Of the many things the Minnesota Vikings have to worry about: finding a deep threat at wide receiver; whether Adrian Peterson can return to his pre-knee injury form; finding safeties and cornerbacks who can play; finding a nose tackle who can do more than jump offside – improved play from Christian Ponder tops the list.
So expect to read lots of stories like this one, with Ponder, his teammates and his coaches talking about him making progress in 2012.
Since Daunte Culpepper's monster 2004 season (69.2 completion percentage, 4,717 passing yards, 37 TDs and just 11 interceptions), fans have had to endure six of the last seven seasons where the quarterback play was poor to mediocre. The franchise managed to win two NFC North titles and go to an NFC Championship game anyway, but its record is also 54-58, and the inability to find a long-term answer at quarterback has not set up the team for long-term success.
So while we fret (and I have done so repeatedly) about whether Jerome Simpson, and Matt Kalil and Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith will pan out in 2012, it's Ponder who has to make the great leap forward for the Vikings to return to relevance and, more importantly, stay there.
Leber, who played for the Vikings from 2006-2010, quietly retired this week. That seems fitting for a guy whose game was quietly effective. The Vikings starting linebacker corps from 2007-2010 of Leber, E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway was a very good one. But Henderson and Greenway were the guys you noticed more.
Leber was more of a supporting actor, or like the bass player in a rock band. He was integral to the success of the linebackers and the Vikings defense, he just wasn't the frontman.
There is a distinct chance that Adrian Peterson will not be the same player – ever – when he comes back from his knee injury. That means Toby Gerhart could be the Vikings best running back in 2012 and beyond.
That doesn't scare me as much as it would have a year ago. I was impressed with what I saw from Gerhart last season. He's not going to turn something into nothing like Peterson used to, but his sledgehammer running style can be almost as enjoyable to watch when he's bowling over linebackers, safeties and corners. Gerhart is a guy you don't want to be running into if he's got a full head of steam.
With the Vikings offensive line (hopefully) much improved in 2012, there should be more holes for Gerrhart to run through and I think he can do a great deal of damage with them.
Former NFL defensive lineman Seth Payne had an interesting piece this week about what OTAs can and can't tell you about NFL players. Payne's words should be kept in mind as we are regaled with tales of Jerome Simpson's pretty catches and other guys flashing during these minicamps. They don't mean a whole lot.