In each of Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's first two seasons, Minnesota's defense made major improvements, and individual players are earning accolades for their performances within that unit.
Following the 2015 season, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith each participated in their first career Pro Bowl. And while it's yet to be seen if any of the team's defensive players will be in the top 60 of the NFL's Top 100 list, Smith and Linval Joseph were already voted in by their peers* *at No. 73 and No. 76, respectively.
Viking Update's Tim Yotter took a look Sunday at a number of players and asked who the Vikings most valuable defender is. Yotter wrote:
Griffen easily led the Vikings with 10.5 sacks and an additional 14 quarterback hits. But 24 of the 34 tackles the NFL credited to Griffen happened in the running game, showing he is much more than a one-trick pony.
Yotter also emphasized Smith's production and called Barr the defense's most versatile player.
*[Barr] gives Zimmer the flexibility to disguise his bad intentions and keep quarterbacks guessing if Barr is bringing his impressive pass rush or dropping into coverage. *
Barr will point away from himself, however, recently calling Joseph the Vikings "best player" for his work in the trenches.
Yotter said it's impossible to label one defender as Minnesota's most valuable, as each offers a different skillset and improves the unit overall.
In other words, the best defender in Minnesota is one feeding off the other candidates at that time. The individual parts are becoming more impressive each year, but the sum of them is what drives the whole.
Healthy Rudolph, new coach headline Vikings tight ends
In looking ahead to the 2016 season, the Star Tribune's Sid Hartman honed in on the Vikings tight end group and what he's expecting with a healthy Kyle Rudolph and former head coach Pat Shurmur taking over as the Vikings tight end coach.
"It's always great to add another offensive mind like Coach Shurmur," Rudolph told Hartman. "He has offensive coordinator experience as well as head coaching experience. He has been doing it for a long time and he adds a lot of credibility and a different perspective on offense to our staff. I'm excited to work with him. He has had a lot of success with tight ends throughout his career."
While a lot of their work comes in the blocking game, Rudolph is hopeful that hiring Shurmur will mean more pass plays to that group.
"You know I'm a big fan of getting the ball in my hands, and it's always fun when they're throwing the ball your way," Rudolph told Hartman. "But whatever is called upon to help us win games that's what we're going to do, as we've shown over the last few years."
The tight end played all 16 games last season and led Minnesota with five touchdown catches. Rudolph said he expects a lot from the Vikings this season.
"We can't get complacent," Rudolph told Hartman. "We can't be satisfied being division champs and hosting a home playoff game. We need to realize that what happened last year was great and we need to build on it, but we don't start from where we ended last year."
Randall Cunningham recalls 1998 season
After a stint of being out of football, quarterback Randall Cunningham led the Vikings through the memorable 15-1 season that Vikings fans still vividly remember.
The Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins spoke with Cunningham, now an ordained minister leading a congregation instead of a football team. Cunningham recalled that 1998 season:
"We were in sync," Cunningham told Scoggins. "I have never been under that kind of pressure in football. We expected so much out of ourselves. You could not have an error in practice or somebody was going to saying something. We were on edge all the time."
Cunningham's memories of Minnesota are fond ones, saying people there "allowed me to be myself."
Cunningham's football recollections were just one sidebar of an in-depth interview with Scoggins. To read the piece in its entirety, click here.