In looking at what we can expect from the Minnesota Vikings going into Training Camp, we're going to break down every position on the roster, and what we expect things to look like when the Vikings get down to their final 53 players.
In order to do that, we will start with the most important position on the field, which is the quarterback position. This is one position that, unlike some that we'll see in Mankato, has a definite pecking order to it, but there are still things to be examined:
Players In Camp: Christian Ponder (starter), Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels, McLeod Bethel Thompson
Ponder is the unquestioned starter this season, as opposed to last year when the team wasted six weeks on Donovan McNabb. It's my personal belief that Ponder will be the most improved player on this year's Minnesota Vikings roster, and that's largely because he's actually going to be getting a full off-season and training camp to work with the coaching staff and his teammates. Last season, with things getting started late because of the lockout, McNabb got all of the first-team snaps in Training Camp. . .and through the first six weeks of the regular season. When Leslie Frazier made the decision to bench McNabb in Week 7, Ponder was thrown into the fire with significantly less preparation than he could. . .and probably should. . .have had.
This off-season, Ponder has taken charge during off-season workouts and mini-camps, and has put on almost 20 extra pounds of muscle in preparation for the duties of being a full-time starter. He played last year at around 212 pounds, and has reportedly weighed in this year at 230.
Many people want to panic about what Ponder showed last year when he started the final ten games of Minnesota's season, but as I've already said, he really got the short end of the stick in terms of guidance from the coaching staff, both because of the lockout and Frazier's fascination with McNabb. A full off-season program should greatly benefit Ponder. He showed very good athleticism last season, and frankly the guy is just too intelligent to be a terrible quarterback. Frankly, you won't even get me to say he was "terrible" in 2012. For a guy that got no reps with the first-team offense until mid-October, I think he actually did rather well. Being able to really get in sync with his teammates will only benefit him. Expect Ponder to take a big step forward in 2012.
Joe Webb, who was originally drafted to be a receiver but was put back at quarterback despite still spending some snaps at wide receiver, has been told to focus exclusively on playing quarterback from here forward. In just two seasons, Webb has given the Vikings some memorable moments (a victory in the weird Tuesday night game in Philadelphia in 2010 as well as some big plays and a win over the Washington Redskins in 2011), and is a definite change of pace from Ponder. He brings an athleticism to the quarterback position that few in the NFL can match, and can certainly be successful in the short-term.
With Christian Ponder's (unfortunate) propensity for injury, Webb will likely get a chance in 2012. However, until he can become a significantly more accurate passer, he will likely only be a short-term option. If a team can figure out a way to bottle up his athletic ability and force him to beat teams from the pocket, the Vikings will likely be in big trouble. I'm not saying that he can't improve on that, but it's something he must improve on to be anything more than a change-up on the depth chart.
The role of "wiley veteran" falls to Sage Rosenfels, who has entering his thirteenth National Football League season. Rosenfels has been brought in to serve as a mentor to both Ponder and Webb, and is a savvy enough veteran to be able to give the two youngsters solid advice. Like most teams, however, if it gets to the point of the season that Rosenfels is taking snaps in live, regular season action, the Vikings are in big trouble. Yes, Rosenfels might be the best third-string quarterback in the NFL, but that's a lot like being Siberia's best popsicle salesman.
The only other quarterback on the active roster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Sacramento State last season and was last active for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL. While his name would be one heck of a Scrabble play, there's very little chance that he makes the team coming out of camp.
So, while the quarterback position does have a cut-and-dried hierarchy at this point, it will still be one of the more intriguing positions to watch during Training Camp for the Minnesota Vikings.
Making the cut: Ponder, Webb, Rosenfels
Not making the cut: Bethel-Thompson
Positions on the 53-man roster accounted for: 3 out of 53
Tomorrow, we will take a look at the running backs.