Minnesota Vikings: 2016 season preview

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange  |  July 20, 2016 at 12:22 PM
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With 21 starters returning from an 11-5 season in which the Minnesota Vikings finished first in the NFC North, one might think third-year head coach Mike Zimmer will be a happy man when training camp begins July 28.

But in a division that includes the Green Bay Packers and their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, there is not time to be happy. There is only time to be concerned.

Reason for concern surfaced in the team's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, 10-9, in the wild-card playoff game. Although the defense did well against the Seahawks, the offense managed only three Blair Walsh field goals as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 17 of 24 passes for only 146 yards and standout running back Adrian Peterson managed only 45 yards rushing on 23 carries.

That reflected an imbalance in a team with an offense that finished 2015 16th in points and 29th in yards, making it difficult for a defense that still finished fifth in points allowed and 13th in yards yielded.

To help punch up the offense the Vikings drafted big Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and used free agency to sign guard Alex Boone (San Francisco, $26.8 million, four years, $10 million guaranteed).

The only notable loss, and that would be a small footnote, was that of fast but frustrating wide receiver Mike Wallace, who didn't earn his $11 million salary.

Zimmer is upbeat about the steady progress of Bridgewater, who also added some bulk for insurance against injury.

Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the Vikings' 2016 team:

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE

SITE, LOCATION, ROOKIES, VETERANS

Minnesota State University-Mankato, Mankato, MN, 7/28, 7/28

2015 RECORD: 11-6

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 5-1

COACH: Mike Zimmer

3rd season as Vikings/NFL head coach

18-15 overall; postseason 0-1

STARTERS RETURNING:

21; 10 offense, 11 defense, kicker, punter

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Photo by Art Foxall/UPI

The third-year quarterback has exhibited the personality, character and work ethic needed to grow as a player, a professional athlete and a team leader. He organized private workouts with receivers and tight ends. He has gone out of his way to embrace every new player on the team while not overstepping the veterans who are much older than his 24 years. He clearly was dedicated in the weight room and with his nutrition intake. And he has attended the whole offseason program and put forth the work that has earned him team-wide respect. He also has been working on his deep-ball mechanics and has impressed the coaching staff with his willingness to, as head coach Mike Zimmer says, "let it loose."

The draft -- A closer look at the Vikings' picks (8):

--Round 1/23 - Laquon Treadwell, WR, 6-2, 221, Mississippi

Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
He's the big, physical mismatch the Vikings have been wanting for a long time. He plays faster than his 4.63 40-yard dash time, runs all routes well, has soft hands and fights hard for contested passes. That last trait is something the Vikings need desperately if quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is to take the next step and follow head coach Mike Zimmer's desire for him to "let it loose" this season.

--Round 2/54 - Mackensie Alexander, CB, 5-10, 190, Clemson

The Vikings stayed true to their board, taking a cornerback who might not be of use to them until 2017 rather than reach for a strong safety they've needed since 2014. Alexander, who called himself the best corner in the draft, doesn't fit Zimmer's preferred big-corner build. But Alexander would appear to be contending for nickel slot corner Captain Munnerlyn's eventual replacement. Munneryln is 28.

--Round 4/121 - Willie Beavers, T/G, 6-4, 324, Western Michigan

He's a long-term prospect who played tackle and guard at the Senior Bowl. He'll need work, but the Vikings trust new offensive line coach Tony Sparano to develop him quickly.

--Round 5/160 - Kentrell Brothers, LB, 6-0, 245, Missouri

He will start out at MIKE linebacker and will serve as depth for at least this season, assuming he makes the team. Once Chad Greenway retires after this season, the Vikings might move middle linebacker Eric Kendricks to the weak side. Brothers could then compete for the starting middle linebacker job in the base defense.

--Round 6/180 - Moritz Boehringer, WR, 6-4, 227, German Football League

The wildest story of the draft saw the Vikings take a flier on a 22-year-old German-born receiver who first learned of American football five years ago when he saw Adrian Peterson on a YouTube video. Boehringer is the first player selected straight from Europe in the history of the draft. He runs a 4.43 40-yard dash and caught 164 passes for 4,327 yards and 57 touchdowns in his only three seasons of organized football. He played for the Crailsheim Titans in 2013-14 and the Scwabisch Hall Unicorns in 2015.

--Round 6/188 - David Morgan, TE, 6-4, 262, Texas-San Antonio

The Vikings don't have a need at tight end, but they wanted to create more competition while Rhett Ellison recovers from a serious knee injury. Morgan has sure hands and is a willing blocker who needs to eliminate sloppy penalties. Ellison is the team's best blocking tight end.

--Round 7/227 - Stephen Weatherly, DE, 6-4, 267, Vanderbilt

The Vikings like to add at least one long, athletic pass rusher each year. Weatherly is an intelligent player with 27 career tackles for loss. He actually ran a faster 40 time (4.61) than the team's first-round draft pick, receiver Laquon Treadwell.

--Round 7/244 - Jayron Kearse, S, 6-4, 216, Clemson

The nephew of former NFL All-Pro defensive end Jevon Kearse and a college teammate of the team's second-round draft pick. Jayron, a two-year starter with 209 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and seven interceptions, will enter the mix at strong safety, where the Vikings have needed a reliable starter since Zimmer arrived in 2014. It's doubtful that Kearse will earn the starting job this year ahead of veterans Michael Griffin and Andrew Sendejo, but Zimmer has a knack for developing defensive backs.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--G Alex Boone: Prized free-agent acquisition brings size, strength and desired nastiness to the line.

--S Michael Griffin: Vikings hoping head coach Mike Zimmer can work his DB magic and turn back clock on Griffin's career.

--LB Emmanuel Lamur: Will push Greenway after being signed from Cincinnati, where he played under Zimmer.

--TE Brian Leonhardt: Overachieving native Minnesotan and former Bemidji State star could add some depth.

--LB Travis Lewis: Former Lion is another veteran brought in to avoid depth issues that surfaced in 2015.

--T Andre Smith: Former Bengal signed as preferred candidate to add power as starting right tackle.

KEY LOSS: None

--The Vikings didn't lose anybody they wanted back. Cornerback Josh Robinson never fit, safety Robert Blanton never progressed and receiver Mike Wallace's production never lived up to an $11 million salary.

OTHER LOSSES:

--S Robert Blanton (16/1), LB Travis Lewis (15/4), LB Casey Matthews (0/0), CB Josh Robinson (5/0), DE Justin Trattou (5/0), LB Jason Trusnik (8/0), WR Mike Wallace (16/12)*

Total games played/started lost: 64/17

*Number in parentheses is games played/games started in 2015

-- Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX's network of NFL insiders provided information for this report.

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