The Minnesota Vikings were one of the surprise teams in all of football last season. After a disappointing 3-13 season in 2011, sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder and company nearly tripled their win total to the tune of a 10-6 record. More important than the string of victories was the teams Playoff berth—their first since the Brett Favre led Vikings made the post-season in 2009.
Heading into 2013, third-year coach Leslie Frazier is even more optimistic about his team’s chances in the tough NFC North. With three first-round draft picks headed to Minneapolis, it’s easy to see why. Rookie sensations Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson will look to bolster a team that already had Playoff-caliber talent. Veteran receiver Greg Jennings, formerly of the Packers, will also be looking to bring his knowledge of the NFC North champions to the runner-up Vikings squad.
Another reason for optimism this season rests with the legs of rushing sensation Adrian Peterson. Just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time single season rushing record of 2,105 yards a year ago, Peterson admits that he was not fully healthy. Barring a freak injury during training camp or in pre-season action, Peterson will enter the 2013 campaign with his health intact. It is scary to think what Peterson could do in full sixteen game schedule without being hampered by injuries.
When asked about the biggest difference between his star rusher from one year ago, Frazier did perhaps the most thinking since camp has opened up.
“I was thinking about that when we were going through our walk through and there he is participating, when a year ago he wasn’t involved in those things, we had him working off to the side with our trainers. It’s far different in so many ways. I was teasing him I said, “I don’t think you’re as in good of shape as you were a year ago.” He looked at me and goes “We’ll see.” It’s good for our team that he’s here, and able to participate and be involved from the very beginning, we didn’t have that a season ago this is far better, much better for our team and much better for him.”
Frazier also told the media on-hand that he expects to use Peterson in the pre-season to prepare him for another breakout performance in 2013.
Though the Vikings enter training camp sessions like the rest of their NFL counterparts, they take a bit of a different approach than most. The team brings in a Vikings alumnus to speak with the team and help the current Vikings-to-be prepare for the start of training camp. The player designated to kick of the 2013 Vikings camp—former offensive lineman Matt Birk.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had a Vikings alumni come in and help us to kick off training camp,” said Frazier. “The first year we had Jim Marshall to do it, last year we had Matt Blair come in and he did a terrific job, and this year Matt came in.”
“If you get a chance to talk to some of our players, they’ll tell you that some of the things he had to say really made a lot of sense to them. The fact he’s a part of the most recent Super Bowl winning team and his long history here in Minnesota really resonated with our players and he gave them a very good message regarding seizing this moment that we have and taking advantage of the great opportunity that we have to play for the Minnesota Vikings and coach for the Vikings. He did a terrific job and we’re very fortunate that he would take time away from his family to come in and share with our players. I think all of our guys are enthusiastic and really looking forward to kicking off this 2013 season and getting it going.”
While the Vikings have been taking care of business on the field, there are a few members of the team that have been on the Physically Unable to Perform, or PUP list.
“Greg Childs will be one of those guys and after talking with Nate Williams we just felt like that ankle he had surgery on back in the spring that he really wasn’t quite ready yet so we’re going to give him a little more time before we put him on the field. Other than that, everybody should be ready to go and is looking forward to it.”
The biggest expectations of the season are being placed on Christian Ponder, now in his third season with the team. Now a Playoff contender and a legitimate threat in the NFC North, Leslie Frazier is expecting a repeat performance from his signal caller.
“We have big expectations for Christian,” Frazier hinted. “We want to see him to continue to improve as a player and as I’ve said before there is so much pressure put on a quarterback to perform and we need our quarterback to perform well, it will help the rest of our team, but we also need the guys around him to perform well also.”
So how will this surprising Playoff team from a year ago compete in the 2013 calendar year? By many accounts, the Vikings seemed poised to overtake the Packers and finish atop the NFC North. Personally, I am not so optimistic. Despite the recent infusion of youth to the Vikings roster, the aging stars like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams will have to continue to produce if this team has any chance of being in contention come January. Adrian Peterson will be accounted for every Sunday, though I still think he will approach another 2,000-yard season in 2013. Realistically, the NFC North still belongs to the Green Bay Packers until another franchise can prove otherwise. In one of the league’s toughest divisions, Minnesota could be on the outside looking in come Playoff time. If the team plays up to its potential, I fully expect the Vikings to finish second in a tight race with the Chicago Bears to clinch the sixth and final spot in post-season play.
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