I ask the question every fan has been wondering since the completion of the off-season moves, will the new and younger Vikings team be an improved team from last year? I believe they will be, but I bring it up for your review, asking more questions than offering answers. I've done a quick review of the off-season moves, with some added commentary that is up for discussion. With time to kill before the next phase of off-season training, let's talk all things Vikings.
In the 2012 power rankings the Vikings climbed out of the basement from 30th in the first week to 14th at the end of the season, surprising everyone but the coaches and players. (or so they said) At this time in the off-season Walter Football has the Vikings ranked 16th on the list, with Detroit 21st, Chicago 12th, and Green Bay 5th. Are the Vikings again the sleeper team to watch that will surprise everyone? There are still a lot of skeptics out there who are stunned by the loss of two major playmakers, and are still doubtful. Will Percy Harvin’s trade weaken the offense despite the new receivers picked up in the off-season, or will this bold move bring improvement overall? Will the secondary feel the impact of Antoine Winfield’s absence on the field despite the strong draft? Was the weakness of the defensive middle at DT and MLB addressed this off-season, or is there still a hole needing to be filled?
Will the two starting guards Johnson and Fusco step it up from last year, or are they near their ceiling on an otherwise strong offensive front? Do (Chew)Baca or Bond(man) have a chance of replacing the vets, or will they simply be backups? Will rookie punter Jeff Locke be as consistent, not only with punts, but as the spotter during extra points and field goals as Kluwe proved himself each year? Play-wise, are we using the best schemes available for the talent we have, or are the O & D coordinators forcing players to stay within schemes not best suited for their individual skills? And from the coaching standpoint, will Bill Musgrave rise above his reputation as being below-average in real-time play calling? He is known for scheming well, yet will this be enough to take the team deep into the playoffs where the best and brightest DCs will exploit his weakness to adapt?
It seems the view of many Viking fans and sports commentators that though the team has improved in some areas, the loss of key players Winfield and Harvin leave large voids in both the offense and defense, and the jury is out as to whether these losses can be recovered enough so that the Vikings can again make the playoffs during a season with a tough strength of schedule. On the team’s site, a recent poll shows that the three first round draft picks made the biggest impact during the offseason. http://www.vikings.com/news/blog/article-1/Cast-Your-Vote-Vikings-Top-Offseason-Move/8a36749f-a005-4c94-a5dd-9ffc9e46fdfb The Jennings acquisition was the voted the next significant move in the off-season. A lot is riding on whether this year's draft class can do what last year's rookies were able to achieve in a very short time. It was strong talent, yet it also happened because of good coaching. With one more year under the belt of the coaching staff, a winning climate, strong vets, and gifted rookies, it seems the team is firing on all cylinders.
The Harvin trade seemed a result of misguided passion overshadowing an ability to be a team player and leader, and most fans accepted his loss. His presence may have been a bigger problem for Christian Ponder gaining confidence than is publicly acknowledged. Antoine Winfield, despite his huge impact on the team for many years, including last year, was unceremoniously released in the off-season for cap reasons, shocking players and fans alike. This was not as well received. His salary for the next year, though rightly earned, left little room for necessary FA acquisitions in the of-fseason, so GM Rick Spielman made the unpopular choice of letting him go.
Jennings came on board as a QB friendly presence who also is a play maker from a division rival. He was the Vikings second choice for a veteran free agent, yet in my own estimation, the best choice for Ponder for a crucial prove-it year. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1586401-how-greg-jennings-will-make-christian-ponder-a-better-qb Patterson was a reach for being such a project, yet his exceptional playmaking ability will be used immediately in kick and punt returns, along with Harvin-like packages closer to the line of scrimmage. http://www.vikings.com/media-vault/videos/Cordarelle-Patterson-Highlights-and-Draft-Profile/2931222e-efab-4387-9cf5-be9c01426365 Jarius Wright showed promise in the late season; it seems that loosening his reins will bring more positive results. http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2012/11/11/3631780/jarius-wright-stats-percy-harvin-vikings/in/3394879 Simpson either was off the field or injured last year, hopefully he can retain his earlier form. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VR9yCdUNw-k http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFcsWB6CgOw So with these receivers, along with potential playmakers Childs and Hightower, the weakness at the receiver position seems addressed by the team. The potential is likely there, if Ponder finds the rhythm he showcased in the last four regular season games of 2012.
With Cook and 1st round pick Xavier Rhodes http://www.vikings.com/media-vault/videos/Xavier_Rhodes_Highlights_and_Draft_Profile/2b7f6e04-0bc4-4db1-934c-5f3f6419c1ce on the outside, will Robinson have what it takes to play the nickel, and be consistent? No one can replace Winfield, so will the secondary as a whole become better without him, still being without a big nose tackle, and having questionable leadership at the MLB spot? What can be done to replace Winfield’s leadership of the secondary on and off the field? Who is capable of taking his place? Even though Cook is now the elder on the team, does he have the credibility to lead the younger players? http://www.1500espn.com/sportswire/Chris_Cooks_advice_to_rookie_on_top_wideouts_Let_me_handle_them051913 http://www.dailynorseman.com/2013/5/19/4346668/cook-expresses-confidence-in-vikings-secondary
I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems strange to me that Henderson is adamant that he will be the Mike, and at the same time he is attending broadcasting classes this offseason. I have images of Rocky Balboa getting ready for a fight when I think of Michael Mauti, and Erin as Apollo Creed. We know what happened there. Twice. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000200062/article/erin-henderson-brian-urlacher-rumors-motivate-me http://www.dailynorseman.com/2013/5/20/4347718/henderson-becomes-one-of-us-well-not-really We need an Urlacher-type taking over, not another PA, though I do enjoy PA at 9 to noon during football season. Who do we know right now that is hungry, angry, single-minded, and a natural leader? Hmmm. Sounds like Mauti to me. http://min.scout.com/2/1287504.html Why start Erin where he will be not be staying for long? Why get weaker at LB by two new position moves rather than one? It seems we need to fill in with the original Urlacher while his heir apparent heals up. Just my opinion, but it makes sense. I will be surprised if Urlacher is not playing the first game of the regular season.
Minnesota got a gift with the new Sharrif in town, Sharrif Floyd to be exact. http://www.vikings.com/media-vault/videos/Combine_Workout_Sharrif_Floyd/6e181ede-5423-4336-9f49-dd75d94fce1f Though the team got a potential pro-bowler, Floyd plays best as a three technique, in the same mold as KW. So this leaves us still wanting at nose tackle, for as many see it, Guion and Evans are best as backups, ranked near the bottom in comparison to other NFL players at the same position. Arif brought up another possibility of changing the current scheme to accommodate our two top tackles playing alongside one another, and to me this makes some sense, at least on third down plays. http://www.dailynorseman.com/2013/5/16/4316146/should-the-vikings-switch-to-the-wide-9 Why not put agility and speed up front when we can assume pass?
So I leave you with more questions than answers, tons of possibilities, with none of us really knowing the team's final answer until the first regular season game. What is your take on what can or should be done to become better now that the pieces are on the board + or – a couple more free agents? Who should we pick up that is still available? Who should we release? Are the Vikings better today than they were at this time last season? Are they better than the power rankings show? What do you think? If the Vikings make the playoffs, how deep will they go? Anyone buying tickets to NY?