Parity...0-0. Only four teams have not made the postseason since the 2005 season ended: The Raiders, Bills, Browns and Rams.
Vikings fans from all over the country headed to Mankato for the 2013 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. Daily Norseman has been there. The wave of excitement has swept across the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Camp practices may be the work-related NFL routine us fans empathize with the most. They may be executing drills faster than we could, but many of us train and work out...just not many of us actually play a game for a living.
The goals are the same for each of the 32 NFL teams: Get better practice after practice, embrace the next challenge.
The advent that really kicks it off for many fans is the first preseason game.
What puts the Vikings in the top echelon is that they have long scoured for guys who aren't just great players, but who really LOVE football. The more information that comes out about the health risks associated with both the violent nature and elevating level of athleticism in the NFL, the more important it is to get guys who play with an edge (see: Adrian Peterson, Harrison Smith, Michael Mauti). There's a plan in place from the coaches to keep challenging these players - individually and especially as a unit - to take steps each season.
That's why I could see Spielman and Frazier accepting "Hard Knocks" next year if the Vikings win Super Bowl XLVIII. They already do a show with that level of access, "Beyond the Gridiron". It would be a "Frazier" thing to do to create a new challenge in coming back and winning it with the cameras in training camp.
It is a little large to list 10 players, but that's just how exciting this preseason is. They drop down from 90 Vikings to 75 19 days from now, and from 75 to 53 23 days from now.
Now, without further adieu, 10 players to watch on KARE11 at 7 PM Friday vs. the Texans (with an 11 PM Saturday on NFL Network national rebroadcast).
1. MLB/WLB Desmond Bishop
Will he play at all?
The Vikings LB corps has the most swagger and edge of any in the NFL. Desmond Bishop, with all his ability, could be the Vikings' equivalent of OLB Elvis Dumervil (5 year, $41 million contract with the Ravens; 63.5 sacks over six seasons), in that he is a player that unexpectedly became available at a time in free agency when there are fewer suitors, thus creating a steal (1 year, $1.5 million "prove it" contract an even bigger steal than Dumervil).
2. WR Cordarrelle Patterson
He fits the title as a "player to watch". You are going to want to watch him make plays.
3. CB Xavier Rhodes
To fight monsters, they drafted monsters. There's no shame in reacting to the ascensions of Calvin Johnson, Randall Cobb, Brandon Marshall, and Jordy Nelson by doing the same thing the Packers did in response to the rookie rampage of one Randy Moss: draft large cornerbacks. Rhodes at 6'1" joins A.J. Jefferson (6'1") and Chris Cook (6'2") as part of a secondary that is not going to back down from a fight with Megatron. BONUS: I'm amazed at how many small school guys are in this secondary headed into tomorrow: Georgia Southern SS Darius Eubanks, Alcorn State CB Rod Williams, and Nicholls State CB Bobby Felder. May the best men win (both in camp and against their rival Week 1).
4. WR/KR Joe Webb
One mark of a good coaching staff is the ability to molding raw athletic talent into key cogs of a Championship team or a dynasty. In the case of Cordarrelle Patterson, it's not 1998 anymore. Even if he somehow was on par with Moss coming out of Marshall, there are better defensive backs now. He'll need George Stewart and Bill Musgrave to get more than a few routes out of him, and he'll need to put in hours in the film room to mold his craft.
If Webb's rare blend of size/speed/vert is not maximized by this coaching staff, it should feel like a wasted effort to harness the ability of a super-talented player. His niche could be returning kicks. Patterson, Sherels, Robinson, Jefferson, and Randle are his biggest competition there.
5. DT Sharrif Floyd.
Still not running with the first team, he's looked very quick and powerful at practices I've observed. Now, we get to see if he can do it against real NFL linemen.
BONUS: DE Lawrence Jackson. Pass rushers are often like wide receivers and tight ends in that, the more match-up winners you have, the more the match-ups improve for the other guys. Lawrence Jackson is running with the second team now, and could be one of the pieces - along with Floyd - that puts the Vikings' defensive line over the top.
6. OLB Stanford Keglar.
The newest Minnesota Viking. How many snaps will he play?
7. P Jeff Locke
He's charged with flipping the field and with putting the Purple defense in a position to whip the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy for at least 8 games this season, but - moreover - he's going to be a strong leader on what should be a dynamic, young special teams unit for years to come.
Locke (Senior Bowl practice award for top specialist) booted a 70-yard punt and kicked 51-yard and 49-yard field goals in the same game vs. Texas in 2011. He definitely has the skill set, and could be a valuable asset to letting Alan Williams send the dogs inside the 20.
8. WR Jerome Simpson
He says he's near 100%. If you take a gander at the lineage of wide-outs who went from ordinary to superhero after Larry Fitzgerald's camp (which has showcased such luminaries as Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice and Cris Carter lending their invaluable advice), you can be encouraged by Simpson's participation: Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, Sidney Rice and Dwayne Bowe and Laurent Robinson (who caught 11 scores the season after Fitzgerald camp; Megatron had 5 last season).
I know people will think "2 receivers to watch at training camp?", especially given that neither are the most bubbly of bubble players in Adam Thielen. The reality is that the NFL is a passing league. You want really good #1 and #2 options (and I'd be surprised if Simpson wins the #2 outright), but the more other options you have, the harder it is for opponents to double-team the main targets, and the more prepared you are for injuries.
9. RB Zach Line
Toby Gerhart's contract is finished with this season. Line's a bit of a Rhett Ellison-style, versatile guy who has great 3rd-down receiving ability (Musgrave under-served Ellison in the offense last year, with only 7 catches; He could have had the kind of routes and run after catch that would have helped Ponder and the passing game get in rhythm in some games; He did have a 29 yarder).
This is a little off-topic, but I would really like to see the Vikings do a lot of 4WR or spread 3WR/1TE personnel like June Jones does at SMU (18th in FBS in pass attempts/game). Adrian doesn't always need a fullback in front of him. If Ponder doesn't have the short-area velocity to hit guys on quick outs and slants from the slot, he should not be under center. It's all about improving match-ups, wearing down the DL with tempo, and forcing defenses into extra-DB sets so Adrian Peterson can have more huge runs.
I remember thinking Fiesta Bowl superstar Ian Johnson looked like he had good shiftiness and versatility in his Chilly camps and some preseason games and he's now out of football. On the one hand, the Vikings can run block on such a phenomenal level, they are mostly looking for what running back can see the hole quickest, hit the hole quickest, and get the most yardage after contact. On the other hand, the Vikings have been up-front about wanting to open the offense up, and that might mean passing to 2nd and 3rd string RBs on 3rd down.
Arif says he could be added to the Practice Squad. Fullbacks play a position of supreme occupational hazard, thus have short shelf lives. They can't count on Jerome Felton forever, so Zach would be a great, versatile add to the Squad.
10. QB James Vandenberg
So, Arif and others say he's looked horrible (until the last few practices). This could be the game in which he turns it around (but most likely not)!
It's strange to see Matt Cassel on the list of Pro Bowlers on this team. I've seen more than half of Ponder's games with the Vikings (and about 16 of his college games), and I've seen quite a few Matt Cassel games. Maybe my interest in watching MBT and Vandenberg is less about them and more about how bland the top half of the quarterbacking depth chart has been in most of their recent starts.
James Vandenberg's junior season - before the offensive scheme change, before his top WR exited - was surprisingly similar to Geno Smith's.
Vandenberg: 58.7% comp., 7.5 ypa, 25 TD, 7 INT, 3 rush TD
Smith: 65.8% comp., 8.3 ypa, 31 TD, 7 INT, 2 rush TD
So, either Geno Smith made a remarkable leap because he's remarkably better than Vandenberg, or Vandenberg was in a bad spot and isn't that far behind being a starter in the NFL.
BONUS: I caught Mike Mayock saying that if Christian Ponder can get the ball to Jarius Wright, he'll be one of the breakout players in the entire league based on what he saw at training camp.
Alright. I'm most excited to watch McLeod Bethel-Thompson tomorrow but excluded him from this list because his future is more certain than Vandenberg. Who are you rooting for tomorrow night? What guys do you hope get enough reps to make a run at a roster spot?