by Greg DePalma, Ourlads.com contributor
2016 (8-8)…It’s now been over seven years since the Vikings have won a post-season game.
Owner Zygi Wilf…Purchased the franchise in 2005; parents were both Holocaust survivors.
GM Rick Spielman…6th-year; prior to being promoted he spent six years as VP of Player Personnel; former Miami GM for one season before being hired in Minnesota; older brother of former All-Pro linebacker, Chris Spielman.
Assistant GM George Paton…10th-year; worked with Spielman at both Chicago (Assistant Director of Pro Personnel) and Miami (Director of Pro Personnel); has interviewed recently for GM positions around the league.
HC Mike Zimmer…4th-year; first time HC; had previously served as DC for Dallas, Atlanta and most recently with Cincinnati; won SB with the Cowboys as DB coach in 1996; Illinois State Grad.
OC Pat Shurmur…2nd-year; was originally hired here as the TE coach until last November when Norv Turner retired; previous OC positions were with St. Louis and Philadelphia; was also HC at Cleveland for two seasons; Michigan State grad.
DC George Edwards…4th-year; had previously served as DC for Buffalo and Washington; worked with Zimmer in Dallas; Duke Grad.
WR Darrell Hazell…1st-year; fired last season as HC of Purdue after serving nearly four years there.
QB Case Keenum
RB Dalvin Cook
RB Latavius Murray
WR Rodney Adams
WR Stacy Coley
C Pat Elflein
OT Riley Reiff
OT Mike Remmers
DE Datone Jones
DT Jaleel Johnson
DT Will Sutton
LB Ben Gedeon
RB Matt Asiata
RB Adrian Peterson
FB Zach Line
TE Rhett Ellison
WR Charles Johnson
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
OG Brandon Fusco
OL Andre Smith
OT Matt Kalil
LB Chad Greenway
CB Captain Munnerlyn
P Jeff Locke
QB…Sam Bradford is coming off the best season of his career while completing an excellent 71.6% of his passes. He was able to accomplish this with poor protection and no running game. Keep in mind though that Bradford has never enjoyed a winning season at the helm for all three of his organizations. Case Keenum was added to the roster as the team’s top backup this season. Not only does he have recent game experience by starting 24 games over his five-year career, but he also appears to be a good fit with this offense. Former starter Teddy Bridgewater is coming off a serious knee injury and there is doubt whether he’ll be able to fully recover before the end of this season, if at all. If he can make a miraculous recovery and Bradford reverts to old form, Bridgewater could seize back control of this team in 2018.
RB…Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook were both key offseason roster additions after the Vikings decided to finally move on from former great Adrian Peterson. Murray is a steady yet unspectacular rusher, while Cook on the other hand is a dynamic big-play threat every time he touches the ball and should be able to take over the feature back role here as early as September. Jerick McKinnon failed after he was given the opportunity to win the top job here last season. Look for him to be used more in a receiving role and potential kick-returner.
TE…It might have taken him six seasons, but Kyle Rudolph finally looked like the player the Vikings were hoping they were getting when they drafted him in the second-round in 2011. Rudolph set career-highs in receptions (83) and yards (840) and blistered his previous high in targets (132) which can be directly related to having Bradford under center. David Morgan II is an interesting backup to watch. Morgan has a good combination of pass/block ability that many players at this level lack. Rookie Bucky Hodges was a nice bargain in the sixth-round. He has great measurables for the position and could be a nice match-up player when the time comes.
WR…Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are solid starting options for Bradford, but if this offense has a real chance to take-off they’re going to need a different type of player to fill a role at this position like last year’s first-round pick Laquon Treadwell. Though not a burner, Treadwell has the type of physical tools you want from a receiver to make the big intermediate plays as well as in the red-zone. Treadwell failed to get off to a good start last season because he hadn’t really learned how to train like a professional until early this offseason. And just when it looked like he was gaining momentum, he injured his leg early in camp and has only recently returned. Former Arizona castoff Michael Floyd stole a Super Bowl ring in New England last season after the Cardinals dumped him in December. Floyd will start the season serving a four-game suspension for a DUI arrest, but when he returns he could become a vital part of this offense based on the solid reviews he getting so far during camp. Rookie draft picks Rodney Adams (5th-round) and Stacy Coley (7th-round) are battling veteran Jarius Wright for the remaining roster spots. Both rookies have the talent to stick around.
OL…The Vikings will look a lot different up-front with three new starters including a rookie at center (3rd-round pick, Pat Elflein) and free agent additions at left tackle (Riley Reiff) and right tackle (Mike Remmers). Due to injuries last season, the line went through a variety of combinations including using five separate starters at left tackle. Neither Reiff, nor Remmers are special talents, but they’re clear upgrades that will be huge improvements for this offense. Elflein won the Remington Award last year as the nation’s top center and the reports in Vikings camp so far are very encouraging. The only players returning from last year’s starting group are left guard Alex Boone and right guard Joe Berger. Both players are solid professionals. Jeremiah Sirles and TJ Clemmings were two of the players forced into the lineup last season. Sirles looked the part at times while Clemmings has a long way to go. Former Ivy Leaguer Nick Easton also received starting time, but is better off as a backup. Fifth-round rookie Danny Isidora is a developmental player to keep an eye on down the road.
DL…Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter form one of the most underrated edge duos in the league. Hunter for one, made tremendous strides following a non-descript rookie season by doubling his sack totals and playing stout run-defense to boot. Griffin has been a very consistent performer over the past three seasons averaging 10 sacks and nearly 50 tackles. The clock is ticking on 34-year-old Brian Robison’s career. He can no longer hold up for long stretches at this point of his career and should be used primarily as a situational pass rusher going forward. That’s why the Vikings added free-agent and former Green Bay first-round pick, Datone Jones to the roster. Jones never lived up to his draft status with the Packers, but the hope is that he’ll be able to contribute along the Vikings front in a variety of ways and if anyone can get an underachieving player to maximize his potential it’s Zimmer. On the inside, Linval Joseph has really taken off under Zimmer’s direction the past two seasons and is now considered one of the elite players for his position. Fellow tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen rotated alongside Joseph with Johnson being the most disruptive. With Sharrif Floyd on the shelf and the need to upgrade the depth beside Joseph, the Vikings used a fourth-round pick on powerful Jaleel Johnson from Iowa and signed free agent Will Sutton. Floyd injured his knee in last season’s opener, didn’t play the rest of the year and then dealt with a surgery set-back that has is health in question for the upcoming season. Keep an eye on 7th-round pick, Ifeadi Odenigbo.
LB…Eric Hendricks and Anthony Barr should form a nice one-two punch at linebacker for years to come. That is unless Barr fails to rebound following a disappointing third-season. Barr came out of the gates blazing as a playmaker during his first two seasons which included a combined 7 ½ sacks, five forced-fumbles, an interception and a touchdown. So far the talk in camp is promising and if Barr can stay focused and intense from play to play this season he could make a huge difference to this highly-ranked defense. Emmanuel Lamur, Edmond Robinson and fourth-round pick Ben Gedeon should see the most additional reps here.
DB…The Vikings secondary was a strength last season thanks to a solid cornerback group led by soon-to-be 39-year-old Terence Newman and three former first-round picks (Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith and Trae Waynes). Even though Newman might retire after the season, he’s hoping to go out on his own terms while still playing at a high-level. Rhodes has become the team’s lockdown defender and the front-office showed their gratitude by rewarding him with a five-year extension worth $41 million in guaranteed dollars. Trae Waynes rebounded from a quiet rookie campaign and showed enough improvement that there’s hope of even more growth this season. The final piece of the puzzle ends with second-year corner Mackensie Alexander, who’s being counted on to take over the key slot-role position previously occupied by Captain Munnerlyn. Alexander has a lot to learn from the pro game after hardly getting on the field during a rookie campaign that ended early with an abdominal injury in December. Zimmer has expressed confidence that Alexander has the talent to fill the spot effectively as long as he can show more consistency in his game. Consistency though is not a problem, but a strength for strong safety Andrew Sendejo while free safety Harrison Smith brings it all. Sendejo and Smith are a very strong pair. The reserve player in this secondary to keep an eye on is strong safety, Jayron Kearse. Kearse is the nephew of former Tennessee star linebacker Jevon “The Freak” Kearse.
Place-kicker Kai Forbath did a nice job replacing the disappointing Blair Walsh in mid-season by connected on all 15 of his field goal attempts. He did miss three extra-points though. Forbath has only started 16 games in a season once in his previous six. The kick-return game was elite last year thanks to cornerback Marcus Sherels (2 TDs) and former receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (1 TD). Sherels is lobbying for the full-time job now with Patterson moving on to Oakland.
Rick Spielman did a good job getting reinforcements to help Sam Bradford and the offense. The question now is whether Bradford can elevate his game with the better supporting cast around him. If he can, the Vikings should be major contenders this season because their defensive talent is more than capable of competing with anyone in football.