MANKATO – Like most summers, one hasn’t had to look very hard to find an optimistic NFL player on a team that stands 0-0 and tied atop its division.
“I think we got a good team,” said right guard Joe Berger.
Good? C’mon, Joe. It’s July. Good ain’t good enough.
“I have high expectations,” said defensive tackle Tom Johnson.
“I have super high expectations,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Next up: nose tackle Linval Joseph, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants in 2011. He saw Rudolph’s super high and raised it to Super Bowl.
“Man, that [Giants team] was so long ago,” he said. “But I feel like we have all the opportunities in the world to be better than that team.”
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “We have great young talent. Guys who want to work. We’re making all the changes and doing all the things we need to do to go to the top.”
It’s almost enough to make one forget last year’s 3-8 finish and guarantee the Vikings a spot in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
People ask all the time, “How do you think the Vikings will do this year?” The default answer here is a confused shrug, a strained look and a, “Don’t know. We’ll see.” When pressed for a prediction, this guy usually pulls an iron out and hits an 8-8 down the middle of everybody else’s 10-6s and 6-10s.
This year, the look is more strained. The shrug more confused.
A year ago, this team was 5-0 with injuries and 3-8 with injuries. In the same season. Injuries or not, that’s just, well, weird. And confusing with question marks lurking around every corner as another season approaches.
Has the new offensive line been upgraded or overrated? Will Dalvin Cook be fantastic or a frustrated fumbler? Is Pat Shurmur’s offense an evolution or just more constipation?
Will Mike Zimmer’s defense be dominant, like it was at 5-0, or doggone pooped, like it was at critical points near the end of 3-8? And then there are special teams, where many of the new faces don’t seem old enough to watch an R movie.
So, bottom line, yes, the Vikings have playoff potential. And, yes, they could even become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.
Then again, it doesn’t take an old-timer to remember 2010, when the Vikings were Super Bowl shoe-ins coming off the NFC title game loss at New Orleans. Then all those returning puzzle pieces turned into falling dominoes.
“I could stand here and tell you all my concerns and all that, but I want to win every game right now,” Joseph said. “I want us to stop the run. Every game under 100 yards. I want us to throw for 400 yards ever game. Rush for 200 yards every game. I want us to win at the highest level. Make history. Become the first team to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.”
Now that’s one big bucket list.
Players, of course, point to all the injuries last season. The 12 offensive linemen that played. Losing Teddy Bridgewater (knee) for 16 games, Adrian Peterson (knee/groin/career preservation) for 13 and even Norv Turner (quit) for nine.
“The only thing we have in terms of a hurdle going on right now is everybody staying healthy,” Johnson said. “We’re definitely hungry and ready to prove that fluke of the second half of last season was just that: a fluke.”
Quarterback Sam Bradford said the Vikings have an “opportunity to be a great team.”
“The way we started last year shows that we can play with anyone,” he said. “But we have a lot of work to do.”
Bring it on, said Everson Griffen.
“It ain’t easy being great,” he said.
But it sure seems easy being optimistic in July.