MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s the middle of July, but the football season is officially just around the corner.
The Minnesota Vikings report to the campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Saturday for training camp. They’ll have their first practices on Sunday, and their first preseason game is about three weeks away.
The Vikings will face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Aug. 9 in Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame game. Once workouts get started, it won’t be long before the games start for real and the season is underway. So what should we keep an eye on as the team practices in Mankato?
Here are 10 things to monitor as the football season gets closer.
How Will Adrian Peterson Look?
Fresh off getting guaranteed money in a restructured contract, Adrian Peterson is locked up to be with the Vikings through the 2017 season. He showed up to the last half of voluntary team workouts and as at mandatory minicamp. By all accounts, he’ll show up to training camp in the best shape of his life after playing just one game last season. He’s one of the best running backs in the NFL, and he’ll get his share of the load this season.
Can Teddy Bridgewater Progress in 2nd NFL Season?
Teddy Bridgewater stepped in after Matt Cassel’s injury last year and had a respectable rookie season. Can he avoid the sophomore slump that so many athletes experience as professionals? We’ll only know in time, but if he stays healthy and has a good training camp, Bridgewater could be poised to have a big year. He also has more offensive weapons with Peterson back and the acquisition of free agent receiver Mike Wallace. His biggest challenge is to be more consistent and accurate with throws down the field.
What Will The Role Be For Trae Waynes?
The Vikings took Trae Waynes with their top draft choice this year to get more speed and athleticism in the secondary. But will he start from day one? He should be on the field a lot, but it’ll come in manageable doses as they ease him into the NFL. It’ll be important for him to soak in as much as possible at training camp.
Will Eric Kendricks Earn Starting Linebacker Spot?
The Vikings picked up Eric Kendricks in the draft, and if he has a good training camp and preseason, he could contend for a starting spot in Mike Zimmer’s defense. He’ll have to learn a lot along the way, but the Butkus Award winner led UCLA last season with 149 tackles. He has good instincts, but will need to prove himself competing against the likes of Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Casey Matthews and Michael Mauti among others for playing time.
Can Cordarrelle Patterson Bounce Back?
Cordarrelle Patterson barely played towards the end of last season and finished 2104 with 33 catches and just one receiving touchdown. He’s said all the right things in the offseason in that he’ll be ready to go, but it all comes down to execution when you’re on the field. If he can run better routes and make plays when his number is called during training camp and the offseason, it will go a long way to having a bounce back season.
Who Will Surprise This Year in Mankato?
An unknown player seems to come out every year and make a splash in training camp and the preseason. Last year it was wide receiver Adam Thielen, and a couple years ago it was Marcus Sherels. So who will it be this year? Early candidates include rookie receiver Stefon Diggs, safety Antone Exum Jr., quarterback Mike Kafka and defensive end Danielle Hunter. Another dark horse candidate could be Minnesota native and former Gophers wide receiver Isaac Fruechte. It’s always interesting to see which unknown steps up at training camp to make a name for themselves and earn a roster spot.
How Will Vikings Offense Change with Peterson Back?
Teddy Bridgewater’s mobility gave the Vikings’ offense a dynamic it had been missing, so how will it change with Peterson back? He’s one of the best running backs in football, so defenses will have to scheme against him. Peterson will get his carries and his yards, but the attention defenses pay to him should allow for Bridgewater to make the offense more dynamic both with his own feet and through the air. There are a lot of other weapons, including Wallace, Kyle Rudolph and Patterson. If everyone stays healthy, the Vikings should have a dynamic approach on offense.
Can Matt Kalil Bounce Back?
Matt Kalil will be the first person to tell you the 2014 season wasn’t his best. The same goes for the Vikings’ offensive line in general. With Peterson and Bridgewater now leading the offense, it’s as crucial as ever for Kalil and the group to have a consistent year. His struggles made sense after it was revealed last December that knee surgery last offseason got him behind heading into 2014. He had arthroscopic surgery on both knees back in January, and coaches will be watching him closely in training camp. His health and consistency factor greatly in the Vikings’ potential on offense.
Can Anthony Barr Stay Healthy at Linebacker?
Anthony Barr had a promising rookie season going until missing the final four games of 2014 with a slight meniscus tear in his knee. He started all 12 previous games as a rookie and had 70 tackles. He also forced a fumble, recovered it and ran it in for a touchdown to beat Tampa Bay in overtime. The Vikings will keep an eye on Barr in training camp as he enters his second season and are looking for him to solidify a linebacker spot.
Will Kyle Rudolph Stay Healthy at Tight End?
If the Vikings want a successful and balanced offense, they’ll need Kyle Rudolph to stay healthy at tight end. He’s entering his fifth NFL season and has missed 16 games over his four seasons due to injury. He missed seven games last year with a variety of injuries after missing eight games in 2013 with a broken foot. He’ll likely get a lighter workload at training camp as the Vikings’ versatility on offense hinges somewhat on his health.
Most experts have the Vikings as a fringe playoff team entering the 2015 season. It will be interesting to see how that changes as training camp and the preseason progresses.