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Vikes' defense will have start carrying its weight

The train wreck that was Minnesota's 2013 football season is now just a bad memory for Viking fans.

At the team's mini-camp last week the Vikings were serving up football again, with some optimism on the side.

It seemed incredible last year that with so many of the same players from their playoff team in 2012 aboard the Vikes would go 5-10-1 in 2013 but there was a big, fat reason - the team's defense ranked 31st in yardage allowed and dead last in points allowed. No wonder that you are not hearing predictions of an NFC title from the 2014 Vikes.

About the only good thing that came out of the season was that Minnesota's incredibly bad defensive play brought Mike Zimmer to the Gopher State. With Cincinnati's former defensive guru at the helm the Vikes will have a new mission this year. The Bengals had the fifth-best defense in the NFL last year and made the AFC playoffs for the third year in a row. Don't expect Zimmer and his staff to make the same coaching mistakes Leslie Frazier and his assistants made last year when they blew leads in the final seconds against Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas and Baltimore. If the Vikes win those games they finish 9-6-1 and they win the division.

Zimmer's boot will land squarely on the backsides of his secondary people if they do not give 110 percent. The Vikes were 31st in pass defense last year giving up 287 yards a game and a guy like Zimmer is not going to tolerate that kind of performance. It is not likely that he is going to be patient with the same takeaway-giveaway numbers the Vikes put up last year either. The Vikes were tied with Detroit for 14th in the 16-team NFC with only 12 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries. They gave the ball away 32 times between interceptions and fumbles.

Veteran Captain Munnerlyn, who played for the defensive-driven Carolina Panthers last year, replaces Josh Robinson as a slot cornerback. Former No. 1 free safety pick Harrison Smith is back and healthy again. Jamarca Sanford is back for his seventh season at strong safety. Xavier Rhodes, who many rated the top corner of the 2012 draft, will start at the other corner.

The Vikings might not have a better pass rush but it will be a younger one. Everson Griffen will have to keep his nose out of trouble but he has the skills to make former star Jared Allen proud. The Vikings have No. 1 pick Sharrif Floyd at one tackle spot and free agent Linval Joseph, a 6-4, 323-pound behemoth at the other. Veteran Brian Robison will have to take over some leadership at the other end spot.

The Vikings finally started taking their linebacking seriously by adding a No. 1 pick to the unit in UCLA standout Anthony Barr. Zimmer is likely to use Barr as a pass rusher in sure passing situations. They have star Chad Greenway at the other outside spot so teams should not be able to run that well outside against Minnesota. There might be a problem at middle linebacker with former starter Jasper Brinkley, a bomb last year with Arizona, considered the starter right now.

At this point the Vikings have 30 players on defense who have three years of pro experience or less and five of them are already considered starters. This means Zimmer is going to want his young stars to grow up quick. After such a disappointing campaign last year they will have plenty of incentive.