There was a sense of enthusiasm at the end of the Vikings’ 2014 season, despite a 7-9 record. Considering what the team went through with injuries and lost time in the lineup by key players, it’s a relative miracle that Mike Zimmer’s gang didn’t have a dozen or so losses. Given the amount (and quality) of players that were out of the lineup, the fact that the Vikings were relevant in December was nothing short of stunning.
Maybe it takes a little bit of hindsight to appreciate what the Vikings endured in 2014 and somehow came out the other side with optimism on the horizon. It hit both sides of the ball and the losses came in bunches.
QUARTERBACK – All three QBs started for the Vikings last year. Matt Cassel was supposed to be the bridge to Teddy Bridgewater, but that went up in smoke early in Week 3 when Cassel suffered a broken foot. Christian Ponder made what is likely his final Vikings start in Week 5 at Green Bay. From that point on, it was Teddy Time and he showed the rest of the NFL that his future was now his present and the future looks a lot brighter than it did at the start of the season.
RUNNING BACK – We all know the story by now. Adrian Peterson started the opener and wasn’t heard from after that. Matt Asiata got the call and responded with 10 touchdowns, while rookie Jerick McKinnon won the starting job before injuries forced the job back on Asiata, with Joe Banyard coming in as a change-of-pace guy. It took three guys to replace A.P., but, all things considered, it wasn’t the Ground Zero so many expected.
WIDE RECEIVER – There were no season-ending injuries here, but dings to Greg Jennings and ineffective play from Cordarrelle Patterson led to five different receivers starting games – Jennings, Patterson, Jarius Wright, Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen. There are still plenty of question marks, but there is reason for optimism that, if healthy and effective, the Vikings have the potential to break out the deep bomb weaponry next year – even more so if the team uses the 11th pick of the draft on a deep-threat college talent like Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker or Kevin White.
TIGHT END – Big things were expected of Kyle Rudolph when the Norv Turner offense got cleared for takeoff. But Rudolph went down after three games and missed the next seven games. Robbed of its star talent, like the offense did with the running back position (and, it can be argued, quarterback), the Vikings made it work. Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford both stepped up – Ellison ended up starting all seven games Rudolph missed and Ford made five starts. With Rudolph back, the Vikings now have three players with a proven track record to draw from and mix and match.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Perhaps no signal to the success or failure of an offense exists more than how many different lineups the offensive line employs. In 2009, all five guys were the same every week. In 2012, same story. In 2014, only Matt Kalil and John Sullivan started all 16 games. Vladimir Ducasse started six games at guard (four on the right side, two on the left), Joe Berger started nine at right guard and Mike Harris started five at right tackle. They started five different line combinations in front of a rookie QB and held up pretty well, all things considered.
DEFENSIVE LINE – This group actually held up pretty well, with Everson Griffen earning his new contract and Linval Joseph and Brian Robison both starting all 16 games. But the line didn’t get through unscathed. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was out twice, allowing both Tom Johnson and rookie Shamar Stephen to get additional playing time. Both carved out a role on the defense.
LINEBACKER – Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr both missed four games due to injury, pushing Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole into action, both of whom had some big games along the way in relief.
As the Vikings prepare for the 2015 season, they do so with the needle pointing up and better times appearing to be on the horizon. If the team can stay healthy, who knows what’s possible? They couldn’t have had many more injuries than they had last season and somehow they made it through with a lot of players who were viewed as backups when the 2014 season began. If the team remains largely intact in 2015, better times should be ahead.
With health, how good could Vikings be?
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