NFL camp preview: On balance, Vikings need less AP, more Ponder

The SportsXchange

MANKATO, Minn. -- As they report to training camp Thursday, then head out for their first full-squad workout Friday, the Minnesota Vikings want to keep their goals in perspective.

Running back Adrian Peterson, fresh off a near-record 2,098-yard season, wants to obliterate Eric Dickerson's NFL mark with 2,500 more this year.

To keep things in perspective, the Vikings hope that doesn't happen. Or at least isn't necessary.

The reigning league MVP is the greatest running back of his generation, and beyond. But a second straight 2,000-yard season might signal that quarterback Christian Ponder and last year's 31st-ranked passing game are still anchors hanging around Peterson's thick neck.

So the focus in training camp shouldn't be on Peterson, but rather on the wildly inconsistent Ponder and a revamped receiving corps that must come together quickly if the Vikings are to achieve the necessary balance needed to match or improve on last year's 10-6 record and wild-card playoff berth.

It won't be easy. Gone is Percy Harvin, the electric play-making receiver-returner, traded to Seattle when his relationship with the team dissolved beyond repair. Harvin was an early MVP front-runner last season before an ankle injury ended his season after nine games, but the Vikings did make a playoff push that included a 4-0 finish with Harvin long gone from the lineup.

Training camp and the preseason will provide a better indication as to whether former Packer Greg Jennings and raw rookie Cordarrelle Patterson have what it takes to make fans forget about Harvin. Jennings is a savvy route-runner with experience and deceptive speed, but he also turns 30 this season and has struggled with injuries the past two seasons. Patterson is a freakish athlete with tremendous potential, but may need a year to learn all the intricacies of the NFL game.

Defensively, the Vikings head into camp looking for more plays in the back seven. The kind of plays that should match the tremendous front-four pass rush the Vikings have had in recent years.

The linebackers have question marks across the board. Even strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway, the team's leading tackler the last five years, is coming off minor knee surgery that sidelined him in minicamp. Meanwhile, the secondary has a lot of promise, but also is without Antoine Winfield, its best player and veteran leader, for the first time in a decade.

Former Packer Desmond Bishop should start camp ahead of or beat out Erin Henderson at middle linebacker. Henderson spent the offseason in the middle, but should end up back on the weak side since Bishop was signed after the team had plenty of opportunities to evaluate Henderson as a middle linebacker in OTAs and minicamp.

Also, rookie Xavier Rhodes, the 25th overall draft pick this year, should step in at Winfield's old spot on the left side. Second-year pro Josh Robinson ran with the first team during the offseason, but Rhodes' talent will win out in camp. Robinson, however, is the front-runner for the nickel slot position that Winfield played in passing situations.

On special teams, the Vikings took a chance by discarding outspoken veteran punter Chris Kluwe (now with the Oakland Raiders) in favor of fifth-round draft pick Jeff Locke. This comes a year after they took an even bigger chance by cutting veteran kicker Ryan Longwell in favor of sixth-round draft pick Blair Walsh.

Walsh came into camp with confidence a year ago. He went from a horrendous senior season at Georgia to earning All-Pro honors during a record-setting rookie season.

Whether Locke or any other player can step up like that in 2013 will begin to come into focus at practice Friday.

-- Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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