With the Minnesota Vikings reporting to Training Camp in Mankato in just twelve days, it's time to take a look at what the team has going for it as they begin preparations for the 2015 NFL season. We'll start where most NFL teams start, and that's at the quarterback position.
As we go through all of these, we'll take a look at how the Vikings looked at the start of the 2014 season, how they looked at the end of the 2014 season, and how they look now.
How They Started Last Year: Matt Cassel (starter), Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder
How They Finished Last Year: Bridgewater (starter), Ponder (Cassel on injured reserve)
How They Head Into Camp: Bridgewater (starter), Shaun Hill, Taylor Heinecke, Mike Kafka
The plan for last year was for Bridgewater to be able to hang back for a year behind Cassel and get a feel for the NFL game. About nine quarters into the season, that came to a screeching halt as Cassel broke his foot against New Orleans and Bridgewater got thrown into the fire. After a rough couple of games following a very good first start against the Atlanta Falcons, Bridgewater finally got his feet underneath him and looked pretty impressive down the stretch. He was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in December, and gave the team plenty of reason to feel good about him going forward.
Bridgewater represents something that Vikings fans haven't seen in a decade. . .a long-term answer at the quarterback position. With the return of running back Adrian Peterson, defenses should loosen up quite a bit in 2015, and that can only benefit Louisville's favorite son as he attempts to build on a promising rookie campaign.
To fill the "veteran mentor" role, the Vikings jettisoned Cassel and Ponder in the off-season and brought in long-time journeyman Shaun Hill. Hill actually began the 2014 as the starter for the St. Louis Rams (following Sam Bradford's annual injury), and lasted all of two quarters in that capacity before Jeff Fisher yanked him in favor of Austin Davis. At age 35, Hill isn't the sort of guy that you want to try to lean on in the long term, but could probably come in and manage for a few weeks if the team needed him to do so. Here's hoping it doesn't come to that.
After Cassel's injury, the Vikings went through a few potential options at the #3 quarterback spot in Chandler Harnish and Pat Devlin, but had just two on the roster in Week 17. At this point, we don't know for sure if the team plans on taking three quarterbacks into the season, but there might be a bit of a battle if they do. The competition, at this point, is between Mike Kafka and Taylor Heinicke, and is one we went over a bit not too long ago. Minnesota plucked Kafka off the scrap heap known as the Veteran Combine, while they signed Heinicke as an undrafted free agent after the 2015 NFL Draft. Kafka has, in all likelihood, already hit his ceiling, while Heinicke probably has some room to develop. If I had to bet on one or the other right now, I'd probably lean toward the rookie, but it's one of the roster fights to keep an eye on during Training Camp.
But the big story at the quarterback position for the Vikings as we head into camp is the development of Bridgewater. He goes into this season knowing that he has the keys to the car and that he really doesn't have anyone breathing down his neck. Hopefully he can continue along the trajectory that many experts expect to see him on.