Vikings eager to start season with new starting QB
By Teresa M. Walker
AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Adrian Peterson can hardly sleep, so eager for the Minnesota Vikings to finally open the season after their playoff loss last January.
“I’ve been wired up, and I’ll be ready to roll Sunday,” Peterson said.
Yes, the Vikings may not have been saying who their starting quarterback would be Sunday in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. With the defending NFL rushing leader healthy and available, everyone knows exactly who the Vikings will run their offense through.
“If we didn’t have a guy like him, that would make this thing a lot harder than what it is,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said of the NFL’s 2012 MVP.
Zimmer said he’d be “sugar-coating it” by calling the loss of Teddy Bridgewater to a dislocated knee and torn ACL on Aug. 30 as anything but a big blow. The Vikings, who went 11-5 winning the 3-13 last season to wind up with the No. 1 draft pick that was traded away for more selections, Tennessee has 22 new players .
The Titans also are starting the season at home for the first time since 2012 – two head coaches ago – with Mike Mularkey now the third after being given the job for good in January.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo said it’s time to show fans what the Titans can do with all the changes.
“They’ve been waiting all offseason for the opportunity to see the new-look Titans, and we cannot disappoint,” Orakpo said.
Here are some things to watch as the Vikings open against the Titans:
RUN RUN RUN: Peterson led the NFL in rushing last season, and the Titans now have the running back who held that title for 2014. Tennessee believes DeMarco Murray, who was with Peterson for one season at Oklahoma, is poised to bounce back after an ugly season in Philadelphia. Whenever Murray needs a break, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry will be ready to come in.
ON THE TAKE: With all 11 starters back from a unit that surrendered an average of 19.3 points per game last season, fifth fewest in the league, the Vikings have the potential to field one of the NFL’s best defenses. That means producing more takeaways after causing 22 last year, 18th in the league.
There’d be no better week to get going toward that goal than this, against a Tennessee team that matched Dallas for the most turnovers in the NFL last season with 33. “We’ve been saying that we wanted more turnovers, more turnovers, so this is the year for us to take that next step,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said, adding: “We’re just going to stay within the scheme, try to get better and try to do what we can do. Just go out there and dominate and ball out.”
PROTECT THAT BALL: For all the great stats Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota put up as a rookie, he’s spent lots of time this offseason trying to cut down one big number: six lost fumbles. “It’s going to be a test this week,” Mariota said. “I think those guys up front for that defense do a good job of swiping up the ball and stuff. It’s going to be a real test this week. It’s just something that hopefully I’ve kind of corrected and I’ll take care of it.”
HE’S MY IDOL: Dick LeBeau, going into his 58th NFL season, is Tennessee’s defensive coordinator this season, and Zimmer is a big fan. “He’s an unbelievable coach,” Zimmer said of LeBeau. “He has done it for a long time. He’s in the Hall of Fame, which is a great, great honor. He loves football, he loves coaching and he always has his guys prepared.”
Zimmer went against LeBeau while Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator between 2008 and 2013, with LeBeau in the same job for Pittsburgh.
STARTING OFF: The Titans have won three straight season openers, tied for the fourth-longest streak in the NFL. All three of those came on the road, and Tennessee went a combined 9-36 after those opening victories. The last time they opened a season at home in 2012, the Titans lost 34-13 to New England.