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Bleacher Report – Vikings

4 thoughts: Superhuman Peterson, Walsh’s response, O-line and the vets

By Derek Wetmore

MANKATO – Turn down Ellis Avenue on the campus of Minnesota State-Mankato, the buzz becomes palpable as you approach the small mob of purple-wearing Vikings fans. Some are there to get an up-close look at their favorite players, some want autographs, and others are packed behind the temporary fences outside the players’ dorm facility simply to be a part of the annual tradition.

Vikings training camp is underway and football is in the air.

As much as we’d like to pretend in late July that we’ll have all the information we need to forecast the rest of the season, the truth is that the task is impossible. Oh sure, we can learn a few things in the next two weeks. But to pretend like we’ll be able to see everything coming for the rest of the preseason and throughout the 17-week grind of an NFL season – to say nothing of the NFL playoffs – would be a bit of a stretch.

OK, a lot of a stretch.

We’ll know next to nothing about the long-term health of the team. That will definitely matter when January rolls around. We’ll learn little to nothing about its most important player, Teddy Bridgewater. The guess here is that he’ll have a say in how things play out for the defending NFC North champions. And as intriguing as he changes on the coaching staff might be, how much are we going to learn about that collaboration before the team takes its first snap in a preseason game?

With all that in mind, here are the 4 developments that I’ll be most curious to learn about during training camp in Mankato:

1. Is Adrian Peterson superhuman?

Last year all the talk was about his age and how he’d respond to effectively missing a full season while battling the league and the justice system trying to get reinstated and put back on the field.

He shut up those critics for the most part.

Peterson, now 31, won the NFL rushing title with 1,485 yards on the ground, a 4.5 average per carry. That’s far from the best mark of his career (6.0 yards per carry in his incredible 2012 season), but it still announced loudly to anyone willing to listen that Peterson does not bend to the same aging curve that’s punished great running backs of yesteryear.

So the guess here is that there still will be the occasional detractor questioning whether the 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back chiseled from granite will continue to hold up to the rigors of the NFL season. But it’s possible that modern medical science and his unflappable training ethic could make him exempt from the 30-year-old running back rule of thumb.

His involvement in the offense is another story. Will he stay on the field on third down? Will he pick up blitzers? Will he become more versatile and catch more passes out of the backfield? He will cut down his fumbling rate?

Peterson was asked in May what he’d like to work on in the offseason.

“Just running routes and just really focusing on learning the route tree,” Peterson said. “Just being more agile and running routes not as stiff. You got a young guy Jerick [McKinnon]. He’s a Pro-Bowl athlete. He does a great job of providing that scat back for us when he’s out there, so just being more involved in that aspect.”

We’ll see.

2. Offensive line: Who’s on it and how will it perform?

The key figure here is going to be newcomer Alex Boone. He’ll garner the lion’s share of the attention. But that’s not even close to the end of the intrigue with the most important unit on the team.

How will Matt Kalil respond in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract? Will putting Boone at left guard help the left tackle?

How is John Sullivan after season-ending back surgery? If he’s not healthy enough to go, would Joe Berger step in?

Then there’s the mix of Mike Harris, Brandon Fusco and Andre Smith. How will the right side of the line shake out?

I’m curious about this unit because of how important they are in run blocking for Peterson. But with third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under center, the blockers up front are probably even more important. He’s said in the past that he prefers to operate out of the shotgun because he can survey the field, and he’s not as worried about the drop back. Well, that hasn’t always worked out so well for Peterson, so I’m curious to see how the Vikings approach that mix this year, after a full offseason of planning to wed the strengths of the two most important players on offense.

And for either of them to contribute at their maximum potential this season, the offensive line almost necessarily will be the unsung heroes.

3. What role will the vets play?

Specifically, I’m looking at Chad Greenway, Terence Newman and to a lesser extent, Brian Robison.

All three are back this year with the Vikings and all three have had long and productive NFL careers – which also means there are younger players coming after their presumed starting jobs, and each year that passes, the task of keeping that job likely gets harder.

Greenway, for example, could be penciled in as the weakside linebacker in his last hurrah in the NFL, before he retires as a very well-respected Viking, in addition to having been a great player. But that doesn’t change the reality that the Iowa product is now 33 years old, and the Vikings are otherwise very young and speedy in their linebacking corps. Anthony Barr, if he can stay on the field, is a force. Eric Kendricks had flashes last year, and he earned Defensive Rookie of the Month in October.

But how surprising would it be if Emmanuel Lamur instead was named the starter at Greenway’s position of weakside linebacker? He signed a 2-year, $5.5 million contract in March, and he’s in his first training camp with the Vikings competing for a spot. Still, he has just 15 NFL starts in his four years as a pro. The Vikings have other linebackers in camp – and it’s still to be determined how available Anthony Barr will be after missing a good chunk of spring workouts with an undisclosed injury. Greenway is the guy I’m watching, though.

We’ve already outlined the competition at cornerback, where second-year corner Trae Waynes hopes to overtake a starting role from veteran Terence Newman. If Waynes grabs that job and excels, the Vikings figure to be in pretty good shape, with Xavier Rhodes on the other side and Captain Munnerlyn – who had a strong bounceback year last season – slotted in as the nickelback. If you had to guess right now who would start in Game 1 against Tennessee, you might give the edge to the more experienced Newman. Training camp could change our mind about that relatively quickly.

Lastly, Robison played well and held up last season, despite relatively heavy usage. He and Everson Griffen bookend one of the primary strengths of the team, the defensive line. They need to play better against the run this year, Mike Zimmer said, but throw in star nose tackle Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd to that mix and you’re talking about a strong overall front. That’s before mentioning a young gun like Danielle Hunter, who burst on the scene last year, or quality rotational backups like Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. Seems to me like the Vikings are in good shape here.

4. How will Blair Walsh respond to miss that kick?

Oh, you’d forgotten?

Last year after the Vikings were bounced from the playoffs after appearing to have outplayed the Seattle Seahawks, and the stinging memory for Vikings fans is that 27-yard field goal that Walsh missed wide left.

One player told Thursday that it took him a long time to get over that loss, because the players on the sideline felt toward the end of the game like they had it in the bag, and so to lose in such heartbreaking fashion, on such a bitter cold day, had to have been emotionally exhausting.

Who knows how far the Vikings could have gone last season were it not for the missed field goal, but Walsh is determined to not let that kick define his career.

He sounded confident and practical as he reported to the team’s dorm facility Thursday before a conditioning test. The kicker was asked if he’s had a chance to kick inside the brand new U.S. Bank Stadium

“Made a lot of kicks in there,” Walsh said, “but I’ve got to make them when it counts during the games.”

Walsh isn’t the only player to blame for that loss, of course, but his is the face most often associated with the gut-wrenching postseason defeat.

He says given the way last year ended, he’s extra anxious to get that first kick out of the year this way.

“Of course, but I’m always anxious when it comes to this time of the year. The NFL has such a long offseason that you go almost about eight months from your last kick in a game to your next kick in a game,” Walsh said. “That’s a little interesting. For me, this year obviously that process is going to be even more amped up. But you know what, I’m confident in what I do and I’ve made a lot of kicks in this league. That first kick that I have I’ll treat just like any other kick I have.”

Maybe if the Vikings didn’t play that game in subzero temperatures at a temporary outdoor stadium on campus at the University of Minnesota, the storyline would have been different. The thing about history, though, is that it can’t be revised. All Walsh and the Vikings can do now is to try to script a better present and improved future.

The post 4 thoughts: Superhuman Peterson, Walsh’s response, O-line and the vets appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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