What’s the only thing worse than the NFL lockout? Moving across the country, being without technology and being completely out of touch with the sports world. What makes up for all of that? Watching the Packers and Saints kick off the much anticipated 2011-2012 NFL season in a Techmo Bowl style shootout. Enough random thoughts. It’s good to be back from the dark ages and just in time for another Viking’s season. Since the number five seems to be trending on this site, here’s five things I look forward to seeing from the Vikings this afternoon.
Two TE sets and lots of them.
The loss of Sidney Rice coupled with the addition of Kyle Rudolph in the second round of April’s NFL draft should make the TE position the strength of the receiving corps. If the Vikings are going to have any semblance of balance to their offense this season, they will have to rely heavily on Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe taking pressure off of Percy Harvin, who barring break out seasons from Bernard Berrian or Michael Jenkins is the closest thing to a consistent threat at the receiver position that the team has. Count me among the many who are not holding their breath for a breakout season out of Berrian or Jenkins. If the Vikings passing game is to be effective today, expect Shiancoe and Rudolph to be big parts of the offensive attack.
A healthy defensive backfield and specifically Cedric Griffin.
In all honesty it makes no sense at all for a guy coming off back to back season ending knee injuries to be the second best corner on a defense that finished in the top ten a year ago, but that’s what the Vikings seem to be expecting out of Griffin. I love the guys resolve and will to fight, so any day with him on the field is a good one in my opinion. On the other hand, it seems like a starting job has been his for the taking all pre-season. Is that a testament to his ability to bounce back from serious injuries to both knees, or does it demonstrate a serious lack of depth at arguably the most important position on an NFL defense? I’ll hope it’s the first and that Griffin is ready to put an entire season under his belt for the first time since 2009. Something that will have to happen if the Vikings hope to finish at or above .500 this season.
Christian Ballard continue his quick emergence on the d line.
With the loss of Pat Williams this past offseason and Kevin Williams being suspended the first two games of the season for the long overdue conclusion of the star caps case, the Vikings are left with a huge hole in the middle of the defensive line. Letroy Guion is expected to fill one of those holes, but the team drafted Ballard with this scenario in mind and he appears ready to accept the challenge. In no way am I implying that a tandem of Guion and Ballard can dominate against the run the way the Williams wall did the last four seasons, but Ballard has shown the talent and versatility that made him a second round prospect prior to his draft day tumble due to a reported failed drug test. If he can build on a solid pre-season, he and Guion should be able to adequately man the middle until Kevin Williams returns.
A healthy Offensive Line.
I was one of few who attributed much of the Vikings offensive woes last season to the health of center John Sullivan. When Sullivan began battling a calf injury in the pre-season, the continuity and effectiveness of the line was left in shambles. Sullivan has never been a dominant player, and due to his size never will be, but the line seemed to be at its best last season when he was a part of it. The loss of the underachieving Bryant McKinnie and subsequent addition of Charlie Johnson at left tackle represents a huge drop off in talent and with Steve Hutchinson no longer being the dominant player he once was, this unit needs to build on a pre-season of health to be effective. With no dominant presence on the line and little to speak of in terms of depth, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed that this trend of health continues or the season will quickly fall apart.
Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave in action.
Other than the arrival of Christian Ponder, nothing has excited me more than the arrival of Coach Musgraves. Will he find more creative ways to utilize Percy Hevin’s unique talent? Can he get one last hurrah out of Donovan McNabb? Can he effectively utilize two pass catching tight ends? Will a second receiver emerge in his offense, possibly Michael Jenkins due in part to their history together in Atlanta? The list of questions surrounding this offense continues and I for one, will be watching closely to see how Coach Musgraves the quarterback guru addresses these in his first stint as a coordinator.
Why on earth is Percy Harvin not returning kicks or punts?
I like Marcus Sherels and Lorenzo Booker, but neither possesses the rare explosiveness that Harvin has. Seems like a pretty simple decision even with the leagues attempt to eliminate the kickoff return. The team needs to look no further than the Chicago Bears and their use of Devin Hester. Two seasons ago, Coach Lovie Smith pulled Hester out of the return game in hopes that he would establish himself as the teams number one receiver and subsequently killed a huge advantage that the team had in the special teams game. This past season Hester was once again allowed to return kicks/punts and the Bears became a playoff team. Now, I know that the game of football isn’t as simple as special teams and Harvin isn’t quite the return man that Hester is, but the point is that if your team has an advantage you don’t take away that advantage, you let the other team worry about that. Put your best players in a position to make plays, plain and simple. Harvin should be a flex in the return game at the very least, where he returns 1-2 kicks or punts per game.
Judson Coleman may be followed on Twitter @jacalope37