Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman continues to say that he is withholding judgment on his team until they get their pads on at training camp.
But there is just no denying that Spielman and the entire staff know this is a Super Bowl-caliber club, and after reaching the NFC Championship Game last season, that will be their only goal when training camp kicks off in July.
“We’re excited about the football team. We thought on paper we made some improvements through free agency and the draft this year,” he said. “Now you just have to stay healthy. I think everybody knows the expectations on this club, but we just take it one day at a time.”
Spielman did say that these young players are going to give the team excellent depth and that the secondary might be the strength of the team with the defensive line not far behind.
“I think that is a strength of this team and, as I’ve said, we have a lot of depth behind the starters that I think will help in terms of maybe being able to rotate the defensive line more this year. I know we have depth at the cornerback position,” Spielman said.
When it comes to quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, they will have an impact.
“Kirk has shown everything we anticipated. I think he is really growing not only more comfortable in the offense, but also as a leader on this football team,” Spielman said. “Sheldon has also had an excellent offseason and really bought into our culture here. He’s working on not only being a great run defender, which he’s been in the past, but improving as an in-line pass rusher. He has always been disruptive to get to the quarterback, but trying to teach him to finish.”
Intriguing young talent
Spielman thinks some of the most interesting player development is going to come from second- and third-year players, and he said the team did get lucky in signing a number of rookie free agents.
And Spielman, along with coach Mike Zimmer, has continued to praise first-round selection Mike Hughes, who could be one of their best draft picks.
The big question is, does this draft class have a player or two, like 2017 standouts Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein, who can come in and contribute right away?
The Vikings put a lot more emphasis on signing college free agents this offseason, and Spielman said that one of their main targets was Holton Hill, the cornerback out of Texas.
NFL.com had Hill rated as a fourth- or fifth-round pick and his NFL combine scores projected him as a starter in the league. In nine games as a senior he had 51 tackles, two interceptions that were both returned for touchdowns and eight pass deflections.
“Holton Hill has had an outstanding camp,” Spielman said. “We thought that he does have draftable traits. He had a few off-field issues that you know we felt more comfortable signing him as a college free agent. But he has all of the ability in the world to do whatever he wants to do. Very excited about him.”
When it came to second- and third-year players who could be making a jump, Spielman said a few have stood out, including some familiar names.
“A lot of them have really developed. A couple of the guys like Tashawn Bower had a really good spring, who we signed as a college free agent last year. Looking through some of the guys it’s exciting to see where Dalvin Cook is coming off of his injury. We’re waiting anxiously for Pat Elflein to hopefully be ready to go by training camp and see if he’ll take another step forward.
“Laquon Treadwell has had an outstanding and excellent offseason. He seems to be comfortable. I know we have talked about him a few times and how he has jumped out out there and feeling like hopefully this will be the year that hopefully everything clicks in for him. The guys like Ben Gedeon going into his second year and how much more comfortable he is. David Morgan carving out a role as a tight end for us, even more significant than it has been in the past. Mackenzie Alexander has been very good. We’re going to have great competition not only on guys trying to make the 53 but guys trying to be starters on this football team.”
Rookie class ready?
When asked how he thinks the front office did with this year’s draft, and what he expects, Spielman said that Zimmer and his coaching staff continue to make his picks look good.
“We’re excited about the potential of this draft class. The coaches have a proven track record here of bringing these athletes like Jalyn Holmes, guys like that, some of these down the line defensive ends we drafted,” he said. “That’s what has been successful for us since coach Zimmer became the head coach, his ability and his staff’s ability to be not only great teachers but great developers of talent.”
How does he feel about Holmes?
“The biggest thing is how impressed we have been with his intelligence and learning that nickel corner spot,” Spielman said. “We know he can go outside and play outside if he had to, and then he’ll be in a very good competition for him not only at nickel — because Mackenzie Alexander has had an excellent spring — but also as a potential kickoff and punt returner for us.”
• P.J. Fleck continues to get commitments. The latest is Nnamdi Adim-Madumere of Fort Worth, Texas. He was sought by Baylor, Alabama, Boise State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Adim-Madumere has 34 receptions for 985 yards and 13 touchdowns in his high school career. The Gophers now have the second-best recruiting class in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.
• Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on staying active between now and training camp. “I think the more important level of communication will be between me and the coaches, talking about some philosophy things and how I want plays to be designed.”
• The Minneapolis Miracle — Stefon Diggs’ touchdown vs. the Saints with no time left — will be up for two ESPY awards: “Best Moment” and “Best Play.”
• Pro Football Focus has Harrison Smith rated as the best “versatile/do-everything” safety in football, writing, “He’s a player that opposing quarterbacks need to account for on every snap of the game because he can literally line up anywhere on the field.” They also rated Xavier Rhodes the best “Press Man CB,” writing, “He’s allowed just 13 catches on 42 targets for 176 yards while allowing zero touchdowns with two interceptions over the past two seasons when in press man.”
• Gophers football has sold 20,673 season tickets with a renewal rate of 86 percent, while Gophers men’s basketball has sold 6,256 season tickets with a renewal rate of 84 percent.
• Bovada listed its Rookie of the Year odds for the newest NBA draft class and neither of the Timberwolves picks, Josh Okogie or Keita Bates-Diop, made the list.
• The Rockies signed Gophers shortstop Terrin Vavra for $550,000, and the son of former Twins coach and current Tigers coach Joe Vavra went 2-for-4 in his professional debut at Class A Bowie on Friday.