Tranquility reigns. Talent rises to the surface. The cruise boat scandal of2005 is old news, and the Randy Moss circus is two years gone. New coach BradChildress will bring good citizenship and double-digit wins in one tidypackage. Brad Johnson will steady the quarterback position in his twilightyears, behind a line that's potentially as good as any in the game. The defensewon't get you beat. The Vikings will build on last year's strong finish (sevenwins in their last nine games), and this time they'll return to the playoffsinstead of falling one game short.
So much for tranquility. One day during training camp Childress was telling areporter, "One of the things I've been hired to do is create an atmosphereof structure and accountability." Four days later, on Aug. 15, veteranwideout Koren Robinson was arrested and charged with six counts, includingdrunken driving and fleeing police. A court date is set for October.
It was a jolt ofreality for the Vikings, for whom the summer had been built on a theme ofrenewal. Robinson, who with the Seahawks in 2004 was suspended for four gamesfor violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, said in early August, "Newstaff, new system, even new uniforms. We all understand it's time to beaccountable." Robinson now knows only too well. The Vikings cut him lastSaturday-hours after safety Dwight Smith was cited for alleged indecentconduct.
Childress, 50, ano-nonsense coach with a push-broom mustache and gym-teacher shorts, was hiredby image-conscious owner Zygi Wilf to get back to the playoffs and to win withclass. The question now is whether such blows to the latter will affect theformer. "We all know that winning is the cure-all," says Johnson, who'sentering his 15th NFL season.
The loss ofRobinson dents Childress's offense, a version of the West Coast that he ran asthe coordinator in Philadelphia for the last four years. It means the steadyJohnson (65-43 as an NFL starter), who replaced injured-and now departed-DaunteCulpepper last year, will have to spread the ball around more without afrontline receiver. Second-year man Troy Williamson, for example, will beexpected to improve substantially on his 24 catches of a year ago.
Then there isChester Taylor, the former Ravens backup to Jamal Lewis. The Vikings are askingthe free-agent Taylor to ascend to the role of featured running back. In fouryears he has carried 20 times or more in only four games. But he and Johnsonwill have the benefit of a line with huge upside. Left guard Steve Hutchinsonwas signed from Seattle for a cap-choking $49 million over seven years, rightguard Artis Hicks was obtained in a trade with Philadelphia, and center MattBirk returns after missing all of 2005 with injuries that required surgery onboth hips.
Childress hiredMike Tomlin from the Bucs to install the Tampa Cover 2, but the coordinatorsuffered a setback when the first-round draft pick, linebacker Chad Greenwayout of Iowa, suffered what's believed to be a torn left ACL in the openingpreseason game and was lost for the season. But four-year veteran E.J.Henderson had played well enough in camp to keep Greenway on the secondteam.
On both sides ofthe ball, turning the page-the Robinson incident notwithstanding-should trulyhelp. "Last year was not fun for anyone," says Birk. "People paidfor their mistakes, and now it's behind us."
11 at Washington(M)
1 at Buffalo
22 at Seattle
30 NEW ENGLAND(M)
5 at SanFrancisco
12 GREEN BAY
19 at Miami
3 at Chicago
10 at Detroit
17 N.Y. JETS
21 at Green Bay(T)
31 ST. LOUIS
(M) Monday (T)Thursday
NFL rank T29
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .457
Games against playoff teams 6
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE 49ERS
> If AntoineWinfield and Fred Smoot can put it all together, they make a pretty formidablepair of corners. Both of them can cover and tackle when they're on theirgame.
> UntilChester Taylor proves me wrong, I think he's just a backup in this league. It'sa big jump to 25 carries a game.
> Thatoffensive line is pretty darn good. Steve Hutchinson is the guy they paid allthe money to get, but if I had to start a team with one of them, it would beBryant McKinnie. This will be his fifth year in the league, and he looks as ifhe's coming into his own as a dominant player.
> Is KenechiUdeze healthy? That's a big question mark. And we'll have to see if theirlinebackers-guys like Napoleon Harris and E.J. Henderson-can play pass defensein this new scheme.
Brad Johnson isnot what you'd call a top-level quarterback. The receivers are average withoutKoren Robinson.
Back fromleft-knee surgery, which ended his 2005 season after only three games, Udeze isprimed to fulfill the promise he showed-a five-sack rookie year-after theVikings made him the 20th pick in the 2004 draft out of USC. During theoff-season Udeze not only rehabbed his knee but also dropped 25 pounds, to 268,and worked on improving his quickness. "Kenechi looks fast, man," sayscornerback Fred Smoot. "People are going to be impressed watching him comeoff the edge this year."
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COACH BRADCHILDRESS (0-0 in NFL), first season with Minnesota
CHESTER TAYLOR(New Acquisition)
TONY RICHARDSON(New Acquisition)
RYAN LONGWELL(New Acquisition)
STEVE HUTCHINSON(New Acquisition)
ARTIS HICKS (NewAcquisition)
SACKS 1 1/2
BEN LEBER (NewAcquisition)
DWIGHT SMITH (NewAcquisition)
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 27/20/25 DEFENSE 19/22/21
GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES
MOVING UP A reserve for four seasons in Baltimore, Taylor will be the main man in the Vikings' running game.
HELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ