For the Minnesota Vikings, bettering last season will be a challenge.
Another seven-win improvement? That's mathematically impossible, since they went 10-6 last year.
Yes, unpredictability abounds in the NFL, but on the surface their schedule also has the potential to be more difficult with a home game moved to London. The eight opponents they face on the road finished a combined 73-55 in 2012, and four of them made the playoffs.
Oh, and as good as the MVP award winner Adrian Peterson is at running the ball, well, there's no precedent in league history for consecutive 2,000-yard seasons. Plus, after sneaking up on some teams last year, the Vikings will surely be taken more seriously by their foes this fall.
"You're not just anointed because you had a good year last year," linebacker Chad Greenway said.
But so far, at least before any of the games are played to judge their progress, they're very much on track. There were no offseason arrests or other off-the-field problems. No injuries to key players have lingered into late July or popped up right before training camp. Everyone signed their contracts on time, including first-round draft picks Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarelle Patterson on Thursday morning in the hours before players headed to Minnesota State University to report for duty.
Championships aren't won in the summer, but they can be lost. New England, for one, had a sobering major setback, with the murder charge against now-former tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, speaking to reporters upon his arrival at MSU, the team's training camp home for 48 years, promised to praise his players at the introductory meeting on Thursday evening for staying out of offseason trouble.
"I don't think you take that for granted. I don't. I'm going to talk with them about that and what we have to get done going forward, but I think it's important," Frazier said. "I think that's a major part of having a chance to be successful in this league as you are changing the culture of a football team."
Frazier smiled as he mentioned not receiving any recent calls from executive director of player development Les Pico, who oversees legal affairs.
"When I saw him yesterday, I said, ‘Not one time did I see your name flash up on my phone when I picked up this summer,' and I said, ‘That's a good thing,'" Frazier said. "It hasn't always been the case, so I'm encouraged by that."
The status of Peterson isn't an issue this year, after he recovered from reconstructive surgery on his left knee to rush for 2,097 yards, the second-most in league history. Even center John Sullivan, who had microfracture surgery on his left knee over the winter, is practicing.
Only wide receiver Greg Childs, who tore both patellar tendons in training camp last year, and undrafted linebacker Nate Williams were placed on the physically unable to perform list to start. Any contribution this season from Childs, though, will be a bonus given his career-threatening injury.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop will be one of the players under the most scrutiny, considering he didn't sign with the Vikings until June, shortly after being cut by Green Bay and didn't play last year because of a torn right hamstring. Frazier said Bishop would start at the weak side position, with Erin Henderson – the starter last season at the weak side spot – remaining in the middle where he played all spring.
Wearing a t-shirt with the image of a chess piece — the bishop, of course — the 29-year-old spoke glowingly of the Vikings in explaining his decision to join his former rival.
"It just felt like a really smooth, professional operation, and I'm looking forward to contributing," Bishop said.
Frazier's vision for these Vikings is a Super Bowl, a bold goal he wasn't planning to tiptoe around during his first address to the players. That's fine by them, with the memory of four straight victories to finish the 2012 regular season still fresh.
"We went into some tough places, got some tough road wins," Greenway said. "And that says a lot about your team. I think especially that time of year, it would have been just as easy to fold up and move on. But I think you always become a little bit about what your head coach is and what he's preaching and that's really what I think we became at the end of last year. He's going to lead us through another great camp this year, and we'll see how it goes."
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