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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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Chicago 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Golden State 111 FINAL
Orlando 96
Brooklyn 99 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Portland 105 FINAL
Charlotte 97
Washington 87 FINAL
Cleveland 113
LA Clippers 104 FINAL
Detroit 98
New York 102 FINAL
Dallas 109
Toronto 126 FINAL
Atlanta 115
Milwaukee 103 FINAL
Minnesota 86
Sacramento 89 FINAL
Houston 102
Utah 82 FINAL
Oklahoma City 97
Indiana 100 FINAL
San Antonio 106
Denver 112 FINAL
Phoenix 120
Memphis 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 93
Winnipeg 2 FINAL
Buffalo 1
Washington 2 FINAL(OT)
NY Islanders 3
Philadelphia 2 FINAL
Detroit 5
NY Rangers 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Carolina 0 FINAL
Florida 1
Toronto 3 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 4
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
Minnesota 0
Chicago 3 FINAL
Colorado 2
Calgary 2 FINAL
San Jose 0
Robert Morris 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 61
Rochester College 35 FINAL
Eastern Mich 68
Marist 68 FINAL
Fresno State 64
Butler 74 FINAL
North Carolina 66
Liberty 50 FINAL
Morgan State 51
Denver 57 FINAL
Belmont 78
American Univ 64 FINAL
Hampton 60
Sacred Heart 72 FINAL
James Madison 79
Northeastern 54 FINAL
Massachusetts 79
Samford 71 FINAL
Kennesaw St 84
ULM 48 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 61
Hawaii 75 FINAL
East Carolina 73
Missouri 74 FINAL
Chaminade 60
UCLA 65 FINAL
Oklahoma 75
North Florida 72 FINAL
Elon 65
Oral Roberts 69 FINAL
Milwaukee 66
Chicago State 61 FINAL
Western Carolina 66
Purdue 87 FINAL
BYU 85
Furman 54 FINAL
Duke 93
San Francisco 72 FINAL
Evansville 79
Wisconsin 72 FINAL
UAB 43
Davidson 95 FINAL
UCF 69
Albany 75 FINAL
Colgate 71
Longwood 66 FINAL
George Washington 91
Delaware State 76 FINAL
Iona 126
Trinity Baptist 57 FINAL
Jacksonville 69
Cleveland State 33 FINAL
Louisville 45
St Johns 70 FINAL
Minnesota 61
PSU-Harrisburg 42 FINAL
Navy 67
Richmond 72 FINAL
NC State 84
Grambling St 54 FINAL
Notre Dame 81
Georgia State 83 FINAL
Oakland 78
Campbell 64 FINAL
Ohio State 91
Goucher 43 FINAL
Towson 97
Bryant 47 FINAL
Vermont 73
Miami-Ohio 63 FINAL
Virginia Tech 78
Mount St Marys 49 FINAL
Wake Forest 83
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Yale 82
UMKC 63 FINAL
Youngstown St 66
Canisius 60 FINAL
Cornell 67
Va Military 72 FINAL
West Virginia 103
Lehigh 86 FINAL
DePaul 74
UC Riverside 62 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 66
Morehead State 77 FINAL
Marshall 68
Miss Valley St 52 FINAL
North Texas 67
UNC-Asheville 75 FINAL
South Carolina 89
Tenn Tech 65 FINAL
SE Louisiana 86
Texas Southern 59 FINAL
SMU 72
Radford 50 FINAL
TCU 74
TX-Pan American 48 FINAL
Utah 85
Wayne St-NE 69 FINAL
South Dakota 86
Kansas State 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 70
Northern Ill 49 FINAL
Iowa 70
Fla Gulf Coast 45 FINAL
Green Bay 59
Carroll (MT) 52 FINAL
Montana 75
Florida A&M 33 FINAL
New Mexico St 78
Auburn 71 FINAL
Oregon State 69
Eastern Ky 73 FINAL
Southern Utah 64
Stetson 41 FINAL
Wyoming 65
Northern Ky 60 FINAL
Eastern Wash 81
Utah Valley U 60 FINAL
Idaho State 57
Florida 65 FINAL
Georgetown 66
Northwestern 42 FINAL
Northern Iowa 61
Georgia 76 FINAL
Gonzaga 88
Cal Poly 52 FINAL
California 72
Utah State 70 FINAL
UC Davis 77
Arizona 61 FINAL
San Diego St 59
Alabama State 68 FINAL
North Dakota 75
Portland State 63 FINAL
CS-Northridge 55
Tulsa 58 FINAL
Oklahoma State 73
Pacific 71 FINAL
Alaska-Anchorage 62
Missouri State 61 FINAL
Colorado State 76
Ohio U 24 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 21
LSU 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Kennesaw St 74 FINAL
Seton Hall 77
Northern Ill 46 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 55
Illinois-Chicago 40 FINAL
Northwestern 61
UT Martin 75 FINAL
Samford 79
Niagara 63 FINAL
Binghamton 52
Radford 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 72
East Tenn St 69 FINAL
Indiana 97
North Dakota 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 52
Marshall 49 FINAL
Cornell 58
Oral Roberts 43 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 54
LSU 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
Boise State 59 FINAL
Yale 53
Evansville 39 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 83
(4) Tennessee 63 FINAL
Chattanooga 67
Delaware State 64 FINAL
Mount St Marys 73
Bradley 74 FINAL
Columbia 81
Providence 56 FINAL
Dayton 72
Presbyterian 43 FINAL
Xavier 45
Albany 64 FINAL
Canisius 59
VA Commonwealth 48 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Alabama A&M 44 FINAL
Alabama 75
Colgate 35 FINAL
(22) Georgia 66
Memphis 75 FINAL
Southern Ill 82
Oakland 64 FINAL
(16) Michigan State 79
Utah Valley U 49 FINAL
UC Davis 59
Butler 62 FINAL
BYU 81
TX-Pan American 45 FINAL
(6) Texas 72
McNeese State 27 FINAL
(7) Texas A&M 93
Milwaukee 80 FINAL
Marquette 85
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
TX-Arlington 80
Jackson State 70 FINAL
Chicago State 60
Indiana State 74 FINAL
South Alabama 53
Kansas State 0 Postponed
Santa Clara 0
Long Beach St 69 FINAL
Alaska-Anchorage 60
Iona 49 FINAL
Kansas 90
Fresno Pacific 60 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 82
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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 Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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