Friday, July 3, 2015

mike wallace

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

With minicamp complete and a little over a month until the Vikings head to Mankato for training camp, all the focus appears to be on Adrian Peterson. How many yards will he rush for? How will Norv Turner use him out of the backfield? Will he be the same after missing a year?

They’re valid questions, but the success of the Vikings does not rest solely on Adrian Peterson’s massive shoulders. Although Peterson single-handedly carried the offense in 2012 — thanks, Christian Ponder — he’s surrounded by more talent than he’s seen in his 9 years with the Vikings, and that starts with the man he’ll be lining up behind  — Teddy Bridgewater.

After a promising rookie season, Bridgewater is expected to “make the leap”, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land atop NFL.com’s infamous rankings this offseason. Last year, he started 12 games for the Vikings, threw 14 touchdowns, and finished with a 6-6 record under center.

His stats don’t “wow” on paper (2,919 yards, 85.2 quarterback rating), but the poise, decision-making, and maturity he displayed behind a rickety offensive line are hard to dismiss. Heck, he did it all without Peterson, who looks to add yet another element to Norv Turner’s attack in 2015.

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It has to be the nose ring

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Remember when Cordarrelle Patterson topped NFL.com’s “Making the Leap” list last year? The website envisioned a 70-catch, 1,100-yard season from Patterson, and described him as a combination of Devin HesterDemaryius ThomasJulio Jones, Spiderman and the Road Runner. With his untapped ability and rare combination of size and speed, fans, analysts, and other players expected Patterson to truly “make the leap” in 2014.

If anything he, jumped backwards.

Patterson finished the year with 33 catches for for 384 yards and one touchdown — far below lofty projections — and even lost his starting job to Charles Johnson, a practice squad player who previously spent time in Green Bay and Cleveland. It was a disappointing season for Patterson, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner recently told reporters that the third-year receiver is “in the mix” for an important role with the offense heading into 2015.

The reason Patterson’s only fighting for playing time and not enjoying a starring role? That would be the aforementioned Johnson, who burst onto the scene after a solid end to the 2014 season. He led the team with 47 targets, 25 receptions and 415 receiving yards over the last seven weeks, with Turner calling him “far and away” their best receiver.

Johnson has won over his offensive coordinator and even general manager Rick Spielman, and now, the national media is taking notice — he’s No. 20 on this year’s “Making the Leap” rankings and a prime candidate to truly break out as the Vikings’ X-receiver. The hype is officially real, and all signs from minicamp point to an exciting year from Johnson, but it’s too early to proclaim him the next Josh Gordon (on the field, of course). Let’s hope his appearance on the list isn’t a curse like it was for Patterson.

What other NFC North receivers are poised for breakout seasons in 2015? Find out after the jump:

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Andy: Right Guard and Safety [Not Named Harrison]
With Fusco shifting to the left side, it’s been a gong show of potential right guard suitors with second-year Papa Yank rotating in with the two rookies Tyrus Thompson and TJ Clemmings. Clemmings seemed to be the favorite before OTAs, but now it’s anyone’s game. What is nice is the depth of young competition at what was a problem position group last season due to injury and ineptitude.

At the safety opposite Harrison, I’m just looking for anyone who passes the BTB (Better-Than-Blanton) Scale (patent pending). Boxscore scouts overrate Blanton because of his high tackle numbers, but we Vikings fans know. It’s easy to pad your tackle stats when your man is wide open and catches it in front of you. I’m not sure if Sendejo is anything more than a good special teamer at this point. Taylor Mays is a Zimmer guy, but he has always been a liability in coverage. But my two love interests are second-year man (and special teams penalty hobbyist) Antone Exum and undrafted free agent Anthony Harris. Like the guard spot, we have some young depth. May the best man win. Or at least pass the BTB Scale.

Brett: Strong Safety
Though there are multiple intriguing position battles as the Vikings prepare to head to training camp, I think the most interesting is at strong safety. I’m higher than most on Robert Blanton but would be lying if I told you I believe he’s the long-term answer opposite Harrison Smith. The Vikings drafted Antone Exum last year and picked up UDFA Anthony Harris this year. Both guys should push Blanton for a starting spot, especially if Blanton continues to be plagued by injuries. The unexpected release of Taylor Mays the morning of the first day of mini-camp means it’s up to one of the two younger challengers to unseat Blanton and break up the Fighting Irish tandem currently at safety.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Mike Zimmer may be the Vikings’ most visible coach, but his coordinators — offensive, defensive, and special teams — are just as important to the team’s weekly on-field success. After yesterday’s second mandatory minicamp practice, Norv Turner, George Edwards, and Mike Priefer each took the podium and addressed the local media.

Below, three quotes to keep in mind as training camp approaches:

Norv Turner — Offensive Coordinator

On the Vikings’ offense and adding to the playbook:

“We’re going to do everything we can on a weekly basis to win the game. There are always new trends, new things that people are doing, but if we’re going to be a good offense we have to be really good with our core, with the things we do day-to-day and we have to be able to execute against good people. The change-ups, the gimmicks, the little wrinkles, they happen when you get really good at the basics and you get really good at the fundamentals, then you have something to build on and you can create some different looks.”

George Edwards — Defensive Coordinator

On Scott Crichton’s development this offseason:

“I think that’s the biggest thing is now he’s comfortable with the calls, not having to think as much. The one thing we really like him coming out, how hard he plays, the effort he played with, has transferred. Now he’s playing outside at defensive end inside at tackle now he’s not thinking about his assignments he’s really lined up and able to play all out, so from that aspect of it, we think he’s ahead of schedule and look forward to watching him progress through training camp.”

Mike Priefer — Special Teams Coordinator

On the need for improvement from punter Jeff Locke:

“Well, Jeff’s got to be more consistent. We can talk about weather until we are blue in the face. It doesn’t matter. The opposing team’s kicking in the same weather and we were out punted a few times last year where I felt like we had the better punter. So punting’s got to improve, the snapping needs to improve. Some areas of protection we need to improve on. Coverage was really good last year; we just need to be more consistent. We do it all the time, not four out of five reps, but every rep.” 

And now, the best links and stories from the Vikings community:

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Adrian Peterson’s return dominated headlines this week, and rightfully so, but the Minnesota Vikings are a team of 89 players — giving fans plenty to read , watch, and listen to as we inch closer to Training Camp. I’m excited that Peterson is back in purple and gold, but I can’t wait to see how T.J. Clemmings develops at right guard, how Scott Crichton has grown in his second year with the Vikings, and how a slew of other players perform come July 24 — the start of training camp in Mankato.

Before I jump into some of the week’s best stories from around the Internet, I want to give a quick shoutout to Lindsey Young. I only started writing for Vikings Territory in February, but in four short months, I’ve come to appreciate the effort, enthusiasm, and excellence that Lindsey pours into every post. That comment goes for everyone at Vikings Territory — this is an absolutely awesome group of people — but you don’t have to look further than Lindsey’s two most recent stories to see what I’m talking about. Give her profile of Bud Grant and this morning’s piece on “Babs” a read when you get the chance; it’s definitely worth your time!

And now, a collection of some of this week’s Vikings work from our community of writers, bloggers, and reporters:

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