Perhaps the most important decision new coach Mike Zimmer will make all summer is picking the right quarterback. Veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder will battle first-round rookie Teddy Bridgewater for the starting gig, but if the distribution of spring snaps is any indication, this will be a two-man competition between Cassel and Bridgewater. Bridgewater might be the most pro-ready of all the quarterback prospects in his draft class, but he will have to quickly build off his sharp spring performance to seize the huddle from Cassel.
The heat is on
Greg Jennings was the team’s best and most consistent pass-catcher a season ago, though that isn’t really saying much. Jennings, who left Green Bay for a lucrative contract in Minnesota, led the Vikings with 68 catches for 804 yards, but his receiving yardage total was his lowest — throwing out his injury-riddled 2012 season — since his rookie season.
To be fair, an uncertain quarterback situation was a factor and his numbers were better playing with Cassel. But regardless, Jennings needs to elevate his play in 2014 to justify his high salary-cap figure.
After scoring nine touchdowns as a rookie, including three on the ground and two on kickoff returns, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson appears poised to become a star sooner rather than later. The national media seems to agree; NFL.com is one major outlet that predicted a breakout, awarding Patterson the top spot on their summer “Making the Leap” list.
To take that leap forward, though, Patterson must show that he is an improved route-runner and a more complete receiver. New coordinator Norv Turner should put him in position to do so.
Blink and you might miss rookie running back Jerick McKinnon; that was the appeal for the Vikings, who drafted the former triple-option triggerman from Georgia Southern in the third round in May. The Vikings hope McKinnon, a workout warrior who was a top performer in pretty much every drill at the NFL combine, can be their third-down back and a change of pace to Adrian Peterson.
Could a Darren Sproles-type role be the plan? He must show that he can pass protect to be given that job, and these camp practices should provide some hints.
Down the depth chart, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright are vying to be the third wideout, and the second tight end spot is up for grabs. But beyond the quarterback position, most of the starting lineup can be penciled onto paper. One offensive position that enters training camp with a little uncertainty is at guard, where the Vikings return Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco as starters.
Johnson is 30 and Fusco is a free agent after the season, so there might be an opportunity for Vlad Ducasse or fifth-round pick David Yankey to steal one of their spots.