Vikings Preview and Other Training Camp Storylines
The Vikings are a week into training camp, and with the start of football-related activities the optimism for this team to make a deep playoff run is growing.
Minnesotans have watched this team grow and at this point, with Adrian Peterson still in his prime, it looks as if this is the best time in a long time for their team to take that next step.
The problem, though, is that bad man who lives in Green Bay. Despite last year's NFC North-clinching win week 16 in Green Bay, the Vikings have been unable to beat Rodger's Packers, as they have a 5-11 record, 5-12 including the 2012 playoff game, while Rodger's has been quarterback. When Rodgers has a healthy assortment of weapons, he is still the best quarterback in football and a heady foe.
So what do the Vikings need to do to repeat their division title and leapfrog the Packers as the kings of the NFC North this year? I bring it down to five things.
1. Teddy Bridgewater takes the leap.
Quarterback is the most important position in football and, if the Vikings are going to win the North once again, Teddy Bridgewater needs to take a leap. Last season, Bridgewater had a solid second season in the league, with 3,231 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, only nine interceptions, a QBR of 62.7 and a passer rating of 88.7. Bridgewater was a good game manager, but not someone who can win you a game by himself.
Bridgewater has the college pedigree and ability to make that happen, but in order to do so he needs to take the leap and throw for more than 300 yards in more than one game this season.
A season in which he makes this leap should see Bridgewater go over 4,000 yards passing, double his passing touchdown number to 28 (or at least 25), and increase his ever important QBR to at minimum 70, which is equal to what Kirk Cousins recorded last season.
2. Adrian Peterson continues to be best running back in football.
Other than the 2014 season, when he was lost to suspension, Adrian Peterson has consistently put up rushing numbers that are the best in the league or at least among the best.
Last season, at age 30, Peterson produced as he always has with 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead the league in both categories. Peterson has averaged more than 1,200 yards per season and 10 touchdowns over his nine-year career, and the team needs him to do that again in order to reach the heights they are aiming for.
Here comes the caveat: with Peterson at age 30, he is nearing, or rather at, the point that most running backs start a very steep decline. Peterson seems to be that rare freak athlete who will maintain his level of production for multiple seasons past this one, but only time will tell.
3. Laquon Treadwell becomes Vikings first legitimate No. 1 receiver since Moss.
In order for Bridgewater to make the leap I mentioned earlier, he will need help from his receivers. That help needs to come from first-round draft pick Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell fell to the Vikes at 23, and he gives them the potential for their first true number one receiver since Randy Moss was traded to the Raiders. Treadwell led the SEC last year in yards and touchdowns and, despite not having burner speed like a Cordarelle Patterson, Treadwell brings the size and route-running ability to give the Vikings a season similar to Amari Cooper's with the Raiders a year ago. Treadwell will be a primary target in the red zone for Bridgewater and will give the Vikings a more balanced red zone attack.
4. Defense maintains top 10 ranking.
The Vikings only allowed 18.9 point per game last season as they relied on stringent red zone defense to limit opponents from scoring. With the majority of the defense back from last season, the Vikings should only get better defensively, especially with the continued development of young linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
To compete with the Packers you have to slow-down Aaron Rodgers. As we've seen the last few seasons, a great defense can win you a Super Bowl as evidenced by recent victories by Broncos and Seahawks in the big game. If the Vikings defense an find a partner for Harrison Smith and get good cornerback play, they have the defense to carry them to the promised land.
5. Harrison Smith stays healthy.
The biggest factor to bringing the Vikings defense to being Super Bowl-worthy is the health of Harrison Smith. Last year, while dealing with an assortment of injuries, Smith still produced as one of the top safeties in football. In order for the Vikings to have a top-flight defense, they have to hope that Smith plays at 100% more times than not, and also that their defensive star's injuries are in the past and not the beginning of his body breaking down.
Stories from around Vikings training camp...
On ESPN.com, Ben Goessling has an assortment of Vikings posts, starting with this one on Trae Waynes.
Check out these photo stories from John Autey of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.