VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

VikesCentric: Preseason positives

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 25, 2014 - 9:51 AM

Who doesn’t need a little positivity on a Monday morning? In particular, “Purple Positivity.” While the Vikings remain unsettled at a couple starting positions and have had a few worrisome performances from key players, the overall vibe through three-quarters of their “meaningless” preseason games has been quite positive.

Preseason records are basically hollow. They matter about as much as dental floss to a state fair carny. There is no direct correlation between preseason NFL success and regular season success or vice versa. Thus, I really hesitate to mention (but will anyways as I did on Twitter Saturday night) that the last time the Vikings began the preseason 3-0 was 2009 – the year they went 12-4 and advanced to the NFC Championship. Just file that away in case similar success transpires this season. That way we can all look back fondly and say “we knew it all along… saw it coming in August.”

Having said all that, it’s generally better when your team plays well, stays healthy and wins some games as opposed to the alternative in preseason. It can’t hurt team confidence.

A few more preseason statistical positives to take with a large grain of salt: through Saturday the Vikings ranked eighth in the NFL with 70 points scored and fifth in the NFL with 46 points allowed. Their plus-24 differential ranked fifth in the league. Again, all truly meaningless, but I think we can all agree it’s better than ranking near the bottom in all those categories. The Vikings finished 1-3 each of the last two preseasons and had a cumulative differential of minus-32 points.

No doubt, the Norv Turner offense looks like it has some viable weapons and should be in good hands at quarterback… and we haven’t even seen Adrian Peterson play in this offense yet. By the way, I think that goes beyond just “keeping Adrian healthy.” I think there’s some gamesmanship at play here, too. The coaching staff doesn’t want to unveil the new ways in which Peterson will be used this season. Hint: catching more passes and even split out wide on occasion. That’s a different topic for a different post.

Let’s see if we can even spin the somewhat bad news into a positive.

The Vikings still haven’t settled on two of the starting positions in the back seven on defense: middle linebacker and strong safety.

Middle linebacker appears to be a two-horse race. Jasper Brinkley started against the Chiefs Saturday night and appears to be slightly ahead of Audie Cole in the battle at MIKE. Cole (33 snaps) got a longer look than Brinkley (20 snaps) against the Chiefs, though, so this one will probably be decided Thursday night in Nashville. I prefer Cole; however, neither has played an entirely clean game this preseason and the position will likely remain one of worry for Vikings fans regardless of who starts in Week 1.

The bigger concern is at strong safety. Chris Crocker, 34, started Saturday and is the most familiar with head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense having played for him in Cincinnati. The worrisome part is that the Vikings had to go out and sign the 12-year veteran just three weeks ago because nobody else was taking charge at the position. Robert Blanton made his preseason debut against the Chiefs and played 34 snaps to Crocker’s 10 after missing three weeks with a strained hamstring. He could still make a late push. Others in the mix include Kurt Coleman and Andrew Sendejo, both of whom played fewer snaps than Blanton Saturday. Jamarca Sanford’s chances were sabotaged by a quad injury Saturday. Vikings fans shouldn’t feel particularly good about any of these choices. I would not be stunned if the team brought in another safety to look at following roster cuts this week.

The positive spin: the rest of the starting jobs are basically settled.

Zimmer is reportedly set to name Matt Cassel the starting quarterback this morning. The positive here is that both Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater have looked pretty good this preseason and if Cassel got hurt or had a run of bad games few people would feel uncomfortable with the reins being handed to the rookie.

More positives: Blair Walsh looks like he’s back to being Blair Walsh after going 3-for-3 in field goal attempts Saturday.

The Vikings have four interceptions through three preseason games after having the fewest in the NFL over the last three years. The aggression on defense is noticeably different from the last couple seasons under Leslie Frazier.

First-round draft pick Anthony Barr is looking like a quick study. The defensive line rotation appears to be in good shape. Particularly impressive on Saturday were Fred Evans and Shamar Stephen.

Despite some inconsistent play from Matt Kalil at left tackle, the offensive line looks pretty strong – and the center, right guard duo of John Sullivan and Brandon Fusco is as good as you’ll find in the NFL.

Just as I hesitated to address preseason records and stats above, mentioning the injury situation also gives me pause. Not that I believe in jinxes or anything, but knock on wood. If objective 1A during the preseason is settling on starters, a depth chart and roles, objective 1B has to be staying healthy. To that extent, the Vikings have again succeeded. Jamarca Sanford has a quad and Mistral Raymond (who is on the roster bubble) got hurt Saturday. The only other concerns are Linval Joseph, who should return in time for Week 1, and Phil Loadholt, who suffered a minor ankle contusion against the Chiefs.

Thursday’s game in Nashville against the Tennessee Tians will not feature many snaps from the starters. In fact, you can bet that some will join Adrian on the sideline and be kept far from harm’s way. The few remaining starting gigs and roster decisions will be on the line and with any luck the Vikings will escape the preseason relatively unscathed on the injury front.

It’s purple preseason positivity, people. Don’t get carried away with the Purple Kool-Aid and begin planning playoff parties. Just pass it on and enjoy it for what it is. The regular season starts in 13 days. Happy Monday.

Head on over to VikingsJournal.com to join in on the discussion of Matt Cassel being named the starting quarterback and a look at whether Christian Ponder would be a good trade fit for the Rams.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: In search of interceptions

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 20, 2014 - 7:14 AM

No NFL team has fewer interceptions over the last three seasons than the Minnesota Vikings. They have only managed to pick off 30 passes since 2011. For the mathematically impaired, that’s an average of 10 interceptions per year. For the NFL-impaired, that’s not good at all.

Frankly, anyone associated with the Vikings the past three seasons is shocked to a certain extent at the sight of an interception by someone wearing a Vikings uniform.

There were just three (!) interceptions by Vikings cornerbacks in 2013. Three. As in one more than two. That’s just absurd given that record numbers of passes are thrown in the NFL every year now and cornerbacks are usually right alongside the intended targets of most of those throws. By the way, the other two Vikings corners to intercept passes last year were A.J. Jefferson, who’s no longer on the team, and Shaun Prater, who’s a longshot to make the team this year. Sherels himself is on the roster bubble again this August.

Xavier Rhodes is being positioned as the Vikings’ No. 1 corner… only he didn’t have any interceptions as a rookie last season. Captain Munnerlyn, who was signed out of free agency following five seasons with the Carolina Panthers, is slated to start opposite Rhodes. Munnerlyn has seven interceptions in his career. That’s a little more than one per season, which qualifies him as a ball hawk among Vikings corners.

So what are the Vikings going to do about this interception dilemma? After all, something must be done. Takeaways lead directly to wins. Turnover ratio is one of the most telling statistics in the NFL.

The answer seems fairly simple – beyond just, you know, catching more passes thrown by the opponents. It’s all about defensive scheme.

Vikings fans were ecstatic when they learned that new head coach Mike Zimmer, whose specialty seems to be coaching up (and occasionally using “colorful” language towards) defensive backs, does not employ or probably even condone the Cover-2 defense. We’ve seen enough of the Cover-2 in Minnesota. It was a favorite of the previous administration and led to pillow-soft coverage.

The new name of the game on the Vikings defense is aggression. Sure, it might get you burnt sometimes, especially against some of the uber-talented receivers the Vikings have to contend with in the loaded NFC North. But more aggressive man-to-man coverage should also result in fewer easy receptions, more passes defensed and, by God, more interceptions.

One of the most shocking developments out of the Vikings’ final week of training camp in Mankato was not the fact that Teddy Bridgewater threw five interceptions in the span of two days, it was that the Vikings intercepted five passes in two days. I don’t think they keep records of such things (nor should they) but I’m guessing we haven’t seen an outburst of turnovers like that in Mankato for the better part of a decade.

Of course, training camp interceptions mean about as much as training camp touchdowns. Preseason interceptions are a little more meaningful, and new Vikings safety Kurt Coleman picked one off in the preseason opener against the Raiders to the delight of the Helga Horn-adorned faithful at TCF Bank Stadium.

Half of the Vikings’ interceptions last year came from linebackers and defensive linemen. That percentage has to change, and really should change in Zimmer’s defense. By the way, the Cincinnati Bengals intercepted 34 passes the last two seasons under Zimmer in the same scheme he’s transplanting to the Twin Cities. They had 20 picks last year, tied for fifth in the NFL.

Vikings safety Harrison Smith seems to have a nose for the football, having accounted for five of the team’s 22 interceptions over the past two seasons. He should be good for another handful of interceptions this season.

However, the biggest uptick in picks needs to come from the corners. Rhodes needs to step up in year two and begin picking off passes. Let’s start with one and let’s hope it comes in the first month of the season or else the kid might start wondering if he’s ever going to get one. Munnerlyn needs at least two or three as well.

Opposing quarterbacks have felt too comfortable throwing at the Vikings’ secondary the last three years. If that doesn’t change, this defense is in for another long season of getting sliced and diced by the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford.

Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for more reaction to the Vikings’ settlement with Chris Kluwe and take part in our contest to guess the exact date head coach Mike Zimmer names a starting quarterback.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Fantasy football Q & A

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 18, 2014 - 7:09 AM

We are in the midst of fantasy football draft season. I can tell because my calendar is filling up with drafts and auctions, my Twitter feed is filling up with fantasy football questions and my refrigerator is filling up with beer. On that note, let’s take a look at six pack of burning questions (both Vikings and non-Vikings related) being kicked around by fantasy owners this week. Better yet, I’ll also attempt to answer said questions.

Q: Which of the top-ranked running backs concerns you the most?

A: Every year, several of the running backs ranked in the top-10 on cheat sheets turn out to be busts. It never fails. Be it due to injury or simply under-producing, there are disappointments every year – and when the disappointment is a top-flight running back that you likely spent a first or high second-round pick on, it can be tough to overcome. This season, one such running back sticks out like a sore thumb to me: Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs. He’s going in the top-3 in every draft, but has almost nothing around him on offense. If I’m an opposing defensive coordinator facing the Chiefs this season, I have one game plan: stop Charles and let Alex Smith try to beat me with his cute little four-yard passes.

Q: Which Vikings player is being most undervalued?

Few Vikings players are undervalued in drafts taking place within the Minnesota borders. However, Greg Jennings is one that stands out as getting absolutely no love. No, he didn’t have the greatest season in 2013, but neither did his quarterback for most of the year nor his offensive coordinator. Right now Jennings is going in about the 12th round, according to average draft position (ADP) statistics in ESPN.com leagues. He’s the 45th wide receiver off the board on average, behind highly suspect options such as Dwayne Bowe and Hakeem Nicks. Is this ADP info perfect? Hardly. But it’s an indication of a soft market for Jennings, who now finds himself playing in a Norv Turner offense and catching passes from Matt Cassel, with whom Jennings vibed last season. In the seven games Cassel either started or had the most playing time last year, Jennings had 41 receptions for 491 yards and four touchdowns. In the other nine games he had 27 receptions for 313 yards and zero touchdowns.

Q: Should Matt Cassel go undrafted in fantasy leagues?

Cassel is, in fact, going undrafted in standard-sized leagues nation-wide. However, I would argue he’s a solid QB2 in 12-team or even 10-team leagues. The more it becomes apparent he’s going to be the Week 1 starter, the more I’m moving him up my draft board. Right now I have him at 21 among quarterbacks. He’s not a fantasy starter, but given the weapons he has at his disposal and the offensive guru he has calling the shots, I don’t mind him as a plug-in player on certain weeks.

QB: Are you worried about Blair Walsh?

In a word: no. The naysayers are getting riled up after Walsh missed field goal attempts in each of his first two preseason games. One was from 51 yards, the other from 53. Those are kicks he usually made indoors. I do have him ranked a little lower this season, but he’s still a top-10 fantasy kicker in my book. Moving out from under the Teflon sky at the Metrodome to the elements at TCF Bank Stadium will have an effect but not enough to completely derail his fantasy value.

Q: Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles in a dynasty league?

Two weeks ago I thought this was going to be a redshirt season for Bortles, the top quarterback taken in this year’s NFL Draft. Now I’m not so sure. He’s definitely passed the eye test this preseason. The problem is that he has very few weapons in Jacksonville. Manziel doesn’t have it much better in Cleveland. I think he might get the nod over Brian Hoyer to start for the Browns, but no Josh Gordon would leave a giant hole in their receiving corps and the Browns are going to feature a run-heavy offense this season. Even though I think Cassel starts the season ahead of Bridgewater, the next two or three seasons should be bright for Teddy. He sure looked good on Saturday night, albeit with a second-string offense against a third-string defense, and when you compare his surrounding talent to the supporting cast in Jacksonville and Cleveland, it’s no contest (assuming Gordon remains suspended this season). I give the nod to Bridgewater.

Q: How would you rank Percy, Patterson and Crabtree in a full PPR league?

This is a Twitter question asked of me by @ryanhorner7 that I thought might be interesting to Vikings fans. The ESPN.com ADP metrics currently have Percy Harvin as the No. 20 wide receiver, Michael Crabtree at 21 and Cordarrelle Patterson at 24 so this is kind of a tough one. However, I’d rank them Patterson, Harvin and Crabtree in that order. We know Harvin’s upside, but we also now his downside: namely injury. Percy is a huge injury risk and plays in a Seattle offense that called the second-most rushing plays in the NFL last season. Crabtree is never healthy for more than five minutes either. Give me the dynamic Patterson in Norv Turner’s offense. He has the makings of a top-10 fantasy wide receiver.

By the way, you can also send me your fantasy football or Vikings-related questions and comments via Twitter any time and I will do my best to answer all of them.

Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for my updated fantasy football cheat sheet and take part in our contest to guess the exact date head coach Mike Zimmer names the Vikings’ starting quarterback.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings walking a fine line on 'Redskins' controversy

Posted by: Bo Mitchell under Vikings Updated: August 15, 2014 - 11:17 AM

The Minnesota Vikings find themselves wedged in the middle of a controversy not of their own doing. On one hand it’s a refreshing change that the Vikes aren’t the ones causing a hullabaloo. On the other hand, it seems they’re a magnet for controversy even when, as is the case here, they’re taking on collateral damage. The controversy in question: the ongoing push by the University of Minnesota to prevent Washington’s NFL football team from using their “Redskins” moniker when they visit TCF Bank Stadium to play the Vikings Nov. 2.

As you know, TCF Bank Stadium is on lease to the Vikings for the next two seasons while the new stadium is being built. As you may also know, the University wants no part of the Redskins. They don’t want the name used or the familiar logo on the helmet. They’ve asked that the team wear their old helmets that just have the fancy “R” on the side. In a statement, the University called the term “Redskins” offensive and inappropriate.

Obviously, the Washington organization agrees to disagree. On Thursday they filed an appeal of the earlier U.S. Patent Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling that ordered the cancellation of the Redskins' trademark registration. So they’re not giving up the fight. Yet.

My point here is not to debate whether the R-word is, in fact, racist. It is, and you’ll not convince me otherwise. Instead, I’m predicting this particular controversy might very well be the next key step in forcing team owner Daniel Snyder to finally change the name. If the U.S. Patent office doesn’t hit Snyder’s wallet hard enough to force a change, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might have to wield his power and make it happen. Goodell can’t afford to let this situation pit owner against owner.

A substantial segment of the public thinks the R-word is racist and is calling for a change. That hasn’t been enough. But if other more powerful outside forces come into play and create a schism between one NFL team and another, things could escalate.

To this point, the Vikings have had to walk a fine line in addressing the matter.

“Not only do we have a significant Native American population in Minnesota, but the Vikings have strong relationships with several tribes in the state,” team spokesman Lester Bagley told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week. “At the same time, the Vikings are one of 32 NFL teams, and NFL policies obligate us to operate and market the game as we would any other game against any other NFL opponent.”

“The Vikings are one of 32 NFL teams, and NFL policies obligate us…” Translation: “Our hands are basically tied. If Daniel Snyder doesn’t want to change his team name and if commissioner Goodell won’t make him change his team name, then we (have no choice but to) stand arm-in-arm with them. Protect the (NFL) shield. Present a unified front.”

Ultimately the team from Washington will be forced to change its name. It’s not a matter of if, only when. Eventually, the cacophony of protest will drown out the feeble attempts by the tone deaf in the Washington organization to uphold the name as something honorable. Maybe someday those in their fan base that can’t distinguish between loyalty to a brand and common decency will also see the light.

At some point soon Zygi Wilf might have to call up commissioner Goodell and say, “Look, I’m all for unity amongst NFL teams and protecting the shield and all that jazz, but enough is enough.”

What will push Wilf to that point?

Will it take increased pressure from the University of Minnesota? Will it take more legislators in St. Paul – you know, the ones who helped him get his new stadium built – asking Zygi to take a stand? What if hundreds or even thousands of the state’s Native American population protest more and protest louder? When the Redskins played at Mall of America Field last Nov. 7, the R-word was loudly protested before kickoff in a demonstration outside the Metrodome. You can bet those same folks – and many, many more – will return for this year’s game. In fact, plans are already underway according to the Star Tribune, and organizers hope to draw several thousand activists this time.

Between the U.S. Patent office and pressure from the U of M, Goodell might have to compel Snyder before November to announce a change. It’s one thing when all the ire is aimed at the team in question. It’s another when a second team (in this case the Vikings) is sucked into the mess and thrown under the bus for not taking a stand.

Something has to give and the protest over this game might be just the fulcrum for change.

Over at VikingsJournal.com, you'll find predictions on the Vikings' 53-man roster, specifically in the defensive backfield and our community's thoughts on the starting quarterback for Week 1.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Replacing Toby Gerhart

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 2, 2014 - 6:32 PM

A few days into Vikings training camp last weekend their esteemed offensive coordinator was unsure how to pronounce a certain player’s name, but he sure knew who he was. Norv Turner needed an assist from the throng of media members gathered inside the interview tent to pronounce Matt Asiata’s last name, but needed no help singing his praises. The accolades were unprompted and bordered on effusive.

“One of the guys who have been as impressive to me as anyone offensively is Matt Asiata,” Turner said, without being asked about him. “He finished the season strong, he is in great shape, and he gives you that big pounder. He is an excellent athlete – he catches, he has a good change in direction, he’s a good pass protector.”

The head coach echoed those sentiments a few days later when asked about Asiata.

 

“Matt is a guy that is extremely dependable, he is a good blocker, he can do a number of things,” said Mike Zimmer. “He catches the ball well out of the backfield, he has great vision in the running game, and he will be a valuable addition to this team.”

 

In other words, if there were any lingering doubts regarding the answer to the question, “Who’s replacing Toby Gerhart as the backup to Adrian?” I think we have our answer. Closed circuit to fantasy owners in larger leagues looking to insure their No. 1 overall pick of Adrian Peterson: Asiata is the guy.

There has been a lot of hopeful gushing about rookie running back Jerick McKinnon. He’s certainly flashed the skills in Mankato that made him a combine legend and too tough for Rick Speilman to resist taking a shot at in the third round, but he’s definitely behind Asiata on the depth chart right now.

An undrafted free agent who signed with the Vikings out of Utah in 2011, Asiata toiled in relative obscurity behind Peterson and Gerhart for three years. That is, until last winter when the injury bug slammed the Vikings backfield, sidelining both Peterson and Gerhart. If you’ll recall, Asiata made his first career start last Dec. 15 and took a whopping 30 carries in their 48-30 shellacking of the Eagles. He only gained 51 yards, but he tied a team record with three rushing touchdowns. Two weeks later he rumbled for 115 yards on 14 carries against the Lions. Not bad for a guy who was accustomed to only getting his uniform dirty on special teams.

The last several seasons, it was Gerhart who would routinely fill in when Peterson required a few plays off here or a series off there. It was Gerhart who would be called upon to start when Peterson got hurt. However, Gerhart’s agent did him a huge favor and netted him a nice deal in free agency with the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team in need of a running back thanks to the departure of Maurice Jones-Drew. Free from backing up the best running back on the planet, Gerhart finds himself in line to get about 15 touches a game in 2014. Good for him. He’s a good kid. We wish him well.

As for Asiata, the hope for Vikings fans is that they won’t need to see too much of him this season because that would indicate something bad happened to their franchise player. When called upon, though, you can expect him to be in the right place, know his assignment, pass-block well, catch a pass if need be, and get you three yards and a cloud of dust. He’s not flashy like the rookie McKinnon, but he’ll get the job done in all facets. The first thing coach Zimmer says about him is he’s dependable.

McKinnon on the other hand will probably flash some this preseason. He’ll make a play or two that gets the fans on their feet and clamoring for more. However, he’s new to the running back position. He’s still learning the ropes. McKinnon probably isn’t the guy you want in there pass blocking right now. I’m guessing coach Turner will reach into his bag of tricks and draw up some nifty packages for the young man as a rookie, but if you’re hoping he’s the next Darren Sproles right away you might be disappointed. At least early on.

Remember last season when the previous regime brought along Cordarrelle Patterson at a frustratingly slow pace? It’s a different coaching staff this season, but fans might experience similar frustration as they pine for McKinnon. If that happens, it’s probably a good sign. It will mean Peterson is being Peterson and also catching more passes than ever. And it will mean Asiata is successfully playing the role of Mr. Dependable.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Hope for pass defense rests with Zimmer

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 1, 2014 - 11:12 AM

Admit it, as each new Vikings pick drew close during May’s NFL Draft you said to yourself, “This will probably be a cornerback. This has to be a cornerback.” And then it wasn’t. So you waited for the next pick and hoped again. And with the first five picks Rick Speilman went a different direction.

Even casual Vikings fans expected their team to address the glaring pass defense problems this offseason, especially via the draft. The expectation was perfectly valid, given that the Vikings finished 31st in pass defense and ceded the most passing touchdowns (37) in the league last season. They were terrible.

One needn’t be a nanotechnologist to discern that, in the pass-happy NFL, being terrible against the pass kills you.

The Vikings eventually got around to drafting some cornerbacks – three of them – but not until the sixth and seventh rounds. The first one they selected, Antone Exum, was immediately moved to safety. Exum was followed by fellow sixth-rounder Kendall James and their final pick in the draft, Jabari Price, both of whom are seeing time at slot and outside corner in Mankato. All are drawing varying levels of praise for their work in training camp.

On paper, however, it wasn’t exactly what the Vikings faithful were hoping for.

Of course, prior to the draft the Vikings lured Captain Munnerlyn to start at corner and inked free agent cornerback Derek Cox and veteran safety Kurt Coleman. They also let Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson walk, which is the very definition of “addition by subtraction.”

But here’s the thing: it seems counter-intuitive, but maybe the Vikings didn’t need to go big in free agency. Maybe they didn’t need to uncover the next Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman in the draft.

Speilman hired Mike Zimmer to be head coach for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is his ability to build and scheme his way to success on defense, often times using cast-offs and players who were thought to be of less-than stellar ability.

The best hope for improvement from this Vikings defense, especially against the pass, lies squarely with Zimmer. Vikings fans have no option but to have blind faith that the new head coach will work his magic.

Obviously, Munnerlyn is a step up in talent and should finally help fill the void left by Antoine Winfield. Moreover, Xavier Rhodes flashed star potential as a rookie last season and safety Harrison Smith looks like he’ll be the leader of the secondary for years to come. That’s a good foundation. Clearly, a pass rush helps obscure coverage deficiencies to a certain extent. Zimmer’s defensive line rotation should help plenty in that regard. Anthony Barr’s speed off the edge and more snaps from Everson Griffen shouldn’t hurt either.

In short, Zimmer’s scheme promises to look nothing like the Tampa-2 favored by the previous regime. Frankly that can only be a positive development. Zimmer is looking for aggressiveness, toughness and tackling ability. Oh and his guys have to be able to cover.

"You can find a Cover 2 corner anywhere. I can go down to the 7-11 in Bloomington and get one," Zimmer said while mic’d up in Mankato on NFL Network the other day in an unintentional shot at the scheme that preceded his in Minnesota.

You can’t argue with his track record. Zimmer has made a career out of turning around defenses. You’ve heard the stats by now, but it bears repeating: his Bengals defense ranked fifth against the pass last season and seventh the year before. I’m working to confirm that none of the players in said Bengals defenses were discovered at a 7-11.

I’m not suggesting this year’s Vikings defense is going to finish in the top 10 against the pass. I haven’t inhaled that much of Josh Gordon’s second-hand smoke. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if Zimmer cobbled together a defense that ascends to the ranks of mediocrity against the pass in 2014 and perhaps even above average in 2015.

Urgent and horrifying announcement

Coming soon to a purple corner of the Internet near you, from the folks who brought you TwinsDaily.com: We’ll be launching VikingsJournal.com at some point this preseason and it will contain a smorgasbord of Vikings content sure to please every Helga-horn-wearing member of Vikings Nation. Don’t bother going there now; you won’t find anything yet. I’ll let you know when the ship sets sail, so don’t worry. That is all.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

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