With the Vikings opening training camp on Friday in Mankato, coach Leslie Frazier was asked if this past offseason was different than last year.
“A lot different offseason, the fact that we had an offseason last year and it was the first time having an offseason as a staff with our players, whereas this year we’re coming off a playoff season, we have a lot of momentum from that season, a lot of excitement around our team, so the atmosphere is a whole lot different than training camp a year ago,” Frazier said.
The coach also was asked if he felt more settled in the roster than last year at this time.
“At some positions yes and some other positions no,” Frazier said. “We still have some competition at a number of positions that we need to get ironed out and we had the same thing a year ago at a number of positions, for different reasons, turnover, retirements. So not completely, I don’t think we have things sewn up more than we did a year ago.”
I wondered how Frazier was going to replace three big longtime contributors in Chris Kluwe, Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield.
“Those guys you mentioned were good players for us, they contributed to our success a season ago, and we have to find replacements for them, other people that can step in and make plays for us,” Frazier said. “I think we have some guys on our roster that will do a good job for us, but we have to go out and practice and let them participate and gain some experience.”
Frazier added: “We’re going to have some young players replacing those guys that you mentioned. We have to get them up to speed fast, with the fact that we’re opening up against an NFC North opponent.” The Vikings open the season at Detroit on Sept. 8.
Some of the media experts believe the Vikings will have a real tough time replacing middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and Winfield on the defensive side of the ball. Brinkley left for Arizona, while Winfield went to Seattle.
“We’re going to have to [find replacements]. We have some other guys on the roster that we’re hoping will step up and help us out, and they have to do it in order for us to achieve our goals as a team,” Frazier said. “Our middle linebacker position is going to have to be stout and much improved. Finding a guy that can play the nickel slot position, not that anyone will be able to replace Antoine, but having someone that is going to be adequate and can make plays for us and be sound, we have to find someone that can do that and do it well.”
A year ago, the Vikings were not very deep at wide receiver, but everybody expects former Packers star Greg Jennings to be a big contributor after signing as a free agent this offseason.
“I think his veteran experience will help us tremendously, especially in the wide receivers room,” Frazier said. “That’s a relatively young group and the fact that he has been to a Super Bowl, had a lot of success in our league, he’s a former Pro Bowler, I think his addition is going to be a big addition for our entire offense and our entire team.”
Frazier also expects a bigger contribution from last year’s draft class that did so well in 2012. The draft class might go down as the best in Vikings history.
“No doubt, I mean guys like Harrison Smith, Blair Walsh, all of those guys in that class, which was a great class,” Frazier said. “Matt Kalil, Rhett Ellison, those guys having a year under their belt where they played extensively in their rookie season should really help them in their second season.”
Ponder, Cassel are key
Quarterback Christian Ponder is in a better place than last year, as is the team’s knowledge of his role, Frazier said.
“Another year of experience under his belt,” Frazier said. “That puts us ahead of the curve. We have a much better understanding of where Christian is and what his strengths and weaknesses are.
“The fact that we’ve gone through a season with him as our full-time starter and going into camp knowing that he is our starter. He should be a lot better, and we have some better pieces around him that should help him and our offense as a whole.”
The Vikings didn’t have an experienced backup behind Ponder last year. That has changed in 2013 with the addition of veteran Matt Cassel.