Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin had the Vikings 10th in his annual special-teams rankings. But I get your point; Blair Walsh missed some kicks at the end of last season, Jeff Locke was inconsistent and Cordarrelle Patterson didn't break as many big returns as he did during his rookie season. I'd say a couple things on that front: First, the Vikings have competition at long snapper for a reason. Cullen Loeffler struggled last season and the Vikings are trying to see if they can get more consistent performance at that position. It might seem like a little thing, but smooth deliveries on punts and field goals make a difference. And as far as Patterson goes, you're probably still going to see teams kick away from him, or try to blast it out of the end zone to avoid him. That still has its benefits -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, Patterson still was responsible for the 12th-best field position of any kick returner in the league last season. If he gets past the issues he had catching the ball last season, I think he can rebound this year. The big question for me is Locke; he hasn't been consistent enough yet to suggest he's got the punting job locked up for years to come and he'll need to be better at pinning opponents deep this year.
@GoesslingESPN: The only real question is at right guard, though I suppose that will have some bearing on whether Brandon Fusco stays over on the left side. Right now, I expect Fusco will stay at left guard, between Matt Kalil at left tackle and John Sullivan at center. Phil Loadholt, I expect, will be ready to go at right tackle. Guard is an open question, and it's really hard to gauge it fully until players put the pads on. We know the names in the running for the job -- Tyrus Thompson, T.J. Clemmings, David Yankey and Joe Berger. It wouldn't shock me if Berger ends up there simply because the Vikings already know what they have in the veteran. Berger was serviceable at the end of last season and the Vikings made it a priority to bring him back. Thompson and Clemmings got the first-team work in minicamp, and my hunch is one of them begins camp with the first team. But if they struggle early, Berger could wind up there as the sturdiest option.
Teddy Bridgewater's development in Year 2. NFL teams almost always go as their quarterback goes, and if Bridgewater keeps getting better, there's no reason to think the Vikings can't be a nine-win or 10-win team that battles for a wild-card spot. But if anything keeps them from going in that direction, I think it could be the offensive line. The group simply wasn't good enough last year; there were times Bridgewater needed to be more decisive with the ball, but it's tough to paper over the fact he was pressured on 29.9 percent of his dropbacks last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Everything is in place for him to take a step forward this year, but his protection has to hold up for that to happen. If the offensive line struggles in pass-protection again, that could be why the Vikings' high hopes eventually fall flat.
We'll wrap it up there for the week. I'll be on vacation all this week, so the mailbag will go on hiatus next weekend, but we'll return with one more edition of it before the start of training camp in a few short weeks. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend, and we'll talk soon.