While the Vikings experienced several positives during training camp, overall I have been underwhelmed by the last two weeks. The team has many questions, and possible answers for all of them. Training camp however, didn't really eliminate any uncertainties about the team. The warm fuzzy feeling I hoped to have about the 2013 season is not there. This is reinforced by the starting 22's preseason play. The sample size is incredibly small; so small that no real information can be gleaned from it. That sample is not positive one, however. Moreover, the preseason play is being heavily scrutinized for a reason not many are discussing: There was little competition at Vikings camp 2013.
In this regard, my focus is not on the top of the roster but the bottom of it. The Vikings are currently set to return 19 of 22 starters from last year. In camp those spots have been given, not earned. While there are some exceptions, the Vikes are a young team which could greatly benefit from a higher level of competition. Instead, our starters are being given "elite player" treatment. I believe that this has led to lackluster, unmotivated play.
There are a few Viking starters that have nothing to prove: Adrian Peterson, John Sullivan, Chad Greenway, and Jared Allen. There are also some Vikings that have undoubtedly earned their spots through past performance, but still have room for improvement: Jerome Felton, Greg Jennings, Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Kevin Williams and Harrison Smith. The remaining 10 starter positions I consider up for grabs.
Despite what could have been a very competitive camp, incumbent starters were handed free passes, and I cannot agree with the suggested reasons for taking this approach.
- QB - Ponder deserves another shot, but why not challenge him in camp?
- RG - Who is pushing Charlie Johnson? Jeff Baca should be.
- LG - Who is pushing Brandon Fusco? Seth Olsen should be.
- WR - Can we really rely on Jerome Simpson? Patterson and Wright deserve starting looks.
- DL - Are we keeping Brian Robison or Everson Griffen for next year? Camp is a good starting point for this battle.
- DT - Has Guion improved? Evans has looked much better, and Floyd hasn't really been given a chance here.
- MLB - Just like that Henderson fits here? I was expecting an intense 3-way camp battle.
- OLB - Mitchell serving as fill-in? Bishop gets a 3-quarter audition but that's it.
- CB - Josh Robinson automatically moved to starter? Rhodes has promising talent but the opportunities to show it have been rare.
- FS - Sanford since day one. Blanton, Sendejo, Raymond have seen very few snaps.
This does not even include the second TE spot, Punter, or Kicker. I have no clue why John Carlson is ahead of Rhett Ellison on the depth chart, and there is nothing wrong with kicking and punting competitions in camp. I also have some problems with how slowly we are bringing along our rookies. Sure, it shows we have quality depth, but the bottom line is the Vikings need a significant impact from Patterson, Floyd, and Rhodes this year. Training camp has ended and there are still questions about how much they will contribute.
The starting roster has looked the same for the last 4 months. Understand that I am not suggesting we shake up the roster simply for the hell of it. I am suggesting that handing out all of these starter spots has created complacency. As none of these guys have been challenged, none of them are showing tangible improvement. Several of the starters called out must improve in order for the 'Vikings to contend. Competition is a great impetus for improvement, yet the Vikings have ignored the need for it.