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Updated: July 22nd, 2014 6:50pm
M&J Vikings Camp Preview: Matt Kalil, Chad Greenway need to improve

M&J Vikings Camp Preview: Matt Kalil, Chad Greenway need to improve

by Phil Mackey and Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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The countdown is on as the Vikings prepare to report to training camp at Minnesota State on Thursday and then start practicing under new coach Mike Zimmer on Friday.

Each day this week at 10 a.m. on the "Mackey & Judd" show we are going to examine different topics involving the Vikings, ending with a prediction of the team's record and finish in the NFC North on Friday.

On Tuesday, we weighed in on the players who need to show the most improvement in 2014.

Zulgad:

Matt Kalil: The Vikings' 5-10-1 finish last season cost coach Leslie Frazier his job and means Frazier's replacement, Mike Zimmer, will be looking for much better performances from many.

One of biggest bounce backs needs to come from Kalil, who was a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie but struggled far too often last season.

Considering Kalil was the fourth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Vikings are and were expecting a high-level of consistency from him throughout his career.

When you take a left tackle that high in the draft, the feeling is that the player should give you 10 good seasons, or more, and the only time you should concern yourself with him is when it's time to give him a new contract.

But Kalil went from being ranked 22nd among tackles by Pro Football Focus to plummeting to 48th on that list. His troubles started in the preseason and extended through the year.

Kalil reportedly was dealing with an injury to his right knee that required minor surgery in April, but made it clear he did not want to use that as an excuse.

"It was some problems with my knee swelling up, becoming inflamed," Kalil told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "And that affected the way I move and stuff like that. But that's football. It happens. You got to play through it, so I'll be all right."

The Vikings will be looking for Kalil to be far more than all right in 2014.

Josh Robinson: The cornerback was put in an unfair position last season, when he was asked to replace Antoine Winfield by playing inside in the nickel package. Robinson was overmatched from day one and opposing quarterback's picked him apart. A third-round selection of the Vikings in 2012, Robinson will return to the outside corner in training camp. Xavier Rhodes and newcomer Captain Munnerlyn will start in the base defense but a third corner stands to get plenty of playing time in nickel situations when Munnerlyn will shift inside. Robinson should be in the mix to compete now that he's back at a more familiar, not to mention comfortable, spot.

Sharrif Floyd: The Vikings were ecstatic, and shocked, when the defensive tackle dropped to them at No. 23 in the first round of last year's draft. Floyd, who played college football at the University of Florida, was projected a top-five pick coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine, so there were some who believed he would step right in and have success. That didn't happen and there are now some who question if Floyd will reach the level of stardom that some projected. With veteran 3-technique Kevin Williams gone, Floyd is going to get a chance to show the Vikings exactly what he can do.

Mackey

Matt Cassel: I have mostly given Cassel the benefit of the doubt heading into 2014 - assuming he's the starter - because he has proven he can thrive in the right surroundings. In 2008 with New England Cassel had a stable coaching staff, plus Wes Welker and Randy Moss as weapons, and he helped lead the Patriots to 11 wins. In 2010 with Kansas City Cassel had Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe as weapons, plus Charlie Weis (New England roots) as an offensive coordinator. This year he'll have Norv Turner, Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings. Not a bad supporting cast.

That said, Cassel is on the "needs to improve" list because his 81.6 QB rating last year was near the bottom of qualified NFL starters. He was bad on play action (64.6 QB rating) and on the road (45% completions) as well. Those numbers aren't good enough.

Kyle Rudolph: Injuries and bad quarterback play have limited Rudolph through the first three seasons of his career, so there are some built-in excuses, but if the Vikings are going to surprise teams in 2014 they need a reliable pass-catching tight end.

Rudolph's career highs to this point in his career are 53 catches, 493 yards and nine touchdowns. Considering how good his hands are, there's no reason why he can't top all of those numbers if he stays healthy.

The good news for Rudolph is tight ends have often thrived under Turner. Antonio Gates is the obvious case in San Diego, and Jordan Cameron caught 80 passes for 900 yards last season in Cleveland.

Chad Greenway: Speaking of built-in excuses, Greenway had plenty last season - a questionable defensive scheme, bad linebacker co-workers, no Antoine Winfield, etc. - which might help explain why ProFootballFocus rated Greenway as the second worst 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL.

Greenway also had the sixth worst tackling efficiency rate among 40 qualified 4-3 outside linebackers (21 missed tackles). Not good. Of course, Greenway played much of the season with a broken wrist, which likely had a great impact on his tackling. 

Can we expect Greenway's life to be made easier now that Mike Zimmer and Captain Munnerlyn are on the scene? Or has age (31) caught up to the former first round draft pick?

Greenway is the key cog at linebacker. Everyone else at the position is a question mark, from rookie Anthony Barr to unproven youngsters Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Zimmer needs to be able to rely on Greenway while hoping others can step up to the plate. 

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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