5 storylines for 2014

The Vikings have a lot of confidence heading into the regular season and have been building momentum after a 4-0 preseason. But these are the lingering storylines that will be critical to their regular-season success if they are answered positively.

It’s been eight months since the Vikings new coaching staff was selected and they inherited a team that had double-digit losses in two of the previous three seasons. The first true glimpse of where the Vikings stand with the new coaching staff and altered personnel will emerge on Sunday as the Vikings face the St. Louis Rams.

There are going to be a lot of storylines for the team – not just Sunday, but throughout the first month of the season – that will be the telltale signs of whether the Vikings are playoff contenders or pretenders. Each one will be important in its own right, but collectively they will make the difference between success or mediocrity for the Vikings.

There are dozens of little questions heading into the season, but these are the primary unknowns that need to get answered.

1. Storming the Cassel – Matt Cassel is tired of constantly being asked about potentially looking over his shoulder at rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Despite being re-signed, Cassel hasn’t earned the ability to have two or three garbage games in a row (see Eli Manning) and still not be in danger of being replaced. As long as Vikings fans keep “TED-DY!” the leash is going to be short and Cassel’s neck will be sore from looking over his shoulder. Bridgewater is the future, but Cassel is the present and he wants to keep it that way.

2. Barr None – Bridgewater has been getting the lion’s share of attention, but the rookie who will be making the most immediate impact is Anthony Barr. The Vikings have big plans for the athletic linebacker and plan to use him in several different ways. What those are will begin to unfold Sunday.

3. Trench Warfare – The Vikings have numerous changes on the defensive line – Brian Robison is the only returning starter from last year – and the Rams have a very good offensive line, so good that No. 2 2014 draft pick Greg Robinson is going to start the season as a backup. Zimmer’s defense is predicated on getting a push up front – whether in run blocking and pass rushing. The Rams will be a good barometer as to where they’re at and what can be expected of them.

4. Secondary Is Primary – The Vikings struggled badly with their defensive backs last year, a bad situation that got worse when Harrison Smith was injured and lost for half the season. Smith and Xavier Rhodes have the potential to be top-notch defenders, but the rest of the group will collectively need to step up its game to make a significant difference.

5. Laying It On the (O) Line – All five starters on the offensive line are returning to their positions, but there are several questions that have to be answered before there will be much in the way of confidence in them. Matt Kalil took a backward step in his second season and needs to return to the form he showed as a rookie in 2012 and the guard play needs to improve or David Yankey may find himself pushing his way into the lineup. In their third year together as a group, there may be as much pressure on this group as any on the team.

The Vikings enter the 2014 season convinced they have the ammunition to win the war in the NFC North. Whether they’re being realistic will play itself out over the next four months, but if they can come up with definitive answers to these five lingering questions, they might have what it takes to make a return to the postseason in January.

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.

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