The 2012 NFL regular season has now started, with a full slate of games coming this Sunday. The Minnesota Vikings will be looking to start to put 2011′s 3-13 record behind them at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had difficulties of their own last season.
There will be plenty to watch for Vikings’ fans as the team looks to show signs of progress early in the season.
With that, here are five players to watch when Minnesota takes the field at Mall of America Field on Sunday.
1. RB Adrian Peterson
Peterson’s status will be the main talking point for fans and media leading to Sunday, and to this point all signs point to him playing even if he has a limited role. The team cleared him to take upper body hits in practice this week without restriction, and there appears to be little question about the health of his surgically repaired left knee from a medical standpoint right now. The real question will be when Peterson has opposing defenders attempting to bring him down, up to an including possibly targeting his left leg. Any aggravation of the injury, be it in Week 1 or later in the season, would quickly derail any hope the Vikings have in 2012.
2. QB Christian Ponder
Ponder’s progress in his second season will be an important factor, if not the most important factor, in the type of results the Vikings see this season. It has been said a lot, but a full offseason working with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and having a complete grasp on the offense should benefit him. The Jaguars’ defense is good but not necessarily great so Ponder will get a solid test, but his chances are good for a nice start to 2012 in front of the home crowd. Anything less and the calls for backup Joe Webb may already start.
3. CB Chris Cook
There’s no denying Cook’s talent level, but his arrest in October of 2011 on a domestic battery charge led to a team-mandated exile for the rest of the season. He has since been acquitted on that charge and the the team has welcomed him back, perhaps at least in part to the shortcomings they have in the secondary. Week 1 will bring a solid test against a refurbished group of wide receivers for Jacksonville, with their most notable free agent signing (Laurent Robinson) and their top draft pick (Justin Blackmon) both coming at that position. Cook may see time covering both guys, so we should see quickly what kind of shape he is in and how rusty he is after not playing a regular season game in so long.
4. TE John Carlson
Carlson was the Vikings’ most expensive free agent signing this offseason, signing a five-year, $25 million deal with a little over $9 million guaranteed despite missing the entire 2011 season with the Seattle Seahawks with a shoulder injury. A knee injury that kept him out of the entire preseason dimmed his outlook some, and makes the team’s investment in him look even more foolish. He is now healthy and ready for the start of the season, but Kyle Rudolph is definitely a superior talent and Carlson’s role has a chance to be greatly minimized right off the bat. It’s fair to give Carlson a game or two to get back up to speed and prove he can be a key contributor this season, but his impact on Sunday will be worth watching.
5. LB Jasper Brinkley
Brinkley will take over as Minnesota’s starting middle linebacker, and if he can stay healthy will be a key factor in the Vikings’ run defense returning to an elite level in 2012. He has some good moments in the third preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, including two sacks, but the Chargers sat many of their regulars in that game and the value of that performance as a measuring stick is a question. Sunday will be Brinkley’s first regular season action since the end of 2010 after missing all of 2011 with a hip injury, so his performance will be watched closely by coaches, media and fans.