As is often the case, it starts at the top. Head coach Leslie Frazier is heading into the second full season as the full-time head coach and in the second of a three-year contract. Owner Zygi Wilf has a new stadium on the horizon and appears to be buying into the Rick Spielman theory, where the Vikings are content to build for the future with young players. However, Wilf has shown in the past that he isn't always quite so patient with his head coaches.
Wilf fired Mike Tice after one season of that owner-coach partnership. He fired Brad Childress one year after giving him a lucrative extension when a 12-4 record and an NFC Championship Game appearance came crashing down hard with a 3-7 start in 2010 that left Childress on the outs in a power struggle in which he essentially released Randy Moss without notifying ownership or management before making his intentions public.
Frazier was put in a tough spot last year. After deciding that Childress' right-hand man, Darrell Bevell, wasn't an offensive coordinator he wanted to retain, Frazier hired Bill Musgrave, but the new coordinator wasn't allowed to implement his new offense with players until training camp because of the NFL lockout.
Like Wilf with Tice, Frazier also made a quick move to demote Fred Pagac from defensive coordinator back down to linebackers coach after only one season. So, once again, the Vikings will have a new defensive coordinator for the second time in two years (although the system is expected to stay relatively similar). Counting special teams, Alan Williams will be the fourth new coordinator over the last two years for the players.
Frazier was ranked the 27th among the 32 head coaches in the NFL by The Sporting News last week, and all five below him are either first-year full-time head coaches or interim coaches.
The analysis on Frazier's performance by The Sporting News was hardly deep, but likely pretty accurate: "If his second year doesn't go better than his first year, there probably won't be a third year," was all the analysis offered, predicting a 6-10 season to match the Vegas over-under projection on Vikings' wins in 2012.
The head coach is hardly the only figure in the crosshairs this year.
Christian Ponder is coming off a very average season. He was Spielman's choice in the 2011 draft and will get every chance to mature into the desired "quarterback of the future" the Vikings have been searching for ever since Daunte Culpepper shredded his knee and his career in Carolina in 2005.
It may not all come together quickly in 2012, but Ponder has to at least show signs of improvement with a revamped offensive line that is younger, more athletic and included No. 4 overall draft pick Matt Kalil at left tackle. Ponder has also been given many more weapons than he had previously. The wide receiver stable is full of young horses this year with the addition of Jerome Simpson – in a one-year prove-it contract himself – and intriguing rookies Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. One or two of those options should combine to take some of the pressure off Percy Harvin.
Defensively, there are many options (pick anyone in the defensive backfield), but perhaps no one will be under the microscope as much as middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, the current favorite to take over for E.J. Henderson, another victim of the Minnesota youth movement. Brinkley has indicated that his familiarity with the defense won't be an issue. Williams is expected to run essentially the same Tampa-2 base system as the Vikings have since 2006, and Brinkley has been part of since being drafted in 2009. It was at the end of his rookie season that he capably took over for an injured Henderson, starting the final four games of the regular season and two playoff games. Familiarity with the system might not be an issue, but execution in a full-time capacity still has to be proven.
The Vikings were ranked 31st in ESPN's post-draft power rankings, perhaps an admission that coaching isn't the only thing that is called into question when evaluating the Vikings' chances this year.
There are plenty of moving parts with Frazier's roster. Veterans have been cut loose at pace reminiscent of Dennis Green's big purge in the early 1990s when he took over as head coach. This time around, it isn't the call of the head coach. Spielman is in charge of the roster, but if the players who are looking to "prove it" in 2012 don't, it could be Frazier paying the price.
"I don't know why these people dress up like this, but there is a demand," Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels said, referring to fans dressed up in Viking garb attending the city council meeting last week.
The fan participation has been acknowledged by team officials and political leaders alike. But, now that they have gotten their way and had their voice heard, will they follow up with an e-mail of thanks to those that voted for the $975 million project?
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.