Now that he's let these questions marinate within your purple minds, Daniel House is ready to reveal his "premature" analysis of these 10 training camp talkers.
#10- Will Jeff Locke sufficiently punt the ball inside the twenty yard line?
House's Take- The Vikings decided to part ways with a very outspoken Chris Kluwe, who virtually buried himself with his openness on social media. His production yielded nothing impressive and proved reason for change this offseason. Jeff Locke enters with similar statistical numbers, but has room to improve with a personal position coach like Mike Priefer. The belief is that Locke can fill the void of Kluwe's absence, but we haven't seen extended action of his leg. Blair Walsh turned out perfect, which really means, why should we doubt the decision the coaching staff made?
#9- Will Xavier Rhodes transition to the NFL, or will he struggle in his rookie season?
House's Take- Obviously we will witness growing pains from Rhodes at many points during his rookie campaign in the Vikings secondary. A Florida State product, he has shown excellent ball skills and average press coverage tactics. The real question will be if Rhodes can adjust to NFL schemes or if quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers will throw at Xavier early and often. The is no reason to believe this won't happen, but Vikings fans can be hopeful for a rookie performance similar to Harrison Smith's rookie season.
#8- Can the coaching staff mold Cordarrelle Patterson into an elite vertical wide receiver?
House's Take- Wide receivers coach George Stewart is one of the best in the business and has been on the successful end of the development of receivers such as Sidney Rice, Roddy White, Percy Harvin, and the diva Terrell Owens. Patterson has one of the best athletic skills sets to enter the NFL in several seasons. He has struggled with route running and is deemed "very raw" in his time at Tennessee and at JUCO. It will take time, but look for Bill Musgrave to develop packages with a central theme revolving around Patterson's athletic ability. It will only be a matter of time until NFL defenses realize the impact Codarrelle will have on the Vikings offense.
#7- Will there be more offensive balance in 2013, or will Adrian Peterson have another heavy load?
House's Take- I think there will be way more offensive balance in 2013 and I expect quarterback Christian Ponder to throw for about 21-23 touchdown passes this season. This would be an improvement for Ponder, but isn't an unrealistic goal. Many don't understand the type of season Adrian Peterson had last season and the sheer bit of athleticism that was displayed just months removed from a potential career ending injury. With Peterson finally 100% healthy for the first time in several seasons, I expect him to be even more explosive (if it's even possible) in 2013. If Ponder can throw the ball well and connect on more passes in the seam of the field, combated with a similar performance from Peterson in 2013, the Vikings could be scary good.
#6- Will John Carlson return to normal form in his second season in purple?
House's Take- I believe he has to or he will be looking for a new line of work after the season. He restructured his contract for a second shot with the organization and will need to prove that he is worthy as soon as possible. He was plagued by a head and back injury that caused him to be limited at times during offseason activities and throughout the season. Now if he can stay healthy in 2013, he can have more time in the system during training camp and become more familiar with the cast of characters surrounding him.
#5- Who will emerge as 5th wide receiver for the Vikings? Adam Thielen, Joe Webb, or Greg Childs?
House's Take- This battle is wide open and is basically a guess at this time and will require one player to show he can make an impact in a capacity. Joe Webb is athletic, but is transitioning from the quarterback position to an area that requires fierce and precise route-running. With his past experience reading defenses, if he can develop the tangibles, he could be a threat to challenge for the highly touted 5th wide receiver spot. Adam Thielen is a well-known commodity in D-II football and could slide his way onto the Vikings roster. Known for his great hands and body control, Thielen just needs to prove he can handle the jump from Division II competition to the NFL. Greg Childs is fresh off a tear in both of his patellar tendons during the 2012 Vikings training camp scrimmage. He missed the entire 2012 season, but believes with his continued rehab, he can recover well enough to battle for the highly competitive 5th wide receiver spot.
#4- Will Greg Jennings become Christian Ponder's "go-to" wide receiver?
House's Take- No doubt Jennings is the main target for Christian Ponder and will be a huge benefit for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings running game. If Ponder can connect on the out routes and in the seam, AP will have many more holes than last season. When teams attempt to stack the box with 9 guys, the key will be for the Vikings to execute, which in turn will open up the running game in the second half of contests. If Jennings can stay healthy, I look for him to be the leading receiver on the Vikings roster this season.
#3- How will Jared Allen perform during a contract year? Can he return to elite form?
House's Take- In order to justify a large contract with a huge sum of money, Allen will need to produce an elite season from two or three years ago. He has reached double-digit sacks in every season with the Vikings, but struggled with a torn labrum in which he played through during the 2012 season. Despite all of this, he still recorded 12 sacks and was a pivotal part of the Vikings four game win streak at the end of the season. I don't see how the Vikings can afford to pay Allen after this season, but that is a novel for another day.
#2- Who will emerge as Harrison Smith's counterpart in the backend of the defense?
House's Take- Last season, we witnessed the carnival effect at the safety position next to Harrison Smith. Mistral Raymond started the season, but sustained an injury, which caused him to miss several weeks. Jamarca Sanford filled the hole nicely and was able to force a rotational system between himself and Raymond for the second half of the season. Harrison Smith has proven he is a solid option and is my preseason selection to represent the Vikings at the pro-bowl next season. So you ask, what about this season? Don't be surprised if you see second year Notre Dame safety Robert Blanton emerge as a potential candidate. He suffered a hamstring injury in training camp last season and missed out on his opportunity to start. With no real change in the play of Raymond or Sanford over two seasons, don't be surprised to see Blanton have an extended role in training camp and the preseason.
#1- Can Christian Ponder take the next step as a quarterback and lead this team to football immortality?
House's Take- Ponder has struggled at times during two seasons and now needs to show that he is ready to take the next step. All elite quarterbacks need time to develop and that has been the message from the Vikings coaching staff since the day Ponder was drafted in the top 15 of the 2011 draft. With pieces like Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson in place, there is absolutely no excuse for Ponder to have problems in 2013. Let's face reality, Ponder hasn't had a set of receivers like this in his tenure with the Vikings. If he can improve his completion percentage to the upper 60% range, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings challenge for the NFC North title this season. Within the first six weeks, Vikings fans are hoping to hear VOX Paul Allen expressing his proverbial, "Oh thank heavens for #7!" I think this is definitely a mutual expression between all those who are close and passionate about the organization; they want to see Christian Ponder succeed.
Much more will be coming soon regarding 2013 training camp and our coverage, which will be taking place from the sidelines during several designated days, which will be announced soon! Stay tuned!