Five new players could fuel Vikings

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 16, 2012 - 9:08 PM

The Vikings are counting on key offensive additions to fire a breakthrough.

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Matt Kalil was hired to give rock-solid pass protection and “a strong, heavy punch when he delivers it to the defenders,” according to Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

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The statistical evidence is inescapable. The Vikings' offense in 2011 was lackluster at best.

And atrocious at times.

During a disastrous 3-13 season, the Vikings finished 28th in the NFL in passing and 19th in scoring. Quarterbacks Christian Ponder, Joe Webb and Donovan McNabb combined to post a 74.6 quarterback rating.

Adrian Peterson -- missing four full games and parts of two others because of injuries -- posted career lows in rushing yards (970) and per-game average (80.8).

Outside of Percy Harvin, no Vikings receiver topped 40 catches or 500 yards.

The offensive line allowed 49 sacks, fifth-worst in the NFL.

At first glance, it would seem difficult to find much to build on. But that's what the offseason is for. Developing young players. Replenishing the talent pool. Upgrading the playbook.

Heading into 2012, head coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave are confident an offensive breakthrough is on the horizon. Musgrave has grown enthusiastic with all the new toys he's been given.

A new tight end. A speedy receiver. A mammoth and athletic left tackle who should provide valuable reinforcement up front.

"This is exciting," Musgrave said. "We're going to be just fine offensively. I have no doubts about that. We're going to get rolling."

Yes, Ponder's development, Peterson's return from ACL surgery and Harvin's continued emergence may be the biggest factors in determining how good the Vikings' offense can be in 2012. But the new weapons will need to be deployed as well. And Musgrave can't wait to do so.

With that in mind, here's a look at five important new Vikings and how they figure into the offensive plans.

OT Matt Kalil

Best-case scenario: Kalil lives up to all the hype and is an immediate Pro Bowler and potential Hall of Famer with few flaws. The Vikings Sharpie him in as their starting left tackle on Sept. 9 and don't need to reach for the Wite-Out until 2025.

Worst-case scenario: Kalil is a reliable standout. But like Jake Long in Miami and Joe Thomas in Cleveland, his presence alone isn't enough to solve the team's instability at quarterback.

You should know: Last season, Southern Cal attempted 447 passes in 12 games. Kalil didn't allow a single sack.

Musgrave's musing: "He's not just a finesse left tackle. He's also got a strong, heavy punch when he delivers it to the defenders. ... And it's essential that we have better pass protection. Otherwise, everything we're talking about doing in the passing game, we may never have a chance to get those balls launched. First things first."

WR Jerome Simpson

Best-case scenario: Continuing to grow more confident and more consistent, Simpson locks down his role as the starting split end and improves on a breakout 2011 season during which he had 50 catches for 725 yards with four touchdowns in Cincinnati.

Worst-case scenario: After serving a 15-day jail sentence in April in connection with a drug charge, Simpson can't stay out of trouble off the field. And even if he can, his tendency to drop balls surfaces too often.

You should know: Musgrave can't rave enough about how valuable Simpson's speed will be on the outside. On top of that, the offensive coordinator already senses the rapport building between Simpson and Ponder. "I think they sense we're going to give both of them a chance to make a ton of plays," he said.

Musgrave's musing: "We need somebody with juice like that playing the split end ... With the way I think we can run the football, defenses are going to try to take away the run. And we want to make them pay for that through the air."

TE John Carlson

Best-case scenario: Used often in two- and sometimes three-tight end formations, Carlson becomes a matchup nightmare, consistently able to attain separation against man coverage. His intelligence becomes a major asset and he works well with fellow tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Worst-case scenario: After missing all of 2011 following shoulder surgery, Carlson can't clean the rust away. He doesn't deliver much more than he did in Seattle in 2010 (31 catches, 318 yards and one TD) and remains only average as a blocker.

You should know: Carlson was in Kansas City on the opening night of free agency preparing for a visit with the Chiefs when Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman called with a convincing sales pitch. Carlson never made it to Chiefs headquarters, flew immediately to Minneapolis and signed with the Vikings the next day.

Musgrave's musing: "In the red zone, he has a sense for zone and an ability to slide into an opening and then make a tough, contested catch."

WR Jarius Wright

Best-case scenario: Like Harvin, the rookie out of Arkansas exhibits jackrabbit-like quickness and is an immediate weapon in the slot who also has the versatility to move around.

Worst-case scenario: Size really does matter in the NFL. Wright is only 5-10 and 182 pounds, and he has relatively small hands and short arms. That could be a problem. Furthermore, if Harvin stays healthy, Wright's offensive opportunities may be somewhat limited.

You should know: When Wright had his biggest game in college -- a 13-catch, 281-yard, two-touchdown explosion against Texas A&M in October -- Spielman just happened to be in attendance.

Musgrave's musing: "He's quick. Very quick. I'm looking forward to finding out how his quickness is going to translate against NFL defenses. He's got great balance. He can get in and out of breaks. And he's lightning quick. We're hoping he's a super man-to-man beater for us."

WR • Greg Childs

Best-case scenario: Childs turns back the clock to October 2010 when he was one of the SEC's most dynamic receivers, a projected first-round pick blessed with good size (6-3, 220 pounds), better body control and a huge catch radius. That was before he was lost for the final five games of 2010 with a torn patellar tendon, an injury that also slowed him through 2011.

Worst-case scenario: In a league where every split-second and every inch matters, Childs' knee injury deprives him of just enough quickness and explosion to render him ordinary in the NFL.

You should know: Eight games into the 2010 season, Childs had 46 catches for 659 yards and six TDs. He ranked third in the SEC in all those categories at the time of his injury.

Musgrave's musing: "He's got the speed to get down the field. But he also has the size to muscle little DBs at the same time ... We're counting on the human body healing up. With the significant injury he had, it's usually a 15- to 18-month recovery process. And he's just getting to that threshold. So we're betting on the come with him."

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