Coming off of a 3-13 campaign, they’ll be looking to take strides in numerous aspects of their game while digging themselves out of the bottom of the NFL barrel.
If they hope to avoid an encore of their 2011 performance, the Vikings will need several players to step up and have huge seasons. Here’s a look at those five players and why they’re so important to the Vikings’ success in 2012.
1. Christian Ponder, Quarterback
In today’s NFL, teams win and lose largely based on the performances of their starting quarterbacks. The situation will be no different for the Vikings, who need Ponder to have a big sophomore season in 2012. The former first-round pick flashed some potential during his rookie year, but needs to learn from his mistakes and prove that he was worth the risk. Based on his 2012 preseason performance, though, it’s safe to say that his development is on track and that the Vikings can expect some huge games from him as they continue to rebuild.
2. Toby Gerhart, Running Back
With All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson still working his way back from a career-threatening knee injury, the Vikings will be depending heavily on Gerhart throughout the 2012 season to carry the running game. Heading into his third year in the NFL, critics still doubt that he can be a feature back for the Vikings. Gerhart, however, will have the perfect opportunity to quiet doubters and prove that he’s capable of being an offensive workhorse in Minnesota. Don’t be surprised if Gerhart has a few stellar outings this season while the Vikings wait for Peterson to regain full health.
3. Harrison Smith, Free Safety
When the Vikings traded up to get Smith last April, they knew that he was going to be an intricate part of their future success. The former Notre Dame star brings a physical, aggressive feel to the Minnesota secondary that they’ve lacked since Darren Sharper was wearing purple and gold. With a starting spot already locked down and a full preseason of working out the kinks behind him, Smith will have every opportunity to prove that he can be the difference-maker the Vikings were hoping for when they drafted him.
4. Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle
One of the biggest reasons that the Vikings offense struggled in 2011 was because their quarterbacks got no pass protection. Even though the sack numbers weren’t astronomical, Ponder and backup Joe Webb were constantly running for their lives. That’s why the Vikings spent their 2012 first-round pick on Kalil, a USC product who should keep the blindside well protected during his rookie year. He has all of the tools to be a dominant presence on the Vikings offensive line, which should help elevate their offense to new heights this season.
5. Jasper Brinkley, Middle Linebacker
When the Vikings let former starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson enter free agency this offseason, the reins were automatically handed down to Brinkley. Even though he missed the entire 2011 season due to a hip injury, the third-year player is expected to hold down the spot and be the leader for the Vikings defense. However, preseason struggles and nagging injuries have brought his ability to do those things to question. If Brinkley hopes to remain as the Vikings’ starter, he’ll have to overcome his injury history and be a more-consistent playmaker in 2012.