Vikings position preview: Wide receivers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group.

We'll look at the wide receivers next.

Returning players: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen.

Gone from last season: Joe Webb

New this season: Kain Colter (undrafted free agent, Northwestern), Erik Lora (undrafted free agent, Eastern Illinois), Dante Foster (undrafted free agent, Ohio), Kamar Jordan (reserve/future free agent), Josh Cooper (free agent from Cleveland).

Position coach: George Stewart (eighth season)

Biggest issue: Only 12 teams targeted their wideouts less often than the Vikings did last year, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The group will be asked to carry a bigger load on offense last year (the Cleveland Browns' receivers had the sixth-most targets in the league in 2013 with Norv Turner as their coordinator), and that means the Vikings need players like Jarius Wright (who caught 26 passes last year) to make bigger contributions. And they're pinning plenty of hope on a breakout season from Cordarrelle Patterson, who made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, scored three touchdowns as a running back and will be asked to take on a more significant role as a receiver this year.

Player to watch: It's no stretch to suggest the Vikings want Patterson to become one of the league's dominant playmakers this season, after the work Norv and Scott Turner did with Josh Gordon in Cleveland last year. Patterson primarily lined up at split end last season, but will be asked to play a number of different receiver positions this year as the Vikings try to take advantage of his sublime speed and vision. Another player to watch is Adam Thielen, whom general manager Rick Spielman said had made a noticeable leap forward from his first season on the practice squad. The Minnesota State product will return to his alma mater for training camp, where he'll try to win one of the final spots at wide receiver.

Medical report: The Vikings don't have many injury concerns at the position coming into the season; their receivers were healthy all spring, and of their top four wideouts, only Jennings missed a game last year.

Help wanted: Minnesota could carry six receivers on the roster headed into the season, which might leave space for players like Thielen and undrafted rookie Kain Colter.

Quotable: "I think from day one to now he’s improved as a route runner," Norv Turner said of Patterson. "He’s been very serious about working as a route runner. I think George Stewart has done a great job with him, the details of running routes. He’s so explosive when he comes off the ball the way he’s capable of coming off the ball. He creates problems for defensive backs. I think he’s made great strides. We have a lot of work to do when we come back and start again in July. The defense has changed, you see a lot more press, bump-and-run coverages when you get into training camp when you have pads on. I think he’s a good example of where our guys are. I love his talent."