The Minnesota Vikings have a new coaching staff and new schemes this season and several players will benefit from the change. Head coach Mike Zimmer has a reputation for elevating defenses and offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a reputation for building dynamic offenses.
The Vikings have not had coaches that have historically produced the type of production Zimmer and Turner have as coordinators of their respective sides of the ball.
With the influx of new coaches with different ideas and different schemes, here are five players that could be surprise stars for the Vikings.
Blanton started to play more late last season and his production reflected the added playing time. As a rookie in 2012, he had 13 tackles in 13 games. Then in his second season, he recorded 11 tackles through eight games before injuries got him more playing time. He took advantage by recording at least five tackles in six of the remaining eight games, including a career-high 13 in the season finale against the Detroit Lions at Mall of America Field. The 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pound defensive back has the size, athleticism, versatility and athleticism to excel in Zimmer’s defense.
Griffen has a freakish combination of size and athleticism. After four years of backing up Jared Allen, now is Griffen’s time to shine. The Vikings gave the former fourth round draft pick a very lucrative contract with the hopes that added playing time will help him eclipse his eight-sack, one interception season in 2012. His tackle totals have increased in every one of his four NFL seasons. Zimmer’s defense is built on getting to the quarterback and Griffen has more natural ability than any of his former defensive ends.
Mauti is a tackling machine that fell to the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2013 draft because of multiple ACL injuries during his time at Penn State. Zimmer’s defenses in Cincinnati were led by smart, physical, run-stopping middle linebackers that were largely overlooked by everyone else in the NFL. Now may be Mauti’s turn to exceed expectations and rank among the NFL’s leaders in tackles.
Patterson is an obvious choice to break out in 2014. He progressively improved from week-to-week during his rookie season and by season’s end was one of the league’s best playmakers. The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound wide receiver can score a touchdown from anywhere on the field and in a variety of ways - kick returns, rushes or receptions. The only thing Patterson did not do was throw a touchdown pass. As Patterson learns to run better routes and refines his skill set, he could be one of the best players in the game.
Wright was widely under and improperly utilized through his first two seasons in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to get the ball downfield. Wright, despite a 5-foot-10-inch frame, has proven capable of getting behind cornerbacks, including Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, and safeties. Wright is more than capable of stretching the field down the middle and Turner will find a way to exploit it.