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Yes, it's getting to be the time of year where the boys of autumn start preparing for the 2010 season. Every team has questions heading into Training Camp, and the Minnesota Vikings are no different. Even aside from "that question," there are lots of things that fans of the Beloved Purple are asking about their team heading into the regular season. Today, we're going to take a look at some of those questions and attempt to sort out the answers.
5) Can the offensive line get it together?
Despite having the No. 2 scoring offense in the National Football League last season, the Vikings' offensive line was decidedly below average for the majority of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, who charts every play from every game, the Vikings were the worst run-blocking team in the league last year. . .so if it seemed like Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor were getting stuffed a lot, it's probably because Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor were getting stuffed a lot.
Now, according to those same statistics, the Vikings were one of the better pass-blocking teams in the NFL last season. However, expecting the same level of production out of the quarterback position that the Vikings got last year is going to be a bit of a stretch, no matter how great Brett Favre might be. This team needs to get back to being the power running juggernaut that they were in 2007 and 2009. It's entirely possible that the line's poor performance can be chalked up to a combination of injuries and inexperience. . .after all, Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie both had significant injuries last year, and the Vikings had two first-year starters on the line in John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. But if the Vikings want to achieve their ultimate goal, the offensive line needs to get straightened around.
4) What will the quarterback depth chart look like?
We all know whose name is going to be at the top of the depth chart. The question lies with who will hold the second and third positions. The obvious answer for the No. 2 slot is the guy that went into last year as the starter before the Brett Favre signing, Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson is still young enough to still be able to "get it," and he performed pretty admirably during mop-up duty time last year. That and the amount of favor he's curried with Brad Childress tells me that he's going to be the primary backup at the quarterback position.
The battle for the third spot is where things will get interesting. Prior to last season, the Vikings dealt a fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans for Sage Rosenfels and gave him a hefty extension. Rosenfels was also the only Viking to not see a single minute of game action in 2009. In the sixth round this year, the Vikings drafted Joe Webb out of Alabama-Birmingham with the intent of turning him into a wide receiver. However, the youngster has been so impressive in camp that the coaching staff has decided to keep him at the quarterback position instead.
This presents a problem for the Vikings. In 2008, they attempted to sneak Tyler Thigpen through the waiver wire and onto the practice squad, but he wound up getting grabbed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Webb's athletic ability has made him much more heralded than Thigpen, and the chances that the Vikings could sneak him onto the practice squad is almost zero. That means the Vikings will have to try to do something with Rosenfels, whether it's trying to deal him somewhere or outright releasing him without him ever taking a meaningful snap.
3) How are everyone's injuries coming along?
The Vikings had two very significant injuries on the defensive side of the ball last season, to go along with the less-publicized ones on the offensive side. E.J. Henderson suffered a gruesome broken leg in a Sunday night game against Arizona, and there were doubts about whether he'd ever play again. However, there he was at mini-camp, going through all the normal drills with him teammates. Not at full speed or anything, mind you, but the fact that he was even out there was pretty miraculous. Also, cornerback Cedric Griffin tore his ACL covering the overtime kickoff in the NFC Championship Game, and nobody's sure whether he's going to be back in time for the season, or if he'll be 100 percent if he is.
Fortunately, the Vikings seem to have planned for this situation. Jasper Brinkley stepped into the middle linebacker spot for Henderson for the Vikings' final six games, and there wasn't a noticeable fall-off in the performance of the defense. The experience he gained at the end of last season will be invaluable if Henderson can't go from Week One. The Vikings have also addressed the secondary, and we'll touch on that one here shortly.
2) Who will emerge in the running back battle?
The top two spots on the running back depth chart are set in stone. . .Adrian Peterson, who you might know as the best running back in the NFL, is the starter, and rookie battering ram Toby Gerhart will be the second running back. However, the Vikings have traditionally carried three running backs on the roster, and the battle for that last spot should be one of the more interesting ones of the pre-season.
Albert Young is the incumbent, having spent time on the Vikings practice squad and gotten some garbage-time carries last season in relief of Peterson and Chester Taylor. The Vikings have also converted Darius Reynaud from wide receiver to running back, and they signed Ryan Moats in the off-season as well. Heck, we even have one of our players campaigning for the Vikings to sign Brian Westbrook, who would complicate things even more. All of the players that could potentially take that third spot have different strengths and weaknesses, and Eric Bienemy and company will likely have a heck of a time deciding who gets to stay on the team and who needs to bring the coach their playbook after the final cuts.
1) What's going on in the secondary?
Antoine Winfield seems to be fully recovered from the broken foot that plagued him all through 2009, and when he's healthy he's still one of the NFL's best. The problem lies with who will start on the opposite side of him. Thanks to the aforementioned injury to Cedric Griffin, the Vikings' cornerback depth chart is in a bit of upheaval. The Vikings used their first draft choice this year, the 34th pick overall, on Virginia cornerback Chris Cook. Cook is a bigger corner, measuring in a 6'2", and seems to be the perfect fit in the Cover-2 system that the Vikings have been running under Leslie Frazier.
In addition, the Vikings signed veteran Lito Sheppard to a one-year deal this off-season. And, on top of that, Benny Sapp proved to be a pretty capable performer after Winfield's injury last season, and Asher Allen, Minnesota's third-round choice in 2009, showed some pretty good flashes of talent in the limited action he received, too. For the first time in a long time, the Vikings' secondary may be transitioning from being a liability into being a strength. There are a lot of talented players at the cornerback position for the Vikings right now, and how they shake out during camp is, in my opinion, the most intriguing storyline of the preseason for the Minnesota Vikings.