It’s still early into the OTA season, but there is at least a little buzz - or at least some things I’ve noticed - that look to be encouraging signs some Vikings players that have not been major contributors in the past could be ready to step-up. Here are some names:
Mike Zimmer had positive things to say about how Treadwell looked from the very first phase of off-season activity. That positive buzz has continued into OTAs this week with some video of Treadwell making a nice contested catch against Xavier Rhodes and showing some nice route-running skill as well.
All indications are that Treadwell has been having a very good off-season so far, and being healthy this time has allowed him to really show himself well to the coaching staff, based on their comments so far.
If Treadwell can emerge as another outside receiver threat this year, not only does he represent an outside deep threat, but that will also allow the Vikings to use Stefon Diggs more effectively as a slot receiver, which is his best spot, in three-receiver sets, which in turn should help the Vikings passing game. Having three good receivers puts a lot of pressure on the depth of an opposing defense’s CBs, and not many teams have three good ones.
In some ways Cook is easy to overlook, perhaps because it’s not surprising, but Cook is getting a lot of positive comments from coaches and players since rookie camp that have continued into OTAs. Comments that he is the real deal, is a very instinctive runner, explosive, good with his cuts, good sense of who to block in pass pro, all suggest his move to the NFL level is going well, and he could be an early starter if that continues.
Having Cook take the lead in the running-back-by-committee the Vikings are likely to employ this season means having the most talented back on the field most of the time. Cook is an explosive play-maker that defenses will have to account for every down he’s on the field, whether run or pass, and having that big-play potential on the field more often is all good for the Vikings offense.
Still not sure how close Hodges is to be a regular contributor on offense, but he seems to be getting some opportunities to show what he can do, and is making good use of them. I get the sense from his comments that he feels very good about how things have been going so far - beyond the usual generic ‘I feel good, it’s going well, etc., etc.’ stuff. He looks to be a good fit for the Vikings offense under Shurmur, and it seems like they are experimenting with what he can do, what his best fit/role is, and how close he is to playing that role on the field this fall.
That’s all good for Hodges, and for the Vikings offense if he proves ready to take on that role. Hodges is another play-maker and mismatch for opposing defenses if he can get up to speed this summer.
It has to be encouraging for the Vikings offense to have potentially three new play-makers on the field this fall- especially with a solid QB, TE and 2 WRs from last year - and at least an improved offensive line. Just how good the Vikings offense will be will come down to just how improved the offensive line is, but upgrades at the skill positions will have a big impact too.
Now a couple guys on defense.
In an interview today Rick Spielman mentioned that things were starting to click for Datone at 3-technique, which bodes well for the veteran who hasn’t played inside for several years. Combined with comments from DL coach Andre Patterson on Jones’ skillset and ability to play 3-tech, and Jones could have a surprisingly good season there. I suspect there will definitely be a rotation, and different packages Patterson will put together to maximize player’s skill-sets- something he mentioned in an interview today as well.
Something Patterson also mentined today as an area of focus was to get more tackles-for-loss (TFLs) in the run defense. Jones can be more of a penetrator, so TFLs could be something they are looking to develop in him as well. But having Datone Jones anchor the 3-tech rotation and playing well could really add to the pressure the Vikings defensive line can put on the opposing backfield, whether QB or RB.
Spielman also mentioned Kearse (and Kentrell Brothers) as guys that played well last year on special teams, and look to contribute more this year. Other than that, there hasn’t been too much buzz about Kearse so far. But remember last pre-season Kearse was a standout and really showed himself well, earning top grades in pre-season action, making the roster as a 7th round pick, earning accolades for his special teams play and even getting a start week 7 last year.
He’s not there yet, but the 6’4” 215lbs. safety did beat the rap in his draft profile that he lacked urgency in his play. His game needs more refinement in terms of his angles and other technique issues, but a second off-season and pre-season along with a little experience should help him challenge Andrew Sendejo for the second safety spot. Sendejo had a better year for him last year, but he will turn 30 in September and has always struggled in coverage. Kearse appears first in line to challenge Sendejo, ahead of Antoine Exum and Anthony Harris, and has the best traits of the bunch.
It remains to be seen if Kearse can show enough improvement and consistency to overtake Sendejo, but of the returning starters on defense this season, Sendejo is the most vulnerable to a challenge, given Hunter has already assumed Robison’s starting job.
Which non-starter for the Vikings last season will have the biggest positive impact for the Vikings this year?
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