NFL

Quarterback questions once again loom over Vikings in 2014

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Mike Hetherington, TSN.ca
8/28/2014 7:55:08 PM
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The Minnesota Vikings finished the 2013 season with a 5-10-1 record and a pressing question at quarterback.

Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman all started games for the Vikings in 2013. Ponder opened the season as the starter, but missed games due to injury before eventually returning and being benched due to ineffectiveness. Cassel stepped in as an injury replacement for Ponder in Weeks 4 and 6 and despite a 1-1 record, he was replaced by Freeman in Week 7. Freeman was signed in-season after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he struggled as the starter in Week 7 and spent the remainder of the season on the bench. Following a six-week stint where Ponder returned as the starter, Cassel closed the season as the team's No. 1.

Once again, the Vikings face questions at quarterback entering this season. Cassel will open Week 1 as the starter but will likely be on a short leash after the Vikings traded up in May's draft to select Teddy Bridgewater.

Mike Zimmer heads up a revamped coaching staff for the Vikings, which also now includes Norv Turner as the team's offensive coordinator.

Aside from the uncertainty at quarterback, Zimmer and Turner inherited an offence with plenty of skill. The Vikings hold one of the league's premier running backs in Adrian Peterson and one of the top young playmakers at wide receiver, in Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patterson made his biggest mark on special teams last season, earning a Pro Bowl spot with two returns for touchdowns and 10 returns of over 40 yards. He finished with an average of 32.4 yards per return. This season, however, Patterson looks to become more involved in the receiving game as he is listed as the starter opposite of veteran Greg Jennings on the Vikings depth chart. Patterson caught three passes for 71 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown, in the Vikings' Week 3 preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Vikings will also start the season with 2012 Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph in healthy. The six-foot-six tight end hauled in 30 passes for 313 yards in eight games last season before suffering a foot fracture that ended his season. The Vikings signed Rudolph to a five-year, $36.5 million extension in the offseason and he's expected to play a major role in Turner's tight end-friendly system.

On defence, look for Zimmer to improve the Vikings group that struggled mightily in 2013. Only the Dallas Cowboys gave up more yards than the Vikings last season and no team gave up more points. Zimmer was at the helm of a Bengals defence last season which ranked third in the league in yards allowed and fifth in points.
If Zimmer can implement change on defence and Vikings can garner consistent play from the quarterback position, the team should be able to improve on their 2013 season this year.

Notes

Replacing Allen: Come Week 1, the Vikings will open a season without pass rusher Jared Allen for the first time since 2007. Allen signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason after leading the Vikings with 11.5 sacks in 2013. The Vikings used their top pick in May's draft on linebacker Anthony Barr, who had 23.5 sacks in his last two college seasons.

Backing Peterson: For the previous four seasons, the Vikings have relied on Toby Gerhart to spell Peterson at running back. However, Gerhart signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason, leaving the Vikings with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon behind Peterson. Asiata rushed for a total of 166 yards on 44 carries in 11 games last season. McKinnon was drafted in the third round of this year's NFL Draft.

Matt Cassel (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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