The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Jim Rueda

August 2, 2012

Rueda: Tough to gauge Vikings progress so far

— So how are the Vikings looking?

It’s a question I get asked often during training camp and, more times than not, I answer with a shrug of the shoulders. Having never been a football coach or player, it’s difficult for me to determine from the sidelines when an assignment is being blown or a route is being run wrong or a quarterback is making the correct read of the defense.

If you look at the team from a strictly logical perspective, fans should not expect a lot of improvement in 2012. No marquee free agents were signed and no blockbuster trades were made.

Quarterback Christian Ponder should be better as a result of the experience he gained last year, but it would be a stretch to assume he’s going to develop into one of the league’s better quarterbacks after just 10 starts. The additions of Matt Kalil at left guard and Jerome Simpson at wide receiver should definitely help the offense but, even in a best-case scenario, running back Adrian Peterson won’t be back to his usual self until around mid-season.

Defensively there have been a few minor tweaks personnel-wise but the club is pretty much standing pat from a year ago. Considering the Vikings ranked 21st in overall defense and allowed the second-most points of any team in the league last season, that’s not a basis for optimism.

Optimism, however, is a staple of every NFL training camp and the Vikings are no different. There have been some encouraging signs during the first five days of camp.

Ponder seems to have established excellent chemistry with second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph. He targets the 6-foot-6, 258-pound receiver often in drills and they’ve had their share of successful hook-ups.

That should be a potent combination during the season but the success of the offense will rely more on how well Ponder finds his other receivers — Percy Harvin, Simpson and Michael Jenkins — than on check-off passes to the tight end.

More difficult to determine in practice is how Jasper Brinkley is progressing at the middle linebacker spot and if the defensive backfield is improved over a year ago. Those are two key areas going into 2012.

So how are the Vikings looking?

That’s a question that can be answered much more effectively after the team’s second preseason game when the fans have had a chance to see the starters in action.

Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at jrueda@mankatofreepress.com.

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Jim Rueda