Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 11/19/14

MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 22: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings rushes against the Seattle Seahawks at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 22, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

2011 was the start of the rebuilding project in Minnesota. Despite a 22 sack season from Jared Allen and 154 tackles from Chad Greenway, the Vikings offense saw three quarterbacks trade time and Adrian Peterson go down injured toward the end of the season.

Peterson has been working hard throughout the summer to return fit and healthy for 2012. While his recovery schedule is impressive, the Vikings will have to limit Peterson if they sense he is not ready. Peterson is the best back in the league, but if he is rushed into action before he is ready, the Vikings may further aggravate Peterson’s injury. As if that wasn’t enough, Peterson was taken to hospital for an allergic reaction that will ruin any preseason time the Vikings had hoped to give Peterson. Fans and fantasy owners alike will have to be cautious with their hopes for Peterson in 2012.

Coach Leslie Frazier will have to hope Christian Ponder, the second year QB who was taken in the first round of 2011 can spark the Vikings offense to life. He is the future of this team, and his receiving corps and backfield will have to step up to take the pressure off him. Minnesota selected to the top tackle in the draft to protect Ponder, adding one more powerful player to the roster. Make no mistake, the Vikings under one quarterback will be better that their 2011 campaign, but in a division with Green Bay and Detroit, any post-season dreams may have to put on hold.

2011 Record: 3-13

Head Coach: Leslie Frazier

Off. Cord: Bill Musgrave

Def. Cord: Alan Williams

Offense

Under Center

The Donovan McNabb experiment failed in spectacular fashion, proving a very poor replacement for Brett Favre. Wide receiver turned quarterback Joe Webb showed promise in the role, his athletic ability allowing him to escape even the fiercest of blitzes.

But the insertion of Ponder was inevitable. In his rookie season and limited time Ponder managed 1853 yards tossing 13 TDs but also giving up 13 INTs. In his sophomore year, Ponder will be called upon to lead this offense, with or without Peterson. He was considered a reach for the Vikings in the first round last year, but Frazier and the Vikings were very high on the Florida State product, and will hope he can show the skills that led to his selection. He will be called upon to show leadership qualities that his teammates will rally around and produce improved performances for him.

In the Backfield

If the fans are hoping Peterson can come back strong, then Christian Ponder is praying for it. Currently still dealing with the effects of an allergic reaction, Peterson must also contend with his recovery from an injury that cut his season, and his team’s chances short.

Peterson ran for 970 yards and 12 TDs last year. His strength combined with his speed strikes fear into every defender in his way, and can often beat 8 men in the box. The Vikings went oline in the first round this year. Not only was this move to help Ponder, but also to help Peterson.

Backup Toby Gerhart will get plenty of looks if Peterson is not good to go. Gerhart ran for 531 yards and one touchdown last year. Gerhart lacks pure speed, making up for it with above average power. He may not be the ideal replacement for an entire season if Peterson comes back and reinjures himself, but Gerhart will no doubt give 110% if he starts in 2012.

Pass Catchers

Ponder’s most dangerous receiver continues to be Percy Harvin with 967 yards and 6 TDs in 2011. Harvin’s speed demands respect from defenders, as he can stretch the field, but also take a screen play and turn it into a big gain.

Behind Harvin, the receiver corps doesn’t exactly fill one with fear, but Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins and newcomer Jerome Simpson will give Ponder options around the field and will take pressure off Harvin. Both Aromashodu and Jenkins didn’t pass 500 yards receiving in 2011 and only had 4 TDs between them while Simpson caught 4 TDs last year in CIncinnatti.

Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph may have only gained 249 yards and 3 TDs, but he showed glimpses of brilliance last year. The Vikings have adopted the two tight end philosophy made famous by New England, and in the offseason they signed former Seahawk John Carlson, they he may miss the first few weeks through injury.

The Big Uglies

With Adrian Peterson questionable for the start of 2012, the one thing a young quarterback, one who is expected to be the future of the team, needs is a solid offensive line. In 2011, Minnesota hardly protected their quarterbacks.

Allowing 46 sacks was good for joint 5th most in the league, a terrible decrease in quality from the previous couple of years. One reason maybe the absence of Steve Hutchinson, a player known as a brilliant blocker and even better teammate. He was released in 2012 and while no major attempt has been made to plug the hole at guard, the Vikings made their best move in the draft. Drafting USC tackle Matt Kalil, brother of Carolina’s Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, at number four was a smart move by Leslie Frazier, shoring up the left tackle position for the next decade.

Defense

Up Front

With Ray Edwards and Pat Williams no longer with the team, you’d be forgiven to think this unit would lose a step. Not one bit. Jared Allen exploded in 2011 recording 66 tackles, an interception and a whopping 22 sacks, half a sack away from Michael Strahan’s single season record. Kevin Williams also had a good season registering 5 sacks and 38 tackles.

Fifth year player Brian Robinson took over from Edwards and provided consistent pressure from the other side, managing 8 sacks, 44 tackles and forcing 3 fumbles. He will be expected to apply the same kind of pressure in 2012. Everson Griffin also sacked the quarterback 4 times proving the Vikings’ defensive line has the depth to overcome such drastic losses of personnel and will no doubt to continue to play at a high level.

Linebackers

Linebacker Chad Greenway missed his rookie season through injury, but ever since he stepped on the field as a Viking, he has steadily improved to the point where he is now one of the best linebackers in the league. Greenway proved this in 2011 with a 154 tackles and 2 sacks season.

He was joined in 2011 by E.J. Henderson, who himself had a 100 tackle season, but Henderson was released by the Vikings this summer, relinquishing their second best tackler in 2011. A Henderson still resides in Minnesota however with E.J.’s little brother Erin registering 70 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

With E.J. Henderson gone however, the Vikings will need to find a new middle linebacker. Seventh round draft pick Audie Cole will be fighting with Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Mitchell for the job, with the winner having the tough job of emulating the great play of Greenway and dominating any runs up the middle that get to the second level.

The Secondary

With only 8 INTs in 2011, the Vikings were joint last in the league in interceptions. Simply put, that is not acceptable. Antoine Winfield ended the year on the injured reserve list, while safety Jamarca Sanford did his best with 75 tackles and 2 INTs last year.

Leslie Frazier has noticed his secondary’s troubles and brought in players to solve the problem. Journeyman Chris Carr was brought in through free agency to try and replace new Redskin Cedric Griffin, while Frazier used their second and third picks in the draft on secondary players.

First round pick safety Harrison Smith has a reputation of an enforcer, and training camp attendees report of tussles between him and Percy Harvin. Smith is not one to back down, and that is the kind of attitude that will serve him well in 2012. Cornerback Josh Robinson joins Smith as a rookie who will be asked to play a lot this year.

Special Teams

Kick-off return duties were shared by three players in 2011; Percy Harvin, Lorenzo Booker and Marcus Sherels (who also was the team’s punt returner). The lone TD of all the returners came unsurprisingly from Percy Harvin who averaged 32.5 yards per return.

Harvin may continue returning, but as he strives to become a premier wideout, the Vikings may be wise to keep him fresh for the offense. Booker is no longer with the team, so Sherels may have to step up and take over both kick-off and punt returns in 2012.

NFC North veteran kicker Ryan Longwell was cut this summer after a mediocre 78.6% field goal accuracy in 2011. The Vikings hope rookie Blair Walsh, drafted in the 6th round, will be able to take over for Longwell and keep the scoreboard ticking over. Punter Chris Kluwe averaged 45.7 yards per punt last year and will hope to continue his form into 2012.

Analysis

The Vikings have had to rebuild since Brett Favre took them to the championship game in 2009. Christian Ponder, in his first full season as the starter will have good options at receiver to throw to, but if Adrian Peterson cannot come back strong and healthy, Ponder may find all sorts of pressure heaped on him with the offense’s success tied solely to him.

Jared Allen and Chad Greenway will once again lead a ferocious defense, one that will assault any quarterback inexperienced enough to hold onto the ball for too long. Minnesota’s first two levels are solid, while the secondary will need some time to rebuild.

Matt Kalil figures to restore some nastiness into an offensive line that has lost some of its swagger. They will be counted on a lot in 2012, to give Ponder enough time to go through his progressions, but also to pave highway sized holes for Gerhart, or the returning Peterson.

Leslie Frazier is a good coach who will hope to see his team improve in 2012. In an extremely tough division, in a conference teaming with wildcard contenders, Vikings’ fans may have to cool any expectation they have for 2012, and replace it with hope for the future.

Be sure to check out other great articles at Heavy in the Games.

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