Once upon a time, the NFL season had a beginning, an end and baseball in between. People from coast to coast were known to look away from “The Shield” for days, weeks or — brace for it — months at a time. Studies performed on these primitive cave people revealed remarkably clumsy thumb-typing ability but an advanced memory system that enabled them to remember the NFL without daily lists like this one on May 19:
Three things — in order — that have to go right for Vikings in 2015
1, Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line
No position causes as much concern as the offensive line. None. Not even close.
Only one of five starters — center John Sullivan — generates any sort of starter-level confidence at this point. That leaves four question marks up front. That’s not good considering a single weak link can topple an offensive line, which topples the quarterback, which topples the team, which sends us back to Mock Draft purgatory before Halloween .
Individually, there are concerns about injuries, consistency, talent and a combination of all three. Collectively, these guys have often played like individuals even when healthy. They’ve missed basic stunts and games that can’t continue.
Phil Loadholt is coming off a significant injury and has been inconsistent. Brandon Fusco is coming off the same significant injury and might be switching from right to left guard, which is no easy adjustment. A rookie fourth-round tackle, T.J. Clemmings, is inching toward the starting right guard spot. And left tackle Matt Kalil has had further knee issues coming off a season destroyed by knee issues.
I’m not saying this group won’t come together and do its job well. But if you’re assembling hot seats entering the 2015 season, you can have Cordarelle Patterson and his wayward route running if you want. Me? My hot seat has five chairs in the front row. If these guys don’t perform, nothing else matters.
2, Teddy’s next step
Here’s what I think I like most about Teddy Bridgewater:
He might be the only guy who hasn’t assumed that Teddy Bridgewater has already arrived as the sure-fire franchise quarterback with the career arc that can’t go anywhere but up over the next 10-12 years.
I like it that he had a good rookie season filled with unusual poise. I like it that the only news he made off the field was quietly attending the Wild playoff game. I like it that he was at Winter Park working out with teammates as the offseason conditioning program began in April. But I really like it that he’s unaffected by all the adulation, not to mention the rose petals that we spread before him as he walks among us.
“I appreciate people saying I had a good rookie season, but if I play at that same level this year, we’ll be 7-9 again, and that’s not good enough,” Bridgewater said last month.
That’s the best Vikings quote of the offseason because it didn’t sound like a modern athlete just reciting some rehearsed sound bite to the masses. He sounded like he actually believed it.
I think Bridgewater will keep getting better. But, as Teddy tells us, we can’t just assume it. So if the offensive line performs, the next pressure point is Bridgewater taking a big step forward.
3, Waynes must be ready Day 1
Incredibly ugly visits to Green Bay and Chicago were more than enough to convince the Vikings they didn’t have enough quality cornerbacks to compete in the NFC North, where they went 0-5 before beating a Bears team that had given up.
Hence the Trae Waynes pick at No. 11 overall. If the big corner from Michigan State lives up to expectations immediately, the Vikings’ chances of winning the division increase significantly because coach Mike Zimmer will be able to design a game plan that doesn’t include a giant target next to a big hole on one half of the field. Otherwise, without Waynes stepping up, there’s no reason to suggest better results against the likes of Aaron Rodgers and all those big receivers in the North.