Zimmer, Vikings hope to learn from last year's meltdown

I’m not gonna lie, I’ve already got football on the brain.

With just four days remaining until the official start of Vikings training camp, I can already see the summer in my rearview mirror. In fact, rookies, quarterbacks and injured players all report  Sunday with the rest of the team arriving Monday.

This is the last training camp that will be held in Mankato as the team will move to its new practice facility and headquarters next season.

With most of the key players returning from a season ago, the pressure is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of fourth year Head Coach Mike Zimmer. One year ago the Vikings season started with so much promise and then imploded as injuries and failure to close out winnable games ended with the Vikes missing the playoffs at 8-8.

Zimmer is a likeable coach who has the support of most of the Vikings fan base. That said, the pressure is on to take the Vikings to the next level. To get them in position to compete for more than just a playoff spot in the NFC. In a win now league, a poor season could put Zimmer on the hot seat or get him fired.

Veteran quarterback Sam Bradford should benefit from a full offseason with the team after being shipped to the Vikes last year a week before opening day. Bradford isn’t a flashy player and has an injury history that is always a concern. That said, he had a solid 2016 season behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and has proven he can make all of the throws.

Some fans are still holding out hope for the return of Teddy Bridgewater, but those are pipe dreams. I had hopes for Bridgewater before his knee sadly exploded on him, but now I would honestly be stunned to see him start another game for the Vikes. Again, I like the kid. I’m a fan, but the best case scenario for the Vikes is for Bradford to go out and have a good season.

The key for Bradford will be the play of the offensive line and the return of a running game. Offseason additions Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to play the tackle positions along with the third round selection of former Ohio State standout center-guard Pat Elflein should help. Anything will be better than what the team put out there last season.

The loss of Adrian Peterson is actually a gain. As much as I loved AD in his prime, his time has passed, and it was the right move to cut ties. The signing of Latavius Murray to pair with Jerick McKinnon was a good move, but the real coup was being able to land Dalvin Cook from Florida State in the draft. Cook is easily the most exciting offensive player drafted by the Vikings since Peterson and Randy Moss. He was exactly what the Vikings needed. Bravo to Rick Spielman and company for having the smarts to move up in the second round to get him.

If the Vikings can get last year’s first round pick Laquon Treadwell to emerge, the Vikes will essentially have added two weapons to the offense that they didn’t have a season ago. I was a fan of Cordarelle Patterson, especially in the return game, but even with his departure the Vikes should be OK at wide receiver with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Jarius Wright, Treadwell and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

With Pat Shurmur now running the offense after last year’s divorce between Zimmer and Norv Turner, the Vikes should have more continuity on offense. I’ve talked a lot about the offense, because the bottom line is that the offense will be the key to success or failure in 2017.

The Vikes defense is solid. In fact, despite the minor losses of guys like Chad Greenway and Captain Munnerlyn, the Vikes defense should be better than it was a year ago. The Vikes are young and tough on the defensive line, young and tough at linebacker and young and fast at defensive back. If young guys like Trae Waynes, MacKensie Alexander, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr can continue to develop, the sky is the limit for the defense. Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith... the Vikes have talent on defense.

The national media will once again slobber all over Green Bay as the easy winner in the north but the race could actually be tighter than you think. Winning inside the division is always paramount. In 2015, the Vikes went 5-1 in the division and went 11-5 and won the north. A year ago the Vikes went 2-4 and went 8-8. You have to win against the division.

I’m not going to prognosticate on how the Vikes are going to finish. I’ve been burned way too many times before. That said, the NFC has some good teams but no world beaters, and it should be an interesting season for the purple and gold.