MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings begin the most critical part of their offseason program Tuesday, when they kick off the first of 10 organized team activities that will take them through the next three weeks before the start of their mandatory minicamp on June 14.
The Vikings will get their first 11-on-11 work with this year's team, as they'll test out their revamped offensive line in noncontact settings, work first-round pick Laquon Treadwell into the offense and see the offseason progress of Adrian Peterson, who plans to join the team for the start of OTAs.
But the Vikings' biggest question revolves around the man for whom they chose many of their offseason acquisitions: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who enters his third year with more playoff starts and Pro Bowl appearances (one each) than 15-touchdown seasons. The Vikings have designs on contending in the NFC, and for that to happen, they likely need the kind of balance on offense that only Bridgewater can bring. It's why he leads our list of the five most important things to watch during OTAs and minicamp:
1. How's Teddy looking?: The question was repeated so often during Bridgewater's rookie season that it's almost become a meme among Vikings fans, but it's an important one in 2016. The Vikings focused on fixing their offensive line in free agency, with a set of moves they believe will make things cleaner for Bridgewater, and they hope Treadwell can be the kind of go-to target Bridgewater hasn't had in two years. But they also have talked repeatedly about Bridgewater needing to play with more assertiveness, and if 2015's obstacles have been reduced to speed bumps at the most, it's on Bridgewater to take the next step. The offseason program won't be a perfect indicator of his ability to do that, but if he's more precise on deep balls and displays an ability to fit passes into traffic, those would be good signs.
2. The offensive line lineup: The Vikings should have Alex Boone at left guard when they roll out their first-team offensive line this week, and the guess here is they'll have Andre Smith with the No. 1s at right tackle. Intrigue with the group doesn't stop there, though. Center John Sullivan is returning from two back surgeries at age 30, and Brandon Fusco figures to move back to right guard with the addition of Boone. And then there's left tackle Matt Kalil, who's making $11.1 million this season but needs to bring his play up by several notches if he wants to stay in that tax bracket beyond this season. As coach Mike Zimmer often says, offensive lines can't truly be evaluated until the pads are on at training camp, but it still bears watching how the Vikings construct their front this spring.
3. Treadwell arrives: The 23rd overall pick in the draft comes into OTAs with a modest set of responsibilities; all the Vikings need him to do is become a consistent red-zone target, a favorite option for Bridgewater and a boost for the league's 31st-ranked passing offense. No big deal, right? The presence of Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright will help the offense, and Bridgewater seemed to have a sturdier connection with Kyle Rudolph by the end of the season, but given the fact the Vikings decided not to add a veteran receiver this offseason, there's little doubt they're hoping Treadwell can step in and make his presence felt quickly. His battles with cornerbacks like Xavier Rhodes won't go fully live until training camp, when defensive backs can press receivers, but Treadwell's route-running skills and presence in red-zone drills will be worth some attention this spring.
4. How Peterson fits: The NFL's leading rusher was humbled by his fourth-quarter fumble in the Vikings' playoff loss to the Seahawks in January. He talked after the game about curtailing his fumbling problems, while saying he wanted to be a more complete player in the Vikings' offense. Peterson's attendance at OTAs has been spotty in years past, so the fact that he plans to be there for the start of them shows he is serious about getting 2016 started off right. Will the Vikings make a concerted effort to get him more comfortable in shotgun sets? Will new ideas from Tony Sparano and Pat Shurmur lead to different solutions for a strong Peterson-Bridgewater relationship? All that is worth watching, as is Peterson's connection with new running backs coach Kevin Stefanski, who will work at the position for the first time after shifting from tight ends coach.
5. Safety dance: This is the time of year when the Vikings are usually sorting through their options next to Harrison Smith at safety, and the addition of former Titans safety Michael Griffin could clear that question up earlier than usual this spring. But the Vikings will likely want to see the development of players like Antone Exum and Anthony Harris, and they brought Andrew Sendejo back on a new four-year deal. Rookie Jayron Kearse probably won't work with the first-team defense this spring, but the Vikings hope they found something in the 6-foot-4 prospect.