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Are the Vikings looking for a “center fielder” to play safety or will they continue the interchangeable free/strong safety approach? -- Paul S.
The beauty of having Harrison Smith on the team is he’s so versatile that it allows the Vikings to consider a wide variety of options next to him. If an “in the box” safety in the mold of Kam Chancellor earns a spot, then Smith is good enough in coverage to make it work. If a ball hawk in the mold of Earl Thomas comes along, then Smith is good enough in the box to make that work, too. Furthermore, the beauty of Mike Zimmer’s defensive approach is that he doesn’t confine himself to the rigidity of needing to have the traditional strong safety=free safety alignment; he just wants the best 11 players on the field for each particular situation. That’s why, ultimately, it’s been Andrew Sendejo in the other safety spot the past two seasons. Sendejo knows the defense, he’s generally aligned properly and ends up around the ball and he has good synergy with Smith. Zimmer and the defensive staff value those characteristics as much as any others when trying to field the best possible defense.
Where do you see the upgrades on defense and how can we improve the overall defense to allow us to be as strong in the middle and end of the season as we seem to be right out of the gate? -- Larry Lujan
I love what the Vikings have going at defensive tackle right now. Even without Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings are deep and good at both three technique and nose guard. Shamar Stephen, who filled in admirably at three technique last season when Floyd was out because of injury, seems to have shifted to be Linval Joseph’s backup at the nose; that makes for very good one-two punch in that spot. Then at three technique, the Vikings bring back Tom Johnson and have added draft pick Jaleel Johnson and free agents Datone Jones and Will Sutton, among others. This mix of players along the interior should give the Vikings a good chance to improve in two areas they’re aiming to improve – 1st down defense and forcing more negative runs.
Do you think Rodney Adams has a chance to be our No. 3 receiver? I do. -- Curtis Easton, PA
I won’t rule him out of earning this role at some point this season, but I wouldn’t make him the favorite. Laquon Treadwell has done nothing but impress since the offseason program began and I think he’s got a stronghold on the No. 3 spot. I also wouldn’t count out Michael Floyd as the receiver who sees the third most snaps and/or targets by the time we get to the home stretch of the regular season. A big opportunity for Adams will be on special teams, where the kickoff return role is an open competition heading into training camp.
Why do you think our players don't get the same kind of appreciation as many other players in the League? -- Dylan Kimber
I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If your ultimate litmus test for this is the NFL Network’s Top 100 players list, then I can see why you might draw this conclusion. But that’s not the ultimate litmus test, to me, and it also just doesn’t matter. What the Vikings have accomplished under coach Zimmer since 2014, particularly on defense, has earned the team and a lot of players plenty of respect. But when you’re coming off an 8-8 season, you’re just not going to get a bunch of guys on the All-Pro team or on the Top 100 list.
Projections from numerous sports analysts have the Vikings right at 9-7 for this season. What are your thoughts on the Vikings surprising to take the next jump to an elite team and going deep in the playoffs? -- Andrew Pettit
It won’t surprise me if the Vikings make that jump. There is quality at the two most important points of the team – head coach and quarterback. That’s the most important thing. But secondarily, I believe they had a solid nucleus in place heading into the offseason, and then they’ve added several important pieces, particularly along the offensive line, that should help improve some deficiencies last year’s team displayed. Add in the fact that Sam Bradford and the rest of the offense should benefit from a full offseason working together, and I think there is plenty of reason for optimism about the 2017 Vikings. With that being said, there is still much work to be done heading into training camp. The offensive line is indeed a work in progress, the running game is being revamped and there are some fixes to be made on defense and special teams, too.