrealized, Kyle Rudolph is a Pro Bowl TE who has yet to show his best, and other TE Chase Ford showed great promise toward the end of last season.
But the guy who carries this group is Cordarrelle Patterson. When the Vikings finally started making Patterson a major part of the offense last season, he showed an explosiveness that made all Viking fans say “Percy who?” C-Pat was already the league’s best kick returner, but then he started to pile up rushing and receiving TDs on a weekly basis. He weaved through hapless LBs and blew by overmatched DBs with ease. Patterson will force defenses to concentrate on him, leaving more room for Jennings, Peterson, and Rudolph to do their magic. I can’t wait to see what Turner can do with a talent like C-Pat.
Quarterbacks: The receiving talent is there, but their production numbers haven’t. Why? The QB’s have been terrible as a group. Ponder was awful, and Cassel was mediocre, despite having a few excellent games. Thankfully the Vikings have abandoned the sinking Ponder ship, and will head into the season with Cassel at the helm.
With Turner running the offense and boatload of talented running backs, receivers, and lineman all winning their battles, there is no excuse for Cassel to not be at least an above average QB this season. At least.
But Teddy awaits.
Teddy Bridgewater, considered by experts to be the top QB prospect just a few months ago, is now a Viking. The kid was insanely accurate in college and oozes leadership out of his every pore. The belief is that the Vikings will let Teddy learn from the sidelines for a while instead of throwing him in immediately. However, if the rookie adapts quickly and Cassel is underwhelming to start the season, then Teddy will be unleashed with all those weapons at his disposal. If this youngster is as mentally acute as the scouts say he is, then Vikings fans should expect to see him running the show at some point this season. And if not, that likely means that Cassel is playing well, something no fan of the purple will be disappointed to see.
When not being stifled by Ponder’s ineptitude, Bill Musgrave’s predictable play calling, and Leslie Frazier’s insane refusal to play Patterson more, the Vikings offense was decent last season. Now with a confirmed offensive genius calling the plays and an improved talent pool at QB, the Vikings can prove that continuity equals success.
Now about that defense…