After the 3-13 debacle last season, the Vikings are overhauling their lineup -- they (and their fans) won't be satisfied with more of the same in 2012 -- despite it being excused by rebuilding. Several young players need to make significant contributions for the team to improve on its record this season.
QB Christian Ponder will be trying to live up to one coach’s plaudit that he has progressed “light years” from year one. He’s had a full offseason, has been the given the starting job and acquired some new offensive weapons. It’s on him to make a huge leap forward in leadership, execution and wins.
Rookie K Blair Walsh, with no competition in camp, is attempting to rebound from a down season at Georgia in 2011. Walsh doesn’t want to struggle and necessitate any mid-season calls to a Florida golf course for former Vikings K Ryan Longwell.
With the departure of DT Remi Ayodele, who will stop the run alongside DT Kevin Williams? Will it be Letroy Guion, Fred Evans or is second-year player Christian Ballard ready to contribute? The opportunity is clearly there for someone to make a move.
Where will the versatile and talented DL Everson Griffen (who saw reps at LB during the OTAs) end up? Will he back up the defensive line, push the starting LBs for playing time or take more reps as the gunner on kick returns? The coaching staff is intent upon getting him on the field.
How will Adrian Peterson look in camp? Will he be ready for Week 1, or will backup Toby Gerhart -- who showed off a new, bulked up physique at OTAs -- make a big early move? If he does, Gerhart can make the coaches’ decision of sitting Peterson until he’s 100 percent healthy an easy one.
LT Matt Kalil came out of college after his junior year and, once he’s signed, will jump right into the fray in training camp, having to block DE Jared Allen in practice. His abilities and readiness (or lack thereof) will be on display early, and the assignment of blocking Allen will surely help him get up to speed in the NFL.
Second-year man Kyle Rudolph and newly signed free agent John Carlson are QB Ponder’s pass-catching TEs, but the FB/HB/blocking TE role vacated by retired Jimmy Kleinsasser is up for grabs. Ryan D'Imperio saw work at fullback last season, but the team drafted USC FB/TE Rhett Ellison to challenge for the spot. They also signed journeyman Jerome Felton, but Felton muddied the waters by getting arrested for a DUI during OTAs. Whoever gets the job has Kleinsasser’s huge shoes to fill.
CB Chris Cook’s time to shine has arrived. Veteran Antoine Winfield will land either a CB or nickel spot, and the 35-year-old Winfield (coming off a broken clavicle) must stay healthy and productive. But Cook (with two seasons of unfulfilled promise thanks to injury and off-field issues under his belt) must regain the trust of his teammates and lock down a starting CB position. Rookie Josh Robinson , a third-round pick with plenty of speed, and free-agent signees Chris Carr (Ravens) and Zack Bowman(Bears) will battle for a spot. Robinson, will likely learn the ropes while deferring to the vets, but it might be Cook’s last chance to restart his NFL career.
By not resigning free agent E.J. Henderson, the Vikings will have a new starting MLB for the first time since 2004, and Jasper Brinkley is slated to be the player. But Brinkley, who missed all of last season after undergoing hip surgery, has been slow to secure the position due to a groin injury and perhaps lingering hip issues. He missed many OTA reps, but announced on Twitter recently “It has been a while but I'm ready.” Those lining up to challenge Brinkley include rookie Audie Cole, hard-hitting former CFL player Solomon Elimimian and free agent Marvin Mitchell. It’s Brinkley’s job to lose, but depth at LB will be key given his recent health.