KFAN is your Radio Home for Vikings Football. During the 2013 Season, tune in to Vikings programming KFAN 100.3 all week long.
Photo - Aj Mansour (KFAN)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - As the Minnesota Vikings wrapped up mini camp on Thursday afternoon and the coaches and players began to head their separate ways before reporting to Training camp 34 days from today, we have the opportunity to take a step back and reflect what we've observed from out first taste of "football" for the 2013 season.
Before we go too far, it does need to be said, once again, that the small taste of "football" we received from Mini Camp was under the stipulation that players were not wearing pads, were not making contact with their teammates and are admittedly rusty from four months away from the game. That being said, players and individual performances do stick out and whether you see it as right or wrong, season-to-season opinions can be formed as early as mini camp.
With that, we head into my five (probably ill-advised) bold observations from 2013 Minnesota Vikings Mini Camp.
1: Rookie WR Cordarrelle Patterson is the real deal.
When the original draft grades for the 2013 NFL Draft were released, Cordarrelle Patterson sat atop the charts for the class of wide receivers preparing to break into the league. For one reason or another, he slipped and ultimately became the third wide receiver taken in this year's draft. With his first round of Organized Team Activities and Mini Camp now behind him, it's abundantly clear to me why Patterson was considered as one of the most dynamic players in this year's draft.
The knock on Patterson heading into the draft certainly didn't have anything to do with Patterson's physical abilities, it solely had to do with the uncertainty of the unbridled, raw-talent that had been developed in only one year spent playing at the division one level.
Having now seen Patterson with my own two eyes, I am fully convinced that Cordarrelle is in a great situation with the Minnesota Vikings and will have a big impact on the success of the team during the 2013 season.
We'll likely see Cordarrelle begin the season as the team's featured kick returner while he works in with the second wave of wide receivers taking advantage of opportunities as they come his way. It's no question that Patterson shines in the open field. Any room for improvement that he has lies within the fundamentals of the game and the intricacies of being a wide receiver at the highest level. He has already latched on with veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings who has already had high praise for the young rookie. As the season wears on and if Patterson continues to work hard, he will gain the trust of the coaching staff and will find himself with more offensive opportunities where he can fight his way into the open field and make some magic happen.
2. Adrian Peterson will be back and better than ever.
It continues to be increasingly tough to look at Adrian Peterson's body of work each season and say he can continues to get better. Stemming off of the second best season in the history of NFL running backs, Adrian Peterson appears as if there is still room for more improvement.
Peterson has already publicly stated that his goal for the 2013 season is set at 2,500 yards. Is that out of the realm of possibilities? Not for this guy.
AP heads into the 2013 season healthier than he's been in any of the past few years. Despite off season surgery on a sports hernia, Peterson took to the field during the teams OTAs and Mini Camps and looked faster than I've ever seen him. Despite his claims that he was fully recovered after the ACL surgery last year, Peterson never seemed to have that breakaway speed burst that was so notable early in his career. From the limited observations that we were afforded during the team's off season programs, that burst is back and in a big way!
If you couple that thought with the fact that the wide receiving corps is deeper this year, the tight end is coming into his own and Christian Ponder is continuing to develop into a legitimate NFL quarterback, you will soon realize that entire defensive game plan cannot be focused on stopping Adrian Peterson. That opens up more holes, keeps the defense on their toes and hopefully spells out a huge season for #28 and the Minnesota Vikings.
3. Xavier Rhodes will be the only rookie to start week one in Detroit.
With three first round picks coming out of the 2013 Draft, the Minnesota Vikings will look to have a sizeable impact from their draft class this season. But when it comes to week one of the regular season, only one will be included in their starting lineup.
Despite an impressive Mini Camp, it looks like 23rd overall selection Sharrif Floyd will be stuck in a log jam behind Kevin Williams. Cordarrelle Patterson may be the number one kick returner on opening day, but still has something to prove if he wants to crack the top-three wide receivers. That leaves us with the 25th overall selection from this year's draft, who in my opinion will be the week one starter at cornerback, Xavier Rhodes.
Rhodes made a bit of a name for himself during the team's off season program. Lining up opposite Chris Cook on the outside, he was regularly seen tipping and intercepting passes against Christian Ponder and the first team offense and visibly caught the eye of head coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams (both of whom are former defensive backs themselves). Both have had high praise for Rhodes over the last week and have continued to remind us that Rhodes hasn't even been able to display his number one asset yet, his physicality.
With Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson terrorizing the NFC North for the past few years, there is always room for a big and physical defensive back on this Vikings team. If Rhodes continues on the path he began paving this week, he will likely fill an open starting spot in the Vikings defensive lineup.
4. The idea of Percy Harvin will be missed more than the actual production of Percy Harvin.
During the first eight games of the 2012 season, Percy Harvin was a legitimate candidate for the League's Most Valuable Player award. Slowed down by no man but only injury, it would appear as if a player like Percy Harvin would be darn near impossible to replace. Fortunately for the Viking, it appears as if they've done a pretty good job of doing just that.
The appeal of Harvin came from the fact that he was an extremely versatile player. He could attack the opposition out of the backfield, from the slot, lined up out wide and then would regularly find ways to sting the opponent on the kick return. A one man army that pretty much ran Minnesota's offense while Peterson recovered from injury. Now it didn't come in the form of one man, but the Vikings did their best to cover all those bases this off season, and may have improved their team in doing so.
The Slot: While still not completely proven, second-year wide receiver Jarius Wright will cover much of Harvin's former slot responsibility. Joining Wright across the middle, veteran wide receiver Greg Jennings has been known to line up in the slot and terrorize defensive units with slants and crossing routes.
Out Wide: Percy was not known to lineup wide all that often, but when he did it was effective. So far during camp, both Jerome Simpson and Cordarrelle Patterson have caused havoc for the defense when lined up wide and going deep. Throw a veteran route runner the likes of Greg Jennings into that mix and for the first time in a long time it appears as if the Vikings have multiple options to send out wide.
The Backfield: The Minnesota Vikings backfield will single handedly belong to Adrian Peterson as long as he wants it to be that way. That being said, if the Vikings are looking to change it up a little, rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is more than capable and has been known to lineup in the backfield and take handoffs from the quarterback. Last season, Patterson became the first player in the NCAA over the past four years to score a touchdown four different ways (receiving, rushing, kick returning and punt returning). Needless to say, the flexibility to fill Patterson into multiple positions is there and being explored.
Kick Returns: As noted above, rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has been taking most of the #1 reps with the kick return team so far. Known as an open field magician during his lone year at Tennessee, Patterson averaged nearly 27-yards per kick return and took both a punt and a kick to the house. There will surely be an adjustment to the NFL but the Vikings seem confident that on the kick return, Patterson's natural abilities will take over and spell success for the purple.
Utilizing the aforementioned players to replace the offensive impact that Percy Harvin had on the Vikings offense affords Minnesota the flexibility to mix and match those formations. This luxury should keep defenses guessing and hopefully equals success in the form of points for the Vikings offense. If this works according to plan, no longer will opposing defenses be able to key in on one or two players to stop the Vikings offensive attack.
5. Erin Henderson may start the year at middle linebacker, but he won't end it there.
As it stands today, veteran linebacker Erin Henderson is slotted in as the team's starting middle ("mike") linebacker. However, judging by recent actions of the team, I would say that they are not completely convinced that he is the right man for the job in the middle.
Over the past two seasons, Henderson has filled in as the Vikings backside ("will") linebacker. Primary responsibilities of the will linebacker include but are not limited to plugging rushing lanes and taking on lead blockers in the run game, both things that Henderson seemingly excelled at. Moving to the middle linebacker, there is much more of a priority to be put on defending the passing game, somewhere that Henderson struggles a bit at.
For now, Henderson is the man for the job, but recent team inquiries into the free agent status of Brian Urlacher and an even more recent tryout of Desmond Bishop has to lead one to believe that despite Erin's best efforts, the team is not ready to anoint him the hands down solution in the middle of the defense.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN