Brian Hall’s Vikings mailbag

The Minnesota Vikings open the preseason Friday with a home game against the Houston Texans trying to make the playoffs after last year’s seven-win improvement, 10-6 record and Wild Card playoff berth. This season we’ll be doing a mailbag to answer your questions about the Vikings. Mailbags will appear twice a week during the preseason and weekly during the regular season. Fire away …

Q: Why not have the third string quarterback on the practice squad and use his position with an additional special teams player. Odds of third string quarterback playing are nil while special teams specialist would be used in every game.
— Greg Garrison, Idaho

A: An interesting perspective regarding roster makeup. Some teams actually do go with just two quarterbacks and often keep a third on the practice squad. But if teams feel strongly enough about a special teams player, such as the Vikings with Larry Dean or Andrew Sendejo, they typically have them on the roster and active for games anyway.

Often, the third quarterback isn’t even active on game days. Two years ago the league decided to eliminate the “third quarterback” designation and just added an extra player to be active on game days. Of the 53 players on the active roster, 46 can be active for games. And instead of the third quarterback getting the final active spot, it often went to another backup for use in the game, maybe for special teams. So, essentially teams can do this now, without worrying about dropping a quarterback to the practice squad. And seven players are deemed inactive each game anyway. The preferred special teams players are already among the actives each game day.

Q: Are our new receivers going to get alot of time in preseason games to get aclimated more to our offence? example would be cordarrell (Patterson) getting alot of snaps in the first few preseason games. whats the relationship of these recivers with (Christian) ponder?
— AJ, Sioux Falls

A: I believe you will see many of the new receivers getting a lot of action in the preseason, for two reasons. One, the team needs the game time to evaluate the young “bubble” players? Two, the new receivers will need to bond with Ponder quickly if the passing game is to improve this year.

The preseason games will be vital for Minnesota and its passing attack this year. But the Vikings aren’t looking at Friday’s first preseason game as important from the aspect of building chemistry with Ponder. Ponder will play little on Friday. Yet, coach Leslie Frazier did say the second and third preseason games will be big for Ponder and his new receivers. Greg Jennings probably will play a limited role on Friday as well, but Patterson, Joe Webb and some of the other receivers should see good action each week of the preseason as they grow accustomed to the team, the position and the NFL.

From what I’ve seen, Ponder’s relationship with the receivers is improving, but with so many new parts, it will be a process in the early going. Ponder really has little game action with many of his top targets because they are new to the team, were injured last year or are entering their first full year of playing in games.

Q: Will the Vikings have a shot at going farther in the playoffs this year?
— Rebecca, Waseca

A: They have a shot. But it won’t be easy. Minnesota has developed a strong overall roster with stars at several positions. But in the NFL, it all comes down to the quarterback. For the Vikings to go further than they did last season, Ponder and the passing game will have to improve and the pass defense will have to hold up better.

Adrian Peterson was the MVP for a reason last year. While he has his sights set on being even better, it’s hard to imagine anyone — besides Peterson maybe — of being able to do more than he did down the stretch last season. A regression from Peterson, can be compensated for with progression from Ponder. Peterson, even if he doesn’t reach 2,000 yards again, will be a threat in the running game. Minnesota addressed the receiver position to give Ponder pieces to work with. Now it’s on him to give the Vikings a legitimate passing attack and be a threat to make plays downfield.

The secondary will need better play as well — and better health. Chris Cook needs to stay on the field. Rookie Xavier Rhodes will have to develop quickly and Josh Robinson will have to prove he’s a capable slot cornerback. Harrison Smith is an emerging star at safety and Jamarca Sanford has a chance to prove he’s a dependable starter.

The league’s schedule makers didn’t do Minnesota any favors either. A fast start will be imperative to even making the playoffs. The Vikings open with two divisional road games before hosting Cleveland, and then travel to London to play the Pittsburgh Steelers before an early bye. That’s one true home game over the season’s first five weeks. And the tough part of the schedule follows later with a midseason gauntlet of the Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Redskins, Seahawks, Packers, Bears and Ravens.

Q: I have known Marcus from the day at Rochester John Marshall, and how do you see Marcus Sherrel improvement over the last 4 years as a walk on at the U, and undrafted rookie 4 years ago on the Vikings? no one expect him to make a team as undersized player and do you think he will get a more playing time this year
— Omar, Minnesota State University

Q. Does Marcus Sherels doesn’t make the team this season? There has to be someone else capable of returning punts (it seems that’s the main reason Sherels would be kept).
— Kelly, Fargo, ND

A: Similar questions, so we’ll group these together. Sherels is an interesting case. He remains their No. 1 punt returner and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer appreciates the sure-handed Sherels. I’m not sure if Priefer, right now, trusts anyone else as a punt returner. They continue to cycle through several options in practices to see who might be able to challenge Sherels, including Stephen Burton, Bobby Felder, Patterson, Jarius Wright and others.

Into the offseason workouts, I would have said Sherels was a long shot to make the team, but I’ve started to wonder if anyone will be able to take the job away. The first priority for the coaches is ball security and Sherels surely has the edge there. Losing a fumbled punt is a big momentum-shifter. When Wright was drafted, the belief was he would end up eventually winning the job, but he hasn’t shown he can handle catching punts on a regular basis. Patterson has experience, but his primary skill as a returner is on kickoffs. Sherels continues to defy the odds and just might make the team again.

Q: How do you see the defensive tackle competition play out? Seems like a lot of depth at the 3 technique after drafting (Sharrif) Floyd and (Everett) Dawkins along with having (Kevin) Williams and (Christian) Ballard already on the roster.
— Scott, Grand Forks

A: Defensive tackle is one of the more interesting training camp battles along the entire roster. Minnesota has to put the best lineup on the field this year, but also has to have an eye on next season with Williams, Fred Evans, Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen all entering the final season of their contracts. Floyd is a future starter, but he’s being made to earn his spot this season. The Vikings don’t like to just hand rookies big roles and want them to earn their way. So, Floyd has actually been third on the depth chart behind Williams and Ballard during training camp.

If Minnesota keeps nine defensive linemen like it did last year, there are some true competitions to be won. Inside, Williams still will play the majority of snaps and the nose tackle spot will be rotated between Letroy Guion and Fred Evans. From there, Ballard, Floyd, Dawkins, Chase Baker and Anthony McCloud are competing for probably two spots. Floyd is a lock. Ballard likely has the edge on the final spot, which could also go to a defensive end like Lawrence Jackson, D’Aundre Reed or George Johnson. Dawkins, a seventh-round pick, might not make the active roster, though the team could try to pass him through to the practice squad.

Q: Would the Vikings entertain the thought of trading Toby Gerhart?
— Glenn Jackson, Duluth

A: At this point, Minnesota appreciates having Gerhart as Peterson’s backup and aren’t interested in trading him. Gerhart is the perfect backup for Peterson. Gerhart is a solid player and has proven himself when he’s needed to step in for Peterson. Despite having major success in college, Gerhart accepts his role as the backup and has become friends with Peterson over the past few years. As Gerhart said on Wednesday, he’s always eager for more carries, but he also isn’t the type to make waves or cause a disruption in the locker room.

Gerhart has more value to the Vikings as a quality backup to Peterson than he would likely bring in trade value. As good as Peterson was last season and as strong as he looked, Minnesota needs a good backup to Peterson and Gerhart has shown he can fill-in and keep the offense going. The Vikings have designs on the playoffs and while losing Peterson would be a devastating blow, the offense would likely still be able to stay afloat with Gerhart.

Gerhart is entering the final season of his rookie contract though after being drafted in the second round and 2013 could very well be the final season for Gerhart in Minnesota. While many teams don’t place as much value on running backs these days, Gerhart will certainly have opportunities elsewhere to find more carries and likely be part of a two-back system.

Q: Assuming that Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and CP84 are locked in, who do you think grabs the 5th receiver spot (or is there a chance they keep 6)? I’m personally pulling for Joe Webb, but I also have high hopes for Greg Childs, if he’s ever able to get back on the field.
–Kelly, Fargo, ND

A: Receiver might be the most intriguing spot for the Vikings in training camp with several players on the roster vying for one or possibly two spots after the four you mentioned. In watching practices and talking with coaches, I have to believe Joe Webb has the inside track as the fifth receiver. Keeping Webb will give Minnesota more time to evaluate his development as a receiver and he can maybe add value on special teams. I’m not sure if Webb will ever develop into a star at receiver, but I’m convinced the Vikings want to see this transition through.

Childs isn’t close to returning and I think he’s more in line to begin the regular season on the physically unable to perform list or even injured reserve. He still needs time to recover and he’s done very little work on the field during training camp, so reporters haven’t gotten the chance to see how well he’s moving. Placing Childs on the injured list also allows the team more time to evaluate other receivers.

I’m not sure if the team will keep a sixth receiver, but if it did he would need to help on special teams. Stephen Burton has been practicing at kickoff and punt returner. Undrafted rookie Adam Thielen has come up with some nifty catches, but hasn’t been involved as a returner and might possibly get a look as a practice squad addition. Chris Summers, LaMark Brown, Rodney Smith and Erik Highsmith also haven’t seen much of a chance at returning and are longshots, at best, at this point.

Q: are any of our o-lineman ie fusco trade bait to Denver who has lost both centers ??
— Steve Person via Twitter

A: Minnesota is trying to develop and keep as much depth on the offensive line as it can and wouldn’t look to trade Fusco. The team still believes Fusco can develop into a strong right guard and doesn’t want to break up the offensive line, returning each of the five starters from last season. Fusco still has work to do, but he will enter the season as a starter for the Vikings. Meanwhile, Denver signed Ryan Lilja recently to play center.

Q: There has been so much criticism of Ponder this spring/summer. Some of it is deserved, but some of it just seems unfair. Ponder a bunch of new receivers and it would seem that it would take some time for real chemistry to develop. Do you think that Ponder will take a step forward this season and become the quality quarterback that he was drafted to be? Also, what are your projected stats for CP7?
— Kelly, Fargo, ND

Q: here’s one: How long of a leash do they give Ponder before jeopardizing an aging Allen, KWilliams, AP, Greenway etc?
— Tori Holt via Twitter

A: Another combination here and thanks to Tori Holt, who works with FOX Sports North on Minnesota Gopher hockey broadcasts, for his submission. Ponder is no doubt the biggest factor on a team that includes the reigning league MVP at running back. Everyone, including the Vikings, wants to know if he is indeed the franchise quarterback Minnesota thought it was drafting with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft.

As Ponder himself has noted, criticism comes with the territory as a starting quarterback. The Vikings added veteran Matt Cassel as a backup for Ponder, but the Vikings will ride out Ponder as long as possible this season. They need to truly evaluate and decide on his future this season. His leash will be longer than many fans might even want it. With the additions at receiver, an offensive line that returns all five starters and another season in the system and working with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Ponder has the pieces in place to make a jump this season. He will need to develop cohesiveness with Jennings, Patterson and the returning receivers as quickly as possible, but Ponder knows what’s in front of him.

At this point, his inconsistency is well-documented.  He needs to be more of the accurate, decisive quarterback who can avoids turnovers like he showed at the beginning and end of last season. Ponder needs to trust in his ability and be confident on the field. If he can do that, he will take a step this season and prove he can be a long-term starter.

Stats? I’ll say 63 percent completion rate, 3,500 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Thank you for your submissions to this inaugural edition of the Vikings mailbag and I hope to hear more from everyone in the future. Let us know if you like this feature and be sure to check for upcoming mailbags.

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter