A year later, Vikings’ mood is different

At the Vikings locker room cleanout, the mood was a stark change from a year ago. There is more stability and more hope this time around.

To hear Vikings players talking about the end of the 2014 season, you would have thought that the team finished better than 7-9 with all seven victories coming against teams with losing records.

The reality was that the Vikings had a much different outlook a year ago at getaway day for the players. It was a surreal experience then. When the locker room opened to the media, players were initially supporting head coach Leslie Frazier, who was rumored to potentially be a Black Monday candidate.

After a horrible start to the season, the Vikings finished the final six games with a record of 3-2-1 – the best record in a division that limped to the finish wire – and included victories over Detroit and Chicago and a tie with the Packers. There was some hope among the players that Frazier would be back and it was a sentiment that permeated the locker room.

About halfway into the open locker room session, the dynamic changed as word came down that Frazier had been fired. Suddenly, the comments went from ones of hope to a eulogy for their former coach.

This year, there was a much different vibe in the Vikings locker room. The malaise of the previous year was reason for concern for players and fans. There was going to be a new head coach coming in. There was no consensus as to who the starting quarterback would be. Players didn’t know if there would be any organizational loyalty to players once the new coaching staff came in. It was clear that veterans like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams were going to be the latest victims of a youth movement that was afoot.

In short, there were a lot more questions than answers.

Flash forward a year and just the opposite is true. The Vikings know that the Mike Zimmer-led Vikings are going to have stability in the coaching staff. More importantly, there is no question who will be the team’s quarterback moving forward. It’s Teddy Time.

“The difference is night and day,” safety Harrison Smith said. “We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to this season, but we’ve seen progress on both sides of the ball. As a defense, we’re not there yet, but we’ve seen progress and I think everybody has bought into what we’re doing and looking forward to coming back and taking what we’ve learned and improving on it.”

The same is true on the offensive side of the ball, where the improvement that was seen under Teddy Bridgewater over the last month of the season was tangible. While the specter of what will happen with Adrian Peterson still hangs over the team, there is a feeling that the Vikings are clearly heading in the right direction with their young QB at the center of it all.

“There was a change that we saw over the last five or six games with Teddy and the offense as a group,” offensive tackle Matt Kalil said. “There was a lot more confidence and we were playing physical Vikings football like we have for years. There is reason to look up because there is going to be improvement.”

A 7-9 record doesn’t get anyone overly excited because it’s still a long way from being a Super Bowl contender. But with a handful of defensive playmakers ready to rise to the top of their respective positions, a young team with key players just entering the primes of their careers and a quarterback who has the look of being a legitimate franchise-type guy, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic.

The Vikings haven’t come out the other side of the tunnel just yet, but they can see the light on the other side. You couldn’t have said that a year ago. There is still is a long way to go for the Vikings to topple the Packers from the top of NFC North hill, but the momentum needle is pointing in the right direction, which is always the first step to accomplishing a long-term goal.

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