I was the host of Wednesday's 9-to-noon production, an opportunity that excited me greatly and an opportunity I took seriously because regular host PA is renowned in his role and his audience in the Love Covenant is deserving of premium performance from whoever is guiding the ship.
As part of my duties as fill-in host, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a few thoughts to the Paul Allen show page to support what you hear on-air 9-to-noon on Wednesday. With 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp around the corner and a new season set to begin, now is a perfect time to share with you five things I've learned about our favorite football team over this past offseason.
1. Mike Zimmer will become more known for his teaching ability than his yelling
HBO's Hard Knocks has a profound role in new Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's reputation as a boisterous coach who is unafraid to yell at his players and use salty language to get his point across. This is not a misperception created by the show. But in observing Zimmer conduct practices the past couple months, one could see Zimmer is more about teaching than he is yelling. More times than not, he is teaching after a play, and more times than not, he's teaching while using a regular tone and regular language. Yes, there will be times where the volume is amped up and the language turns a corner, but Zimmer's passion for the game and passion for teaching has been more apparent than his tendency for high volume and edgy language.
2. Adrian and the running backs will be involved in the passing game as pass catchersThe Vikings opened the 2011 season against Norv Turner's San Diego Chargers. Into the game, the Vikings focused on containing Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson, and they did a good job of that. But they still couldn't stop the passing game, and it's because Turner found a way to use the running backs in the passing attack. While the running backs may not be the primary targets often in Turner's passing game here in Minnesota, it was evident during the offseason that the running backs will be an important part of the plan. Expect Adrian Peterson to have more receptions and expect rookie Jerick McKinnon to be involved.
3. Robert Blanton is a top early candidate for "most improved player"The competition for the starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith is going to be intense at training camp. Jamarca Sanford comes in as the incumbent starter, but he has plenty of challengers – Robert Blanton, Kurt Coleman, Antone Exum, Andrew Sendejo and Mistral Raymond, to name several. Sanford missed some practice time this offseason, and Blanton stood in for most of the first team reps. Blanton looked like a much-improved player in this role. Last year, he flashed a few times while playing defense, but he also had some missteps. This offseason, the missteps were few and far between and the flash plays were regular. Vikings fans should be excited about his development.
4. Kyle Rudolph is back (from injury) and better than ever
Coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2012, Kyle Rudolph was poised for a breakout campaign in 2013. But an injury cut short his season and he didn't have the kind of production many projected. Rudy is back from that injury now, and he looked better than ever during the offseason. Regardless of how well the quarterback and receivers are meshing this season, Rudy is still going to be a top target in this offense and he will be the quarterback's security blanket.
5. Captain Munnerlyn, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith look good in this defenseIt's been a while since Vikings fans could be proud of their defense. That is going to change this year. The performance of the secondary is key to this. The Vikings defense is going to be different in terms of style under Zimmer. Gone are the days of consistently rushing the front four and dropping seven into zone. That may happen from time-to-time, but more time than not the Vikings are going to be mixing it up. Sometimes they'll rush four, sometimes six, sometimes more. Many times they'll play man coverage behind the rush, too. This all sets up nicely for three players – Captain Munnerlyn, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. Fans will love Munnerlyn's moxy and attitude, not to mention his ability to blitz from the slot. Fans will love Rhodes' physical coverage in man-to-man situations, and fans will love how many different ways Smith can impact the game in this defense – as a rusher, as a run defender in the box, and in coverage.