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What is the biggest basis for your optimism for the new season and can you offer anything that you have observed about our changes on offense. -- Bruce Johnson Eagan, MN
The fundamental reason for my optimism about the offense improving this season is a two-part equation. First, the changes made along the offensive line have been significant. The Vikings signed two new starting tackles – Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Reiff and Remmers have been durable during their careers, they've played both left and right tackle during their careers and they've recently been starting linemen on teams that made it to the playoffs. They may not be household names or perennial all-pros, but they are solid starters and they represent a drastic improvement at the position over what we had last season. Secondly, Bradford and Shurmur had a full offseason to work together and work with the rest of the offense. If Bradford can do what he did last season after coming in only eight days in front of the first game, I have to think he can be even better with a full offseason of preparation under his belt.
I've always heard from coaches that a player "looks good, but we're just in shorts now. We have to see him with the pads on." What could change coaches' opinions about a player's talent level from shorts to pads? -- Barb McKinney, TX
Putting shoulder pads on adds a level of difficulty for all players. Some players aren't as fluid, for example, with pads on. Also, a byproduct of the pads coming on is the nature of the game is more physical, and sometimes players can perform better or worse when things are more physical. Xavier Rhodes is a player who looks and plays better when there is more physicality. So while a smaller and quicker cornerback may flash more in shorts and helmets during the offseason program, that same player will not look as good compared to Rhodes once training camp arrives, the pads come on and the game is more physical.
Looking at the new additions at RB, do you think Jerick McKinnon might lose his role in our offense and maybe get to the point where he'll be on the roster bubble? -- R'shauntae Harrison, Jr.
Not at all. Even with the additions of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, I see a role for McKinnon in the offense. Plus, McKinnon can play on multiple phases of special teams, including as a gunner on the punt team and as a returner or blocker on kickoff return. McKinnon is a valuable player to have on the roster because of his versatility and I think he'll be a significant contributor to the Vikings in 2017.
Everyone has an opinion on our defense. Some people are saying we are the 5th-ranked. We are young, athletic and versatile. I do not think we have reached our peak. I think we will surprise people. I also think Eric Kendricks is going to have a lot of tackles due to the fact we have an awesome defensive line. What do you think? -- Gerald Goblirsch
There are a lot of defenses in this League. Denver, New England, Seattle, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are just a few who stand out to me. With due respect to them and others, though, I'd stack the Vikings defense up against any of them and feel comfortable taking Zimmer's crew. They are athletic and young, as Gerald said, and they play with cohesiveness. They are also versatile, tough and aggressive. Kendricks has led this team in tackles in each of his first two seasons and I won't be surprised if he makes it three straight seasons in 2017. The Vikings found a gem in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
How is the kicking competition going? We have seen in the past that a reliable extra point and field goal kicker can be very important. Who do you think is leading at this point for the job? -- Jeff Sanders Kirkwood, MO
At this point it's hard not to give an edge to Kai Forbath, the returning veteran who was a perfect 15 for 15 on field goal tries for the Vikings in 2016. But Marshall Koehn had a good offseason with the team and he's here in camp to compete for the job, so we'll have to let things play out through camp and the preseason. Koehn has a strong leg, that's for certain, and Forbath has already shown his accuracy in games.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Taylor Heinicke's game? Do you believe he will ever become a starting QB in the NFL? -- Simmons Spain
In watching some of his college games and remember back to the 2015 preseason, I'd say a strength of Heinicke's is that he's a gamer. He's competitive, no moment seems to be too big for him, he's not afraid to make the big throws and he seems to play with a lot of poise. One area where he can seek improvement is experience. He's still a young, developing player and he missed some valuable time last year at this stage because of an injury. Now he's heathy and he's here in camp, so he has an opportunity to continue his development.