So, we basically know who our 2012 Minnesota Vikings are going to be. I wrote up a little piece for my blog, but I thought I'd break-down each position and provide my thoughts here too. There weren't a ton of surprises in the cuts last night, but there were a few interesting choices made by the front office. So, read on after the jump.
The red-beard is triumphant! As a fellow-red bearded guy, I was glad to see Bethel-Thompson find a place on the roster. I was surprised by the move to cut Sage Rosenfels, but I can definitely understand the motivation. Why go with an aging veteran, backup when you can stash a raw, developmental prospect instead? The mantra this off-season has always been: youth movement. Christian Ponder will have to make progress this season, or we will start to hear chants for Joe Webb to start. Even if Ponder is terrible (he wont be), I fully expect the front office to stick with him for the next 2 years at least to give him a fair shake to develop. We won't draft a QB in the 1st round until 2014 at the earliest, if at all.
Runningbacks and Fullbacks
When training camp started, I was pretty sure that it was going to be a battle between Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman with Matt Asiata being the odd man out, but then I watched them all run during the preseason. Asiata was the clear victor in that competition, but I was glad to see that Jordan Todman found his way onto the practice squad, because he's no slouch. Lex Hilliard...well...he never really showed much of anything. Either way, we'll be watching the Gerhart and Peterson show this year anyway. I hope that Felton can provide us good blocking out of the FB position. But even with Peterson's knee injury, we're in pretty good shape at RB.
I can't help but think that our wide receiving corp doesn't look dramatically different than last year. We've added Simpson and Wright, and while I think Simpson is an upgrade over Berrian, I was hoping for a dramatic overhaul at this position. Perhaps Greg Childs could have been a difference maker this year, but tragically, he blew out both knees in training camp. Thankfully, Stephen Burton seems to have made some progress this off-season, so hopefully he hasn't yet reached his ceiling. Jarius Wright displayed his speed and shifty-ness this preseason and will make for a good backup option. I've been saying all off-season that Devin Aromashodu holds down the fort during the first 3 weeks while Simpson is suspended, and I fully expect the DA to be cut when Simpson returns. We made small improvement here, but we'll need to address this area of the team again in next year's draft.
It was a bummer we didn't get to see any of John Carlson this preseason, but hopefully he returns to the lineup fully healthy and ready to go. Rhett Ellison has looked fantastic this offseason, and as much as I criticized the pick immediately after the draft, he is going to provide excellent depth and insurance. Allen Reisner continues to develop and display good hands. We are deep, and young at tight end, and that is awesome.
Our offensive line has looked much improved compared to last year, however, our depth is pretty shaky. I'm surprised they only kept 3 lineman for depth, and hopefully they can get DeMarcus Love back from IR sooner rather than later. As long as the starters stay healthy, this unit should do a better job of protecting Ponder and opening holes for the running game. We'll need to address this area of the team again in next year's draft.
I thought the move of Everson Griffen to linebacker would open the door for a guy like Trevor Guyton to make the team. However, that little experiment didn't last very long and they returned Griffen back to his natural position of DE where he can continue to develop his elite pass rushing skills. That left Guyton as the odd man out. D'Aundrae Reed has shown some good progression this off-season, and with Jared Allen leading the way, our pass rush should continue to be a strength of the defense.
Kevin Williams looks like he will be back to his old self in 2012, which is a good thing. Guion has looked serviceable, but I haven't seen Ballard or Evans step up. I think DT continues to be a weakness for the team and we will need to address this in next year's draft.
There were a lot of question marks surrounding Brinkley and the linebacking unit. Brinkley has largely answered those questions and looks like he's ready to take over the middle of the defense. He may be a slight downgrade from EJ Henderson (when he was in his prime), but Brinkley is still young I don't think he's reached his ceiling yet. We improved our depth via free agency with McKenzie and Mitchell looking good. But the gold star goes to preseason standout Audie Cole. If Brinkley can't hack it, perhaps Audie Cole has a shot of taking over the middle of the defense in a few years. Cole is still a little raw, and needs to bulk up a bit, but his instincts were on full display in a back-to-back pick 6's during the 2nd preseason game. I'm a little surprised they kept 7 linebackers, but I think Audie Cole simply played his way onto the team and booted someone else out of a roster spot.
The return of Winfield and Cook, with the addition of Robinson should result in a significant improvement in the secondary compared to last season. I thought Chris Carr was a lock to make the team, but after seeing him get beat routinely in the preseason and continually make bad decisions, I'm glad to see him get cut. I am guessing the team was just as surprised as we were that he didn't work out, and it likely motivated the trade for AJ Jefferson. I didn't think Marcus Sherels would make the team solely on his return abilities, so hopefully he's made some progress as a CB too. Brandon Burton looks improved, but still has a ways to go in his development. We will need to address CB again in next year's draft.
Mistral Raymond has taken a HUGE leap forward this offseason, and it has made me completely forget about Abdullah. Abdullah who? I loved the competition between Sanford and Smith, and both have had a great preseason. I'm not sure if Blanton is successfully making the transition from corner to safety, but it appears we've found a diamond in the rough in Andrew Sendejo. I think our safety group will be underrated all year, but I would like to see the team address this position again next year. I'm surprised they kept 5 safeties, but it is possible that Sendejo gets cut at some point for an additional lineman.
Walsh has been booming kickoffs all preseason, and there shouldn't be too many actual returns against us in 2012. That said, I question his accuracy on the longer kicks as he was 9-of-12 on field goal attempts in the preseason, missing three kicks from 40 yards or more. I imagine the coaching staff may think twice about putting their rookie kicker out there for questionably long kicks, despite his leg strength. Kluwe looks like his old self, and it's great to have Loeffler healthy and back on the field.
Overall, the roster was turned over by 31% compared to last year. Even more impressive is that there will likely be 9 new starters on offense and defense, representing a change of 41% compared to last year. The Vikings were one of the oldest teams in the league in 2011, but we will be one of the youngest in 2012. We will be taking our lumps at several positions, but in the long run, the youth movement is the right thing to do to rebuild the roster. It's been said that this rebuild is a 2-year process, and that this is only the 1st year of that process. I agree. While we have some great young pieces in place, I'm really looking forward to what this team will look like in 2013 and beyond.
2012 Prediction: 5-11, drafting 7th.