Chip Scoggins: While avoiding 'R' word, Vikings have a new look

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2012 - 11:51 PM

This looks like a classic rebuilding job, even if that phrase is widely viewed in professional sports as taboo because of what it suggests.

MANKATO - The Vikings trumpeted in 2009 that they were "all in" as an organization with the celebrated arrival of Brett Favre and a roster that already featured a collection of Pro Bowl talent.

A playoff heartbreak in the NFC title game fueled talk of "unfinished business" the following training camp. Instead, a calamitous -- and, at times, bizarre -- soap opera season triggered what team officials described as a "retooling" approach in 2011.

That, of course, resulted in a 3-13 record and historic ineptitude, which necessitated a dramatic roster overhaul and 2012 season outlook that stands in stark contrast to the big, bold declarations three years ago.

"We're not going to have too many people barking up our tree for playoff berths or division titles," linebacker Chad Greenway said.

Nope, this looks like a classic rebuilding job, even if that phrase is widely viewed in professional sports as taboo because of what it suggests.

"We don't use that word around here," Percy Harvin declared.

OK then, so what are expectations for this Vikings team?

"I think this is the first year where there are no real expectations going into camp, which isn't necessarily a bad thing," Jared Allen said. "Our expectations as a team are always the same. It's always to win the [NFC] North, get into the playoffs and go that route. But as far as any preseason hype, there is none. We went 3-13 last year and have a completely new team and a lot of young guys. But that's a good thing."

Well, it's certainly different. General Manager Rick Spielman orchestrated a roster makeover this offseason that saw a core group of veterans exit and fresh faces enter. Nearly half of the 90-man camp roster is new. That is expected when an aging roster produces ugly results.

Maybe the Vikings marketing folks should steal a page from the Twins manual and launch a get-to-know-them campaign with this team. That might even be beneficial for some veterans who need a little help.

"I'm going to have to go introduce myself to some people because there's only a handful of guys that I know," Allen said, perhaps only half-joking.

Not surprisingly, a youthful roster and meager external expectations did nothing to dampen the Vikings optimism on the first day of training camp. Every team is excited and hopeful this time of year. Everyone believes they can win. That's just the nature of the NFL, a message Leslie Frazier preached to his team on the eve of its first practice.

Frazier certainly hopes his positive outlook resonates with his veteran leaders -- Allen, Greenway, Harvin, Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield -- who have to wonder if their window has closed. They were around when the team was all in and a trip to the Super Bowl felt like a realistic goal. The locker room dynamic has changed, but those guys still want to win now and not just cling to the hope things will improve in a few years.

"You can't from run from it," Williams said. "We got young in a hurry. You can say we're rebuilding, but in my mind, we're still expecting to win games."

This doesn't look like a playoff team yet, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be interesting and more competitive. In the best-case scenario, Christian Ponder's development follows a positive arc, Peterson recovers fully from major knee surgery, rookie left tackle Matt Kalil solidifies the line, Jerome Simpson provides a deep threat, Allen continues to pile up sacks by the bushel, Winfield remains healthy and Chris Cook stays out of trouble.

This team has so many unknowns, though. Ponder must show that he is indeed a franchise quarterback. The defense has unproven talent at key spots, particularly up the middle. And quite a few youngsters will be forced to play significant roles.

Frazier noted that every NFL season reveals a few surprise teams, which is true, but a team with this many young players and new additions probably needs time to grow and develop. It makes those "all in" days feel like forever ago.

"It's really almost like there's no stress, there's no pressure," Allen said. "These young guys aren't coming onto a team where they're like, 'Oh, we're expected to win the Super Bowl.' No, you're expected to perform at a high level right away because we want to win games. That's good pressure to have versus a negative."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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