At each stage of Sunday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers, there are intriguing players…
Ranking the Vikings' positions
As the Vikings prepare for their final full-squad tune-up game prior to the start of the 2013 season, some of the same concerns that were problems at the end of the season remain question marks. With the Vikings preparing to get a true test of where they stand playing against the Associated Press' top-ranked preseason team, they have addressed need at the 13 different position areas of the team.
While injuries and the emergence of young talent may eventually change these numbers around – if, God forbid, Adrian Peterson was to get injured, clearly running back wouldn't be the position of most confidence for the coaching staff to meet or exceed expectations – this is where we rank the confidence in the 12 different positional groupings on the roster.
1. Running Back – When you have the reigning league MVP promising bigger and better things, how can the confidence there not be off the charts?
2. Offensive Tackle – Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are young and still improving. They both showed last year that they could dominate at times and both are under contract for at least the next three years. While depth could be improved a little, there's no reason to think that the O-line bookends can't be a dominant tandem for years to come.
3. Center – The only concern here is the health of John Sullivan. If he stays on the field, there are few centers in the league that are better.
4. Defensive End – The Vikings have one of the game's biggest difference-making 4-3 defensive ends in Jared Allen, Brian Robison is very strong at his spot at left end and it's getting more and more difficult not to have Everson Griffen on the field. The only real battle here is for backup depth because the Vikings have three ends that would start for most teams.
5. Wide Receiver – Clearly, this is the biggest jump among any position on the roster. At the end of last season, the receiver corps was looking like Percy Harvin & Friends and there was growing speculation that Harvin wasn't going to stay with the team much longer. As the 2013 season is ready to open, the Vikings have veteran Greg Jennings, exciting rookie first-rounder Cordarrelle Patterson and in-house returnees Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. It has gone from being a position of weakness to one that has many wondering if there will be two roster spots to keep both Stephen Burton and Joe Webb on the roster.
6. Tight End – This is ranked this high only because of what Kyle Rudolph does for the position. He makes good some bad passes and rarely misses anything in his catch radius. Rhett Ellison proved to be a solid blocker last year, but John Carlson needs to up his production dramatically to remain with the team beyond 2013.
7. Specialists – Blair Walsh went to the Pro Bowl. Cullen Loeffler is automatic at long snapper. The only unanswered question is whether Jeff Locke can handle the responsibility of consistently bombing punts and, perhaps just as important, consistently holding for Walsh field goals? If he can be steady, the sky is the limit for this group of unheralded players.
8. Safety – A year ago at this time there were a lot more concerns than there are today. Harrison Smith is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and Jamarca Sanford was one of the most improved players on the roster last year. With Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo providing depth, there is still room for improvement, but that improvement may well come from the players they already have on the roster.
9. Quarterback – The position has been upgraded with the addition of Matt Cassel, but questions about whether Christian Ponder can take the jump to the next level of quarterbacks remains. There is a clear chain of command from No. 1 to No. 2 to No. 3, but all the pressure rests squarely on the shoulders of Ponder. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, you hate to have the confidence level of your quarterbacks this far down the list, and this may be generous, but there is still of lot of proving to be done by Ponder before the position can realistically be ranked much higher.
10. Defensive Tackle – The Vikings haven't found a consistent replacement at the nose tackle position since Pat Williams left. The drafting of Sharrif Floyd as the heir to Kevin Williams at the under-tackle position gives the Vikings a strong 1-2 punch at that point, but there are lingering questions as to how dominant Letroy Guion or Fred Evans can be at the critical nose position.
11. Cornerback – This may be too low to have this group ranked, but there are still a lot of "ifs" with this bunch. Given the attention the position has received on draft day in recent years, it shouldn't be such a question mark, but it is. If Xavier Rhodes can be the player his talent would dictate he will be, that would be a huge upgrade. If Josh Robinson can assume the role Antoine Winfield had as a slot corner, it would be a big boost. If Chris Cook, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, can stay healthy and start intercepting passes, that would help a lot. The talent is there, but so are the "ifs" that surround them.
12. Guard – Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco are serviceable, but neither is a dominant glass-eater type. They are technically sound, but neither is guaranteed a starting spot beyond this season. Depth is also a concern because it would seem that there would be a step down if one of them was to get injured. The Vikings thought they had addressed the depth issue last year by signing Geoff Schwartz, but that experiment was derailed by injury.
13. Linebacker – This was a problem area during last season and none of the lingering doubts have been erased. The Vikings tried to add competition for the starting spots next to Pro Bowler Chad Greenway in the free agent market (Desmond Bishop) and the draft (Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti). The bottom line is that Erin Henderson is moving to a position he has never played in the base defense (MLB) and Bishop, Hodges and Marvin Mitchell are far from guarantees on the weakside. It was a problem in February that hasn't been resolved yet.
The Vikings have come a long way in solidifying their roster from top to bottom and, at this point, the only pressing issue would be at linebacker. But, in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler throwing the rock a lot, that is still a big question mark for the opposition to target.
For a team coming off a 10-6 season in which they made the playoffs, there is a lot of reason for optimism that 2013 will be equal to or better than 2012 in many key respects on offense, defense and special teams. While far from a guarantee, it would appear as though the Vikings are taking the needed steps to be a consistent contender – a process that started last season and only looks to remain heading into the future.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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