2015 Season Preview: Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings did not have a winning record last year, but the arrow is pointing up. As second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater develops and the Vikings add more depth, the team will improve. Quarterback Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner did a remarkable job with Teddy Bridgewater during his rookie year. He kept things simple and let him play within himself. As Teddy improved, Turner added to the offense. While this seems elementary, it worked as Bridgewater developed confidence in his game and is ready to go even further in 2015. In my opinion, it was a text book example of how to develop a young quarterback. Bridgewater has the tools to be a very good player. As he gains confidence, he will improve by the game. Behind Bridgewater, the Vikings have veteran Shaun Hill. While Hill is 35 years old, he can still move around well enough to run the offense if Bridgewater goes down. Hill has thrown for 8,000 yards and 49 touchdowns during his career. Running Backs The player who will help Bridgewater the most is Adrian Peterson. Peterson only played in one game before being curtailed by an off field problem. The year off may be a blessing in disguise as Peterson has fresh legs going into the season. Peterson is a true gamebreaker but also a very physical type and he should be in top form. A strong running game will make Bridgewater that much more effective. With Peterson missing most of 2014, the Vikings were able to develop some depth at the position. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata give the Vikings better running back depth than most other teams in the league. That depth will allow the Vikings to give Peterson a breather, which could make AP even more effective. Wide Receivers and Tight Ends The wide receiver corps will look a little different in 2015. Gone is leading receiver Greg Jennings who is now with the Miami Dolphins. 2014 was supposed to be a breakout year for Cordarrelle Patterson, but he struggled to understand Turner's offense and had only 33 receptions. It’s hoped that he comes on this year, and being that it’s his second year in the system, he should. The Vikings brought in former Dolphin Mike Wallace giving them a true deep threat. Wallace was a disappointment in Miami, but that may have been because they wanted him to be a number one receiver. That’s not his game, and he will be much better in a role as a two or a three. Last year, Charles Johnson from Grand Valley started to come on and finished the year with 31 catches and a 15 yard average. Coming out of Grand Valley, Johnson was raw but very talented. He just needed time to develop. 2015 could be a big year for him. Jarius Wright can be a very effective third receiver. He had 42 receptions a year ago and with his speed and athleticism can be a very effective slot. The Vikings were able to steal Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs in the fifth round. Diggs has outstanding talent to go along with good size and speed. While I see him as more of an inside type, he has the skill set to also line up outside. He will help the Vikings as a returner. At tight end, Kyle Rudolph can be one of the better tight ends in the league. He just has to stay healthy. Rudolph is one of the few “complete” tight ends in that he can line up as a “Y” and block as well as be a very competent receiver. Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford provide more than competent depth at the position. The Vikings also added rookie MyCole Pruitt from Southern Illinois. Pruitt is more of a “move” type player and has the speed and overall athleticism to be effective. Offensive Line How the offensive line depth chart looks now and how it looks opening day could be quite different. Left tackle Matt Kalil isn’t in danger of losing his job, but he needs to show improvement. He struggled at times last year especially in pass protection. The left guard looks to be Brandon Fusco who started on the right side a year ago. The reason Fusco is getting work on the left side is rookie T.J. Clemmings has been used at right guard. Two weeks before the draft it looked like Clemmings was a solid late first round or early second round pick. An old foot injury was discovered at the Combine, and that injury scared teams off. The Vikings were able to steal Clemmings in the fourth round. The right tackle is Phil Loadholt. The seven year vet takes some occasional heat, but he is a consistent run and pass blocker. The Vikings' center is reliable John Sullivan, who is one of the more underrated centers in the NFL. Depth on the offensive line is provided by 11-year vet Joe Berger who can play both guard and center. Rookie Austin Shepherd should also provide quality depth as he may also be a two position swing man (tackle-guard). Dave Yankey, a fifth round pick a year ago, will round out the offensive line roster. Defensive Line The Vikings' defense lost only one player from their starting 11 in 2014 and that was Mike linebacker Jasper Brinkley who signed with Dallas. The defensive line, which showed improvement a year ago, should get even better being that this is their second year in Mike Zimmer’s system. The starting defensive ends should be Brian Robison and Everson Griffen who, between them, had 16.5 sacks a year ago. Robison is being held out of OTA’s but should be ready for training camp with a pectoral injury. Taking his place is second year man Scott Crichton, a third round pick a year ago who didn’t do much as a rookie. Crichton was a quality player at Oregon State and should come on in his second year. The fourth defensive end will be rookie Danielle Hunter from LSU. Hunter has rare traits but just hasn’t put it all together yet. He is only 20 years old so his best football should be in front of him. The starting tackles will be Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Big things are expected from Floyd who is entering his third year. He might be able to do for the Vikings defense what Geno Atkins does for Cincinnati. Zimmer knows a little about Atkins and sees a similarity. The depth at defensive tackle is provided by Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. Linebackers The Vikings had to find a replacement for Brinkley at the middle linebacker position. They feel they found the man in rookie second round pick Eric Kendricks from UCLA. Kendricks is a bit undersized, but he has outstanding instincts and is very athletic. His backup should be former Eagle Casey Matthews. At Will linebacker is another highly instinctive guy in Chad Greenway. At 32 Greenway is not slowing down and finished last year with 93 tackles. The Sam linebacker is last year’s top draft choice Anthony Barr. Barr should show vast improvement this year and has the talent to be a dominant pass rusher. Secondary Minnesota has four solid players at the corner position. The group is led by 2013 first round pick Xavier Rhodes who keeps getting better with experience. During the off season they signed former Bengal and Cowboy Terrence Newman. At 36, Newman’s best football is behind him, but he gives the Vikings invaluable experience at the position. This year’s top draft pick was Michigan State corner Trae Waynes. Waynes specializes in press coverage, and while he may not be ready to be the starter opening day, it won’t be long before he locks down the position opposite Rhodes. The fourth corner is Captain Munnerlyn who came over from Carolina a year ago and played well. The four give the Vikings great depth at the position. At safety, Minnesota has one of the better safeties in the NFL in Harrison Smith. Opposite Smith, there is still a battle for the starting job. Right now, it's holdover starter Robert Blanton, but he has to fight off challenges from Taylor Mays, Andrew Sandejo and Antone Exum Jr. Training camp and preseason games will sort it all out. Outlook The general feeling around the league is that the Green Bay Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North. While that may be true, I wouldn’t count the Vikings out. They have a solid roster and a top young quarterback. If they can stay injury free, they will give the Packers a run for their money. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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