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Monday Morning Mailbag: Fans' Optimism High for 2021 Vikings After Offseason Program

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This team is stacked from what I can see after making Danielle Hunter happier and getting Sheldon Richardson back. If our WR3 is decent no matter who it is — either Larry Fitzgerald or Ihmir Smith-Marsette — and our O-line can jell to be top-15 or better, we can be really good. I'm not seeing many holes on offense or defense. Here's my question: do you think that Sheldon will be used as a hybrid tackle/end? Him playing opposite Hunter at times could be deadly. I could see this team competing deep into playoffs if not more.

— Mike Kostelecky in Mount Zion, Illinois

Mike's high optimism echoes what many Vikings fans are feeling these days, and you all have good reason to be excited about the 2021 squad.

To Mike's initial point, officially adding Hunter back in the fold is a bona fide win, and the return of Richardson is simply just a boon for the defensive line, and the defense as a whole.

Harrison Smith actually had a great line about hearing both of those pieces of news last week:

"Sheldon's a baller. That was apparent before he got to us the first time, but once he got here, the plays that he could make, just a really athletic guy, has a good feel for the game," Smith said. "Obviously the news of Danielle coming back [was great], and then it was like, 'Oh, we got Sheldon, too.'

"It was a pretty big time for us. He's an absolute playmaker, and I'm happy he's back," Smith added. "He's a great guy in the locker room, always got a smile on his face, and he's always ready to work."

Eric Kendricks said he was "hyped" with the recent additions to a defense that, on paper, appears to be loaded with plenty of potential for the upcoming season. Staying healthy will be key, but if the unit can do that, the talent and resources added make me believe this can be a top-10 unit in 2021.

As for the third wide receiver, Mike wasn't the only one who wondered about the possibility of Fitzgerald returning to his home state. The future Hall of Famer hasn't been relatively quiet on his future, and I tend to think he'll either retire of play for Arizona again, but never say never, I guess. Perhaps Patrick Peterson could put in a good word and possibly sway him to come home if Fitzgerald does indeed have any interest in that.

The Vikings obviously have a handful of players they are looking at as WR3 — with Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson and Smith-Marsette among them — but that role isn't the largest one, either.

Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are stars, so the person behind them just needs to contribute when possible. And with the strong offseason by the tight ends, and the ability of Minnesota's running backs to catch the ball, it might be a diversified approach behind Jefferson and Thielen.

To me, the biggest question Mike posed surrounds the offensive line. As I've mentioned in previous Mailbags, that group certainly has high potential. But talking about it and then proving it are two different things, and solid progression by that group would go a long way in the success of the offense in 2021.

I don't think the Vikings are a flawless team, however. There still isn't a ton of safety depth, and injuries to key offensive players (Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Brian O'Neill) could certainly derail any chance of a deep playoff run.

But given the difference in how the 2020 season ended and where the Vikings are at in June 2021, everyone with Vikings ties has good reason to be optimistic. Between now and the start of training camp, I expect plenty of national pundits and experts to give the Purple plenty of love in preseason predictions.

But the challenge, as always, is to keep getting a little better each day and be prepared for the annual roller coaster that is the NFL season.

View the best photos from minicamp at the TCO Performance Center shot in black-and-white by the Vikings team photographer, Andy Kenutis.

Excited for Vikings to make a strong showing this year. My question is "What single-season records do you think will not be broken on this inaugural 17-game season?"

— Brian in Watertown, Minnesota

Brian's question is along the lines of a recent article by ESPN's Bill Barnwell in which he picked out eight major single-season records that could be challenged now that there's a 17-game season.

I recapped Barnwell's piece here. It noted that Dalvin Cook could potentially break a pair of hallowed offensive records with a monster season.

All of the records Barnwell mentioned will be tough to top, but one he didn't include that I think will be incredibly difficult involves a Vikings Ring of Honor member and Hall of Famer.

If you ask me, Randy Moss' single-season record of 23 touchdown catches in one season (2007 with New England) should be safe for a long, long time.

Green Bay's Davante Adams had 18 scores last year (the most since Rob Gronkowski had 17 in 2011), but neither of those players even cracked the 20-touchdown mark.

Even with the NFL trending toward being a passing league, almost everything has to go right for a wide receiver to break Moss' record. For one, both he and his quarterback would need to stay healthy for all 17 games, and his QB would likely need to be an upper-echelon player.

Second, there would have to be an extreme hot streak or two. Moss, for example, started off strong with seven scores in his first four games. He also had a four-touchdown performance, and finished the season with a pair of scores in the final two games.

That makes 15 touchdowns in seven games. Adam Thielen, for reference, had a stellar 2020 season and had 14 touchdown catches. Again, everything would need to go right for a player to surpass Moss' mark of 23 touchdown catches in a single season.

And if you're looking for an all-time record, there's a Vikings connection there, too. Personally, I don't see anyone coming close to Paul Krause's record of 81 career interceptions.

Assuming Bashaud Breeland makes the 53-man roster, who was the last active Viking player or coach that had Super Bowl experience?

— Mark Leindecker in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Mark finishes us up with a great question, as it was well-documented when Breeland signed that he is coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with Kansas City, including a win in Super Bowl LIV.

I actually asked Breeland about that big-game experience and what he's learned from it. Here was his response:

"It brings an edge and motivation. Once you taste that type of success you want to do it again. I can say during my time in Kansas City that was the goal day-in and day-out. You know, before we got the first one, and after we won the first one, the second one, that's what we wanted to do. And I can still attest for those guys now that that's the goal for them going into this season. They want to get back to that dance. Once you taste it, man, it's an electrifying feeling, it's a feeling like no other. In life, you only get key moments like this, you know what I'm saying? It's kind of rare to get these types of feelings. But once you get it, you're chasing it every day, every down, every play."

I suspect his experience will help out those who have never won a Super Bowl, which is most of the Vikings roster and coaching staff.

But there are some in the organization who have. Britton Colquitt was Denver's punter when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, but he's the only other current Vikings player besides Breeland with a ring.

As for the coaches, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has one from his time in Dallas. And Co-Defensive Coordinator/linebackers coach Adam Zimmer earned a ring with the Saints over a decade ago.

And a pair of offensive coaches — Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani — each have multiple rings. Pariani has four from his time with the Broncos and 49ers, while Dennison has three with Denver over the years. Receivers coach Keenan McCardell earned one as a player with the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Those who have that prized possession know the hard work, effort and energy that goes into it.

"The thing you realize is how hard it is. Once you win, you want to do it again," Zimmer told me in the summer of 2016. "But you know all the ups and downs you have to go through throughout the season in order to get to that point.

"You realize just how difficult it is," he added. "And I haven't been back since."