This is a time for general optimism in the NFL, much like spring training is for baseball--WHICH IS A FINE SPORT KYLE SO DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT A HATE PIECE--ahem, sorry.
The final set of off season activities are wrapping up until training camp starts next month, and we've been able to read and observe some things we feel are absolute truths about the club heading into 2014. And by 'we', I mean 'me'. And by 'absolute truths' I mean 'things I hope will happen based on my own personal biases, a handful of practices in helmets and no pads, and a healthy glass of purple kool aid'.
So, let's get to it.
Teddy Bridgewater will be the opening day quarterback. I say this for a couple reasons, and I base it off of recent Vikings history with newly drafted quarterbacks. When both Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder were drafted, team leadership at the time said in no uncertain terms that both guys would sit and learn. It wasn't even an option, at least initially, for them to be in the mix for starting.
With Bridgewater, it seems different. Now, I don't make this prediction because I am a believer in the theory that a rookie QB should start because that's the only way he'll learn. The only thing keeping him behind Matt Cassel (and Christian Ponder, for that matter) is NFL experience. He has the most natural talent of the three, and he's a grinder. When you read a story about him, it's about him loading up the playbook in the XBox, or working in the classroom.
Mike Zimmer has said there will be a competition, and the best guy will win. That's the only logical answer anyone with half a brain can give, and after what we've seen around here the last few years, it's refreshing. Yet still, listen to some of these quotes, and tell me that the staff isn't pulling for Bridgewater, at least subconsciously:
"Teddy's so great to be around, it's easy," (Norv) Turner said. "As Coach Zimmer said, he knows how to work. He's very instinctive. ... He's a very natural player."
"Teddy will play when we feel like he's ready, if he's the best guy, which we hope that he will be," (Mike) Zimmer said, via StarTribune.com. "We always want to have competition."
"I really like him," Zimmer said. "He's a really nice kid. He's catching on. I like how hard he's been studying and working, and how good he wants to be."
Turner again: "It's always fun with a younger player that it's all new to them, they've got the big eyes. Teddy is so great to be around that it's easy. As Coach Zimmer has said, he knows how to work. He's very instinctive. He's a very natural player. One of the things that has been the most impressive to me is I knew he'd be very accurate, I knew he'd make great decisions, quick decisions, but he's been outstanding throwing the ball deep, which some people thought that was going to be an issue. I think in the six or eight weeks we've had him on the field, I think he's been put in a position where he's had to make most of the throws he would have to make and I think he can make all the throws he needs to make."
If he progresses at the rate he has been, I find it difficult to believe he'll be on the bench come the season opener.
Michael Mauti will be a starter/regular contributor as a linebacker: With all the different looks defenses give, it's tough to say that Michael Mauti will be a starter, but he'll see a lot of playing time at linebacker in 2014. When he was drafted in 2013, he was coming off his third ACL injury in two years, and spent almost the entire off-season rehabbing. When he finally saw the field late last year, he looked decent. Now that he's healthy, you get the feeling that a guy who was a day two talent will crack the lineup and see some significant playing time in 2014.
Either Cordarrelle Patterson or Greg Jennings will have 1,000 yards receiving: It doesn't matter if Matt Cassel or Bridgewater is the starter, I find it almost impossible to believe that with Norv Turner's offense, one of these guys won't rack up some serious yardage. My bet would be on Jennings, because Greg Jennings Is Always Open. If it does happen, Jennings or Patterson would become the first Vikings receiver to have over 1,000 yards in a season since...2009?!?!? Really?? Wow.
The defense will be ranked 16th overall--or better--by season's end: When I say that the Vikings defense is going to be better, it's not really a bold prediction. I mean, we watched them last year, and there's really nowhere to go but up. But to say they'll be a middle of the pack defense, well, I think that's kind of bold. When you look at this unit, it's completely revamped from a year ago. They got younger, quicker, and bigger on the defensive line. They have more natural (if unproven) talent at linebacker in about five years, and the addition of CB Captain Munnerlyn makes the secondary at least respectable.
When you add in the fact that new coach Mike Zimmer, a defensive wizard, will be installing his scheme and calling the shots on game day, you can't help but feel a sense of optimism with this group. Yes, they got rid of older, more established players who we all loved watching for a long time. But this facelift and attitude adjustment was long overdue, and it should pay big dividends in 2014.
The Vikings will be a playoff team in 2014: I've said it more than once since this overhaul was complete, but I really, really like this team. On paper, they have a great coaching staff, a quarterback that can either play competently in Matt Cassel or has the potential to be a franchise guy in Teddy Bridgewater, one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a revamped defense with a coach that knows what he's doing.