LIVE › 12-4 a.m. Sports Center All Night
NEXT › 1 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
2 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
2 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
3 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
4 a.m. ESPN SportsCenter
4:05 a.m. SportsCenter AM
Updated: January 27th, 2013 4:44pm
2012 Vikings Review: Peterson, Harvin, Sullivan top offense's grades

2012 Vikings Review: Peterson, Harvin, Sullivan top offense's grades

SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!
by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Editor's note: This is the first installment in a three-part series grading the 2012 Minnesota Vikings. For grades on the defense, click here. For grades on the specialists, coaching staff and personnel department, click here.

This is how coach Leslie Frazier wants the offense to function, albeit with a more substantial passing component as a young quarterback develops and an undermanned receiver corps gets upgraded going forward.

The Vikings improved from fourth in the NFL to second in rushing (164.6 net yards per game) and cut their turnovers (23, tied for 12th-fewest), allowing the offense to run through All-Pro halfback Adrian Peterson even in the face of increasingly persistent extra-man boxes.

Coordinator Bill Musgrave adjusted after Percy Harvin was lost to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 9, leaving the Vikings without a receiver capable of creating consistent one-on-one matchup problems as Christian Ponder tried to regain his early-season rhythm.

The offense's most complete and highest-graded performance was the Dec. 30 regular-season finale against Green Bay -- the Vikings' fourth win in a row, thrusting them into a wild-card playoff rematch with the Packers six days later that was derailed by Ponder's triceps injury.

They finished the regular season 31st in passing offense (171.9 net yards per game), down from 28th in 2011. They also slipped in red-zone touchdown rate (from ninth to 18th, 53.8%) and third-down conversion rate (from 14th to 19th, 37.1%).

Solidifying the offensive line was a high priority entering the last offseason, and drafting left tackle Matt Kalil fourth overall went a long way towards achieving that. Their next great charge is finding a viable split end -- something Musgrave has yet to have in his two seasons.

The following are individual grades for the 32 offensive players who finished the season on the Vikings' 53-man roster, injured reserve or practice squad. Grades are based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Sack numbers are compiled by 1500ESPN.com. Other unofficial statistics such as QB pressures, targeted passes, broken tackles, drops and yards after contact are compiled by ProFootballFocus.com, an independent research firm that charts NFL games.

Players are graded on a scale that designates "A" for elite performance, "B" for above-average performance, "C" for average performance, "D" for below-average performance and "F" for failure to perform at an NFL level. Any player spending fewer than six weeks on the active roster and/or appearing in fewer than three games is given an "I" for incomplete.

Quarterbacks

Christian Ponder (C-): In his second NFL season and first as full-time starter, Ponder improved in nearly every statistical category. But his performance can be divided into three segments, including a midseason slump that brought on calls for his job that would have seemed senseless weeks earlier. Played 1,032 of 1,097 gradable offensive snaps (94.1%). Finished 300-of-483 passing (62.1%) for 2,935 yards with 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 81.2 rating. Ranked second on the team with 253 rushing yards on 60 attempts (4.2 average). Took 32 sacks and had a hand in 15 of them. Completed one of his best games in the regular-season finale against Green Bay (234 passing yards, three touchdowns, career-high 120.2 rating) despite suffering a deep triceps bruise on a hit by Morgan Burnett in the second quarter. Lost so much muscle function and flexibility he was deactivated for the playoff game after an aborted throwing session. Led a game-tying drive late in regulation against Jacksonville in the opener. Floated a backpedaling touchdown on fourth-and-goal early in the upset of San Francisco and scrambled 23 yards for another score. Had a streak of 143 passes without an interception snapped against Tennessee in Week 5, the first after it was revealed he had bursitis in one of his knees. Committed 12 more turnovers in his next seven starts and threw for less than 120 yards in three of them. Had three turnovers, including a pick-six that slipped out of his hand, in a Week 6 loss at Washington. Didn't really cut it loose for several weeks after that, increasingly showing a tendency to pat the ball and float to his right instead of stepping up. Cost the Vikings a game at Green Bay with two awful interceptions. Improved incrementally from there. Seemed to regain confidence after successful scrambles on fourth-and-1 and third-and-goal keyed the opening drive on Dec. 16 at St. Louis. Took one penalty, for delay of game. Averaged only 6.1 yards per pass attempt, third-lowest in the NFL and down from 6.4 as a rookie. Intermediate to deep accuracy remains inconsistent. Still aims the ball at times. Seen by some as a one-read passer. Raised some eyebrows within the organization by getting engaged and married during the season. Has shown he can throw on the move and put the ball into some tight windows. Has enough athleticism and arm strength to function in Musgrave's offense. Has been durable, making 26 consecutive starts before missing the playoff game. The Vikings' commitment to Ponder as their starter didn't waver during his struggles and only was strengthened by his play down the stretch. But he needs to keep decreasing the bad, increasing the good and making sure he doesn't enter that type of rut again.

Joe Webb (I): Served as Ponder's top backup all season, playing only three snaps in mop-up duty, then started the wild-card game. Finished 11-of-30 passing (36.7%) for 180 yards with a touchdown and an interception, most of the production coming in garbage time. Had a hand in three sacks. Had some success in a read-option attack on the opening drive but otherwise looked lost. Played 65 snaps (5.9%) overall. Never was used as a receiver or in the mothballed "Blazer" package. Still has rare athletic traits but at minimum should have competition for the No. 2 job as he enters a contract year. Could be shopped to team committed to exploring zone-read possibilities.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson (I): Signed a two-year deal with a $5,000 bonus last January. Beat out veteran Sage Rosenfels for the No. 3 job in camp. Inactive for all 16 regular-season games. Dressed but didn't see action in the playoff game. Has elite arm strength, but overall game remains raw. Will get another offseason to develop and challenge for a backup role in 2013.

Running backs

Adrian Peterson (A): Coming off left knee reconstruction surgery, Peterson set a new standard for ACL recovery with an MVP-caliber season. Reached his goal of starting the Sept. 9 opener, a little more than eight months after surgery. Played 827 snaps (75.4%). Led the NFL with 2,097 yards on 348 rushing attempts (6.0 average), plus another 99 yards on 22 carries in the playoffs. Forced 76 missed tackles and gained 1,438 rushing yards after contact, also league highs. Caught 41 passes in 51 targets (80.4%) for 225 yards (5.5 average). Dropped four. Was responsible for 96 first downs. Scored 13 touchdowns, 12 of them on the ground. Selected as NFC starter in fifth Pro Bowl. Unanimous All-Pro. Didn't seem to be cutting full tilt until around Week 7, when he began a streak of eight consecutive 100-yard games. Rushed for 1,313 yards in that stretch, the most over eight games in one season in NFL history. Had runs of 64, 74, 61, 82 and 82 yards. Faced loads of extra-man boxes and eventually forced defenses to consider playing Cover-2 just to limit his chances for popping a big one. Straightline speed appeared better than before the injury. Set up blocks better than ever, too. Converted a crucial fourth-and-1 and rushed for 199 yards on a career-high 34 carries in the regular-season finale. Came up 8 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's 28-year-old record for single-season rushing and has said he'll aim for 2,500 yards in 2013. Finished on Oct. 7 against Tennessee despite tweaking an ankle on the first snap. Lost critical fumbles in losses to Tampa Bay and at Chicago, where he showed up late to the stadium, was responsible for a botched handoff the Bears recovered and strained a shoulder trying to run over CB Kelvin Hayden. Also battled groin and abdominal injuries, dropping out because of the latter late on Dec. 23 at Houston. Fumbled three other times, losing one. Didn't take a penalty. Had several costly lapses in pass protection, beginning when LB Perry Riley knocked him back into Ponder to cause a fumble. Also had a hand in two sacks at Seattle and another at St. Louis. Was responsible for Burnett on the delayed blitz that ended Ponder's season, although that was a tough pickup on a look they hadn't gone over. Allowed nine total QB pressures. Played sparingly on third downs because of those protection issues but did plenty of damage on first and second. Signed through 2017, Peterson proved he remains one of the NFL's premier weapons and looks like a relative bargain on the books for $11.5 million next season.

Jerome Felton (B): Bounced between three teams during a trying 2011, Felton made the most of his opportunity after signing a one-year, $750,000 contract in March. Kept on the roster despite a June arrest on DUI charges and faced little competition in training camp. Blocked well enough for the Vikings to incorporate more lead and power-scheme plays, on which Peterson did much of his damage. Played 414 snaps (37.7%) -- 14 more than predecessors Naufahu Tahi and Ryan D'Imperio played in 2010 and '11 combined. Had several highlight-reel blocks, including a pancake of Packers LB A.J. Hawk. Showed solid technique, power and instincts overall. Selected NFC starter in the Pro Bowl. Dropped out briefly at Indianapolis with a minor leg injury. Had a hand in a sack against Tampa Bay with a weak blitz pickup but otherwise was sound in protection. Allowed three total QB pressures. Caught three passes for 35 yards (11.7 average). Didn't take a penalty. Figures to be a priority to re-sign among the Vikings' unrestricted free agents.

Toby Gerhart (C-): Expected to split time with Peterson out of the gate, Gerhart ended up in the same backup role he's always been in. Played 245 snaps (22.3%), down from 388 in 2011 and 270 in his rookie season of 2010. Ran 50 times for 169 yards (3.4 average) -- also career lows -- and one touchdown. Caught 20 passes for 155 yards, nine of them for first downs. Forced seven missed tackles. Mostly saw the field on third downs for pass protection. Had a hand in two sacks. Allowed four total QB pressures. Played 15 snaps or more only six times. Benched after losing two fumbles late against San Francisco. Converted on third-and-1 against Tennessee despite getting hit in the backfield. Already entering a contract year, Gerhart has minimal mileage on his body and has shown in the past he can carry the load. He figures to return as Peterson's top backup unless the Vikings find value in the trade market.

Matt Asiata (D+): Out of football since being cut off the Vikings' practice squad early in the 2011 season, Asiata returned on a two-year reserve/futures deal last January and beat out Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman for the No. 3 job in camp. Appeared in every game, mostly on special teams. Recorded four tackles (one solo) on coverage units. Pancaked Lions P Nick Harris on a return touchdown. Also played 20 snaps (1.8%) on offense over eight games, including three "F" snaps at Seattle. Caught three passes for 9 yards (3.0 average) and carried once for 2. Has one-cut zone running traits and versatility to play fullback, too, although he still can get a lot stronger in the blocking phase. Will be in the mix for a backup role again in 2013.

Joe Banyard (I): Signed for a $5,000 bonus with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent out of UTEP in May but was cut 12 days later. Spent camp with New Orleans and was released with an injury settlement on Sept. 11. Signed to the Vikings' practice squad on Nov. 27 after Todman left for Jacksonville's 53-man roster. Mostly a special teams player in college. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

Receivers

Percy Harvin (A-): Productive and dynamic as ever when he was on the field, Harvin finished as the Vikings' leader with 62 catches in 81 targets (76.5%) for 677 yards (10.9 average) despite appearing in only nine games. Played 422 snaps (38.5%). Averaged 8.7 yards after the catch, a league high. Forced 27 missed tackles. Scored five touchdowns -- three receiving, one rushing and one on a 105-yard kick return at Detroit. Had a 103-yard kick return TD wiped out by a penalty against Arizona. Rushed 22 times for 96 yards (4.4 average). Was responsible for 42 first downs. Returned 16 kickoffs for a 35.9 average, handling most of those duties before suffering a ligament tear in his left ankle at Seattle that ended his season. Also battled cramps and hamstring trouble, dropping out of three games but always returning. Had a career-high 12 receptions for 104 yards at Indianapolis and racked up 133 yards on 11 catches at Washington. Jump-cut past multiple players to turn a bubble screen into an otherworldly 10-yard touchdown against Tennessee. Continued to get the bulk of his receptions on such manufactured touches, though he also caught a go ball for 45 yards against the Titans and made a terrific adjustment to haul in an 18-yard touchdown against Tampa. Drew four penalties in pattern. Flagged once for pass interference. Highly competitive but remains a volatile personality. Told reporters he was unhappy and requested a trade during minicamp, only to retract the request the next day. Lost a critical fumble and screamed out of frustration at Frazier on the sideline in Seattle before Earl Thomas' hit ended his season. Had another confrontation with Frazier while trying to rehab the ankle. Finally placed on injured reserve on Dec. 5 -- 31 days after the injury. Went to Florida for rehabilitation and wasn't seen at the team's facility again. Has one year and $1.55 million remaining on his contract, although the plan was never for him to play out that season. Both sides have decisions to make in the coming months before discussing whether Harvin will get his lucrative second contract in Minnesota or someplace else.

Michael Jenkins (C): Hampered by knee problems throughout the offseason and in obvious decline at age 30, Jenkins took a pay cut to $1 million on Aug. 9 and kept getting opportunities because the Vikings were light on options. Played 759 snaps (69.2%) over 17 games, with nine starts. Finished third on the team with 545 yards and three touchdowns on 43 receptions (12.7 average) in 71 targets (60.6%). Dropped two. Gained 142 yards after the catch (4.0 average). Dropped out late at Detroit because of a bruised rib but didn't miss a game. Stretched the ball across the pylon for a 9-yard touchdown at Washington. Had his best game in the regular-season finale against Green Bay -- preventing an interception, diving for a 3-yard touchdown and making a 25-yard catch at the sideline to extend the final drive. Shut out in the playoff game until the Packers went into a prevent defense and blew coverage that left him wide open for a 50-yard touchdown. Took one penalty, for an illegal crackback block. Didn't break a single tackle. Fared OK as a blocker, though he could always finish better. Known as a leader but doesn't scare anyone from a matchup perspective. Can't get in and out of his breaks effectively anymore. Jenkins isn't necessarily finished, but he has a $2.425 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the league year and almost surely won't collect it.

Jarius Wright (C): A fourth-round draft pick (No. 118 overall) out of Arkansas, Wright had a lot to learn as a route-runner and endured an uneven camp. Racked up 122 yards in the Aug. 30 exhibition finale at Houston before departing with a left ankle sprain. Was inactive nine consecutive weeks before Harvin's injury. Played 237 snaps (21.6%) over the last eight games, starting one. Caught 24 passes in 40 targets (60%) for 323 yards (13.5 average), beginning with a 54-yard bomb from Ponder against Detroit. Also had a 65-yard catch on a double move against Green Bay. Made a difficult catch on third-and-1 at Houston. Dropped four balls. Had a damaging missed block in the playoff game and has a long way to go in that phase. Given his skill set, Wright's role in 2013 and beyond probably hinges on Harvin's future. But he has shown he can be a contributor.

Jerome Simpson (C-): Signed to a one-year, $2 million contract in April after four seasons in Cincinnati, Simpson never became the vertical threat the Vikings hoped. Played 491 snaps (44.8%) over 13 games, starting 11 at split end. Finished with 28 receptions for 295 yards (10.5 average) in 54 targets (51.9%), with no touchdowns and a long of 33. Served a three-game suspension to start the season as punishment for his guilty plea on a felony drug charge. Flashed his ability by catching four passes for 50 yards and drawing two interference calls in his Sept. 30 debut at Detroit. Woke up the following week with numbness in one of his feet caused by a back problem and was never the same. Voiced displeasure over being deactivated at Washington, costing him a $59,375 roster bonus. Had a damaging fumble against Tampa Bay. Dropped four passes, including three at Chicago, where he had a crucial drop on third-and-4 early and ended up benched. Drew another interference penalty against Arizona and an illegal hands to the face call against Green Bay. Forced five missed tackles. Averaged only 2.6 yards after the catch. Was up and down as a blocker. Took a holding penalty. Missed the block on Thomas that led to Harvin's injury. Seemed more locked in over the last couple of games, but it didn't translate to a significant spike in production. Confirmed his reputation for being moody and unreliable, especially when things aren't going well. Could return on another short-term deal at the right price, given that he won't have much value on the open market, but the Vikings might decide to just move on.

Devin Aromashodu (D+): Re-signed to a one-year, $800,000 contract in March, Aromashodu had a chance to pick up the slack during Simpson's struggles but ended up fading into a bit role. Played 358 snaps (32.6%) over 16 games. Caught 11 passes for 182 yards (team-high 16.5 average) in 24 targets (45.8%). Drew a 27-yard interference call at Washington. Let what would have been a 45-yard touchdown hit him in the facemask against Chicago. Stopped running on the interception in the playoff game. Mostly held up in the run game, with a key block on Peterson's 48-yard run at Green Bay. Set to turn 29 in April, Aromashodu is a No. 4 receiver at best. If he returns, it's on another one-year deal with minimal guarantees.

Stephen Burton (D): After bouncing between the 53-man roster and practice squad as a rookie, Burton opened eyes in his first full offseason but struggled to get opportunities once the real games began. Played 174 snaps (15.9%) over 12 games and was inactive for five others. Caught five passes in 11 targets (45.5%) for 53 yards (7.0 average), including a freak 7-yard touchdown at Indianapolis. Dropped two. Drew a holding penalty in pattern against San Francisco. Took a false start. Probably the best blocker of the bunch. Played his best game at St. Louis, forcing two missed tackles on one of his three catches for 17 yards, only to be deactivated the rest of the season. Will have every opportunity to earn a larger role in 2013.

Greg Childs (I): A fourth-round pick (134th overall) out of Arkansas, Childs tore the patellar tendons in both knees while diving for a pass in camp on Aug. 4. Cleared waivers and was placed on injured reserve three days later. Also suffered a patellar tendon tear in October 2010 and admittedly wasn't himself the following season. Has been guarded about the progress of his rehabilitation but has said he has no doubt he'll play in 2013. When healthy, Childs has an intriguing size/speed combination and a knack for high-pointing the football. But it remains to be seen how quickly he can return to form -- and whether he can stay on the field.

Chris Summers (I): Signed without a bonus by Chicago as an undrafted free agent out of Liberty. Waived in the initial roster reduction on Aug. 28 and signed to the Vikings' practice squad six days later. Was highly productive in college and has rare size at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

Tight ends

Kyle Rudolph (B-): Charged with succeeding Visanthe Shiancoe as the strongside tight end, Rudolph had a productive second NFL season, even if that production came in spurts. Played 1,009 snaps (92.0%) over 17 starts. Caught 56 passes in 89 targets (61.6%) for 535 yards (9.6 average) and nine touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion. Dropped six. Was shut out three times and held to two catches in three other games. Had a long catch of 29 yards in the opener against Jacksonville. Saw extra attention at the line of scrimmage at times, particularly in the red zone. Was responsible for 36 first downs. Drew three penalties on defenders in pattern. Improved as an inline blocker after two rough showings to start the season. Still needs to work on his technique and keep gaining strength. Had a hand in one sack. Allowed five total QB pressures. Committed three penalties, all false starts. Departed at Chicago with concussion symptoms but played the following week. Worked on the hands team and recovered an onside kick to seal the win over Chicago. Selected to his first Pro Bowl as an alternate when Tony Gonzalez dropped out. Can create mismatches as a receiver with his size but doesn't scare anyone with his ability to get vertical separation. Did a lot of his damage on shallow crossing patterns and in the flats. Rudolph remains a core part of the offense, but the Vikings must continue scheming new ways to exploit his big catch radius and put him in favorable positions in the short to intermediate passing game.

Rhett Ellison (C): A fourth-round draft pick (128th overall) out of Southern Cal, Ellison quietly brought attitude to the group and did some encouraging things in limited chances. Played 260 snaps (23.7%), appearing in all 17 games. Split time inline, in the backfield and in the "H" movement role that has a key function in Musgrave's offense. Was at his best in the run-blocking phase. Allowed one QB pressure. Caught seven passes for 65 yards (9.3 average). Also played extensively on special teams, ranking third with 13 tackles (eight solo) on coverage units. Took three penalties -- a holding penalty against Chicago and a false start and facemask on consecutive snaps against Green Bay. Hard-nosed and highly competitive, Ellison should only see his role grow from here.

John Carlson (D+): Signed to a five-year, $25 million contract in March despite missing the 2011 season with a shoulder injury, Carlson never really got started. Suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on July 31 and missed the entire preseason. Ended up playing 235 snaps (21.4%) over 15 games, starting six. Missed two others after suffering at least the fourth concussion of his playing career on an illegal blindside hit by Arizona's Rashad Johnson. Was playing on punt coverage at the time -- another sign his season hadn't gone the way anyone planned. Seemed to gain a little juice after returning but still struggled to get involved in the passing game, which is supposed to be his strength. Finished with eight catches in 16 targets (50%) for 43 yards (5.4 average). Dropped three. Converted fourth-and-5 at Chicago and drew a holding call to convert fourth-and-1 at St. Louis. Was up and down as a run blocker, with his best performance in the win over Chicago. Allowed two QB pressures. Received $7.9 million in the first year of his deal (including deferred payments) and would have $1.2 million of his $2.9 million base salary for 2013 fully guaranteed if he's on the roster when the league year begins. The Vikings figure to give Carlson another chance and hope he stays healthy. But nothing is certain after how far he fell short of expectations in his first season here.

Chase Ford (I): Signed for a $12,500 bonus by Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent out of Miami. Cut in the final roster reduction and had stints on practice squads in Philadelphia and Dallas before joining the Vikings' practice squad on Dec. 26, two days after Jacksonville claimed Allen Reisner off waivers. Juco All-American who had only 16 catches in two seasons at Miami. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

LaMark Brown (I): Signed for a $1,000 bonus by Atlanta as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State, Mankato. Cut in the final roster reduction and had stints on practice squads in Buffalo and Tampa Bay before joining the Vikings' practice squad on Dec. 10. Probably more a receiver than a tight end at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

Offensive linemen

John Sullivan (A-): Awarded a five-year, $25.1 million contract extension in December 2011, Sullivan erased any doubt he has ascended among the NFL's elite centers. Played all 1,097 snaps despite battling an ankle injury that hampered him early in the season. Continued to display technique and improving power, even against larger nose tackles. Worked well on combo blocks with new guards on either side of him. Has excellent instincts. Got whipped by Chicago's Henry Melton for one sack in 2.6 seconds, had a hand in another and otherwise was mostly clean in protection. Allowed 13 total QB pressures. Took two penalties, for an illegal snap and a hold. Had several poor shotgun snaps against Tampa Bay -- including one that glanced off Ponder's shin on third-and-6 -- but has come a long way in that aspect, too. Has developed into the group's leader. Deserved to go to the Pro Bowl and missed out on a $500,000 escalator because he didn't. Offensive linemen tend to mature later than some other positions, meaning Sullivan probably is only entering his prime at age 27. He's one to build around.

Matt Kalil (B): Drafted fourth overall out of Southern Cal, Kalil was installed as the starting left tackle from Day 1 and changed the way the Vikings' protection schemes can operate. Played all 1,097 snaps despite some knee and back issues, as well as a stomach virus that kept him out of two days of practice before the Houston game. Had a hand in five sacks, though only one -- against Tampa Bay's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim after a pre-snap shift in 1.5 seconds -- was entirely his fault. Allowed 27 total QB pressures, which isn't bad for a rookie receiving minimal help on the blind side. Had the most trouble one-on-one with Chicago's Julius Peppers. Showed athleticism and better power than advertised power in the run and screen games, although he still must build lower-body strength and improve his technique overall. Took six penalties, including a pair of unnecessary personal fouls. Also played on the field-goal block unit. Blocked an extra point against Jacksonville and got the push that set up a field-goal block against San Francisco. Selected to his first Pro Bowl after Washington's Trent Williams dropped out because of injuries suffered in an alleged nightclub assault. Provided he keeps progressing, Kalil has the tools to be a fixture there for years to come.

Phil Loadholt (C+): In a contract year, Loadholt took another step forward, though perhaps not as substantial a step as the Vikings hoped. Played all 1,097 snaps at right tackle. Had a hand in 10 sacks. Allowed 31 total QB pressures. Had one horrible game at Indianapolis but bounced back. Took 11 penalties -- one of the NFL's highest totals for a tackle -- including 15-yarders for unnecessary roughness and taunting. Continued to be at his best in the run game, where his power often outweighs his lapses in technique. Lined up some at tight end in an unbalanced line early in the season. Known as a hard worker. Probably will never be a star but is a solid performer at a position where the Vikings surely are reluctant to start over. There were discussions between the team and Loadholt's agent early in the season, and all signs continue to point towards something getting done to keep him around before he ventures far in unrestricted free agency.

Charlie Johnson (C-): Miscast a season earlier at left tackle, Johnson bumped inside to guard, where he was a better fit but still hit bumps in the road. Played 1,094 snaps (99.7%), sitting out three in garbage time against Tennessee. Had a hand in four sacks. Allowed 28 total QB pressures. Took six penalties. Was up and down in the run game, seemingly struggling at times with balance and hand placement. Probably played his best game in a tough matchup against San Francisco's Justin Smith. Fought through toe and left ankle injuries late in the season. The Vikings owe Johnson a $500,000 roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year and figure to pay it, if for no other reason than to preserve continuity. But Johnson's scheduled cap number of $4.35 million in the last non-voidable year of his contract is a lot to pay for average performance at the guard position.

Brandon Fusco (D+): Awarded the starting job at right guard in his second NFL season, Fusco flashed some of his raw ability but also showed how far he still has to go. Played 944 snaps (86.1%) over 17 starts. Split time in nine games and appeared on the verge of losing the job until playing his two best games against Chicago and St. Louis. Returned to a full-time role the following week at Houston and kept it the rest of the season. Had a hand in nine sacks, including two in the playoff game. Allowed a team-high 35 total QB pressures. Has the strength and mean streak for the run game but too often played without confidence. Got caught reaching at times and wandering in space. Needs to punch through his man and show a better feel for helping around him. Did not take a penalty. Fusco is still only 24 and two years removed from playing at Division II Slippery Rock, so there is reason to believe he can improve with more reps and film study. But he shouldn't enter camp next season without competition.

Geoff Schwartz (D+): Signed to a one-year, $900,000 contract on March 26 after missing the 2011 season because of a hip injury and getting non-tendered by Carolina. Diagnosed with a sports hernia on Aug. 3, underwent surgery four days later and missed the entire preseason, costing him a chance to compete for the starting job at right guard. Suited up but didn't play in the first three-regular season games. Played on special teams beginning in Week 4, then began working in at right guard at Washington. Played 157 snaps (14.3%) over 10 games, getting more snaps than Fusco once (at Chicago), before the rotation ended with three games to go. Kicked out in front of Peterson's big run against Tampa. Also got limited time in the jumbo package. Allowed four total QB pressures. Physical and technically sound but may not be aggressive enough to fit the Vikings' style. Looked slow at times climbing to the second level. Still only 26. Can play guard or tackle. Would benefit greatly from a healthy offseason and training camp. The Vikings may want Schwartz back, but given his limited opportunities, he may want a fresh start elsewhere.

Joe Berger (D+): Appeared in all 17 games, mostly on the kick-return and field-goal units. Played three snaps (0.3%) on offense, all at left guard in garbage time against Tennessee. Remains a valuable backup who can play several positions along the line. Turns 31 in May but has relatively little mileage on his body, having appeared in only 67 games with 27 starts over eight seasons with Miami, Dallas and the Vikings. Could return in a backup role unless the Vikings prefer to develop younger players.

Troy Kropog (I): Signed to the practice squad on Sept. 18, one day after being cut by Jacksonville, which had claimed him off waivers from Tennessee five days before that. Received a raise to $31,765 a week -- equivalent to the minimum base salary for a two-year veteran -- on Nov. 28 before being elevated to the active roster for the same salary on Dec. 7. Inactive for the Vikings' final four games. Is an exclusive-rights free agent and figures to return, competing for a backup role.

DeMarcus Love (I): A sixth-round draft pick (168th overall) out of Arkansas in 2011, Love spent the entire season on injured reserve after being inactive all 16 games as a rookie. Suffered a torn right pectoral muscle on July 28. Initially attempted to rehab but was placed on injured reserve on Aug. 31 and had surgery in September. Was out of a sling by mid-October and said this month he'll be ready to start the offseason program. Flashed in his first camp and has the versatility to play multiple line spots but may be running out of chances.

Tyler Holmes (I): Signed without a bonus as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa. Primarily worked at guard in camp. Waived on Sept. 1 and signed the next day for the first of four stints totaling 14 weeks on the practice squad. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

Kevin Murphy (I): Claimed on May 3 off waivers from San Francisco, which had signed him for $2,000 as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard. Waived again 15 days later but re-signed with the Vikings on July 24. Showed good feet at left tackle in camp but clearly needed to gain strength. Waived on Sept. 1 and signed two days later to the practice squad, where he spent the entire season. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
6590