Every year at the start of the training camp, everyone will say, “there is a lot riding on the Vikings this season.” But after an unexpected run to the playoffs last season that was reinforced by Adrian Peterson’s ability to carry the team all while chasing the NFL’s single-season rushing record with a rebuilt knee; and parting ways with Antoine Winfield, Percy Harvin and Chris Kluwe. Causing worry among many fans on who the Vikings would choose to fill those major shoes. And they still have a questionable quarterback situation with Christian Ponder. Needless to say, the Vikings have a lot riding on this season.
But the Vikings don’t seem to be too worried. They have a not so secret blueprint that is becoming apparent: Help grow the young talent around established veteran stars (Peterson and defensive end Jared Allen) and to keep building through the draft.
They also have two three first-round draft picks that were dedicated to replacing Winfield and Harvin, and the addition of former Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings was signed to help. The Vikings are hopeful that all the new pieces to their often troubled puzzle will fall into place this year and bring them back to the playoffs and maybe the even Superbowl.
But the fans, foes and Vikings themselves won’t know for sure until the Vikings take on Detroit September 8th. But the first piece of this puzzle is going to come together Friday when practice opens. The Vikings will go in with a 90-man roster then go down to the 53-man unit that will forge ahead this season.
Here is a look at the training camp roster and how they might look on opening day:
Training camp roster: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, James Vandenberg
Projected opening day roster: Ponder, Cassel, Bethel-Thompson
Outlook: For as longs as I can remember from training camps and seasons past and present we all say, “This is a crucial year for Ponder.” Except this year it really is. Ponder needs to show he can be more assertive in his decision making. And that he can throw into tight openings and go through his progressions with defenders bearing down on him. With the addition of Matt Cassel this season many say that there will be some controversy about who is going to start. But realistically any notion of a quarterback controversy during training camp is ridiculous. But if Ponder is ineffective early in the season, the Vikings at least have a veteran backup in Cassel, who signed after Kansas City cut him in March. If the Vikings need to switch to Cassel, though, it will signify an even bigger problem: that the foundation of the offense they built around Ponder has a crack in it. And that will need to be addressed ASAP.
Training camp roster: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerodis Williams, Bradley Randle, Jerome Felton, Zach Line
Projected opening day roster: Peterson, Gerhart, Asiata, Felton
Outlook: This is easily the most settled position on the entire roster. Peterson is the reigning MVP and Felton at Fullback has been a recipe for success. So don’t break what ain’t fixed. Gerhart returns as a steady third-down back, and Asiata claims a spot because of his special-teams work. But you should keep an eye on the diminutive Randle, who could stick if the Vikings think he could be a solid return man.
Training camp roster: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Stephen Burton, Joe Webb, Chris Summers, Greg Childs, Erik Highsmith, Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith, LaMark Brown
Projected opening day roster: Jennings, Wright, Simpson, Patterson, Childs
Outlook: The Vikings put more time, effort and money into revamping this position than any other on their roster. But what is a little scary is after all that, they still don’t know quite what to expect. Will Jennings stay healthy after missing 11 games the past two seasons? Can Simpson rebound from a disappointing season? Can Childs return from two major knee injuries? Can Patterson learn the offense as a rookie? Can Webb make the shift from quarterback? Don’t be surprised if Thielen — who had a strong showing in OTAs and minicamp — makes a strong push on his old college campus. The same goes for Summers, who spent last season on the practice squad.
Training camp roster: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Colin Anderson
Projected opening day roster: Rudolph, Carlson, Ellison
Outlook: Rudolph is the unquestioned starter after winning Pro Bowl MVP honors, Carlson will have to show the Vikings that he deserves a bigger role in the offense after a disappointing first season. And Ellison is a good run blocker and could also play fullback if anything would happen to Felton.
Training camp roster: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Jeff Baca, Travis Bond, DeMarcus Love, Brandon Keith, Seth Olsen, Kevin Murphy, Troy Kropog, Tyler Holmes, Camden Wentz
Projected opening day roster: Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Fusco, Loadholt, Berger, Baca, Keith, Love
Outlook: The Vikings will return their entire line, though Fusco could get a push from Baca, Bond, Holmes or Olsen. And the competition for backup spots this season will be heated, with the two draft picks Baca and Bond in the mix, Love who is a second-year player returning from injury and a the veteran Keith trying to make it as a backup tackle. If Sullivan isn’t fully recovered from microfracture surgery on his left knee, Berger likely would get some work at center.
Training camp roster: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Lawrence Jackson, George Johnson, D’Aundre Reed, Christian Ballard, Everett Dawkins, Marquis Jackson, Collins Ukuw, Anthony McCloud
Projected opening day roster: Allen, Williams, Guion, Robison, Griffen, Floyd, Evans, Lawrence Jackson, Ballard
Outlook: While this position is stocked with veterans, the Vikings will use training camp to feel out the younger players such as Floyd who is their top pick in the 2013 draft — and Ballard, who could have a future as a defensive tackle. Lawrence Jackson, who signed as a free agent, could make the team as a situational pass rusher.
Training camp roster: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop, Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie, Marvin Mitchell, Michael Mauti, Larry Dean, Nathan Williams
Projected opening day roster: Greenway, Henderson, Bishop, Hodges, Cole, Mitchell, Mauti, Dean
Outlook: The big story will be in the middle, where Henderson and Bishop will probably fight for the starting job. Whoever doesn’t play there would probably end up starting on the weak side. Mauti is interesting, he has had three knee surgeries since he started college, and because of those he probably would have been a second- or third-round pick if he had been healthy. The Vikings are hoping that he shows enough at middle linebacker to stay. The Vikings will also have to decide whether to gamble on his health or keep a veteran such as McKenzie or Mitchell. Dean probably will stick because of his special-teams contributions.
Training camp roster: Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes, A.J. Jefferson, Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton, Jacob Lacey, Bobby Felder, Greg McCoy, Roderick Williams, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo, Darius Eubanks, Brandan Bishop
Projected opening day roster: Cook, Robinson, Rhodes, Jefferson, Sherels, Smith, Sanford, Raymond, Blanton
Outlook: This is going to be an intense competition, especially for the final cornerback and safety spots. Lacey is returning from hand surgery hoping to make up for the time he lost at minicamp, and if he’s healthy enough, he could challenge Jefferson for a spot as a nickel or dime back. Sendejo and Blanton likely end up fighting for the final safety spot. But Felder, who spent last season on the practice squad, is the kind of big physical corner who could sneak onto the roster. Rhodes and Robinson likely will vie for snaps in the base defense, but in a perfect world, the Vikings would be able to move Robinson inside in the nickel while Rhodes handles receivers outside. The Vikings are extremely young here. This is the one position where the Vikings are really young. Hopefully they can mold these players into what Winfield was.
Training camp roster: Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Cullen Loeffler
Projected opening day roster: Walsh, Locke, Loeffler
Outlook: Another no brainer position. Walsh will return after a Pro Bowl rookie season and Locke unseated Chris Kluwe as the Vikings looked for a punter who can pin an opponent in its own territory. And Loeffler, the dependable long snapper, returns for his 10th season.