Here’s our second installment of this series that takes a look at the NFC North from the eyes of a rival. Jesse Cook (aka Bearmeat), one of our regular readers/commenters here, contacted a few friends who are (somewhat) sane fans of our Division rivals and peppered them (pun intended) with questions about our team and theirs.
CCNorseman: Hey, first off thanks for asking me to do this. We’ve had “Ask the Enemy” features on the Daily Norseman before, and they are always a good time. Let me start off by saying, “I come in peace!” And I’ll do the best I can to answer your questions and give an accurate representation of the Vikings fan experience.
1. Let’s start big picture here: What is the fan perception of the Vikings organization in the next 5 years? Where is the arrow pointing? Do you approve of the job that Spielman has done so far?
The arrow is definitely pointing up, and it all starts with the hiring of a new coaching staff. We are all pretty high on head coach Mike Zimmer, and can’t believe how many times he’s been passed over for head coaching jobs. If you’ve seen any part of his coaching style from HBO’s Hard Knocks, then you understand how much energy and enthusiasm he brings to coaching. He is pretty much the antithesis of mild-mannered Leslie Frazier, which is exactly the kind of change of direction this team needs. We’ve also had three pretty strong drafts in a row with 7 first round picks in the last 3 years. Obviously, the jury is still on out all of those drafts for at least a few more years, but preliminarily, things look pretty good. I’ve been a critic of Rick Spielman in the past, but if these most recent drafts turn out to be as strong as we all hope, then that combined with the new coaching staff definitely has this Viking longboat pointed in the right direction.
2. The most important position in pro sports is undoubtedly the QB: aside from 2009 (and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named), that position has also been a pig’s ear for the Vikings in the past decade. Give me reasons why Teddy B can change the Vikings fortunes in that run of bad luck/mismanagement in the near future. Do you think he will succeed where other Vikings QB draft picks have recently failed (cough..Ponder, TJack…cough)?
Where do I begin? This past off-season I took it upon myself to do an exhaustive statistical analysis of scouting traits of quarterback prospects over the past 20 years (shameless plug: it’s here), and everything I looked at points towards Teddy Bridgewater as having the potential to be an elite quarterback, more-so than any other QB in the 2014 draft. He might be the best prospect since the pair of Andrew Luck and RGIII. As for specifics, here are a few: his ability to read Pro-style defenses, laser accuracy, poise in the pocket, and a strong arm. He has everything that the most successful QBs in the NFL possessed when they were coming out of college.
3. Is Cassel your week 1 starter? Is he the week 16 starter? Explain your answers.
Cassel will open training camp as the #1 QB on the roster, but it remains to be seen who will be the week 1 starter. Many fans are hoping Bridgewater sits for a year and seasons a bit, but just as many are hoping he takes over the reins by the end of training camp. I’m in the latter group. If Cassel opens the season as the starter, that’s fine. He was able to do a lot more with our offense than Ponder last year, and if he can manage the game and the team to some wins, then perhaps he sticks all the way to Week 16. But, if Cassel starts losing, expect the leash to be short. Cassel is a mediocre starting option, but would represent one of the best backups in the league. So, he clearly has value to the Vikings. I personally feel that Bridgewater is the already the best QB on the roster and I hope he can prove himself through training camp and the Preseason.
4. It isn’t arguable that AP is the best running back since Barry Sanders or that he’s a first ballot HOFer. What is arguable is how long he’ll be able to stay at the top. He is 29, is close to the dreaded 2,500 carry barrier, and going into his 8th season. Shaun Alexander, Eddie George, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, LaDanian Tomlinson (the list goes on) ALL fell off the cliff at 30 and between 2,500 and 3,000 carries. Is AP different? Why?
I sure hope he’s different! But the way he meticulously takes care of his body might give him a bit longer shelf life than those that have come before. I remember an interview with the surgeon that repaired his torn ACL after the 2011 season. The surgeon said he’d never seen a knee on an athlete like that look so fresh and young. He was surprised at how clean everything looked on Adrian Peterson. And his healing is second to none clearly as he was able to rush for over 2,000 yards the very next season). Even though I’m a rampant Vikings homer, I believe Peterson is special, and I don’t think his “drop off the cliff” moment is this season, or next. But ask me again in 2016, and we’ll see!
5. We are all VERY happy that you took Craig Crennings (isn’t that his name?) off our hands and gave us a third round pick from the NFL FA Compensation Draft Lottery (which turned out to be Richard Rodgers). While it’s obvious that GJ’s contract is WAY oversized, it’s also clear that he could still play last year and Ponder… then Freeman… then Cassell… then Ponder again.. just couldn’t get him the ball. So are you excited to have GJ with a (supposedly) better QB corps in 2014? What does he bring to the table in Norv’s system?
Jennings is the consummate professional, and if you haven’t heard, he’s always open. The fact that he even managed 800+ yards and 4 TDs last year says a lot with our rag-tag group of QBs. He was our leading receiver last year, after all. He showed much better rapport with Matt Cassel, and if you took his per game average when Cassel was the starter and projected it over a 16-game season, he would have had over 1,000 yards receiving. Ponder is just…bad, and I don’t blame Jennings at all for the down year. His route running has always been praised, and I expect good things from him in Turner’s offense.
5. Talk about Zimmer. Most of us here in Cheeseland were not happy to see you (finally?) get a coach that is respected across the league as a leader of men (and a guy who’s had success against GB in his career). What does he bring to your defense? Can he turn that weak defensive unit into a strength in just one year?
I spoke about him a little already, but suffice it say we here in Vikings land couldn’t be happier to have landed Mike Zimmer. He’ll bring a metric ton of football knowledge to our defense, and should put our playmakers in position to make plays. While we fielded one of the worst defenses in franchise history last season, we also dealt with an out-dated scheme and injuries. I expect our defense to have a sudden and dramatic turn-around with his new scheme in place (that also happens to fit our current roster a lot better).
6. Talk about your FA spending on that defensive side of the ball. Everson Griffen and Captian Munnerlyn signed deals that totaled 57 million. That’s a steep price tag. Are they going to be worth it and why?
Everson Griffen has flashed a ton of potential and if the Vikings hadn’t signed him to a healthy contract, another team would have. He’s been chomping at the bit to show what he can do as a full-time starter and I’m excited to see what he can do. Munnerlyn is a solid signing, but I think a lot of fans are overly optimistic about what he’ll bring. He’s a great slot CB, but I’m not sure about his ability to remain a consistent option on the outside. Still, our CB situation is still such a question-mark, that even a league average or slightly above average option like Munnerlyn should be a god-send to our defense. We really need younger, more experienced guys to step up too.
7. What do you think of the Bears signing Jared Allen? Will he do well for them as their primary pass rusher with his contract size (4 years/32 Mil)? Can he still bring it rushing the passer? Defending the run? Part 2 – What can Packers fans expect from Letroy Guion (1 year/785k) as a potential backup NT?
I hate to say it (and I love Jared Allen), but they will be disappointments. I’m kind of glad they are no longer on the Vikings to be honest. Allen has lost a bit of his quickness, and at this point in his career he is simply selling out to pad his sack totals. He was never great against the run, but now he constantly over-pursues and takes himself out of running plays. Letroy Guion was one of the worst defensive tackles in the NFL for 3 straight years. I’ve been calling for him to be cut for literally 3 seasons in a row now, so I wouldn’t expect him to even make your roster. But hey, maybe he’s been miscast as a 4-3 DT and will suddenly thrive in your 3-4 scheme…who knows!
8. Sigh… gotta do it. Sorry. Your thoughts on the Chris Kluwe debacle and how it will affect the Vikings in 2014…. (please no politics/religion – just the issue as it pertains to the Vikes)
I’ve chosen a self-imposed silence on the issue at the Daily Norseman. I won’t write about it, or even comment about it, but I’ll say just a little on the issue here. As you know by now, the 6-month interval investigation concluded recently and has resulted in a 3-game suspension for our Special Teams Coordinator Mike Preifer (could be reduced to 2 if he undergoes sensitivity training). It sucks that something like this has to involve the Vikings, and I wish it wouldn’t have. But hey, that’s the life of a fan. The investigation revealed that Preifer did indeed make terrible remarks, and I hope he can become a better man after undergoing sensitivity training.
9. Talk about your linebackers. Barr is a (high ceiling) project. The other two starters (Brinkley and Greenway) haven’t (per PFF) been very good. Can the LB’s be at least serviceable in 2014 or is this a position you fear going into the year?
I have no idea who the starters will be! There’s a training camp battle going on for, essentially, all three linebacker positions. I expect Brinkley to be the middle linebacker, who will then come off the field in nickel situations. Greenway will likely move to the opposite weak-side with Anthony Barr taking over the strong-side (which is a pass rushing role in Zimmer’s scheme). But, Michael Mauti could push to become a starter as could Audie Cole, so it’s really anyone’s game at this point. Linebacker is a still a serious weak-link on the defense, and we’ll have to upgrade it again next offseason.
10. Same question regarding the secondary. Rhodes, Smith and Munnerlyn look to shore up a weak group from a year ago. But is there enough depth? Can Smith rebound from the injury and Rhodes take the next step?
I think our starters are going to be good, and Rhodes and Smith will be true playmakers on our defense. Munnerlyn and Jamarca Sanford are both solid starting options and shouldn’t be overlooked, but yes the depth behind those four starters is shaky at best. We’ll need Josh Robinson to step up, and hopefully veteran guys battling for their careers like Derek Cox and Shaun Prater can make a big impression in training camp.
11. Patterson showed flashes of game changing ability last year, but he couldn’t put things completely together for several weeks in a row. Does that change this year? Does he become the next Randy Moss (sans the attitude) this year or does he just turn into a solid reliable player? Why?
Patterson has all the physical talent to be the next elite receiver in the NFL, and his route running improved a lot towards the end of the year when he finally was on the field on offense for the majority of the snaps. I certainly think he’s capable of becoming the next Randy Moss, but like all things, I’ll believe it when I see it.
12. Does Floyd, Griffen and the rest of DL return the Vikings to the status of previous great Vikings front fours? Explain your answer.
I expect our d-line to be improved with the addition of Linval Joseph, and sliding Griffen in full- time. I also think Floyd will do a lot better in Zimmer’s scheme which features a lot of rotation and versatility. I doubt we’ll see the second coming of the Purple People Eaters, but they should be much better than last season.
13. Obviously, AP didn’t do all the work of a 2,000 yard season by himself in 2012. Per PFF, the Vikings OL (and rookie LT phenom) Matt Kalil were amazing that whole year. While they (again per PFF) took a slight step back in 2013, they were still solid. How does the group look going into 2014?
It’ll be the same starting group as last year, and I expect them to perform about the same. Kalil had something of a sophomore slump and entered training camp last year pretty far underweight after dealing with a pneumonia-like illness during last year’s offseason. He should be full healthy and I look for him to rebound back to his rookie year self. If Charlie Johnson continues to be the weak-link at left guard, look for rookie guard David Yankey to push him for a starting spot.
14. It seems Vikings fans are just as excited about Norv Turner coaching the offense and the QBs as they are about Zimmer being the head coach. Why?
Turner is a proven coaching talent in the NFL. I don’t hold his head coaching abilities in very high regard, but as an offensive coordinator there aren’t too many that are better. His Air Coryell offense should be light-years ahead of Bill “tiny play card” Musgrave’s dink-and-dunk West Coast style offense we’ve had to endure for the past 3 seasons. Turner will bring a stretch the field mentality that should open up a ton of running and receiving lanes for Adrian Peterson.
15. Will Kyle Rudolph finally become the all around threat at TE that he was billed as when drafted in round 2 in 2011? Has bad QB play just made his play seem worse than it’s really been?
Rudolph showed some flashes during his 2012 Pro Bowl year and caught 9 TDs that year. He was on pace for an even better year last year, but then broke his foot in week 8 and didn’t finish the rest of the season. While Rudolph doesn’t have blazing speed or anything, he runs great routes, has great hands, and is a huge red zone threat with his size and “boxing out” abilities due to his former experience as a basketball player. I don’t know if he’ll be the next Antonio Gates or Jordan Cameron, but he should put up as good of numbers as he has in the past at a minimum and continue to use his “hamburger helper” mitts to pull down passes.
16. Take a stab at Minnesota’s eventual record this year. What place do they finish in the NFCN and why? What’s the depth chart look like in case injury strikes?
I hate making these predictions. I’ll say 10-6, because everyone thinks their team can go at least 10-6 this time of year. I’ll say 2nd in the NFC behind either Green Bay or Chicago, whichever one doesn’t catch the injury bug. Our depth on offense is outstanding, but our depth on defense is not, and that ultimately could be our problem in 2014.
17. What do you guys (Please try to take off the fan goggles here) REALLY think about GBs team going into 2014? On offense? On defense? Where are they weak and where do they inspire fear? Assuming healthy, do you think GB has a realistic shot at getting by the NFCW and winning it all this year?
Well, on offense I think you’re weaknesses continue to be the offensive line. I’m not sure who your starting center will be, but it has been an issue for a few years now. All I know is, we loved putting Jared Allen and Brian Robinson on Marshall Newhouse, but I can’t find him anywhere on your roster anymore…too bad. Your skills positions (QB, WR and RB) are set and represent some of the best talent in the NFL. But if you don’t have the power and strength in the trenches there could be weaknesses to exploit.
On defense, your linebackers continue to underwhelm outside of Clay Mathews. I’ve never been impressed by A.J. Hawk, and a lot of the talent after those two is inexperienced. Locking up B.J. Raji on a 1-year prove it deal was smart as he’s been a bit inconsistent on the D-line. I think your secondary is underrated with guys like Sam Shields and Tramon Williams. But like the Vikings you have a few play-makers and a few younger, league-average options after that. I think your defense is what holds you back. When a team like Seattle can take over in the trenches on defense, then they can stifle Aaron Rodger and the passing game. And that has really been all it takes to stop the Packers. So, until that O-line can show they’re an elite group I’m not sure that you’ll be able to compete in the NFCW.
18. Who wins the NFCN this year? By how much?
It won’t be the Vikings, but as long as we don’t finish last I’ll call it progress. Since this is a Packers blog, and I like pandering to my audience, I’ll say the Packers win the North by 2 games.
19. Who do you think is set up for the most sustained success (3-5 years) in the NFCN and why?
Well, I really don’t like those two ginormous contracts that you guys gave to Rodgers and Mathews. I think that will hurt your ability to retain drafted talent over the long term. The Bears will have to figure out what to do after Cutler, Marshall and Forte are gone (they are 31, 30 and 28 respectively), so I’m not sure their offense will continue to click like it does in 5 years’ time. I like the Lions and Vikings to overtake the North 5 years from now. If Spielman can continue to bring in solid talent through the draft, and Zimmer can somehow figure out a way to squeeze the most potential out of what has become one of the youngest rosters in the NFC North, I like their chances for continued long-term success.
20. Anything I missed that you want to talk about?
You’ve really done your homework here. There are two players on offense, and two players on defense that you should look out for this year that you may not be aware of. The first is RB Jerick McKinnon. He’s a 3rd round pick out of Georgia Southern who is an athletic freak (compares most closely to Doug Martin and Ben Tate). He should take on something of the Darren Sproles role in Turner’s offense as the 3rd down receiving back. Peterson has spoken a little bit about him after their OTAs this past Spring and was “impressed” by what he saw. Also look out for undrafted rookie tackle Antonio Richardson, who goes by the nickname “Tiny”. He had a 1st /2nd in the NFL because of his knees, but he’s another giant to follow Phil Loadholt on the offensive line.
On defense, don’t be surprised if Michael Mauti is the starting middle linebacker for the Vikings. He comes highly touted out of Penn State (the Linebacker U of course), and had it not been for multiple ACL tears, he likely would have been drafted in the first three rounds of the 2013 draft (we got him in the 7th). He’s had a full season to rehab his knees last year with Eric Sugarman, and is finally 100% healthy for the whole off-season program (the first time for him in years). He certainly looked the part in spot duty at the end of last year, so hopefully his knees really are 100%. Lastly, keep your eye on Shaun Prater. He was let go by the Eagles last year and we picked him up mid-year, but he was originally drafted by Zimmer and Bengals. He started a few games at the end of last year and grabbed his first career interception and generally looked like one of the only Cornerbacks not named Xavier Rhodes that had a clue. He could surprise in training camp and become the starter on the outside in nickel packages when Munnerlyn moves into the slot.
Again, thanks for giving me the chance to talk about the Vikings. If you want to REALLY dive into enemy territory, come check out the Daily Norseman over at SB Nation. (www.dailynorseman.com) We don’t bite…hard. And if you want to check out Jesse’s answers to MY questions about the Vikings, be sure to check it out here.