The Minnesota Vikings overachieved in 2012 by finishing 10-6 in the regular season after a dismal 3-13 the year before, but a first round playoff loss left a bad taste in their mouths. As they kick off training camp, they hope that 2013 is their return to post season glory. Let's take a look at five key story lines from the off season and the first week of camp.
First Round Rookies Galore
The Vikings traded malcontent wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for a first round pick (25th overall), a seventh round pick and a mid-round selection in 2014. They parlayed that pick into CB Xavier Rhodes and they added DT Sharrif Floyd with their 23rd pick and traded up to 29th to take WR Cordarrelle Patterson to add three key pieces in the first round of the NFL draft.
Although Floyd will likely split time on the defensive line, Rhodes and Patterson will likely make an impact as starters in their first season with the Purple. So far in off season workouts and in the first week of camp, all three look the part and seem to be progressing as pro players.
The Vikings also took punter Jeff Locke in the 5th round, and he has continued to astound with both his leg strength and his accuracy, while avoiding the ongoing off field activism that many believe led to the demise of punter Chris Kluwe.
Injuries to Veteran Players Healing Nicely
Several of the Vikings veteran players had off season surgeries to take care of nagging injuries from last season. DE Jared Allen had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, LB Chad Greenway had minor arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and C John Sullivan had micro-fracture surgery on his knee. All three have come into camp ready for action, and the Vikings at this point have all of their veteran players on the field at training camp. Even WR Greg Childs, who blew out both patellar tendons last year has a chance to see the field at some point this season.
If the Vikings can continue through camp without injuries to key players and keep their backup players healthy, they have a strong chance to make have a great start to the season.
Free Agents Making a Difference
The Vikings added several key free agents this off season with the signing of WR Greg Jennings and LB Desmond Bishop from the rival Packers, QB Matt Cassel and retaining key free agents FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, OL Phil Loadholt and WR Jerome Simpson.
Although many fans scoffed at the idea of bring back Henderson to possibly play the inside line backer position, he has added bulk, and looks great so far in camp. WR Simpson has looked the part and should provide the Vikings with more of a threat with the addition of Jennings at WR.
Coaching Staff Continuity
With a second full off season for coach Leslie Frazier to implement his system, the Vikings seem to be much further along than they were last year. The team seems to be loose, yet focused in the first week of training camp, and the new acquisitions that are expected to contribute are seasoned veterans that can quickly learn a new system.
A lack of turnover in the ranks of the coordinators and position coaches brings even more stability to a team that does have the weapons to be extremely competitive in the NFC North this season.
The Big Quarterback Question
It's no secret that there are a great many doubters of QB Christian Ponder in Purpledom, and the signing of QB Matt Cassel only clouded the waters for many Vikings faithful. GM Rick Spielman has been steadfast in his stance that Ponder is the starting QB for the Vikings, but Ponder has looked shaky at times in the first week of camp.
Few expect there to be a short leash on Ponder this season, but it's at least good to know that the Vikings have competition at the position with Cassel, and more importantly, that they have a similar QB at the ready if Ponder gets injured as he did at the end of last season.
If Ponder can continue to improve throughout camp and make a good showing in the preseason Vikings fans will be at a fever pitch as they roll into the regular season, but if Ponder continues to struggle, the calls for Cassel will rain down on the 3rd year QB. Lucky for the Vikings, they start out the regular season on the road!!
The Vikings have only scratched the surface at training camp, with only one practice in full pads, but look for more updates to come as things heat up for the Purple and the expectations from the fans continue to grow.