3 Keys to Training Camp & Preseason for the Minnesota Vikings
It’s that time of the year again where every teams fan base believes their team has a chance to win. In a league that has so much parity, it isn’t hard to understand why. During the past 3 seasons, we’ve had three different teams from the NFC reach the Super Bowl: Atlanta Falcons in 2017, Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, and the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. In total, 24 different teams have reached the playoffs during those 3 years.
Worth mentioning are the Bill Belichick & Tom Brady-led Patriots who have made it hard on the entire AFC & especially the East. New England continually takes up one of those spots every year & the other being the Cleveland Browns who have gone 8-39-1 during that same time span.
The Browns look to have turned the page with Baker Mayfield under center & other key pieces brought in this offseason. I won’t be surprised at all if another 3 or 4 teams make the playoffs this season who were written off in the off-season. This is the stuff that makes the NFL great. Nothing is better than legitimately feeling like this could be the year your favorite team wins it all.
Now let’s dive into three aspects for the Vikings to return to the playoffs & have their shot to capture their first title.
#1 – Locate a 3rd Receiver
This doesn’t necessarily have to come from the wide receiver position. Maybe someone like Irv Smith Jr. can become this, but for now I’ll focus on just the wide receiver group.
A couple names I’m looking at for that spot are Chad Beebe who has amazing hands, runs good routes & something I really like, the bloodlines of having a father who played in the league. I also like the fact that he has a little chip on his shoulder from going undrafted. Players who work their way onto a 53-man roster the hard way always seem to have that dog mentality.
Chris Tomasson reported that Beebe is wearing out his dads old JUGS machine. It’s just another one of those things that support my love for the dog mentality. This kid isn’t afraid of the work that needs to be done, I wouldn’t count him out.
The other player I see fitting that 3rd receiver slot is Jordan Taylor. Taylor is a guy who has great size, something the Vikings current group of receivers currently lack with Thielen, Treadwell, and Zylstra all measuring up at 6’2″.
They need someone other than Kyle Rudolph who can be the end zone target who Kirk Cousins can throw the ball up to. Taylor can be that guy, but the thing is he’s so much more than just a red zone receiver. Taylor’s a athlete who tracks the ball well. Also working in his favor is his familiarity with Gary Kubiak, assistant head coach of the Vikings. The biggest concern will be how he comes back from his double-hip surgery which sidelined him all last year.
My early favorite here is Chad Beebe. My only concern is that I think he gets the punt return job and I’m not sure the team would want to run the extra risk of their 3rd receiver taking those extra hits. To me, he seems like the next feel-good story of an undrafted player making something of themselves.
#2 – Figure Out The Offensive Line
Ground & Pound Baby. Okay seriously though, the running game starts in the trenches which is something the Vikings addressed and I believe they did a good job at doing just that. They signed Josh Kline, Dakota Dozier, drafted Garrett Bradbury in the first round, Dru Samia in the fourth, and Olisaemeka Udoh in the sixth.
The hope here is that Kline regains his 2017-18 form and slides right into the right guard spot. Bradbury starts at center and Samia can provide quality depth. The key for this position group will be Brian O’Neil’s development. If he can build off of a very impressive rookie campaign, things should fall into place. Many ask if Pat Elflein can adjust to playing left guard. He was a better guard at Ohio State than he was a center so I don’t see any issues there. The one thing he will need to improve upon is his strength.
A starting unit of Reiff/Elflein/Bradbury/Kline/O’Neil could surprise many fans and give the Vikings the ability to not only run the ball, but also control the clock. This will help give Cousins more time to read opposing defenses and find some of those great receiving options he has such as Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen.
The guy here I’m most excited to watch and see what he does next is Brian O’Neil. He was the one bright spot on that offensive line that gives them something to build around. Will he start getting reps at left tackle or do the Vikings keep him strictly a right tackle? Offensive line coach Rick Dennison will have to see if O’Neil is versatile enough to play both positions.
#3 – Re-find Their Identity On Defense
Last season was a failure. Minnesota added two huge pieces, one on each side of the ball. On offense, it was Kirk Cousins and on defense, Sheldon Richardson. Both players were supposed to be the final pieces the Vikings needed to take their shot at the Super Bowl.
Sheldon was supposed to help solidify the run defense, but that never happened. In fact, it got worse. Minnesota went from 2nd in the league in 2017, allowing just 83.6 yards per game, to being 15th in 2018, allowing 113.8 yards.
Fast forward one year and Sheldon is gone and Shamar Stephen is back. This should lead to more of a DLBC (Defensive Line By Committee). It will help keep guys more fresh & explosive. The depth is great and filled with athletes for head coach Mike Zimmer to work with and mold into the players he wants.
One of those guys is Hercules Mata’afa, an undrafted second-year player who some people have called John Randle light. I’m not really sure I’d go that far as those are big shoes to fill and the only thing they really have in common to this point are being undrafted and underweight. He has the ability to play multiple positions and be one of those valuable chess pieces that Zimmer loves.
Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson, and Jayron Kearse (second, third, and fourth year players, respectfully) are the other three other pieces who I’m excited to watch in the coming weeks. Kearse is the ultimate versatile defender. Will he play safety? Linebacker? Corner? He can play all over the field to help disguise different coverages & give the Vikings some of that swagger back. I fully expect to see more blitzes & Kearse could be a part of those.
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