Vikings offense: 5 curiosities at OTAs

The Vikings are just getting full practices started, meaning there is plenty to learn about the battle for spots on the depth chart. The big names will dominate headlines, but they might not be the most important players to watch.

No, the pads aren’t popping yet. That is reserved for training camp.

But with the first “real” practices incorporating veterans and rookies together, the start of organized team activities for the Minnesota Vikings are underway.

Big names create big interest, and that’s why Adrian Peterson’s absence from the start of OTAs will and has been generating the headlines. Peterson earned a $250,000 offseason participation bonus – based on his attendance at OTAs, minicamp and reporting to training camp on time – in two of the three years that bonus existed in his contract, according to CBS Sports.

But you know what year he didn’t earn it? The same year he earned NFL MVP, 2012, as he used the offseason to recover from December 2011 knee surgery. So as long as Peterson shows up for training camp, which is still two months away, the Vikings can at least hold out hope that he will be there for them when the season counts, if not be confident in that scenario, with them holding the hammer with his contract.

But beyond Peterson, there are several factors to watch this week as OTAs commence.

1. How is the line shaping up? Matt Kalil will be back in his left tackle spot, mostly recovered from another offseason surgery. But the big question is who will be next to him. Guard Brandon Fusco was emerging as one of the team’s best blockers before a Week 3 torn pectoral muscle ended his 2014 season far too prematurely. Head coach Mike Zimmer told the Star Tribune that that Fusco could be moved from right guard to left guard, next to Kalil, and that would create a more mobile left side of the line and open the competition at right guard for Fusco’s replacement there.

The idea is that collegiate right tackle T.J. Clemmings would be the frontrunner at right guard, and that would create a massive, mauling combination in conjunction with Phil Loadholt on the right side. But if not Clemmings, veteran swingman Joe Berger is a possibility. The open spot on the offensive line could be the most underrated battle on offense.

2. Can Cordarrelle compete? Cordarrelle Patterson has said all the right things this offseason, starting with his appearance at Teddy Bridgewater’s Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award during Super Bowl week. He’s been training hard in California, working on both his conditioning and his route-running. The latter was a major concern for coaches last year and eventually he was pulled from the starting lineup in favor of Charles Johnson, who wasn’t even on the Vikings roster when the season opened.

So can Patterson apply what he has learned and become a consistent, professional receiver in his third season? If that’s the case, very good things could be in store for him and the passing offense in 2015. If not, Jarius Wright and rookie Stefon Diggs are capable of gobbling up additional reps and even taking some of the carries on end-arounds that Patterson used to get.

3. Where is Pruitt’s place? Fifth-round pick MyCole Pruitt offers an interesting, versatile dynamic to the offense. He can be used as a traditional tight end, lined up wide or motioned into the backfield. Kyle Rudolph is still the top tight end on the roster, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner will have plenty of options to open up the playbook with Pruitt’s unique skill set.

Judging from rookie minicamp, Pruitt still needs to become more consistent catching ball. At times, he would make the spectacular catch and a few reps later drop the one he should have secured. If the bad plays are limited, he can become a real contributor in his rookie season.

4. Will Teddy take the next step? There is no doubting Teddy Bridgewater’s impressive rookie season. He had the third-highest completion percentage of any rookie quarterback in NFL history. But there were occasional struggles, too. After a fast start when he was inserted into the starting lineup following Matt Cassel’s season-ending foot injury, Bridgewater went through a stretch when he threw five interceptions in a two-game October stretch.

Still, Bridgewater ended the season with only 12 interceptions and 14 touchdowns after he quit trying to force the issue. In the final nine games, there was only one outing (against Detroit) in which he threw two interceptions. To his credit, he eschewed the rookie compliments and said he knew there was plenty for him to improve this offseason. This week will be the start of putting that into practice against a defense that is starting off with more blitz packages in place than it had last year at this time.

5. Without Peterson, what’s the backfield rotation? When Peterson was lost for the season with his legal issues last year, the Vikings initially turned to Matt Asiata. His starting job lasted only four games before then-rookie Jerick McKinnon was given the opportunity. McKinnon offered more explosiveness and produced two 100-yard rushing performances before a back injury ended his season.

So, without Peterson at OTAs, will McKinnon be the first tailback out of the huddle? That’s likely the case, but it goes beyond that in the backfield. Fullback Jerome Felton is gone, leaving fullback duties up to Zach Line, undrafted rookie Blake Renaud and maybe some Pruitt when those packages are implemented. Ultimately, the most likely and most-used backfield look in the regular season will be Peterson running alone, but OTAs will provide a look at the backup plan.

OTAs are just the beginning of implementation, but they provide an opportunity for Turner to start the installation with 10 practices that will closely resemble the first 10 of training camp from a schematic standpoint and get the newcomers acclimated early.

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