NFL teams each address a handful of scenarios during the offseason, and the Vikings are no exception. After finishing the 2015 regular season 11-5 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the organization will look to further develop the team for 2016.
Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com posed a number of questions for the Vikings during this offseason, including about the offense's outlook after the hiring of offensive line coach Tony Sparano and tight ends coach Pat Shurmur and the shift for Kevin Stefanski from tight ends to running backs coach.
Following another successful season and his third career rushing title, [Vikings running back] Adrian Peterson spoke candidly about how he wants to become a 'better fit' for the Vikings' offense under coordinator Norv Turner. Routes and pass protection were the two areas specifically mentioned by Peterson, suggesting the Vikings want to go back to the spread/shotgun offense in which [Vikings quarterback] Stefon Diggs found some success as a rookie in 2014. Bridgewater spent significantly more time under center last season, and his development didn't happen as fast as many hoped. Between the micro (arm mechanics) and macro (scheme) adjustments, he'll be the focus of a reconfigured puzzle. [Vikings] Head Coach Mike Zimmer also assured they'll have new ideas at the table between new assistants in Pat Shurmur (TE) and Tony Sparano (OL), both former head coaches with backgrounds in a variety of offensive schemes.
Krammer also delved into the question of fifth-year options for the Vikings' three 2013 first-round picks: defensive tackle Danielle Hunter, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. In 2011, the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement capped rookie contracts at four years, and team front offices can choose to pick up or deny fifth-year options on first-round picks.
*Generally, they're granted as another low-risk season of control of a young player, as the salary is only guaranteed for injury until that league year begins. However, declining the option can be a sign the franchise is already ready to move on. The Vikings exercised fifth-year options on [tackle] Riley Reiff and [safety] Harrison Smith last year, but two years ago opted against for 2011 first-round pick [quarterback] Christian Ponder. Days later, they drafted Teddy Bridgewater. *
Areas where Minnesota's pass defense can improve in 2016
The Vikings defense has shown immense improvements in the two years since Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the reins, and that side of the ball looked especially dominant down the stretch. However, the Pioneer Press' Jace Frederick took a closer look at Minnesota's defenseof passers in 2015 compared to other teams and found room for further development.
Frederick pointed out that the Super Bowl champion Broncos ranked fourth in the league in holding opponents to a 78.8 passer rating. The Panthers led the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 73.5.
Denver used a pair of edge-rushing assassins in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller to pressure the quarterback, while physical corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris harassed opposing receivers on the outside.
*Denver's formula for success was strikingly similar to what Seattle was able to put together in time for the 2014 postseason, when the Seahawks routed the Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl. *
According to Frederick, while the Vikings pass defense in 2015 could have been stronger, they have the necessary tools for improvement with younger players who have already showed their potential in attacking offenses.
Minnesota figures to improve in those areas as cornerbacks like Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes and defensive ends such as Danielle Hunter continue to learn and develop. Still, those numbers aren't gaudy. The Vikings actually ranked behind NFC North rival Green Bay during the regular season in opponent's passer rating (80.1) and completion percentage (58.3), while the two teams recorded the same number of sacks (43).
Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter working with draft prospect Braxton Miller
According to NFL.com college football writer Chase Goodbread, Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter is helping wide receiver Braxton Miller prepare for the 2016 NFL Draft. Besides sharing a position, both Carter and Miller attended Ohio State.
Miller posted a photo of himself and Carter on Twitter, saying the former Vikings receiver is working with him. From 1993-2000, Carter racked up eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Vikings.
Miller only began playing wide receiver last year after converting from the quarterback position, where he was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year. Although Miller's senior season as a receiver at OSU wasn't particularly productive (25 catches, 340 yards, three TDs), reviews of his performance in the practice week for the Reese's Senior Bowl were very positive. A panel of NFL scouts selected him the top practice player, among 110 draft prospects, at the event.
Goodbread added that Miller also drew attention from NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock.
*Mayock was impressed with Miller as well, and told The College Draft podcast that he wouldn't be surprised if Miller was chosen in the second round of the draft. *
Offensive line a focus for 2016?
With season-ending injuries to tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan last year, the Vikings offensive line didn't look as planned for the 2015 season. The Star Tribune's Matt Vensel wrote that the Vikings could make the offensive line a top priority for the offseason.
[Zimmer] implied that there will be open competition along the offensive line, from left tackle Matt Kalil to longtime center John Sullivan (assuming he regains his health) to young right tackle Anthony Harris. There should be a number of quality veterans available in free agency, and it's a safe bet that the Vikings will draft a lineman in the first three rounds for the first time since 2012.