Vikings’ Offseason Questions, Part 1: The Offense

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During the offseason, interest in your favorite football ratchets up, as every NFL fan wants all the nagging roster questions answered. The fans of the Minnesota Vikings are no different—they wanted the Vikes to launch headlong into free agency and answer as many questions on the roster for the coming season. And then the NFL draft will come along to answer the remainder of those questions.

To be certain, there are questions at just about every position this time of the season, but some are more crucial and concerning than others. Let’s take a look at all the positions and see what has been addressed, what should be and what are the chances they will. Of course, no answers are final until the footballs start flying in the fall, but now is the time for speculation. So, we shall begin—this time with the offense.

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Offensive Line

The most critical concerns of the offseason for Minnesota have been on the offensive line—and the Vikings took several slightly bold and expensive steps to remedy a situation that actually got more troublesome in the offseason (tackle Matt Kalil left, and the Vikings cut guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris). Minnesota signed former Detroit Lions tackle Riley Reiff and former Carolina Panthers tackle Mike Remmers to shore up their right and left tackle spots, respectively. But not all the work is done.

Question No. 1: Will left guard Alex Boone, who will be 30 on May 4, be able to improve on his okay season in 2016 (or at least hold serve)? He came to the team abit past, perhaps, the peak of his skills, and wore a concussion helmet last season. Boone still has the fire in his belly, but the possibility of more decline exists. The Vikings new offensive line can’t afford a slide here, however.

Question No. 2: Who will play center and guard? Joe Berger, who will be a young 35 years old on May 25, will certainly hold one of the spots, but he is subject to the same (actually more) age scrutiny as Boone. It makes sense to play Berger at center for another season of continuity with the rest of the line and quarterback Sam Bradford, but it also makes sense to put Nick Easton at center after his audition last season and slide Berger to right guard.

But something tells me that after last season, when the Vikings had the third most adjusted games lost to injury, that health will once again dictate answers to these OL questions and find Berger playing all over the offensive line. While he has moved up from his earlier Purple status as the versatile backup to a important starter, his position flexibility will be crucial to a line that lost plenty of depth in the offseason. The depth will have to be addressed in the draft, and unfortunately, this is not a deep draft for offensive linemen.

Tight Ends

Former blocking tight Rhett Ellison left town, and none too soon, as Ellison’s dad blasted head coach Mike Zimmer for his coaching style on Rhett’s way out the door. That leaves the TE position a bit more precarious than it was at the end of last season. Kyle Rudolph is coming off his best season as a pro in 2016, and to be sure, David Morgan can fill in for Ellison (which appears to be the Vikings’ thinking), but the depth leaves a  bit to be desired. The roster includes Kyle Carter and Nick Truesdell, neither or whom has any NFL experience (although Truesdell has spent time with four other teams).

Question: How do they fix the hole at tight end? The Vikings will have to draft another pass-catching TE to back up Rudolph, preferably one who can learn quickly–or pick up one off the scrap heap (MyCole Pruitt, who is with the Chicago Bears, might look good about now). It seems like the Vikings are drafting a tight end every offseason, yet never seem to be set at the position. Perhaps, without TE-loving Norv Turner calling the shots on offense, the team will settle for some aging veteran depth at tight end. But another body is required one way or the other.

Wide Receivers

The Vikings wide receivers did okay last season (two players nearing 1,000 yards receiving in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen), but the ranks have already been depleted in the offseason. Return specialist/wideout Cordarrelle Patterson (the man with three double-consonants in his name) moved on to the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders and receiver Charles Johnson left for the Panthers. Now neither one of them figured greatly into the passing game last season, but they added depth to a unit that now has very little. The seldom-used Jarius Wright and second-year man Laquon Treadwell (who caught just one pass in his rookie season) are the first line of backups, with a handful of other players comprising very little NFL experience. That is a problem.

Question: Do the Vikings backfill with a vet or grab another young wideout? I would say the Vikings are going to have to look at WR in the draft again. Treadwell should get on the field more this season (he has to) and perhaps Moritz Boehringer (who never got off the practice squad last season) might make the game day roster (if the team doesn’t convert him to a tight end). But they shouldn’t be in the position where fans are wishing CP Flash was back on the team (and I am when it comes to his return skills), yet that is where the team is at. They resigned Thielen to a long-term contract, which is great, but they also tried to acquire Alshon Jeffery in free agency, which demonstrates that the Vikings brass certainly feel the dearth of depth at this position. Another late-round find in the draft like Diggs (or undrafted like Thielen) would be nice, but another aging vet with not-yet eroded skills might work also.

Running Backs

The Vikings running back situation is widely known, unless you haven’t watched anything except the political drama regarding the President’s relationship with Russia or have been living under a rock. Adrian Peterson is gone and Latavius Murray is in his place. But Murray recently underwent ankle surgery that will keep him out until Mankato. So, that leaves Jerick McKinnon, C.J. Hamm and Bishop Sankey rounding out the running backs unit. Not as bad as one might expect from a group that lost the NFL’s leading rusher of just two seasons ago.

Question: No major concerns here other than how Murray comes out of surgery and whether or not he will be full speed by the season opener. The draft is reportedly lousy with good running backs and the Vikings certainly should grab one somewhere in the draft. But will they take the troubled, yet talented, Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon if he is still on the board when the Vikings pick in round two on day two of the draft? As the draft nears, and the excitement builds, observers tend to focus on the talent and rationalize away the trouble in a player. The Vikings have spent some time checking out Mixon at his pro day, so he is on their radar. His possible selection represents the biggest drama so far for a team that doesn’t have an opening day pick. At least they don’t have one yet, anyway.

Quarterbacks

The Vikings made it a point to shore up their quarterback situation when they signed Case Keenum to a one-year deal last week. He is the veteran backup that will replace Shaun Hill behind Sam Bradford and give Taylor Heinicke the opportunity to get back on track. (You remember Heinicke, the young quarterback who kicked in a glass door, sliced his tendon and then recently called what he did “stupid” (kind of like Phil Mickelson, who sliced his golf ball into a tree to lose the U.S. Open and then called himself “an idiot”—well, I guess that is not exactly the same thing). Heinicke’s screw up and unavailability contributed to Bradford coming to the team in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury, but he still needs to get in Zimmer’s good graces and demonstrate some growth despite spending all of last season in the training room.

Question: Where do we begin? Does Bradford improve behind a reportedly improved offensive line? Do the Vikings sign Bradford to an extension? Does Bridgewater return to the game and restart a career that showed plenty of promise last preseason? Does he get signed to an extension? If Bradford goes down, is Keenum ready to pick up the team and keep it moving forward? Is Heinicke worth the team keeping around and will he ever get his shot? Should the Vikings use a draft pick on a quarterback?

The answers to these questions should start to reveal themselves as we go forward, but since one of the tenets of journalism is never ask a question you don’t have an answer for, here are mine: Yes. Yes. I sure hope so. Yes. Ready, yes, but how far forward remains a mystery. I like him as a deep back up, but not sure his long-term future is quarterback of this team. Unfortunately, yes, if a viable one presents himself.

Of course, more questions will continue to arise surrounding the Vikings quarterback situation. They always do.

Tune in next week when we examine the questions surrounding the defense and special teams.

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