The Minnesota Vikings struggled throughout the 2011 season in almost every aspect on the field, tying a franchise worst 3-13 season since moving to 16 game season (1984). The defensive line, highlighted by Jared Allen, was just about the only strong suit. Players, coaches, and management are ready to bounce back and impress everyone. Team President Mark Wilf expressed his thoughts on his expectations for the Vikings, via Pioneer Press:
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. Listen, we want to win now, obviously, but we also want to build a stable, long-term winning franchise too. I think the way we’ve structured it now with a general manager in Rick Spielman and then our coach, Leslie Frazier . . . I think the structure’s very important. That’s what’s been successful in the league, and that’s what we’re going to have here.”
Lacking adequate depth after injuries and off-the-field issues, the defensive secondary was the worst of the Vikings’ problems. Last year, both Jamarca Sanford and Hussain Abdullah failed to get the job done. Together the two of them combined for only 3 interceptions and Abdullah recorded 49 tackles before going down due to injury. Mistral Raymond took the starting reigns once Abdullah went down with what would be a career ending concussion.
Drafted in the 6th round, Raymond played relatively well in the 6 games he started, recording 22 tackles and an interception against the Redskins. Raymond has had a solid preseason getting 5 total tackles, including a tackle for loss (He will not play in the final preseason game). Rookie Harrison Smith, drafted 29th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, hopes to make a name for himself in the NFL and has been named one of the starting safeties. The young safety looks to show his talents in coverage as well as his ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Smith finished his senior season at Notre Dame with 90 tackles in 13 games. He showed poise and confidence in the Viking’s first three preseason games. No question the starting safeties should be much improved with the addition of Smith.
The Vikings’ defensive secondary had too many problems last year. Veteran Antoine Winfield was limited to only 5 games after going down with a broken clavicle. The injury was a big loss for the Vikings, stripping them of their most proven defensive back. Following the Winfield injury, starting corner Chris Cook had his season cut short for a domestic violence case. Backups Asher Allen and Cedric Griffin had to take over the starting jobs and drastically underperformed. Minnesota finished 21st in the league in opponents yards per game with 358.2 and 2nd worst in the league in opposing points per game at 28.1. Winfield is back healthy this season and Chris Cook is ready to put his past behind him. From the Mankato Free Press:
“I’m just out here working, trying to get better,” Cook said. “Just slowing my process down, just trying to learn the game and build on what I’ve already learned from college and my first two years of being in the league, even though I haven’t played a full season or been around for a full season. There’s still stuff I can build on and make myself better.”
The Vikings also added rookie corner Josh Robinson out of the University of Central Florida. Robinson will help the defense with his outstanding speed and play-making ability. The Vikings also spend free agency adding former Raven Chris Carr and former Chicago Bear Zachary Bowman. The secondary as a whole should be much improved and has the potential to force turnovers and get off the field on third-and-long situations – something they failed to accomplish last year.
The offensive line endured many problems last season with their inability to protect the quarterback. Led by Phil Loadholt and Steve Hutchinson, the offensive line gave up 49 sacks, tying them for 5th worst in the NFL last season. Quarterback Christian Ponder was given poor protection from the blind side as Charlie Johnson failed to prosper at the left tackle position. The Vikings made a big decision in drafting the left tackle out of the University of Southern California, Matt Kalil, with the 4th overall pick. Kalil has an impressive résumé, not giving up a single sack in his senior season at college.
Spielman also signed guard Geoff Swartz from the Carolina Panthers to try and help bolster the offensive line, especially with the loss of guard Steve Hutchinson. To help keep the line young, Spielman cut declining guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera. The starting line looks a lot more promising then the previous season with Kalil and Loadholt at the tackle positions, Fusco and Charlie Johnson at the guards, and John Sullivan playing center.
The final issue of the Vikings’ roster last year was the wide receiver, specifically the lack of a deep threat. Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashadu were the split ends and were suppose to be deep threats. Jenkins had only 466 yards last season in only 11 games played. The former Atlanta Falcon went down with a knee injury in the final 5 games that ended his season. Aromashadu was anything but great last year getting only 468 yards in all 16 games played.
To help improve a weak receiving core, the Vikings drafted wide receivers Greg Childs and Jarius Wright out of the University of Arkansas. Unfortunately Childs had a nasty double patellar tendon tear in training camp, declaring his rookie season over before it started. Despite Childs’ injury, Wright still can be a huge aid to the receiving core. He finished his senior season with 1117 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson will be a big targets for Ponder next season. Rudolph showed his off his big hands with some exceptional catches last season. The receiving core looks to make a statement this year and has ambitions to do much better, especially with the addition of Jerome Simpson.
Although Adrian Peterson will start the season with limited reps, Toby Gerhart is the perfect temporary replacement. Fortunately Peterson is scheduled to come back week 1 of the regular season, but he will most likely be limited. Running back Toby Gerhart has been good in the preseason and is believed to be one of the best backups in the league. Last year Toby had 531 yarded on 109 attempts giving him an average of 4.9 yards per carry – He is currently averaging 4.6 yards per carry this preseason. Christian Ponder is the last piece of the puzzle for the Viking to exceed expectations. Throwing for 1,853 yards last season with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions season, Ponder is the centerpiece of the offense and he needs to show significant improvement from his rookie season. Ponder didn’t shy away when asked about expectations for this upcoming year.
“In our minds, we have a good team,” Ponder said back in mid August. “Obviously, we’ve still got a lot of things to get better at in the next two weeks. Last year, we were in so many games. Could have easily been 10-6 instead of 3-13. That’s a good sign. We were close last year, and we’re only going to get better this year.”