The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 26, 2013

Optimism rules early for Vikings' training camp


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Oh, the optimism of the first day of Minnesota Vikings training camp.

Kids and “adults” will be wearing their Purple jerseys, loudly applauding the simplest of practice victories and shouting encouragement to their favorite players after an inane task.

Yes, there’s nothing like the enthusiasm of NFL fans, who are about to have their addiction cured after seven months of off-field activities.

So the Vikings finished 10-6 and made the playoffs last year. Not many objective folks saw that coming, though who could have predicted a 2,000-yard season from running back Adrian Peterson, coming off major knee surgery?

What about this season? Step forward? Struggle?

There are some reasons for optimism. The first, of course, is Peterson, and everyone found out last year that underestimating the NFL’s top runner is not wise.

Another 2,000 yards rushing? It would be better for the team if his numbers actually went down, purely based on attempts. The Vikings have to throw the ball more effectively, thus limiting Peterson’s numbers.

There was marginal upgrade at the receiver position. Greg Jennings has some “star” power, but injuries have slowed his effectiveness. And he’s used to receiving passes from Aaron Rodgers, whose accuracy is far superior to Christian Ponder’s.

Cordarelle Patterson seems like a talented rookie, but first-year players rarely make a huge impact in the NFL. Everything he does will be compared to Percy Harvin, which gives him nearly no chance to be successful as a rookie.

The biggest area of optimism lies with the offensive line, which stayed together after a strong season. Injuries are always the key up front, but this is a solid unit that both opens holes for the running game and does a good job of keeping the quarterback upright.

The concerns are many.

Ponder’s second-year statistical improvement wasn’t magical. but the team won seven more games. He has to get some credit for that, but he will need to be more of a playmaker for the Vikings to make any progress.

Antoine Winfield is gone, leaving a leadership void in the secondary. The younger cornerbacks and safeties seem to have talent, but none are proven commodities.

The defense played pretty well last year, but going into the season without an established middle linebacker should cause some angst. Whether it’s Erin Henderson or newcomer Desmond Bishop, that will be an area that teams attack early in the season.

The way the Vikings are built is always going to be a cause for concern. The Vikings don’t have the firepower to consistently blow out the opponent, meaning each game will come down to the fourth quarter. At that point, an unlucky bounce or untimely penalty can turn a potential victory into a frustrating loss.

Another 10-6 season? Maybe.

How about 8-8? More likely.

It’s tough to get a feel for this team’s potential, based on who’s coming back and who is new to the team. Maybe, there will be more data after three weeks of training camp, watching these players go through hours of drills.

Fans should be more optimistic than they were at this time last season, but perhaps it’s better to have low expectations and have the Vikings exceed them. That’s what happened last season, but it seems lowering optimism at this time of the year is pretty tough.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com, or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.