The Vikings are hitting the field at Winter Park for the first three of 10 organized team activity practices this week, and Vikings.com is launching the first installment of "Two-point Conversations."
This segment tasks Mike Wobschall (@wobby) and Craig Peters (@pcraigers) with three topics on which to make a point in 200 words or less, then asks you to weigh-in on a question about each topic.
Who looks better early: Defense or Offense?
@wobby: Ordinarily, it's the offense that looks better early on as the defense is forced to not only devise and execute its own scheme but also learn and react to what the offense is doing. Plus, the defense is limited by contact restrictions, which inhibits a lot of their ability to defend and strips most of the intimidation factor (a receiver hearing footsteps while running across the middle doesn't quite have the same affect). But I'm taking the defense this time around. Mike Zimmer and coordinator George Edwards are in their second year of installing the defense and they have plenty of new toys to add to what was already a fast-developing, strong core. At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, LB Eric Kendricks and CB Trae Waynes are poised to shore up two important areas of the defense that will allow Zimmer and Edwards to expand their imagination and play sheets. On top of working into the base defense, these two rookies figure to be integral part of sub packages and should help the pass defense take another huge stride in 2015.
@pcraigers:While the debuts of Waynes and Kendricks are heavily anticipated for a team that's drafted six defenders in the top 45 picks of each of the past four drafts (five in the top 29), I think the offense has a chance to make a quicker impression because of the way Teddy Bridgewater closed his rookie campaign with razor sharp accuracy. Bridgewater completed at least 70.3 percent of his passes in four of the final five games. He also threw for eight of his 14 TDs in the final five and had a passer rating of 84.9 or higher in each outing. Bridgewater had a season-high 120.7 rating in the freeze-fest game with Carolina and showed he's comfortable leading the offense in the sunny scoring spree at Miami. The Vikings brought in dynamic playmaker Mike Wallace through a trade with the Dolphins, and I'm assuming he and Bridgewater can connect quickly, in addition to Bridgewater building on connections with returning pass targets. He spoke last year about the helpfulness of throwing with anticipation by developing that trust with and understanding of individual receivers.
How do you shape up the competition at safety?
@wobby: I give Robert Blanton a significant leg up in the position battle because he's the incumbent starter, is coming off a career-high 111 tackles in 2014, and should be allowed room for significant improvement as he enters his second go-around in Zimmer's defense as the starter. Blanton may be a converted CB who is a little rough around the edges in some technical areas, but he plays like his hair is on fire, he brings a nasty demeanor to the field and he has a tendency to be around the football when all is said and done. I'm not saying all is said and done in the competition for the starting spot next to Harrison Smith, but I do think Blanton has a head start on the field and will give a good accounting of himself over the next several months as he tries to earn the starting spot once again.
@pcraigers: I'm of the notion that experience and the ability to play with an edge go a long way toward success at safety, and I could certainly see that being part of Blanton's case for the job in 2015, but the Vikings will take a look at other players to partner with Harrison Smith. Andrew Sendejo, who stepped in for Blanton because of injury and started the final three games of 2014, also has shown an edge on the back end of the defense and special teams. The Vikings used free agency to bring in Taylor Mays, who previously played under Zimmer (primarily as a reserve) in Cincinnati from 2011-13, and a couple of comments from General Manager Rick Spielman in his press conference to close this year's draft also created interest. Spielman mentioned 2014 sixth-round pick Antone Exum, Jr. as a player who was having a great start to the offseason workout program and foreshadowed that Minnesota was on the verge of signing an undrafted free agent they really liked. It became official when the Vikings announced they had signed Anthony Harris out of Virginia. Harris is recovering from a shoulder injury but can benefit from mental reps.
What kind of impact will the PAT modification have in 2015?
@wobby: Significant. Most coaches are conservative in their decision making but the PAT modification makes it more compelling to consider the two-point conversion. For teams with quality kickers, such as the Vikings, I expect the extra points will keep flying. But for teams with struggling kickers or with coaches who lack confidence in their kickers, an increased number of two-point conversion attempts is likely. And think of how penalties will impact the decision. A 10-yard holding penalty on an extra point presents the offense with the option of kicking a 43-yard extra point or going for two from the 12 yard line. Seems like a no brainer if you have Blair Walsh. But not so much if you have an average or below average kicker, and even more of a dilemma if you have a great quarterback. Or the reverse can happen – a penalty on the defense, which gives the offense a two-point try from the 1 yard line instead of the 2. To some, the change isn't preferred and I've even heard some say it won't have a significant impact. But I disagree. It's fascinating to me and I'm excited to see how coaches respond in a lot of situations.
@pcraigers: I totally agree that this rule change, which as of now is only for this season, has potential to impact the game in a variety of ways, but I'm most interested in seeing if it leads to increases in goal-line specialists (some have envisioned Tim Tebow fitting this niche, but that would be a major commitment when game-day rosters are limited to 45 players), jumbo packages for pounding the ball, or using play fakes and rollouts to finesse a score (which could also happen when an offense shows a heavy lineup). Zimmer only went for two out of necessity in his first season at the helm, but the Vikings were four-of-four with two runs by Matt Asiata and passes by Bridgewater to Charles Johnson and Rhett Ellison. Decisions likely will be made on a coach's philosophy early, but the "when to go for two" chart will have new life as each game progresses. There are all kinds of scoring scenarios that can pop up, especially now that the rule allows a defense to return a turnover of a conversion attempt or a blocked or short missed PAT for two points.