Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Training camp report date: Rookies and veterans, July 28.
Training camp location: Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota.
Offseason in a nutshell: Last year's Vikings were the best football team Minnesota has seen since the Brad Childress/Brett Favre-led unit that lost to the Saints in the 2009 NFC title game. This incarnation has so much more hype, thanks to the enticing young core, fiery head coach and bulky defensive line. So what is different about 2016? Minnesota theoretically could have one of the best offensive lines in football this year -- an important vehicle to maximize the remaining years of Adrian Peterson's prime. Alex Boone -- one of the tougher run-blockers in the NFL -- and former Bengals first-round pick Andre Smith both signed up to join mainstays Matt Kalil and the seemingly undefeatable John Sullivan, who plans to play in 2016 after missing the entire 2015 season with a back injury.
Player to watch: Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. The Vikings might not have much need for three-receiver sets if all goes according to plan with the offensive line. (Last year on first-and-10, the Vikings were almost as likely to go with a two-tight end formation as they were a three-wide formation, with the three-wide formation just slightly edging out double-tight, 130 to 123. They ran more than 50 percent of the time on first-and-10.) Treadwell is one person who might be able to get them to alter their approach. As much as the Vikings will pound the football, the hope is that Teddy Bridgewater takes another step forward and can make the combination of Treadwell, Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright hell for opposing defensive coordinators.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:
1. Who wins each of the high-profile O-line gigs?
The Vikings have an open battle at center between Sullivan and Joe Berger, and they're pitting Phil Loadholt against Andre Smith for the right tackle job. In each case, the team could move on from the incumbent without much of a financial penalty (Sullivan and Loadholt would account for less than $2.5 million in dead money if they were released), even if it would make more sense to retain all their best talent as a safeguard against injury. While training camp tends to allow for these situations to work themselves out naturally, we should have an early indication of preference.
The Vikings have shown they don't care much about a rookie lagging behind, and they will continuously throw resources at their biggest problems instead of waiting for a development that might never come. Trae Waynesfound that out the hard way, falling to the margins during a disappointing rookie season, and Patterson, who recently admitted that he needs to work harder and sometimes felt entitled as a first-round pick, is about to. Treadwell's youth should leave the window slightly cracked for Patterson, but the Vikings' offense looks ready to move on, with or without him.
Just like quarterbacks can squeeze new life out of their careers by working in new offensive wrinkles, so can running backs. How's this for a Mike Zimmer stat? The Vikings were third in the NFL in runs straight up the middle (157 attempts) and ran up the gut 100 times more than they ran behind or around any offensive lineman, with the exception of right tackle (66 plays off RT). A more improved unit could lead to more diversity in Peterson's run locations and could free up the Vikings legend for more yards downfield.
Way-too-early season prediction: The NFC North is one of the few divisions with two legitimate heavyweights primed to duke it out. The Vikings are better than their 12-win counterparts from 2009, so what does that lead us to believe about this season? Assuming Bridgewater continues to improve, there's no reason this Vikings team can't win between 11 and 13 games.