NFL PREVIEW: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
July 23, 2012Eastern Indiana Sports
NFL PREVIEW: Minnesota Vikings
By Kelci Baker…EIHSS SPORTS
Last year: 3-13, 4th in NFC North, missed playoffs
The Vikings took on the risky move of sticking with veterans for the 2011 season when most people believed they were in need of a rebuild. They took a chance by hanging on to quarterback Donovan McNabb and tied the franchise record for losses. With new general manager Rick Spielman, McNabb is gone, longtime veterans have been purged, and the team is being rebuilt around a handful of elite players. But don't expect the Vikings to become contenders for the NFC North until at least 2013 assuming that everything goes right for them this coming season. QB Christian Ponder will be the key. He completed 54.3% passes for 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and once in 10 starts did he finish a game, the Vikings won. He was the 11th pick overall in the 2012 draft and the team is confident in his abilities as the quarterback of the future. To protect him, they've upgraded at left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. In 2011 the secondary was awful but should be better with the return of cornerback Antoine Winfield who was gone with an injury, and Chris Cook who had legal problems. There should also be help with the selections of safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson.
Bill Musgrave is the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings and with that comes multiple tight ends style. WR Percy Harvin topped 1,200 yards from scrimmages last year but overusing him can prove bad because he's 185 pounds. Becoming offensive focal points are tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson while running back Toby Gerhart will be a dependable backup for Adrian Peterson who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in December. What's uncertain is if Ponder is truly a franchise quarterback and if Peterson will come back the same player he was before. There will be three new starters in the offensive line but there still isn't a proven No. 1 receiver.
The defensive coordinator for this team is Alan Wilson who runs a 4-3 style. Coming off of a franchise record of 22 sacks is Jared Allen who is still in his prime and has the ability to continue being a major factor on this team. Proving last year that he's an every-down kind of player is left tackle Brian Robison. Backup Everson Griffen will have the opportunity for more game time either at end, linebacker, or at tackle in pass-rushing situations. Improvement will be seen in the secondary if Winfield stays healthy and Cook's progress from before his legal issues, which caused him to miss the last 10 games of the season, can continue to increase. This isn’t Wilson's first defensive coordinator job as he worked for coach Leslie Frazier with the Indianapolis Colts and they work well together. What's expected is that he'll keep the Tampa 2 scheme but add more man coverages and blitz packages. Smith upgrades the position of safety as a starter. Starting at middle linebacker after having hip surgery last season is Jasper Brinkley.
Mike Priefer is the coordinator for special teams and playing for him is the best punter in the team's history in Chris Kluwe. Released is kicker Ryan Longwell who missed six field goals last season, more than he missed the previous two years combined. Coming in as front-runner for the job now is rookie Blair Walsh, and there's also Harvin who is one of the league's best kick returners. Part of the reason receiver Jarius Wright was taken in the fourth round was because he has the potential to beat out Marcus Sherels as a punt returner.
Frazier demoted coordinator Fred Pagac to linebackers coach and brought in Wilson after a terrible defensive season last year. The other big change occurred when they fired coach Karl Dunbar and replaced him with Brendan Daly, a former Dunbar assistant who spent the last two years with the St. Louis Rams.
Rick Spielman has been in the Minnesota Vikings war room for six years now, but he wasn't part of the "triangle of authority" when he was hired as vice president of player personnel in 2006. While he has had a large role in constructing the team's recent drafts, only this year did Spielman truly become the architect. When the team installed him as general manager in January, we eagerly anticipated what the team's "point of authority" would do in the first draft had the buck stop at his desk, and his desk only. Spielman gave us no shortage of items to talk about.
Spielman will play his hand aggressively.
The new general manager executed one of the most masterful draft day trades in recent memory, getting the Cleveland Browns to give up a fourth, fifth, and seventh-round pick to move up one spot so they could take running back Trent Richardson, the one elite prospect the Vikings were sure to pass on if they exercised their pick at number three overall.
Spielman spent months laying the groundwork for a trade down and somehow got three extra picks and the player the team was targeting all along. Spielman successfully convinced the Browns that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (or another team) were close to making a deal for the pick and Richardson, an assertion made more believable by the likelihood that the Browns would then pass on Vikings eventual pick Matt Kalil because they already had their franchise left tackle, Joe Thomas.
This move alone shows that Spielman plays to win and maximize his resources, which should excite Vikings fans.
Spielman will attempt to deceive other teams about his intentions.
Not only did Spielman plant seeds of interest in just about every player that could conceivably be in play at the number three overall pick, he made sure to cover the team's trail on eventual first-round pick Harrison Smith.
They saw just about everything they needed to see coaching him at the Senior Bowl and then the line went dead. No contact at the combine. No pre-draft visit. Obviously, Spielman still wasn't confident that his target would fall to the team's 35th pick in the second round, so they gave up a fourth-rounder (after all they had just stolen one from Cleveland) to be sure that they got their guy. Again, Spielman is fully "playing the game."
Spielman will not ignore team needs or the depth of positions in a draft.
The Vikings ended up being a mock drafter's dream, with their first four picks mapping exactly their largest needs. Head coach Leslie Frazier said no need was more important than left tackle, and voila, they spent a top-five pick at the position. Spielman said they wanted to improve the secondary, and voila, the next two pick were a safety and a cornerback. Wide receiver was another big need, and the team spent two of their three fourth-round picks at the position.
Spielman also cited the rare opportunities to get an elite left tackle in the post-draft press conference, which drove the decision to take Kalil over Morris Claiborne or Justin Blackmon. He mentioned that the depth at safety in the draft was "very slim", which drove their decision to move back into the first round for Smith. Before the second day, he mentioned that cornerback and wide receiver were deep positions in this draft, which might have made it easier to focus on safety earlier than those positions.
The Vikings under Spielman are not going to be a team that throws how other teams may value players out the window when it comes time to set their board. They are not going to be a team that is committed to a best player available approach, unwilling to make moves when they see depth or scarcity at a position.
Spielman will approach the draft bringing to bear every weapon at his disposal to create the best possible outcome. He'll use information and misinformation, he'll try to wrap his mind around the draft as a whole. In other words, he'll be looking at everything like the most obsessive draftnik among our community, which should make predicting and analyzing his drafts a stimulating task in future seasons.
Week 2 9/16: Minnesota Vikings vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 3 9/23: San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 4 9/30: Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 5 10/7: Tennessee Titans vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST, CBS
Week 6 10/14: Minnesota Vikings vs. Washington Redskins, 4:15 PM EST, Fox
Week 7 10/21: Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 8 10/25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Minnesota Vikings, 8:20 PM EST, NFL Network
Week 9 11/4: Minnesota Vikings vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 PM EST, Fox
Week 10 11/11: Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 11 11/18: BYE WEEK
Week 12 11/25: Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears, 1 PM EST Fox
Week 13 12/2: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 14 12/9: Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 15 12/16: Minnesota Vikings vs. St. Louis Rams, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 16 12/23: Minnesota Vikings vs. Houston Texans, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 17 12/30: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST Fox