EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings voluntary offseason workout program has advanced to Phase 3, its most involved stage that includes 10 organized team activity practices that are spread over the next three weeks. A mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 16-18 before a brief hiatus until training camp opens in late July for the 50th season in Mankato.
With the Vikings scheduled to heat up three OTAs this week, here are eight burning questions:
Who's carrying the load?
Weekend reports in the media indicated that Adrian Peterson will not be at Winter Park for at least part of the OTAs. If that's the case, who do the Vikings have in mind to handle the brunt of the carries? Last year, when Peterson missed all but the season opener, Minnesota turned to a combination of Matt Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon. Asiata rushed 164 times for 570 yards and a team-best nine scores that tied for third-most in the NFL. McKinnon's number was perhaps called a little earlier than expected, but he answered with 113 carries for 538 yards, including a 55-yarder against Atlanta. Asiata provided a smash element, and McKinnon added the dash before suffering a back injury that ended his first campaign.
Asiata and McKinnon added value in the passing game, particularly on check-downs, with Asiata having the second-most catches (44) of any Viking in 2014 and McKinnon posting 27 catches. The Vikings also have Joe Banyard, who had his first career carry against Green Bay last season, former Packer DuJuan Harris, who signed in free agency, and Dominique Williams at running back. Zach Line appears in line to replace Jerome Felton at fullback, but the Vikings also will take a look at rookie Blake Renaud, who played linebacker for Boise State.
How will Teddy handle driver's seat this early?
McKinnon's involvement escalated quickly, but not as fast as Teddy Bridgewater's. The 2014 first-round pick was No. 3 on the depth chart when OTAs opened last year, but showed coaches the ability to play ahead of his years. Bridgewater stepped in for an injured Matt Cassel in Week 3, started the following week and led a victory with 317 yards passing against the Falcons. By season's end, he set franchise rookie records in starts (12), wins (six), completion percentage (64.4) and passer rating (85.2).
Although Bridgewater often said all players on the roster have an equal share, the importance of the position and its demands place an emphasis on performance and leadership. Bridgewater was cool and calm, according to teammates, in pressure-packed situations, and he'll have the foundational benefit of last season with Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner and returning quarterbacks coach Scott Turner. He'll also be logging a significant amount of practice reps with receivers and tight ends at the top of the depth chart like Mike Wallace, who was acquired in a trade in March. Coaching continuity and playmaking potential might help Bridgewater and the offense mash the gas a little more in year two.
Who's faster Mike Wallace or Trae Waynes?
Speaking of the speedy receiver who is prepping for his seventh season, Wallace ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 4.33 seconds (second among receivers in 2009). Cornerback Trae Waynes, who was selected 11th overall by the Vikings earlier this month, clocked a 4.31 in Indy. Speedy wheels could be on display if Waynes is matched up with Wallace, but they'll have different starting points when a play begins. Fleet feet could help both make a quick impact for the Vikings in 2015, and both are sure to draw a significant amount of observation by media during OTAs and fans at training camp.
Who is in at guard and when?
The Vikings will start a different player at left guard this season and will be looking to bounce back from injuries in 2014 to right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt. It was an offseason priority to bring back veteran swing man Joe Berger, who filled in nicely for Fusco, and the Vikings also drafted three college tackles earlier this month: T.J. Clemmings in the fourth round, Tyrus Thompson in the sixth and Austin Shepherd in the seventh.
Zimmer told the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman that Clemmings has been getting a look at right guard with Fusco sliding to left guard in earlier stages of the offseason program. David Yankey, a 2013 draft pick, could also be in the mix at a guard spot.
Will secondary be viewed as a Vikings strength from across the league?
A high level of play in the secondary often has been a hallmark of Zimmer's defenses, and pass defense was one of the most substantial improvements made by the Vikings last season. After ranking 31st in passing yards allowed per game in 2013, Minnesota ranked seventh in '14.
Many thought Harrison Smith, who led the Vikings with 120 tackles and five interceptions was snubbed by Pro Bowl voters, and also thought Xavier Rhodes built a stronger case for the all-star game as the season progressed. The first-round picks in 2012 and '13, respectively, have been joined by Waynes, and veteran Terence Newman, a first-round pick by Dallas in 2003 who has helped implement Zimmer's defense when their time together overlapped with the Cowboys (2003-06) and Bengals (2012-13).
How harmonious are Barr and Kendricks?
In two years, there have been two linebackers drafted in the first two rounds by the Vikings. Making it sweeter for both players and Minnesota, perhaps for quite some time, is the fact that Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were teammates and roommates at UCLA. Barr was selected ninth overall in 2013, despite playing his first two collegiate seasons at running back. Kendricks helped his roomie transition, and both are excited for the reunion tour through the Upper Midwest and beyond. How will Barr help Kendricks learn the defense, and how can they work with teammates to continue several substantial improvements the defense made last season?
How do Hunter and "Babs" handle players with more experience?
At this point, it's fair to use the word "raw" to describe Jamaican-born defensive end Danielle Hunter and Poland-native tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi because they both have impressive physical metrics that are primed to be brought forward rep by rep.
Hunter, a third-round pick, and Aiyegbusi, a free agent signee, had some nice moments during a rookie minicamp two weeks ago, but how will they fair against players who have taken more snaps at the NFL level? An interesting sidebar to watch could happen if they are across the line from each other at some point.
Does return game affect the roster?
The Vikings enter OTAs with their leading kick and punt returners from 2014 back in action.
Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 25.6 yards on 34 kickoff returns for a total of 871 yards last season, and Marcus Sherels averaged 11.0 yards in handling all 27 punts returned by the Vikings last season. They've shown ability to handle those duties, but it's often interesting to see the order of other players in fielding kickoffs and punts. Rookie Stefon Diggs got a look during rookie minicamp and had success doing both at Maryland.
Special teams — the return specialists and beyond — can be a good way for younger players to solidify a spot at the back end of the roster. This aspect may seem more like a bottle rocket than a Roman candle, but the flame could burn for quite some time.