In his first year as head coach, Mike Zimmer was left thinking “What if?”
What if, Adrian Peterson was able to play more than one game?
What if, the Vikings started Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback from day one?
The Vikings finished the season 7-9, but four of those losses came at a point differential of three points or less. Most Vikings fans look at the last five games the Vikings played though and consider optimism. They went 3-2 and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seemed to get better every week.
This season Bridgewater gets the help he didn’t have last year with the return of running back Adrian Peterson starting in the backfield. Peterson has earned the right for people not to doubt his abilities, no matter the wear and tear or age of the veteran running back. Last season Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, filled in admirably splitting carries in Peterson’s absence, but let’s be serious – Peterson can do the work of three running backs on a team. The addition of Peterson, should only be a positive for the even-keeled Bridgewater. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner must be thrilled because of Peterson returning and a full off-season for tight end Kyle Rudolph to recover from nagging injuries that have plagued him the last two years.
Rudolph would benefit greatly in a well balanced Norv Turner offense, but the questions come from the threats on the outside. The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace from Miami, who was pretty much a bust for the Dolphins. Wallace provides a deep threat but not much else. The Vikings seem like they got a bust in their own in Cordaralle Patterson, who currently is fourth on the depth chart. Patterson has all the physical tools, but seemingly lacks the focus and heart (some would say) to be anything more than a big kick returner. The Vikings return their best receiver from last year Charles Johnson, who started the season on the Cleveland Browns practice squad, so. . . there’s that. . .
The offensive line might be a continuous work in progress during the season which should bring some cause for concern. The younger players on the line David Yankey (left guard) and Matt Kalil (left tackle) must show that they can hang in this league or they might be rotation players at best. Kalil came in with high hopes from USC in 2012 and was looked on as a player who can protect the blindside on this team for a decade. This might be his last chance.
Defensively the Vikings have veterans up front, who bought into coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme and by mid-season were able to put it all together. Linval Jospeh left the bright lights of New York to come play for Minnesota at about $3.5 million a year and it worked out for both sides. Last year the Vikings drafted linebacker Anthony Barr out of UCLA in the first round and this season they supplied him a reunion of sorts by drafting his teammate out of UCLA Eric Kendricks. The familiarity between the two athletic linebackers is something to keep an eye on as they both grow in Zimmer’s defense.
There is a lot to like in the secondary of this defense. Last year, as a rookie Antoine Exum was adamant about not wanting to convert from corner back to safety, but this year it looks like the he will be playing safety alongside Harrison Smith who has a motor that doesn’t stop. Reports from Vikings camp has been that the staff is very pleased at the leap in maturity Exum has taken. In front of the safeties are two first round picks at corner back. Xavier Rhodes (2013) and Trae Waynes (this year’s eleventh pick). Waynes will probably start at nickel corner and battle for that second spot with veteran Captain Munnerlin. If Rhodes is a quick learner, this is the kind of secondary that can cover a lot of ground against even the best passing attacks in the league.
Everyone knew, Mike Zimmer was a great hire for Minnesota when they made the change last year. He says all the right things publicly and has veterans and rookies buying into his philosophies. The defense should be fine this year while the offense is going to need a lot of help from that offensive line. Although having Peterson back is great, Bridewater is going to need one of these receivers to become his go-to-guy.
Predicted Record: 9-7
Predicted Pro Bowlers: Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Adrian Peterson