The Detroit Lions will host the Minnesota Vikings to kick off the 2013 season in week one with the return trip to Minneapolis scheduled for week 17. The two teams took steps in completely opposite directions with the Lions following up their 10-6 2011 season with a disappointing 4-12 mark while the Vikings made an unexpected run to the playoffs.
To get a feel for the Vikings side of the preparations for the 2013 season, I got together with Dan Zinksi of The Viking Age for a Q&A. Here are my questions followed by his answers.
1. How would you assess the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do through the draft and free agency?
Did the Vikings truly address all their needs? It’s too early to say. That sounds like a cop-out answer but in fact it’s the only honest answer. They targeted players at their need positions, sure, but did they pick the right guys? Obviously they had to address wide receiver after the Percy Harvin trade, and they made a splashy signing by picking up Greg Jennings. He’s a solid veteran who will be a big help to Christian Ponder. But after that it’s not like they spent a ton of money bringing in can’t-miss free agents. Desmond Bishop was the biggest signing after Jennings and he’s a major question mark. Some of the guys they brought back like Jerome Simpson and Erin Henderson are also question marks. Draft-wise, it’s even more uncertain. Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson all have a chance to be good players. But there’s also a chance that none of them will be starting come opening day. There’s a ton of uncertainty with this roster right now. Fans seem to be getting caught up in the potential of these players but realistically, we are a long way from knowing if these moves will pay off. You gave up two pretty reliable veterans in Antoine Winfield and Percy Harvin and their production will be hard to replace. And guys like Kevin Williams and Jared Allen are clearly on the downside.
2. Which Rookie are you most excited to see play in 2013 and why?
I’m going with Cordarrelle Patterson. We keep hearing all about his explosive talent. He has the moves of Percy Harvin and the size and speed of Randy Moss. He is destined to be the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. Easy to get hyperbolic in OTAs and minicamp. Let’s at least see this guy in a real training camp session before we crown him.
3. What is the biggest question that still needs to be answered heading into training camp?
The linebacker situation is certainly the biggest issue. Desmond Bishop was brought in to beat out Erin Henderson at the Mike. Henderson is a decent Will but I don’t think anyone believes he can play the middle consistently. Also, how does rookie Gerald Hodges fit in? Hodges is a former safety who has some coverage skills. The Vikes ultimately want this guy playing for his coverage ability but it’s obvious they are in no rush to get him in there. Right now you have two linebacker positions up in the air. You’re going to need all of training camp and possibly the preseason to get that whole thing sorted out. The only other major camp battle involves right guard where the underwhelming Brandon Fusco is up against rookie Jeff Baca. Oh and of course Adrian Peterson is in a ton of trouble at running back. Or not.
4. What are your expectations for the team in 2013?
I really don’t know what to expect. 2012 was such a weird season. It’s not often you can win 10 games and make the playoffs with such mediocrity at quarterback. Of course Adrian Peterson was overwhelmingly great, which made up for the poor play at quarterback. And in the early part of the year you had Percy Harvin playing at an MVP level. And the defense got better as the season wore on and DC Alan Williams got more familiar with his personnel. I think 2013 hinges on a few things. Can AD have another dominating season? Can the defense continue to get better with the new additions to the roster and Williams’ evolving scheme which figures to move away from Cover-2 and incorporate more press-man looks? And of course most importantly, can Christian Ponder take the next step? Ponder is the great unknown in this. I think most people agree the Vikings won in spite of him last year. Can he truly become a leader this year and begin to use the weapons the team has put around him? Or is he destined to remain inconsistent, sometimes a help to his team but just as often a liability? It’s all about Ponder. That’s why, to me, it’s hard to get a read on what this team will do. 10-6 would not shock me. But 6-10 would not shock me either.
5. Right here, right now, are you marking down the game against the Lions as a win, loss or toss-up?
It’s the Lions so a Vikings sweep is always a possibility. We just own the Lions as everyone knows. But there’s one little factor this year that has me a little worried. Reggie Bush. The Vikes have had a ton of trouble with this guy in the past. If the Lions can get the ball in his hands, he can be a major weapon for them. Having him out there with Megatron makes the Lions’ offense potentially scary. Then again, you look at Matthew Stafford and realize he’s probably not that good despite the gaudy stats. The Vikes don’t seem to have any trouble containing him. So I guess I’ll go out on a limb and predict two Vikings victories.
For more on the Vikings, check out The Viking Age.