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Continued: Vikings 2012 preview: Built for the future

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 12, 2012 - 11:40 AM
Just minutes after completing the final practice of training camp last month, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder bounced off the field at Minnesota State University Mankato only to be stopped dead in his tracks by the trickiest question of the preseason.

This one came from a Mankato radio reporter, offering a six-word hypothetical: "Would you take 8-8 right now?"

Ponder reacted as he's been taught to. While under pressure, he bought extra time. He repeated the question then paused to consider the scenario.

"Would I take 8-8 right now? Uhhhh ..."

Here's what Ponder likely would have said if primed with truth serum: "Would I take 8-8? Heck yeah! Of course I would. Do you remember how bad things got last season? Have you seen how tough the NFC North is? Man, 8-8 would be a blessing."

Here's how Ponder replied instead: "If 8-8 would take us to the playoffs ... I mean we want to make the playoffs. I don't know if 8-8 will do it in our division. Obviously, the main goal is to go 16-0. So I don't know. I don't know."

Yep, this is where the Vikings stand heading into the 2012 season, so far down the NFL pecking order that a rise toward mediocrity seems like a realistic aspiration.

That .500 record mightmay seem unappealing to a fan base starving for success. But 8-8 is also is a lofty goal for a franchise that lost 23 times in 32 games the past two seasons, then responded by overhauling its roster.

So for the Vikings this fall, the road back to relevance mightmay seem like a young family's 26-hour road trip to Disney World. By the minute, jumpy fans in the backseat will interrupt the peace with restless questioning.

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How about now? Are we there yet?

Young at heart

Reaching the destination -- competing for a playoff berth by the end of 2013 -- will require obvious patience. But the Vikings also will also need significant growth from a nucleus of young players whose development will determine the franchise's direction.

Ponder mightmay shoulder the most pressure of the up-and-comers, needing to quickly prove he's worthy of the organization's unabashed confidence in him.

But the 25-and-youngerunder crowd also includes receiver Percy Harvin, left tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Chris Cook and safety Harrison Smith, all starters being put in position to have breakthrough seasons.

Also not to be forgotten in the youth movement: running back Toby Gerhart, 25, who will shoulder a majority of the work out of the backfield early in the season; tight end Kyle Rudolph, 22, a potential match-up nightmare for defenses; and cornerback Josh Robinson, a 21-year-old rookie who has eye-opening speed and confidence.

The eagerness of the young players will be needed to fuel a revival.

Said Kalil: "You'd have no idea this was a 3-13 team last year. The attitude and the competitiveness have been great since I got here. I think there's a belief that we have a lot of talent and a chance to really build something special."

'No such thing as a young player'

Still, with so much talk centering onaround the rising youngsters, the Vikings will need their veteran stars to excel. That means Jared Allen will be relied on to do everything he did a year ago, when he set a team record with 22 sacks. It means Adrian Peterson will have to make good on his promise to be as good as he ever was, even after blowing out his left knee out in last season's penultimate game. It means Chad Greenway will need to step up as a leader in the linebacking corps. And it means Antoine Winfield, the oldest player on the roster at 35, must not let his gas light illuminate too quickly as the secondary experiences its inevitable growing pains.

Throughout the preseason, the established veterans have shown the tolerance that will be required, encouraged by the contagious drive that's been present from players young and old.

"Guys aren't only having fun," Winfield said, "but there's been a lot of work put in every time we get on the field. There's been an effort to take advantage of each day."

But who knows how long such serenity will last, especially if the Vikings get off to a bumpy start?.

Allen mightmay be particularly susceptible to impatience. He remembers all too vividly being a play away from the Super Bowl. That was onlyjust 31 months ago. Now he's 30, in his ninth NFL season and not much in the mood for baby steps.

"It's tough," Allen said. "Sometimes a lot of things are repetitive ... At some point, I wouldn't say your patience runs out. But at some point, the learning curve has to pick up and they need to catch up to where we're at. Because it's not our job [as veterans] to drop down because you're young. I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as a young player. You're in the NFL and you're getting paid to do your job. And our job is up here at a high level. That's where we need to be, and everybody needs to get there."

Time machine

Setting high standards will be important. But setting a timetable for the team's resuscitation is a much trickier matter.

During the preseason Ponder, head coach Leslie Frazier and owner Zygi Wilf all made minor headlines with their insistence that a playoff bid was within reach this season.

Allen chimed in with his own motivational sound bite.

"If you're not out here trying to win a championship, then there's no reason to be out here," he said. "If you're out here like, 'Oh, we're just going to try to win eight games here,' you're wasting everybody's time and you're wasting the Wilfs' money."

It's not so much that the Vikings are delusional with such chatter. Instead, they've adopted that rhetoric because they don't want last season's 3-13 unraveling and the accompanying low expectations to be an easy crutch, a fall back excuse for continued failure.

On the eve of the first training camp practice, Frazier gathered his players and demanded they ignore the outside perceptions which say, quite frankly, that this team will still will be pretty bad in 2012.

"We want to eradicate that type of thinking," Frazier said.

Instead, Frazier preached the value of self-belief and optimism.

So about that timetable for turning the corner ...

"This is all a process," Winfield said. "This is a first for me going through something like this where so many young players have been brought in to turn things around. The benefit of that, if there is one, is that guys are hungry and working hard and really competing to make this thing a success."

Mr. Ponder?

"I don't know if you set a timeline," the young quarterback said. "Obviously we want to win now. We're putting that pressure on ourselves. We want to do a lot better than 3-13. We want to make the playoffs. We want to be competitive in the NFC North. I don't know if you can really put a timeline on it."

But can't we attach a win-loss goal to things? For this young squad, 8-8 might just might be the top-end goal.

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Team Irvin 9 1st Qtr 0:34
Team Carter 13
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 83 4th Qtr 10:02
Toronto 91
Milwaukee 69 4th Qtr 11:28
San Antonio 69
Boston 34 2nd Qtr 5:34
Golden State 37
Washington 42 2nd Qtr 5:59
Denver 42
Houston 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 2nd Half 0:36
Tennessee St 54
Creighton 45 2nd Half 3:20
Villanova 67
Northwestern 42 2nd Half 16:42
Maryland 35
Washington 7 1st Half 14:05
Utah 16
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 36 1st Half 1:40
USC 23
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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