Training camp is in full swing for the Minnesota Vikings in Mankato and it’s a huge year for the purple, full of potential.
But potential is as exciting a word as it is dangerous. It allows for an equal amount of success as well as ultimate failure. The Twins had all kinds of potential coming into this season, and how’d that turn out?
The Vikings enter the season after winning the NFC North title last year, finishing 10-6 and hosting a playoff game. Most of us would just rather forget that outcome. But between the talent that’s back, some new faces that are here and a coaching staff loaded with experience, there is plenty to be excited about with the Vikings.
Oh yeah, and they’ve opened a state-of-the-art $1 billion stadium and broke ground on a top notch practice facility. Here are four things to keep an eye on with the Vikings in training camp, if the team wants to match the hype.
Can Teddy Bridgewater Take The Next Step?
In his first full season as a starting NFL quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater led the Vikings to a division title and a home playoff game. But his season was hardly smooth sailing. He completed 65 percent of his passes, had only 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions and didn’t take many chances down the field. Then again, you don’t have to when Adrian Peterson is your running back.
But he was also one of the most pressured quarterbacks in the league last year. So were the struggles because he hasn’t developed yet or because the offensive line didn’t do him many favors? Bridgewater also didn’t and arguably still doesn’t have a legitimate No. 1 go-to wide receiver. His improvement and development in leading the Vikings’ offense is arguably the most important factor if they’ll be a playoff time that goes further than last year’s first-round playoff exit.
Will Cordarrelle Patterson Become a Receiving Threat?
Vikings fans have seen what Cordarrelle Patterson can do when he gets his hands on the football. He’s fast and he’s dangerous in the kick return game. But with the increasing amount of touchbacks in the NFL, Patterson needs to find other ways to get on the field. And he’ll be the first to tell you.
The Vikings moved four draft picks, yes four, to get him in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Patterson caught two passes, yes two, in 16 games last year. At times he seems to care more about his bling than figuring out how to get off the line of scrimmage at the snap and run a proper post pattern.
Patterson is in the final year of his rookie contract and due to his circumstances, will more than likely make the roster this year. But it’s a make-or-break year for him if he wants to have any shot at long-term success in the NFL. Vikings’ coaches have said all the right things about his work ethic so far in offseason workouts and camp, but he’ll need to prove it on the field to stick around.
Defense A Mix Of Veterans, Young Players
Mike Zimmer has always been a coach that stressed defense. He was a defensive coordinator most of his NFL career before taking over the Vikings. He could be in charge of one of the best defenses in the NFL this year. Chad Greenway is back for one more season to lead the linebackers, who have a couple of young and budding stars in Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Harrison Smith signed a contract extension in the offseason and is now one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. Xavier Rhodes has become the team’s lock down cornerback, and the hope is that second-year player Trae Waynes can step in and get some time at the opposite corner spot.
The bottom line is there is enough talent and depth on the Vikings defense at all three levels that if they can stay healthy, the offense may not have to light up the scoreboard a lot. It’s the type of defense that can take a team to the playoffs and beyond.
Can Blair Walsh Bounce Back?
Wide left. It might have a new meaning for Vikings fans now. Blair Walsh says he’s over the crushing miss from just 27 yards out in the bitter cold last year in the playoff loss to the Seahawks. But the die-hard fans aren’t, at least not yet. They won’t be until he’s put in that same spot again and comes through. All that miss did last year was make fans forget about Gary Anderson in the 1999 NFC title game. OK never mind, fans who saw it will never forget that kick.
Anyhow, Walsh has had enough rough times that competition had been brought, in theory, to potentially replace him. At least on Sunday, he went a perfect 8-for-8. In the spring workouts, special teams coach Mike Priefer said he made more than 90 percent of his kicks out of more than 200. But again, there won’t be forgiveness from fans until he makes a kick to advance the Vikings in the playoffs.
The Vikings know what’s at stake this year. If they can stay healthy and meet expectations, anything is possible.