> With 2007first-round pick Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 4,045¬†yards in31¬†games at Oklahoma, slated to become the team's workhorse running backbehind what might be the best left side in football, Minnesota should be abetter rushing team than last year's 16th-rated group. Strength on the groundis also the hallmark of the defense, which last year held teams to a remarkable2.83¬†yards per carry, third-best for a run defense since the league wentto a 16-game schedule in 1978. (Amazing but true: The Super Bowl-champion Coltsgave up 111 more rushing yards per game than the Vikings, who went 6-10.) Withtwo star defensive tackles back--run-stuffer Pat Williams and pocket-disrupterKevin Williams--the run D won't let this team down. Rushing the passer isanother matter, but the return of speedy outside linebacker Chad Greenway, the2006 first-rounder who missed his entire rookie season after tearing his leftACL in his first preseason game, should make passing downs less painful towatch.
> The Vikingswere the most-flagged team in football last season (123¬†penalties enforcedagainst them) and one of the most inefficient on offense--26th in scoring, 23rdin total yards. This after hiring a scholarly offensive coach, Brad Childress,to turn the team around after a troublesome 2005.
If a practice inmid-August was any indication, the Vikes' discipline still needs work. First,tackle Ryan Cook had a false start and took a punishment run. Two plays laterguard Anthony Herrera jumped, and he had to run too. A couple of minutes later,a third false start in a seven-play stretch was whistled. Yes, it was a monthbefore the season, but it's an area that must improve.
The best thingthat happened to the offense on this day? Easy. Fiesty second-year quarterbackTarvaris Jackson--who might level a blow better than he completes apass--lowered his shoulder in the open field and blasted Kevin Williams, anAll-Pro defensive tackle, to the ground while staying on his feet andcontinuing a long run. "That's one of the things we like aboutTarvaris," says guard Steve Hutchinson. "He's got a lot of spunk."But if the Vikings rely on Jackson in the open field to spark the offense, then1) Brooks Bollinger will be playing by October, because Jackson will neverlast; and 2) it's going to be a very long year in Minnesota.
Childress, whotutored Donovan McNabb in his early years in Philadelphia, says he won't letthat happen--that Jackson, who was drafted in the second round out ofDivision¬†I-AA Alabama State in 2006, is not going to be a running QB whohappens to throw once in a while. "The quarterback in this offense will bethe ultimate decision maker, the guy who takes care of the football and movesthe chains," Childress says. "Everybody wants to put this kid in abox--southern conference black quarterback, runs first, throws second. Totallywrong. He's ahead, systemwise, of where Donovan was after one year. Is he readyfor everything defenses will throw at him? Is anyone ready in Year¬†2?He'll be fine. He's just got to manage the game. The question is, Will we begood enough around him?"
Minnesota willneed to be more efficient. "We've got to get our team intothird-and-manageable a lot more often," says Hutchinson. That will come ifPeterson, who will share duties with incumbent Chester Taylor, can make a quicktransition from Norman to Minneapolis and be the impact back the Vikingsdrafted him to be. The rookie looked strong in the preseason and didn't favorhis balky left shoulder in an impressive eight-carry, 70-yard performance inthe first half against the Jets on Aug.¬†18. "I'll be ready to put ashoulder into anyone I need to," Peterson said during camp.
The big questionon defense--other than What can the Vikings do for an encore?--is howMinnesota's defenders will adjust to a new teacher. Ever-challengingcoordinator Mike Tomlin now coaches the Steelers, and quiet Tony Dungy-discipleLeslie Frazier takes over. Look for more blitzing than Tomlin did last year."We'll miss Mike a lot," says Pat Williams. "He was never afraid tocall players out, and Leslie's quieter. He lets his coaches coach. But it's onthe players." Childress has encouraged the defense to study some of Eaglescoordinator Jim Johnson's blitz packages for inclusion in the Vikings' scheme,perhaps with safety Darren Sharper trying to cause more havoc in opposingbackfields.
"We'll attackoffenses a little differently," says Greenway, who looked superb intraining camp. "We've got to do a better job limiting big plays in thepassing game." And making plays in their own passing game. That would helptoo.
COACH BRADCHILDRESS (6-10 in NFL), second season with Vikings
BOBBY WADE (NewAquisition)
HT 6' 8"
VISANTHE SHIANCOE(New Aquisition)
> 2006 RECORD6-10 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 16/18/23 DEFENSE 1/T31/8
16 at Detroit
23 at Kansas City
30 GREEN BAY
14 at Chicago
21 at Dallas
4 SAN DIEGO
11 at Green Bay
25 at N.Y. Giants
9 at San Francisco
17 CHICAGO (M)
30 at Denver
NFL rank T18
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .500
Games against playoff teams 7
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AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZESUP THE VIKINGS
I haven't met many people around the game who think Tavaris Jackson is ready tobe a starting quarterback in the NFL. Good arm, but shaky decision-making andaccuracy...Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie--if Adrian Petersoncan't be a top guy in year 1 running behind that trio, he's not a greatback...I haven't seen a better run-stopping season in a long time than the onePat Williams had in 2006. I'll be stunned if this defense falls more than a fewnotches...The league isn't wise yet to [second-year man] Cedric Griffin, thecorner opposite Antoine Winfield. He hits as hard as Winfield, he's threeinches taller and he'll make a lot of plays because no one wants to throw atWinfield. He could be the best young corner in the league.
THE KING 500
The Vikes allowed 43 sacks and averaged a middling 4.1 yards a carry in'06--not what they expected when they signed football's best drive blocker-passblocker-pulling guard for $49 million. Now Hutchinson has adjusted toMinnesota's zone-blocking schemes. "The key is knowing how the guy next toyou is going to respond to the defense," he says. "We've worked a loton it in this off-season. We'll be better."
The Vikes like Jackson's energy but want his arm to be his callingcard.