Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr, former Times intern Logan Marxhausen and sports fan Ben Johnson. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Vikings training camp is underway and the team begins its pre-season schedule by hosting the Houston Texans Friday night. Much of the focus at camp so far has been on third-year quarterback Christian Ponder. What other areas on the team should fans be paying attention to as the camp continues?
-Dorr: After decades of being a faithful Viking season ticket holder, I gave the tickets up because I couldn’t stand being in the Dome anymore. Consequently, I have followed the team way less than before. Gary and I had a discussion Monday about the Vikings and he perceives people he knows to be more interested in the Vikings than the Twins. I’m the opposite, especially in August when the team hasn’t even played an exhibition game, those games being another reason I gave up the tickets – I couldn’t see paying full price for games in which regulars hardly play. Having said all that, most of the Viking talk I have heard (haven’t been reading any stories yet) has centered around whether or not Ponder can do the job, and whether or not Adrian Peterson can repeat his 2012 season (2,000-yard runners never have). Some are worried about the new punter, a linebacking replacement, and a replacement for Antoine Winfield. But Ponder and Peterson are the two I’ve heard about the most. I’ll have to play more attention in the coming weeks so I am more up on what is going on in Mankato.
-Marxhausen: Besides the question marks that surround the starting quarterback position, there are a lot of key areas the Vikings are looking at. First is the impact of the first-round rookies such as receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, defensive back Xavier Rhodes and defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd. Rhodes is impressing at the cornerback position as a physical defender to match up against wide receivers. Floyd is starting the season behind Kevin Williams but will have a role with the defensive line throughout the year. Patterson is now ranked fourth on the depth chart behind Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. He already has the kickoff-returner position locked down, but is also looking to break in on the punt-returner position. It will be a matter of time before he breaks his way into the starting lineup. Adrian Peterson will not be getting many carries in the preseason as the team wants to keep him healthy for the season. The last thing the Vikings need is for a serious injury to take place in training camp, especially concerning its star players.
-Larson: I have a friend who studies the Vikings 365 days a year (366 in a leap year) and has been doing so for over 40 years. Each season after the first pre-season game he jots down what the team’s final roster will look like. He’s seldom more than one or two players off and several times he’s been right on. Here’s his report after the first week of practice.
-The team has more good wide receivers than ever before.
-The running back, tight end, offensive line and special teams positions are very solid.
-Keep an eye on rookie linebacker Michael Mauti, a seventh-round draft pick from Penn State who was very impressive last week. He can play all three linebacking positions. After having three knee surgeries in college, his health could be the only thing keeping him from seeing extensive playing team.
-Look for the top seven draft picks to make the team.
-Rookie punter Jeff Locke will make the decision to cut veteran Chris Kluwe look like a very good one. Locke’s punts are high and deep, with exceptional hang time.
-Overall, the roster is deeper and more talented than in many years. The Vikings will lose several good players to other teams as they trim their roster.
-Ponder had a poor first week of practice. And newly-acquired veteran back-up Matt Cassel looked even worse.
-Despite the talented roster the Vikings will be hard-pressed to duplicate last year’s 10-6 regular-season roster. However, look for big things in 2014 and 2015.
By the way, my friend begged the Vikings to bypass Ponder and take current San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 draft.
Johnson: The keys to success for the Vikings in 2013 will be the relationship between Ponder and his receivers, Adrian Peterson’s health, and the defensive secondary. This will be a make or break season for Ponder. Now that the Vikings have a set of receivers in Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson to throw to, Ponder needs to brand his image as the franchise’s quarterback. If he struggles early in the season, bench him and let Matt Cassel lead the way. If Peterson is not on the field because of an injury, the team’s chances of winning drop tremendously. Lastly, the reliability of the defensive secondary will determine how the season goes. This area has been a problem for the Vikings for many years. Nothing would please me more than to watch the secondary intercept Aaron Rodgers 4/5 times this year. It will be interesting to see if drafted cornerback Xavier Rhodes makes the starting lineup come Sept. 8 in Detroit.
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