Few things in pro football rile up a fan base and the media more than a good old-fashioned quarterback controversy. Unfortunately, for the Minnesota Viking faithful, the quarterback controversy barely matters. Anyone head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff decide to put behind the a porous offensive line in recent years runs a very good chance of dying.
I jest. Mostly, or at least about the dying part. I’m quite serious about the state of the Viking offensive line. Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, Mitch Leidner, the ghost of Norm Van Brocklin, it doesn’t matter. Whomever gets the reins to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense should plan to either run for his life or become the master for the master of the outlet route (see Bradford’s 2016 season that saw him set the single season completion percentage record at 71.6%).
The Viking front office brought significant off-season changes to an offense that finished 28th in the league last year. Looking to improve on an 8-8 campaign, where a 5-0 start led to a 3rd place NFC North finish as they limped to the finish line at 3-8, this year’s version returns an elite defense with 5 returning pro bowlers, a rookie of the year candidate in the backfield, and wholesale changes on the offensive line and kicking game.
Defensive front seven – Five pro bowlers return to a defensive unit that saw little turnover during the off-season. The 2016 Minnesota defense finished 3rd in the league and 3rd in passing defense. Headlined by DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph and LB Anthony Barr, a stifling Viking pass rush tallied up 41 sacks, good for 5th best in the NFL. Longtime captain LB Chad Greenway retired in the offseason and 2017 4th round pick Ben Gedeon looks to fill the career Viking’s shoes in the linebacking corps.
Backfield – Adrian who? US Bank Stadium is now hosting the Dalvin Cook show. The rookie second rounder from Florida State has left no question as to who will lead the Viking backfield. Latavius Murray signed as a free agent from Oakland and figured to slide into spot left when Adrian Peterson went to New Orleans. Jerick McKinnon will get his share of work in the backfield in addition to returning kicks, and both will have roles in the offense. However, an impression preseason on the ground, catching the ball and displaying proficiency pass blocking all but secures Cook’s spot as the lead back heading into week one.
Wideouts – Stefon Diggs is poised for the 3rd year wide receiver breakout year but questions about durability linger. Diggs led the Vikings with 84 receptions but, despite a burner ability, only found the end zone three times. Much of this can be laid at the feet of abysmal pass protection that saw QB Sam Bradford opting for short passes. Diggs’ potential to burn secondaries is there, but it remains to be seen if this offense can get him the ball. Adam Thielen, the 2016 yardage leader for Minnesota with 964 yards, saw his efforts out of the slot rewarded with an offseason contract extension. Free agent Michael Floyd came home to Minnesota after leaving Arizona but will start the first four games of the season on the suspended list, leaving the third WR spot open to either Laquan Treadwell or Jaruis Wright.
Quarterback – This season marks only the second time in his career that Sam Bradford enters the season with the same offensive coordinator. This inconsistency and a well-documented injury history comes with the former #1 overall pick. The Vikings traded a first round pick to Philadelphia during the 2016 preseason after Teddy Bridgewater sustained a season-ending knee injury. Bridgewater’s timetable for return is open-ended but the keys this season belong to Bradford. Last season while under constant harassment from pass rushers, Bradford managed to avoid injury and play in every game but week one as he adjusted to a new playbook, but regularly being hurried to throw and an anemic running game saw Bradford and the Vikings finish the season as the 28th ranked offense. The weapons are there for Bradford; if the revamped offensive line can protect him long enough, we’ll see if he can bring the big play back to the offensive game plan.
Special Teams – Every kick returned by WR/KR Cordarelle Patterson was a potential touchdown. Patterson went west to the Black and Silver during the aoffseason, and RB Jerick McKinnon hopes to live up to his nickname “Jet” and provide his own highlight reel returns. Special teams vet Marcus Sherels will return punts again this season, but new to the Viking special teams units are K Kai Forbath and P Ryan Quigley . It’s not a unit that looked impressive in the preseason and could lead to field position headaches.
Offensive line – Four of the five positions on the offensive line will feature new starters. Three will play their first games as members of Vikings in week one, including rookie center Pat Elflein. The Viking coaching staff is projecting confidence in this revamped line going into the season, so much that after 5 games at center last year, they’re moving Nick Easton to left guard and released Alex Boone. Easton and big free agent signee LT Riley Reiff will be the wall separating opposing defenses from Sam Bradford’s blindside. Free agent RT Mike Remmers joins RG Joe Berger on the right side of the offensive line. Berger is the only Viking offensive lineman who remains his spot from last season’s dismal offensive line. “Offensive” defined a lot of this unit’s play last season, and sometimes the idea of burning it all down and starting anew breeds success; despite a less-than-impressive preseason, this seems to be the blueprint for the 2017 offensive line.