This is one of the biggest years in Vikings history with the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium and the lofty expectations around a team that went 11-5 last year and won the NFC North.

And while the defense, offensive line, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and rookie wide receiver Laquan Treadwell have been getting a lot of the focus, one thing is certain: This is Adrian Peterson’s team, and the Vikings once again will focus on the running game to make things go.

Peterson won his third rushing title last season with 1,485 yards and NFL.com recently rated him the best running back in the league.

Still when he was asked about his goals this year, he had a simple answer.

“Winning a championship is my No. 1 goal,” Peterson said. “Individually, just being able to contribute to the team. I always set that mark at 2,500 [yards], but like I said, most importantly is winning a Super Bowl.”

Peterson has seemed more involved with the team this preseason than any in memory, although he did not take a snap in either exhibition victory. He was asked if he sees a team that can realistically compete for the title.

“That’s definitely the goal,” he said. “We still have a lot to clean up and get right, but we have what it takes to go all the way.”

Offensive line upgrades

Peterson, who said he had a bit of a bothersome hamstring earlier in training camp but is 100 percent healthy now, will have the benefit of running behind what should be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

He was asked how having that kind of competition on the line should help him as a player.

“It’s going to help tremendously,” Peterson said. “Just the things that our offensive coach and offensive line coaches are bringing to the table as far as runs and different looks to present to our opponent, it’s going to be good for us once we really get in sync and have everyone on the same page.”

One player on that line Peterson is happy to see back is center John Sullivan, who missed all of last season. They haven’t played in a game together since Week 1 of the 2014 season at St. Louis.

“He’s the brains upfront,” Peterson said of Sullivan. “He keeps everything together, and he’s that glue to what we need on our offensive line, so just having that veteran leadership back and his presence is tremendous.”

Peterson was asked about the help Sullivan brings in terms of line checks and organizing the offense pre-snap.

“Oh yeah, he’s excellent at that,” Peterson said. “You know, that’s one of his key marks. You know he’s very intelligent, makes sure that guys are on the same page, makes sure Teddy is protected. It’s going to be good to have him back and have him teach what he knows to other guys as well.”

Running back depth

One of the most exciting players for the Vikings is running back Jerick McKinnon, who scored three touchdowns last season and ran for one in Thursday’s 18-11 preseason victory at Seattle. McKinnon averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year and also caught 21 passes.

Then there is Matt Asiata, who has become a reliable blocking back that also can handle running the ball himself, with 12 career touchdowns for the Vikings. Last year, he ran for 112 yards on 29 carries to go along with 19 receptions for 132 yards.

Peterson said he’s excited about the depth the team has at the position.

“Jerick, Matt Asiata, both of those guys are doing a great job of contributing, as well,” Peterson said. “They come out every day and they’re working hard, improving. They’re going to help us like they did the past two years, they’re going to help us and this offense be more productive.”

Of course, the Vikings are also counting on a big year from Bridgewater. “Another year under his belt, a little more knowledge, a lot more confidence,” Peterson said. “That third year can transform your game.”

Iowa Western connection

The Gophers football team has built a good relationship with Iowa Western Community College, and has three players from that school on this year’s roster.

Linebacker Cody Poock played in 12 games as a sophomore last season and finished second on the team with 99 tackles, including 5½ for loss, and was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media.

Defensive back Ace Rogers played in only three games last year because of an injury, but he played well when he had the chance, including six tackles in the opener against TCU. Rogers is expected to be a starter this season.

Merrick Jackson arrived from Iowa Western this season after being named a NJCAA first-team All-America last year. Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said earlier this year that Jackson should add a lot of depth to the defensive line.

Unfortunately the Gophers didn’t have a good outcome when top recruit Jeff Jones ended up as Iowa Western, as the Minneapolis Washburn product was kicked off the team in April for violating team rules, charged with felony drug possession in May and landed in Hennepin County jail in July for violating the terms of his bail.

JOTTINGS

• Vikings star Everson Griffen was asked how the team has reacted from the missed field goal that eliminated them from the playoffs. “That’s old news,” he said. We’ve moved on from that. I’ve moved on from that. The team moved on from that. You learn from it. You move on it from it. As a team collectively you just don’t make the same mistakes when you get in that position again. That’s all we have to do.”

• You wonder if the Twins are talking contract with catcher Kurt Suzuki, who can be a free agent after the season. The Twins don’t appear have a replacement for him. Suzuki was hitting .200 through May 28, but he had hit .324 in 50 games since then entering Saturday. Meanwhile, John Ryan Murphy, the catcher acquired from the Yankees for Aaron Hicks, entered Saturday hitting .303 in August at Class AAA Rochester, but his average there was still only .222 after he hit .075 in 11 games with the Twins.

• Gophers football practice will be limited once school starts in two weeks. The team has been doing a daily practice and walkthrough and has had numerous meetings since Aug. 5, but the schedule will be cut down considerably.

Tubby Smith was asked by Sports Illustrated if he ever thinks about how big of an accomplishment it would be if he were to take Memphis to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That would mark a record six programs he has led to the tourney, including the Gophers. “No, I don’t,” he said. “Not until people bring it up. In coaching, you have to focus on the big goal, which is getting players better.”

• Looking at Gophers men’s basketball recruits, Amir Coffey is rated as the No. 52 recruit in the country by Rivals.com; Eric Curry is rated No. 142; and Michael Hurt is not rated by Rivals, but 247Sports has him No. 217 overall.

• While former Gophers wrestler Brock Lesnar was suspended from UFC over a drug test, he is allowed to participate in WWE and is part of SummerSlam 2016 in New York on Sunday.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: shartman@startribune.com