GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The Vikings will begin their 59th training camp this week, 2nd at TCO Performance Center, and it’s arguably one of the most scrutinized in some time. In 2018 The Vikings went from NFC North Champs and NFC Championship game participant to completely missing the playoffs. So here are 11 things I'm watching at training camp this year. (Editors Note: This is not a stat breakdown, just my feelings about what we'll be talking about in 2019.)
11: Everson Griffen. He played in just 11 games in 2018 registering just 5.5 sacks. That's down from the 13 he had the season before. Can he return to the player he was in 2017? The Vikings have to hope so.
10: Who will be the 3rd wide receiver? Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs pretty much have the 1 and 2 spots locked down, but that's where it gets tricky. Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra, and others all are battling for that spot. A lot of that will figure on what offensive sets they favor as well.
9: Speaking of Laquon Treadwell; will this be the year that he finally breaks out? Last year he caught his first touchdown and had more than 100 yards receiving than the year before. That was still only 302 yards. His targets and his catch percentage also increased last year but he'll likely have to impress more than ever this summer to get a regular spot in the rotation this year.
8: Two Tight Ends: How is this going to work? Kyle Rudolph is entering his 9th season more motivated than ever and will likely have some targets taken away by Irv Smith Jr., who the team drafted in the second round this past spring. How will the Vikings do in a two tight end offense and what will that mean for David Morgan, who has long been respected as a great blocking tight end.
7: What will Gary Kubiak bring? Kubiak was brought in as an assistant head coach in Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski's offense. If reports are true, the two have an immense respect for each other. Kubiak thinks Stefanski is a star in the making and Stefanski loves Kubiak's take on the West Coast offense. But how will it all come together?
6: Kevin Stefanski: He took over as interim offensive coordinator during the season last year. Now he's had a full offseason to put his true offense in place and the help of Gary Kubiak to advise him. There were certainly some promising moments last season, now it will be seen if Stefanski can help make some more.
5: Anthony Barr: Barr has made the Pro Bowl 4 straight seasons and this off season got a nice big contract. How will he respond? Barr can look both amazing and exposed over the course of a single game. Can he get consistency and become the dominant OLB that the Vikings believe he can be?
4: Adam Thielen: It seems like every game last season we'd say "This is the game that they contain him. This is the game he's held to less than 100 yards,". But he had 8 straight games last year before finally being held below the century mark. So the idea that he'll slowdown in the least now that he got his big pay day this offseason (4 years/$64 million) is almost laughable. The only question is what he'll use now to keep a chip on his shoulder and stay on the grind. I'm sure he'll find something.
3: The Secondary: The Vikings defense was outstanding last year against the past, but this year is “prove it” years for a number of guys, including Trae Waynes and Anthony Harris, both of whom will be free agents next season. Harris had an OK year for him, Waynes might still have more to prove.
2: Offensive Line: The Vikings did almost a complete teardown and buildup of the o-line this offseason. They drafted center Garrett Bradbury in the first round of the 2019 draft. They moved Pat Elflein to guard and have basically juggled the whole thing around. It's no secret the line must play better if this team will have success in 2019. Kirk Cousins needs more time to throw and the running game must be established. If those things don't happen, it has the potential to completely derail the season.
1: Kirk Cousins: He played well in 2018, but he didn't take the team to the post season. Not a big deal if you're making the league minimum but its a HUGE deal when you get a 3-year $84-million dollar guaranteed contract. Statistically speaking, Cousins had one of the best years of his career. He set career highs in completion percentage and touchdowns. He also nearly tied a career high in sacks with 40 (which he set the year before in D.C. with 41). There are times that Kirk holds onto the ball too long, but there were also times he barely had enough time to get a grip on it before he was pummeled. So it’s a combination bag of what needs to be better in 2019 -- but things will need to continue to improve for the Vikings to be better. It's a quarterback league and that's just the fact.
Enjoy training camp!