We did not post the Monday Morning Mailbag yesterday due to the passing of Tony Sparano. It didn't feel right to talk about football the day after we lost such a great man. Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with those who knew and loved Tony.
Below you will read a small sampling of the emails I received from fans who wanted to express their sorrow, respect and appreciation to coach Sparano. I will share a few thoughts, as well, and then we'll talk about the Vikings, a team for which Tony laid everything on the line day-in and day-out.
When I watched your one-on-one with Coach Sparano, I was impressed by not only his intellect but also his passion for the game. I could see why our line had made such progress. A sad day and I will pray for his family and loved ones.
-- Chris Kulak
My condolences to the family. There is no question in my mind that coach Sparano was the reason the Vikings offensive linemen had such a great turnaround from 2016 when he was hired. He was also the reason the offense line played at such a high level when injuries happened. He will be missed.
-- John McGuire
Lone Pine, CA
What are the traits or strengths of this year's offensive line group and also what kind of legacy will the late Tony Sparano leave behind with this position group?
-- Joshua Heim
Coach Sparano was passionate about the game, compassionate to his fellow Vikings, an intense competitor, a perfectionist and completely dedicated to the Vikings. More than anything, the offensive linemen on the Vikings roster will pour their heart and soul into everything this season with heavy hearts but also with a great source of inspiration knowing their coach will be with them in spirit. As for the particular strengths of this offensive line, I can actually see depth and versatility being one of them. Given the injuries the Vikings have seen to this group, it sounds crazy to suggest depth and versatility could be a strength. But I believe if a couple players to steps forward during training camp and the preseason, the Vikings have a chance to field a starting five as good or better than last year plus a group of reserves capable of stepping in and not letting the group miss a beat. Aviante Collins and Brian O'Neill can push Rashod Hill for time or provide depth if Hill holds onto his job. Tom Compton, Colby Gossett and Danny Isidora can push Nick Easton and Mike Remmers and then provide depth if the incumbent starters stave off the competition. Those are just a couple of examples of where depth could develop with this group.
I am so excited the season is coming up hear and excited about our team. I am hearing everyone talk about how good our defense is. My last impression is getting scorched by New Orleans and Philly. Do you think our defense will resemble the defense during last year or were we exposed in the playoffs and that's how our defense will be now?
-- Ben Marx
The Vikings defense was No. 1 in yards allowed and points allowed for a 16-game regular season. Then they essentially shutdown Drew Brees and the Saints for the first half of a playoff game. An interception and a blocked punt allowed the Saints back into the game and did not make life easy for the defense. In the NFC title game, the Eagles scored on a pick six and also gained an extra possession on a strip-sack of Case Keenum. I know the defense is not totally infallible or blameless, but let's not lose sight of the fact that this defense has been the best in the League for a few seasons now. A couple of mistakes against two of the best teams in the NFL in the playoffs should not be clouding your judgment of them so much.
How has Sheldon Richardson looked? If he's disruptive this year, the Vikings defense has a chance of being super-special.
-- Gary Gross
The Vikings defense was already super special without Richardson, and so with Richardson in the fold I agree the defense can be even better. It's difficult to evaluate players before they put pads on, especially defensive and offensive linemen. But I'm confident Richardson will be a great fit. I have no concerns with Richardson's technique and style of play being a good fit for Zimmer's defense. What will be important for this union to work is Richardson's ability to learn and believe in Zimmer's system as well as his attention to detail when it comes to alignment and assignment execution.
Considering Brandon Zylstra led both the NFL and CFL with most receiving yards last season, don't you think it makes the most sense to fill the WR3 spot with someone like him compared to receivers with just a fraction of his stats?
-- Dominic Mische
Not necessarily. Building a team for this year doesn't have much at all to do with statistics from last season. When it comes to the receivers, it's more about what kind of fit they are with the offensive system, the trust they earn from the offensive coaches and the rapport they build with the quarterback. With that being said, I do believe Zylstra is one to watch for a spot on the 53-man roster at receiver and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he was an active player on game days. He still has a lot to prove and the competition at receiver will be thick, but I'm excited to watch him compete in camp, especially during the joint practices with the Jaguars, who also have a great secondary.
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