I have to confess that I've always had a little bit of a soft spot for the Vikings. The grandpa that taught me a lot about this game when I was a kid in the ‘70's, grew up in Duluth. As a young man, he played center and nose tackle for the semi-pro team that played in Minneapolis. He loved the Bolts, but he always rooted for the Vikings, too.
UBIC - Offense
Charles Johnson (WR - #12) How about that? It's not a TE wearing #85! And instead of 2014 fantasy owners cursing this name, maybe some of you that got him as a popular "breakout" or "sleeper" pick are cursing him now for this season. He was expected to be the booked receiver paired with Mike Wallace and as such, the guy that beats single coverage and produce. The book on Johnson is that he is an excellent route runner and technically, is a lot more polished as a receiver than the athletically gifted Patterson.
So far, his 2015 production has not come close to matching that promise. 5 receptions for 37 yards in the first two games cannot be termed worrisome or threatening. Still... Johnson has some good physical tools and was able to beat out Corderelle Patterson as the team's starting wide out in the last month of the 2014 season and beat him out again in pre-season this year.
Given where Johnson started from, he has already accomplished much. Going to college at Grand Valley State, he was not even invited to the NFL Combine. On his pro day though, he ran a 4.39 40. The 6'2, 215 pound receiver also recorded a 39.5" vertical jump. Green Bay liked what they saw enough to spend a 7th pick on him in 2013. He made the practice squad.
Cleveland signed him off the practice squad in October 2013 and he was inactive the rest of the season. Coming out of Cleveland's camp in 2014, he wound up on their practice squad. The Vikings signed him in late September of 2014. He was the team's 3rd leading receiver last year with 31 catches, 475 yards and 2 TD's. With Wallace and Kyle Rudolph getting most of the attention from opposing defenses and Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are hoping that Johnson can make some plays this Sunday in Norv Turner's vertical passing game.
Joe Berger (C - #61) As any Bolts fan can attest to, losing a starting center is pretty bad news for an offensive line. While the Vikings (hopefully) will not have to endure the revolving door of Spinal Tap drummers snapping the ball like the Bolts did last year, they are already working with their back-up. John Sullivan, the team's starter, is on the designated to return IR with a back injury and as such, is on the shelf until Week 10.
Berger is a little tall for a center (6'5") and is about a perfect definition of journeyman NFL player. Drafted out of Michigan Tech is 2005 by Carolina, he wound up on the Dolphins after getting cut in 2005. He then bounced around between the Cowboys and Dolphins until he signed with the Vikings in 2011. He has been the Vikings primary interior line back-up since then. Sunday will mark his 41st career start. The Vikings need Berger to hold together an interior line that is already a somewhat patchwork proposition, with a couple of familiar names playing guard...
UBIC - Defense
Harrison Smith (S - #22) Bolts fans, meet Eric Weddle, circa 2011. This will be Smith's 4th year in the NFL and he is regularly mentioned as being one of the best safeties in the league. He has already produced enough to warrant those mentions since being drafted 29th overall in 2012. He had 2 pick sixes his rookie year, was injured for a lot of 2013, but then rebounded in 2014 to make 1st team all-pro in the NFC. In 41 career starts, he has 10 INT's (3 returned for TD's), 23 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 197 solo tackles.
The Notre Dame product (he was a teammate of Manti Te'o) has the prototypical size (6'2", 215 pounds) of an NFL free safety. He also has excellent diagnostic ability and above average closing speed, even by NFL standards. While he does not have a reputation as a fearsome hitter, he is known as a superb technique tackler. His reputation is such that he has no passes defended or INT's through the first two games of the season, as Stafford and Kaepernick were reluctant to challenge him. He has 10 solo tackles so far and another 4 assists.
If he played on a team like the Patriots or Seahawks, Smith would probably be a lot better known. He has to be considered the best individual defensive player for the Vikings right now. Given the personnel situation for the Bolts, Rivers would be wise to use caution in making passes between the numbers more than 15 yards deep to a TE. The Vikings will let all of us know who they consider to be the Bolts most worrisome deep threat. That will be the receiver that Smith provides deep help in covering, when he is not busy controlling the middle.
Anthony Barr (OLB - #55) The Vikings leading tackler so far this year may be a recollection for you draft-nicks that were hanging out here in the run-up to the 2014 draft. Barr was on a few wish lists around here, but expected to go before the Bolts got to pick. Those expectations were accurate, as the Vikings selected him 9th overall.
Barr is an impressive physical specimen; 6'5", 255 pounds and FAST. Not "fast for his size" fast, just FAST. His combine 40 speed was 4.66 seconds, but his pro-day recorded 40 time was 4.41(!) and in his case, I believe it was valid. Barr is young and needs to work on his tackling technique and playing smarter, but once he gets some experience, he certainly could play at all all-pro level for a while.