Those malaise days are over, but the rebuilding process is going to take time. It would be one thing if the Vikings were in the NFC West, where mediocrity gets its mail. They're in the NFC North, where two of the teams have been to conference title games in the last 15 months and the other made the playoffs last year after putting up the first 16-game 0-fer in NFL history. The process has to be taken in baby steps. When the preseason predictions are made, don't be shocked to see analysts routinely picking the Vikings to lose 10 or 11 games, despite a favorable schedule.
It's never a good thing when too many rookies start. It means you're undergoing a significant overhaul if you have more than a couple stepping in. In 2011, the Vikings saw five rookies start at least one game – Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard, Brandon Burton and Mistral Raymond. Considering that the 2010 season started with a draft in which the Vikings were convinced they were returning all 22 starters, the dichotomy was pronounced.
So, how many 2012 rookies are going to end up in starting roles? There may be five again, but this time it will be different than in 2011, when none of the five eventual starters was envisioned in that role when the lockout ended.
Two players – left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith – are locks to be starters barring injuries between now and Week 1 of the 2012 regular season. That's already two more than were anticipated to start last year, but may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Cornerback Josh Robinson is going to a playmaker. He may make rookie mistakes and end up on other team's highlight films chasing down a receiver after getting burned, but he's a playmaker who may end up forcing his way into the starting lineup.
Seeing that Rudolph and John Carlson aren't blocking tight ends, Rhett Ellison could see a lot of playing time and, if the Vikings come out to start a game looking to run the ball down an opponent's throat, he may well be credited with several starts if he's in on the particular first-play formation. You can almost bet he will get at least one start for that reason alone if he proves himself early.
Between wide receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, both will be fighting for a starting spot. Last year, Devin Aromashodu, Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins and Greg Camarillo all played key roles in the pass offense at one point or another. Berrian won't be back. Camarillo hasn't been re-signed and open spots are available. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for one or both of them to start at some point in the season.
Six and counting.
While CB Robert Blanton, LB Audie Cole and DE Trevor Guyton aren't expected to be starters, sixth-round kicker Blair Walsh may end up beating out Ryan Longwell. If that happens, you have seven.
Is that too many rookies to start in one season? Yes. But, if they live up to expectations, Vikings fans will look back to 2012 as the genesis of something fresh, and it may be the start of success.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.