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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Breaking Down The OFFENSIVE Depth Chart – Pre Training Camp

Photo by: Aj Mansour (KFAN.com)

Minneapolis, MN – Today is the day! With the Vikings reporting to Training Camp later this afternoon we continue our two part series of breaking down the depth chart across the entire 90-man roster that the Vikings are bringing with them to Mankato. Yesterday we tapped into the Defensive Depth Chart (click here to check that out) and today we break down the offensive side of the ball.

Here we go…

Quarterback:
1. Christian Ponder – 3rd year (Florida State)
2. Matt Cassel – 9th year (USC)
3. McLeod Bethel Thompson – 2nd year (Sacramento State)
4. James Vandenberg – Rookie (Iowa)

Christian Ponder is the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, plain and simple. Or at least it was before the Vikings signed former New England Patriot and Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback during the offseason. According to Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier, when Cassel was acquired the parties sat down with Matt and laid out the roles telling him he was brought in to be the back up. That said, whenever there is a starting quarterback who has not completely solidified his position as the starter, with the first signs of a struggle everybody will be calling for Matt Cassel to come in and save the day.

MOST TO PROVE – Christian Ponder: Each year when Rick Spielman selects a new draft class he tempers expectations by saying that he has no plans to “grade the draft” or fully assess his picks until after their third season. Funny enough, this will be Christian Ponder’s third season in the NFL, and for all intents and purposes this may be his last chance to prove that he belongs as the starter in Minnesota. Ponder made strides towards the end of last season including a 234 yard, 3 touchdown passing performance that overpowered Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to push the Vikings into the playoffs. To solidify his future as the Vikings quarterback, Ponder will need to see an uptick in his 1st and 3rd down completion percentages and improve on a touchdown-to-interceptions ratio that has failed to make the rest of the NFL blush. It’s an obvious statement, but the 2013 Minnesota Vikings will go as Christian Ponder goes. How’s that for pressure?

Running back:
1. Adrian Peterson – 7th year (Oklahoma)
2. Toby Gerhart – 4th year (Stanford)
3. Jerome Felton – 6th year (Furman)
4. Matt Asiata – 2nd year (Utah)
5. Joe Banyard – 1st year (Texas-El Paso)
6a. Bradley Randle – Rookie (UNLV)
6b. Jerodis Williams – Rookie (Furman)

What a difference a year makes in Minnesota. Last year at this time there were GIGANTIC questions surrounding the health of starting running back Adrian Peterson who was still recovering from a torn ligament in his knee. After running for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, there are no doubts, and their probably never will be, surrounding Adrian Peterson. Peterson has already set his goals high saying multiple times during the offseason that he will be shooting for 2,500 yards in 2013. Toby Gerhart returns for his fourth season backing up the best running back in the league and as it stands, fullback Jerome Felton is third in command in the backfield.

MOST TO PROVE – Toby Gerhart: Having played second-fiddle to Adrian Peterson for his entire NFL career, Toby Gerhart has struggle through the emotional roller coaster that is a backup in the NFL. Gerhart enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2013 and will have to make a decision on whether or not his desire is to continue backing up the best running back in the league or if he would like to go elsewhere and compete for a starting job. Gerhart lightened the load early last season for Peterson but throughout his career has only accumulated 1,022 yards and 3 touchdowns. That said, Gerhart did fill in admirably when Peterson went down in 2011 tallying 176 yards through two games of fill in work.

Wide Receiver (wide set):
1. Greg Jennings – 8th year (Western Michigan)
2. Jerome Simpson – 6th year (Coastal Carolina)
3. Cordarrelle Patterson – Rookie (Tennessee)
4. Greg Childs – 1st year (Arkansas)
5. Joe Webb – 4th year (UAB)
6a. Lamark Brown – 1st year (Minnesota State-Mankato)
6b. Erik Highsmith – Rookie (North Carolina)
6c. Rodney Smith – Rookie (Florida State)
6d. Chris Summers – 1st year (Liberty)

It was 1998 when the Vikings last had a dynamic wide receiving corps to speak of with Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed compiling the “Three Deep” threat on the offensive side of the ball. Let’s be clear from the outset, this year’s squad is NOT the “Three Deep” set of 1998. That said, they are much improved from last season. The addition of Greg Jennings gives the Vikings a veteran receiver who can work from the wide-set or out of the slot and be effective. Maybe more importantly, it takes some of the pressure off of Jerome Simpson from having to be the “number one” wide receiver, a task that proved to be too big for Simpson in 2012. Still, Cordarrelle Patterson may be the most interesting addition that the Vikings made all offseason. The 6’3″ rookie has blazing speed and is the definition of a play-maker (check out this Patterson highlight reel from his time with Tennessee). Patterson will have to fight his way on to the field to begin so Training Camp will be important for him to turn some heads and get on the good graces of coaches from the outset.

MOST TO PROVE – Greg Childs: A fourth round pick in the Vikings’ 2012 NFL Draft, Childs appeared to have some potential to work his way onto the Vikings roster as a red zone and deep play threat. That was until he blew out patellar tendons in both of his knees during last year’s Training Camp public practice. Childs has spent the past year rehabbing and working his way back to the practice field. His upper body rivals that of Calvin Johnson but any and all questions about his NFL potential will hone in on those knees. Childs may very well be playing for his NFL career this season. If he can bounce back and find a role, he should be able to make a career out of it. If not, he may need to fall back on his college education.

Wide Receiver (slot set):
1. Greg Jennings – 8th year (Western Michigan)
2. Jarius Wright – 2nd year (Arkansas)

3. Stephen Burton – 3rd year (West Texas A&M)
4. Adam Thielen – Rookie (Minnesota State-Mankato)

The slot-set wide receiver may be the most drastic change from year-to-year with the dramatic departure of Percy Harvin who flew out to Seattle for a new start and another chance. Technically speaking, Greg Jennings is probably going to be the number one slot receiver but realistically he will spend a fair amount of time set up out wide. Jarius Wright filled in when Percy went down with injury mid season and showed signs of legitimacy. Keep an eye on Adam Thielen, Minnesota State-Mankato receiver, who is Paul Allen’s player to watch as Training Camp begins.

MOST TO PROVE – Jarius Wright: As I mentioned above, Jarius Wright showed some signs of brightness last season when Percy Harvin went down with an ankle injury. He will have some big shoes to fill this season but the additions of the wide outs and Greg Jennings will take some pressure off of him and open up the middle of the field.

Tight End:
1. Kyle Rudolph – 3rd year (Notre Dame)
2. John Carlson – 5th year (Notre Dame)
3. Rhett Ellison – 2nd year (USC)
4a. Colin Anderson – Rookie (Furman)
4b. Chase Ford – 1st year (Miami)

With 9 touchdowns and 53 receptions in 2012, Kyle Rudolph solidly established himself as the starting tight end for the Vikings. When he followed it up with an impressive showing, including the MVP award, in last year’s Pro Bowl, Rudolph got Vikings fans excited that they might be on the verge of something big with Kyle. Known for his amazing hands, Rudolph showed what he’s capable of when he’s fully healthy and is ready to take the next step into becoming one of the elite tight ends in the league this season.

MOST TO PROVE – John Carlson: It’s been widely publicized that last season did not go as planned for John Carlson. It was a storybook scenario as the home town hero recovered from injury and returned to Minnesota to play for his favorite childhood team, the Minnesota Vikings. The fairy tale feeling left pretty quickly when Carlson was swallowed up by the sidelines and could not find a role with the offensive unit last year. With only 8 receptions for 43 yards in 2012, John Carlson has a lot to prove as his contract expires this season. Will he have a future with the Vikings? Will he have a future in the NFL? There are a lot of questions be asked that Carlson is looking to answer in 2013.

Fullback:
1. Jerome Felton – 6th year (Furman)
2. Rhett Ellison – 2nd year (USC)
3. Zach Line – Rookie (SMU)

You tend to be overlooked in the backfield when the guy you are blocking for ends up running for 2,097 yards in one season. Fortunately for starting fullback Jerome Felton, he was compensated for his efforts on the field last year. Having come to Minnesota as a journeyman on a one-year deal, Felton landed a three-year $7.5M deal to keep him clearing the way for Peterson for the foreseeable future. With Felton and Peterson locked up for at least three years, the Vikings hope to continue the success they found last year.

MOST TO PROVE – Rhett Ellison: Behind the scenes, second-year fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison has been making a name for himself. Coaches are impressed with his hard nosed work ethic, players hate squaring off with him in blocking drills and he continues to gain experience through his role on special teams. All of that said, Ellison is still searching for his role on this team. A tight end/fullback hybrid player, Ellison is unfortunately stuck behind Pro-Bowlers at each position. It never hurts to be in the good graces of the coaches though, so he’s moving in the right direction.

Right Tackle:
1. Phil Loadholt – 5th year (Oklahoma)
2. Brandon Keith – 4th year (Northern Iowa)

The right tackle position was actually up in the air this offseason as Loadholt’s contract expired and the Chicago Bears were coming in hot and heavy trying to steal him from the Vikes. But alas, Spielman came through and locked him up with a four-year $25M contract that ended up sending veteran CB Antoine Winfield into the free-agent pool. As it stands, there’s not a ton of depth at RT so health will be a concern, but if all goes according to plan Loadholt can be a top of the league tackle.

MOST TO PROVE – Phil Loadholt: While Loadholt is a behemoth of a man and a very talented player, his effort has been questions during his four years in the league. Last year was a contract year for Phil and he paved the way for the best running back in the league to run 2,097 yards. Now that he’s been paid, we need to see Loadholt come out to play in 2013 and continue putting in the necessary effort.

Right Guard:
1. Brandon Fusco – 3rd year (Slippery Rock)
2. Seth Olsen – 4th year (Iowa)
3. Travis Bond – Rookie (North Carolina)
4. Tyler Holmes – 1st year (Tulsa)

In 2012, all five offensive linemen started each of the Vikings 16 regular season games. Safe to say that it worked out pretty well with AP running wild and Ponder standing upright most of the year. For the second straight year, Brandon Fusco will be the biggest question mark across the Vikings o-line. A third year player out of a small college, Fusco individually had an up and down season last year and will have a lot to prove if he hopes to retain his starting role in 2013.

MOST TO PROVE – Brandon Fusco: Again, Fusco is the least experienced lineman in Minnesota and has yet to convince those in charge that he belongs with that first line. The addition of Seth Olsen during this last offseason puts the heat squarely on Fusco to perform. Olsen spent time over the last three years with the Denver Broncos and starting in Indianapolis and will likely be the next man up if Fusco struggles during Training Camp.

Center:
1. John Sullivan – 6th year (Notre Dame)
2. Joe Berger – 9th year (Michigan Tech)
3. Camden Wentz – Rookie (North Carolina State)

John Sullivan returns for his sixth year as a Viking and his sixth year as a starting center in the NFL. Over the past few seasons, Sullivan has arguable become the single best center in the entire league and has proved his worth helping a young quarterback adjust to the league. Sullivan is still recovering from micro-fracture surgery in his knee and is realistically the Vikings only question mark as Training Camp practices begin tomorrow afternoon.

MOST TO PROVE – John Sullivan: This “most to prove” certification falls squarely on Sullivan because of his health. He’s proved his oats as a player but we still need to see if he will be healthy enough to work through a full Training Camp. It’s unlikely that John will miss an regular season action, but I’d still like to see him healthy this preseason.

Left Guard:
1. Charlie Johnson – 8th year (Oklahoma State)
2. Joe Berger – 9th year (Michigan Tech)
3. Troy Kropog – 4th year (Tulane)
4. Jeff Baca – Rookie (UCLA)

The move from left tackle to left guard proved to be successful for Charlie Johnson and the Minnesota Vikings but for whatever reason Johnson still seemingly has a target on his back when it comes to the starting position. Johnson is obviously an expensive option to carry into the future so if Berger or Baca prove to be worth it the team’s prerogative may switch towards preparing one of those guys for future action.

MOST TO PROVE – Jeff Baca: There’s not normally a lot of pressure on sixth round draft picks, and there may not be on Jeff Baca this season either. But there seems to be a big opportunity for Baca to jump in and make a name for himself this season. The future of the left guard position is completely up in the air for the Vikings. Johnson is an 8-year veteran and Berger is a 9-year guy, both are unlikely to be included in the Vikings long-term plans. Kropog is likely a NFL journeyman leaving the door wide open for Baca to jump in and get noticed.

Left Tackle:
1. Matt Kalil – 2nd year (USC)
2. DeMarcus Love – 2nd year (Arkansas)
3. Kevin Murphy – 1st year (Harvard)

You’ve probably already forgotten that last year was Matt Kalil’s rookie year. When you splash onto the scene and are already being called “the best offensive lineman in the NFC North” and “the best left tackle in the entire league,” you forget that Kalil’s better year’s are likely (and hopefully) ahead of him. Kalil is the consummate professional and takes his job very seriously. Look for him to grow as a leader during his second season in the league as he continues to dominate on the offensive line.

MOST TO PROVE – DeMarcus Love: Love spent much of his first year out of college injured and worked his way back into consideration last year. That said, coaches seem to like what they discovered in Kevin Murphy who spent much of last year on the practice squad. Unless he performs this season, Love is in serious danger of losing his backup role at tackle.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS DEPTH CHART:

Kicker:
1. Blair Walsh – 2nd year (Georgia)

Walsh silenced all doubters who criticized the Vikings for cutting ties with veteran kicker Ryan Longwell days after using a sixth round pick on a rookie kicker. One year later Walsh is the owner of five NFL records (including the most 50+ yard FGs in one season, 10) and six Vikings records (including most points scored by a rookie, 141). Walsh’s dual threat as a deep kickoff specialist makes him incredibly valuable to the Vikings.

Punter:
1. Jeff Locke – Rookie (UCLA)

Following the success of last year’s Blair Walsh/Ryan Longwell move, Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer pulled another move in this year’s draft cutting ties with veteran punter Chris Kluwe and bringing in rookie punter Jeff Locke. Locke’s reputation has him as a boomer and he averaged 43.3 yards per punt last season with UCLA.

Long Snapper:
1. Cullen Loeffler – 10th year (Texas)

Loeffler is the man. He found his niche and has made a wonderful career out of it. There will be a little adjustment this season with a new holder (Jeff Locke), but if anyone can help the rookie figure it out, Loeffler is the guy.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE – Jeff Locke: This is a “duh” situation right here. A rookie player entering the NFL always has a lot to prove and Locke fills the shoes of a well-known, outspoken veteran. Week one will be the ultimate test for Locke and should knock out a majority of the nerves. Hopefully that goes well paving the way for the rest of the season to play out beautifully.

In case you missed it, yesterday we broke down the defensive depth chart. CLICK HERE to check out yesterday’s post and stay tuned to KFAN.com and @AjKFAN on twitter for live updates from 2013 Minnesota Vikings Training Camp.

Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN

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