Monday, September 26, 2016

mike wallace

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Balanced Vikings Edge Bengals
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The casual fan will tell you that preseason football doesn’t matter. A head coach will say it’s a critical juncture in the formation of a 53-man roster. The third-string running back will say it’s his time to prove he belongs in the NFL.

Opinions may vary among different audiences, but one fact holds true; the preseason marks the start of professional football, and with that, a chance to analyze the Minnesota Vikings for the first time since January 2016.

Minnesota’s humble 17-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last Friday left much to be desired. Head coach Mike Zimmer won’t be happy with his team’s sloppy play, especially that of the first-team offense and defense. Still, there are signs of a contender in-the-making, with pieces in place at every level to enjoy another strong season in 2016.

After each win — and unfortunately, each loss — I’ll break down key aspects of the game that led to a victory or Sunday defeat. This morning, I’ll dive into the Vikings’ film against the Bengals, which reveals Minnesota’s slow growth up to this point of the offseason.

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Laquon Treadwell is definitely happy to be in Minnesota
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

It was inevitable that we would eventually be comparing Mike Wallace and Laquon Treadwell given the circumstances one’s departure from, and one’s arrival to, the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings cut their losses on the Mike Wallace investment this last offseason and he ruffled some feathers by making comments viewed as a slight to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Shortly after, Wallace proclaimed his love for Bridgewater and genuinely seemed convinced his words were misconstrued, but the incident burned any remaining bridges he had with Minnesota fans.

The Baltimore Ravens rewarded the speedy Wallace with a two year contract worth $11.5 million. The Vikings used up their first round draft pick to select highly respected receiver Laquon Treadwell. Pats on the back all around, right?

Well, maybe not.

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A new No. 11 in Minnesota

How Can Laquon Treadwell Succeed
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Mike Wallace was supposed to stretch the field, create opportunities for other receivers underneath, and give the Minnesota Vikings their first deep threat since Randy Moss exploded into the NFL 18 years ago. On paper, he was a fit in Minnesota, with the speed to “take the top off a defense” and the production to match — Wallace has 22 career touchdowns of 30 or more yards.

Unfortunately, that pipe dream never materialized for the Vikings, who watched Wallace struggle his way to 39 receptions, 472 yards, and two touchdowns in 2015. Despite general manager Rick Spielman’s insistence that Wallace would mesh well with the Vikings, the wide receiver was clearly a square peg in a round hole.

“Norv’s system is based on speed and having a vertical threat,” Spielman said after the team traded for Wallace before the 2015 season. “By adding him, and CJ and Cordarrelle and [the] Jarius Wrights of the world, those guys are able to stretch the field. We have a young quarterback who is just going to continue to get better, and you saw that improvement out of him as we went through the season and now you add another weapon to the offensive side.”

If Wallace were a weapon in Minnesota, he would’ve been an unloaded gun.

Blame the struggles of the offensive line or Teddy Bridgewater’s inability to push the ball downfield, but the veteran receiver failed as more than just a deep threat. He dropped countless passes on well-thrown curls and comebacks, often putting the Vikings in second or third-and-long situations. Outside of the speed to threaten safeties, Wallace offered nothing to the Vikings, especially in an offense designed to protect the football and maximize limited big-play opportunities.

In Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings have a player who can succeed in ways that Wallace couldn’t. The team’s 2016 first round pick has a chance to come in and change the face of Minnesota’s passing attack, giving Bridgewater options at every level of the defense, from the red zone to the middle of the field.

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Poll of the Week

Vikings Veterans Have Something to Prove
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The Minnesota Vikings are a relatively young team, buoyed by first and second-year players at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. From Teddy Bridgewater to Eric Kendricks, the roster is stacked with up-and-coming contributors who should remain in purple and gold for years to come. Minnesota’s success hinges on their long-term future with the team, but they’re not the only cogs in the winning machine.

Veterans like Adrian Peterson, Terence Newman, and Phil Loadholt are just as, if not more important to the Vikings’ short-term outlook than the team’s young stars. Chad Greenway, set to play his last season with the Vikings in 2016, recently commented on Mike Zimmer’s unbiased, win-first approach coaching.

“He’s just in your face, and you always know where you stand – good or bad,” Greenway said, per Lindsey Young. “Whether you’re 32 years old or 22 years old, he’s going to have you playing your best football every week. He’s going to continue to get you better no matter where you’re at in your career.”

To Zimmer, age is nothing but a number. Newman led the team with three interceptions last season, Peterson won his third rushing title, and Joe Berger was arguably Minnesota’s best offensive lineman. Father Time hasn’t caught up to many of the Vikings’ veterans yet, and they’ll look to stay ahead of the curve in 2016.

Which veteran — any player over 30 years old — is most important to Minnesota’s winning chances this season?

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