QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Christian Ponder. Backups — Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels.
Ponder remains the team's quarterback of the future, despite his regression throughout his 10 starts to close the season. Ponder has a lot to learn and will benefit from staying in town and getting the offseason tutelage that he missed because of last year's NFL lockout. Ponder tends to hold the ball too long, focus on one receiver and try to force balls into windows that close quickly in the NFL. He's got the personality, work ethic and intelligence to make significant strides with a better supporting cast in Year 2.
Webb is one of the best athletes on the team and will factor into the offense in some fashion. He's an electric scrambler with speed and a strong arm. He outplayed Ponder down the stretch in 2011, but won't become the starter. The fact he will play in some capacity as the team expands on its "Blazer" package means the Vikings will need a veteran No. 3 guy who can move quickly to No. 2 if Webb is injured. This makes Rosenfels an attractive option to re-sign. Rosenfels, who was signed late in the season, would know the offense from Day 1 in camp.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Toby Gerhart, FB Ryan D'Imperio. Backups — Lorenzo Booker, Caleb King, Jordan Todman. Injured reserve — Adrian Peterson.
Obviously, Gerhart is the starter only if Peterson can't make it back from major knee surgery in time for the regular season opener. The team says eight months is a realistic goal for Peterson's return from surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. Gerhart, meanwhile, damaged his MCL in a much more minor injury during the season finale against the Bears.
Gerhart is no Peterson, but he did show much promise as a dependable backup when Peterson was out with a high ankle sprain and the knee injury late in the season. Gerhart averaged 4.9 yards on 109 carries and proved to be a nice target out of the backfield with 23 catches, three of them for touchdowns. Peterson was stopped short of 1,000 yards (970) for the first time in his career. But he was having another All-Pro-caliber season before injuries took him down. He'll attack his rehab like he attacks defenders, but an injury of this magnitude is reason for concern as to whether he'll be as good as he was before. Booker, a restricted free agent, has fallen out of favor after showing promise in 2010. He fumbles too much and carried the ball only 13 times this season. King was promoted from the practice squad for the final game, but did not play. Todman was signed before the regular-season finale but also didn't play in the final game.
King is a raw rookie who likely will end up back on the practice squad next year. D'Imperio was a college linebacker selected in the seventh round in 2010. So he's still far from being a polished blocker. He's average, at best, but he is a hard worker and a good locker room presence.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups — Jim Kleinsasser, Kyle Rudolph, Mickey Shuler.
Shiancoe is an unrestricted free agent who isn't expected to be re-signed. Kleinsasser has retired after 13 seasons. Rudolph, the team's second-round draft pick in 2011, had a promising rookie season and is ready to become the primary receiving tight end on the roster. He has the size (6-6, 258), speed and big, soft hands to present matchup problems for defenders. He'll more than double his 26 catches he had this season. Shiancoe can still play, but he'll be 32 next season. That's too old for a rebuilding team with holes throughout the roster.
Kleinsasser will be sorely missed. He's still one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, if not the best. He could still seal the edge and provide push at the point of attack. Rudolph and Shuler aren't blocking tight ends. Neither is Allen Reisner, a rookie who bounced between the active roster and the practice squad in 2011. Shuler was active for only one game, the season finale, but didn't play because he sprained an ankle in practice.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Percy Harvin, Devin Aromashodu. Backups — Greg Camarillo, Emmanuel Arceneaux. Injured reserve — Michael Jenkins, Stephen Burton.
Harvin was the only legitimate starting-caliber receiver left on the 53-man roster when the season ended. And he's a small but tough slot receiver who's more suited as a No. 2- or No. 3-type threat. He caught a career-high 87 passes for 967 yards and six touchdowns. No one else on the receiver-depleted roster had more than 38 catches. The team desperately needs to find a legitimate No. 1 receiver that can play outside and create mismatches down the field. Jenkins is a big receiver, but doesn't have the speed or ball skills to be that mismatch. Because of a knee injury, he played only 11 games. Yet he still finished second on the team in catches with 38. He can help the team in 2012, but only as a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver.
Aromashodu is an unrestricted free agent and isn't a priority for a team that needs a major upgrade in talent at the position. Camarillo, an aging slot receiver, also is a free agent and won't be brought back. Emmanuel Arceneaux, a former CFL star, doesn't stand out and will be a long shot to make the team. Burton, a rookie who played in three games, did nothing to distinguish himself. Other than Harvin and Jenkins, the team could dump the entire position and start over.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Charlie Johnson, LG Joe Berger, C John Sullivan, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Phil Loadholt. Backups — T Pat Brown, G/C Brandon Fusco, T/G DeMarcus Love. Injured reserve — LG Steve Hutchinson. G/T Scott Kooistra.
Hutchinson is the starter at left guard, but a concussion sidelined him for the last two games. He turns 35 and will undoubtedly have to take a pay cut from the $6.95 million that he's due in the final year of his contract. Add that all up and it casts some doubt over whether he'll be back in 2012. Berger is a reliable interior backup, but he's a better center than guard, and he's more of a backup than a 16-game starter at left guard.
Johnson was a last-minute stopgap when Bryant McKinnie was released on Day 2 of training camp. Johnson gives everything he has, but he's built more like a guard and is often overmatched at left tackle. Sullivan is still on the small side, but has improved enough that the team signed him to a four-year contract extension during the season. Herrera is a classic overachiever who never forgets that he was undrafted way back in 2004. He's a fiery competitor, but there are legitimate concerns about whether he can stay healthy after two injury-plagued seasons. Loadholt is the best physical specimen, but he's also the most inconsistent player up front, relative to his talent level. He gets at least one more year to live up to his second-round selection from 2009. Brown is a decent backup the team can live with considering its many needs. Fusco, a center at the Division II level, showed as a rookie that he can also play guard.
The gem of these backups might be the guy who basically red-shirted this season. Love was inactive for all 16 games, but coaches are excited about his ability to become a starter at left tackle or left guard. Kooistra was a journeyman who fractured a bone in his neck during a preseason game. He's not expected to return.
Positional review: Offense
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