Hopes are high for Vikings, and they're happy to have them
MANKATO, Minn. (AP) The strategy and style of Minnesota's coaching staff under Mike Zimmer is no longer new.
Neither is the starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.
The sideshow that overshadowed last season has been dismantled, following Adrian Peterson's reinstatement from NFL suspension and the star running back's return to the Vikings with the guaranteed contract he sought.
The defense that was significantly improved in Zimmer's first year in charge has again been infused with early round draft picks.
The Vikings are for once poised to make some on-the-field noise, in contrast to the series of rackets that have occurred in recent seasons off of it.
As much as they can under the rarely satisfied watch of their devoted yet demanding head coach, the players have embraced the positive vibes surrounding their arrival at training camp.
For a team that won only 31 games over the past five years, with only one playoff season in that span, this is a refreshing change.
''There've been years that we haven't had these expectations, and it's not quite as fun,'' said linebacker Chad Greenway, who's started his 10th season.
''Obviously, it's nice to be sitting in a situation where everyone is excited for the team, excited about the direction of the organization.''
Here are some key story lines to know about the Vikings this season:
SPRY PETERSON: Despite his initial disinterest in resuming his career in Minnesota, Peterson has rejoined the team with the assurance he'll make $13 million this year even if he were to get hurt as well as a fresh wave of determination to prove his worth, status and ability at age 30.
Factoring in the unexpected season-long break for his body from the wear and tear of the position, Peterson ought to be primed for a strong performance after fallout from the child abuse case he was involved in that limited him to one game and 21 carries.
''Of course not being able to participate and play with my guys hurt, but just being around my family and being able to relax and let the body rest was awesome, so I'm excited to get back out there and get back into the swing of things,'' Peterson said.
WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE: Bridgewater's apprenticeship lasted less than three games into his first year, when Matt Cassel broke his foot and needed season-ending surgery. His touchdown (14) and interception (12) totals and yards per attempt average (7.3) were nothing special, but his completion rate (64.4) was the third-highest in NFL history for a rookie. Most importantly, he showed the Vikings plenty of confidence and poise.
''Obviously we don't have to worry about that position right now. It's good. That position is such a difficult position, such an important position, in our league in the NFL that it's nice to go into camp knowing that this is our guy,'' Zimmer said.
BLOCKING BETTER: The offensive line was one of the biggest problems last season, and season-ending injuries for right guard Brandon Fusco in September and right tackle Phil Loadholt in November only worsened the situation. Left tackle Matt Kalil's struggles drew the most attention, but the entire group will be under pressure to pave the way for Peterson and keep Bridgewater from getting banged up. Fusco has moved to the left side, with Mike Harris the early leader in the competition at right guard.
STILL GOING STRONG? With safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings will likely have five starters on defense from their past four drafts. That doesn't include cornerback Trae Waynes, their first-round selection this year, who will certainly get plenty of playing time.
One of the keys to this group, though, will be the ability of Greenway, defensive end Brian Robison and cornerback Terence Newman to perform this season beyond their ages (combined years: 101) in addition to being savvy leaders. Robison has started his ninth season with the team. Newman is in his 13th year in the NFL, his first with Minnesota after signing as a free agent.
POSITIONS OF IMPORTANCE: Kendricks has to earn the starting job, with Audie Cole also in competition, but the second-round draft pick from UCLA was acquired with solidifying a middle linebacker position that has been in flux for the past several years. The other spot under scrutiny is at safety, opposite Smith, where incumbent Robert Blanton is being challenged by Antone Exum, Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris.
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