Like a mid-day summer's sun through a magnifying glass, the heat is focused on Christian Ponder. No Vikings player will have as much scrutiny on him as the third-year quarterback. But if a quarterback really does receive too much credit and too much blame, then who are the other players among the 50 remaining that should be watched intently in 2013?
From newbies to seasoned veterans, here are six players that can help take the pressure off Ponder, head coach Leslie Frazier and a host of others under the spotlight by stepping up their game and seizing control of their opportunity.
With three on offense and three on defense, here is our six-pack to watch on the opening version of the 53-man roster:
WR Jerome Simpson – Hardcore, year-round followers will remember his highlight catch during last year's offseason, but that was only one of dozens of times Simpson flashed his impressive athletic skills before a three-game suspension was followed by 12 games of frustration when his body wouldn't respond like it had only months earlier. So this is it. This is Simpson's make-or-break year with the Vikings, maybe with the NFL. He has told us time and again after the past eight months that he wants to prove himself worthy of a long-term contract. Simpson is capable of producing a 1,000-yard season, but that's not likely to happen with a run-first Vikings offense that is trying to have Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson to be the future of the receiving corps. Simpson is a starter for now, but a big season could set him up for a multi-year contract … more than likely with another team if his performance warrants too much money.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – The flashes of stardom from Patterson haven't happened often in the full view of preseason games, but Adrian Peterson cautioned that the Vikings have been holding a lot back on offense in general. Some of that involves Patterson, who will be used on end-arounds, bubble screens and deep down the field. Who does that remind you of? He may not have the sudden explosiveness of Percy Harvin, but Patterson is a bigger target that can battle for the ball downfield, too. In years to come, he could be one of the most consistent 100-yards-per-game producers in the past decade of Vikings football.
TE John Carlson – By all objective accounts, Carlson was a bust in his first season as a Viking. Health issues and lack of familiarity played a big role in that disappointment, but bigger production is planned with him after he restructured his contract to stay with his home-state Vikings. He won't ever be Kyle Rudolph, his counterpart tight end that was touted here as being underrated in his first season before breaking out last year with a Pro Bowl performance, but Carlson should be able to contribute a couple catches a game, which is far better than last year when he averaged a half a catch per game.
LB Desmond Bishop – The Vikings didn't sign Bishop to be a backup and Bishop didn't sign with the intention of that. More and more as the preseason progressed, he proved why the Vikings were interested in him even before the Packers officially released him. Expect him to have the starting job in hand before bye week, maybe even opening week. His hard-line pursuit to the ball and ability as a blitzer are too good to keep on the bench when the base defense is out on the field.
LB Erin Henderson – When the Vikings initially signed Bishop, it was thought to signal the return of Henderson to the weak side. Not so fast, Henderson cautioned. He was right. He looks like a natural at middle linebacker. He doesn't have the instincts his brother, E.J., did at the position … yet. But Erin brings more athleticism and a big desire to command respect. The level of concern at middle linebacker now is minimal as long as Henderson is healthy.
CB Xavier Rhodes – Assessments are mixed with rookie Rhodes. The first-round cornerback fits the profile the Vikings desire – size with enough speed to recover. But how often will he need to recover? That will be the interesting aspect to watch as his aggressive, physical nature at the line of scrimmage can sometimes cost him if he misses when pressing in the first five yards. If he can avoid that mistake, he should be fine, but you had better believe that the accomplished list of impressive quarterbacks the Vikings face will target him with a flurry.
A practice squad player cannot have more than two previous seasons on a practice squad, or, if he does, his team has to have 53 players on the active roster for the entire season during his third season on the practice.
Spending three games on the practice squad is deemed as having served a season on the practice squad in a player's first two years on the practice squad. Third-year practice squad players only have to spend one game on that squad for it to be considered a third accrued season there.
They can't have an accrued season of NFL experience and or have to have fewer than nine regular-season games on the active list during their only accrued season.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.