Minnesota Vikings 2008 Preview Report

Peterson

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 1st

2007 Record: 8-8 (2nd NFC North)

Head Coach: Brad Childress (3rd year)

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new veteran

Offense

QB: Tarvaris Jackson Under considerable pressure in 2008. Remarkably athletic, but must improve his decision making and deep-ball accuracy.

RB: Adrian Peterson One of the best pure runners to ever enter the NFL. Needs a passing attack around him to mitigate the number of eight-and nine-man fronts he’ll face.

FB: Thomas Tapeh** Former Eagle who is well-schooled in Brad Childress’s West Coast system.

WR: Bernard Berrian** Not a No. 1 and not worth $16 million in guarantees. Still, the Vikings had to do something at this position.

WR: Sidney Rice Doesn’t have great timed-speed, but runs like a deer. Won’t turn 22 until September; potential is there but has a lot of growing to do.

TE: Visanthe Shiancoe Disappointing in his debut season as a Viking. That figures–he’s a backup.

LT: Bryant McKinnie Off-field issues are really testing the team’s patience. But at 6’8″, 335, his power is too great to give up.

LG: Steve Hutchinson The best LG in the NFC. Excellent contributor in a group, and masterful in the ground game.

C: Matt Birk Final year of his contract. One of the smartest players in the game. Can tailor his skills to fit each play, which is why he’s coming off his sixth Pro Bowl.

RG: Anthony Herrera Not a standout by any means, but Vikings like his reliability.

RT: Ryan Cook Some think he’s a budding star. Others, a dud. Has developed well since coming into the league as a center in ’06. Good power; must really improve his foot speed and output in space.

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QB: Gus Frerotte** Journeyman backup aiming to play for every team in this league. So far, 7 down, 25 to go. This is his second stint in Minnesota.

RB: Chester Taylor Has seen his role diminish with the arrival of you know who, but still produced over 1,000 yards of total offense last season.

WR: Bobby Wade Led the team with 54 receptions last year, but that’s only because somebody had to catch the ball. Much better fit as a backup.

WR: Robert Ferguson Good blocker, and quickness allows him to make the occasional play with the ball in his hands.

TE: Jim Kleinsasser Not a significant element in Childress’s offense, but brings some value as an extra blocker from time to time.

Defense

LDE: Ray Edwards Moving back to his college position on the left side. Ascending player, though his claim to be pursuing Strahan’s single season sack record is a tad bold.

UT: Kevin Williams A monster shooting the gap. Combination of quickness and power makes him nearly unstoppable.

NT: Pat Williams The primary fountainhead of Minnesota’s voracious run defense. Impossible to move–even cut blocks don’t work against this guy.

RDE: Jared Allen** Led the NFL with 15.5 sacks last season (in just 14 games). Now has $31 million in guaranteed money to live up to.

SLB: Ben Leber Not the most trumpeted player, but is smart in coverage, adept in the open field and robust against blocks.

MLB: E.J. Henderson Exploded after moving back to the middle. Destructive in the backfield and crushing at the point of attack.

WLB: Chad Greenway An elite role player who is comfortable in traffic and space. Instincts are impressive and fundamentals are honed. Good speed makes him viable in coverage.

CB: Antoine Winfield Remains the best tackling cornerback in football. Excellent man-to-man defender as well.

SS: Darren Sharper Thirty-three years old and in the final year of his contract. Has lost half a step but is still a playmaker. Coming off his fourth Pro Bowl.

FS: Madieu Williams** Great addition for this Cover 2 scheme. Offers excellent range in coverage.

CB: Cedric Griffin Confident–almost cocky–player who improved precipitously as a fulltime starter last season. Stout against the run.

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DL: Brian Robison Intriguing speed, but needs to be well-coached in order to develop the moves and technique of a strapping NFL pass-rusher.

LB: Heath Farwell Won’t see a lot of action with the defense, but is one of the most productive special teams players in the league.

NB: Charles Gordon Undrafted FA in ’06 who has surprisingly developed into a nice NB. Plays the run well and gives very little breathing room in coverage.

Key Players Acquired

DE Jared Allen (KC)

WR Bernard Berrian (Chi)

S Michael Boulware (Hou)

QB Gus Frerotte (Stl)

RB Maurice Hicks (SF)

LB Derrick Pope (Mia)

CB Benny Sapp (KC)

FB Thomas Tapeh (Phi)

S Madieu Williams (Cin)

DL Ellis Wyms (Sea)

Key Players Lost

S Mike Doss

QB Kelly Holcomb

DE Erasmus James (Was)

DT Spencer Johnson (Buf)

RB Mewelde Moore (Pit)

FB Tony Richardson (NYJ)

DL Darrion Scott

S Dwight Smith (Det)

LB Dontarrious Thomas (SF)

CB Ronyell Whitaker (Det)

S Tank Williams (NE)

WR Troy Williamson (Jax)

To call this a busy offseason would be an understatement. Obviously, the arrival of Allen made the most headlines. He might be the best DE in football. He easily makes up for the losses of James, Johnson and Scott (none of whom were formidable starters). Replacing Dwight Smith with Madieu Williams is great. Williams has the character that Smith lacks, plus he’s more consistent in coverage. They paid too much for Berrian, though with Williamson’s failed development, they badly needed a receiver. The rest of the acquisitions give Minnesota good depth and special teams prowess.

2008 – Minnesota Vikings

Rd

Sel #

Player

Position

School

2

43

Tyrell Johnson

FS

Arkansas State

5

137

John David Booty

QB

USC

5

152

Letroy Guion

DT

Florida State

6

187

John Sullivan

C

Notre Dame

6

193

Jaymar Johnson

WR

Jackson State

The Vikings traded their first-round pick and a pair of third-rounders to Kansas City in exchange for Jared Allen. That may have been a steep price, but with the current feeble state of the NFC North, they felt it necessary to make a move for the present. Of the players they drafted, only Tyrell Johnson and Sullivan figure to become starters at some point. Both are likely to take over in 2009 when Darren Sharper and Matt Birk will be UFA’s. Minnesota rated Johnson as the top safety in the draft, which is why they traded up to get him. Sullivan is valued for his intelligence. David Booty is a recognizable name. He is familiar with the West Coast offense; the front office is raving about him.

Minnesota Vikings 2008 Preview Report

The Minnesota Vikings are taking a vacation in 2008. Their destination: the top of the NFL. It should be a lot of fun. It’s a place they used to travel to fairly often; they maybe even had family over there. But they haven’t been back since 2000 (the last time they posted a double-digit win total).

They’re just getting set to leave. It will be good for them to get away. In recent years, the Vikings have stayed busy at home, bickering with the local government about a new stadium (have you seen the Metrodome? It’s a dump), putting out PR fires (remember the Love Boat scandal? Or the way the Randy Moss/Daunte Culpepper era ended?), and changing coaching staffs (Brad Childress replaced Mike Tice three years ago).

The Vikings pondered the idea of taking a trip last season but ultimately decided that they couldn’t get away (they were 8-6 but lost their last two and missed the postseason). Things have not completely eased up at home–they’re still haggling with the Twin Cities about a new stadium, despite being the lowest revenue-producing franchise in the NFL. And they’ve had an off-the-field problem or two–mainly left tackle Bryant McKinnie. But they feel good enough to sojourn out in 2008.

Owner Zygi Wilf is funding the trip; Childress and front office execs Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski are planning it. They’re going all-out. Minnesota is bringing along new defensive end, Jared Allen, who they’ll need in order to get to where they’re going. The Vikings traded their first-round draft pick, as well as two third-rounders to Kansas City just to get the league’s reigning sack champion. They also spent a mind-boggling $31 million in guarantees to sign Allen (six-year, $73.26 million contract).

Talk about traveling first class. Minnesota already had the most vociferous defensive tackle tandem in the NFL. Kevin Williams is a one-gap atom bomb and Pat Williams (no relation) is a space-eating leviathan. Putting Allen on the outside of those two and book-ending him with rising youngsters Ray Edwards, Brian Robison and Jayme Mitchell makes this defensive line seemingly unstoppable.

With the Williams’s in the middle, Minnesota is a stone wall to run against. The Vikings gave up just 74.1 yards rushing per game last season–best in the NFL. In 2006, they surrendered just 61.6 rushing yards per game–second best since the 1970 merger. The Vikings’ underrated linebacking trio has helped the cause.

Still, the team will need to bring along more than just a great run defense if they want to reach their destination. They’ll have to pack defensive backs who can help improve the 32nd ranked pass defense. Minnesota went out and signed rangy free safety Madieu Williams in order to do this, though they’re counting on young corners Cedric Griffin, Charles Gordon and Marcus McCauley to continue their development.

It looks like the Vikings are loading up the vans right now. Forgot to mention, this is a road trip. The Vikings love to travel on the ground. You would too if you had their overpowering offensive line. Left-side tandem Bryant McKinnie (tackle) and guard Steve Hutchinson are absolute road-graders. McKinnie is 6’8″, 335; his strength in a phone booth is earth-moving. Hutchinson has been to the last four Pro Bowls, mainly because he’s as mobile and powerful as an RV. He’s a great fit in this zone-blocking scheme. Center Matt Birk is a genius as well–both on and off the field.

Yes, it makes perfect sense to travel via automobile. Especially if Adrian Peterson is driving. The guy just recently got his license, but already he’s more fun to ride with than Herbie The Love Bug. Peterson accelerates with authority, changes lanes at warp speed and barrels through traffic better than anyone on the highway. Granted, he doesn’t have a perfect driving record. In college he got in a few wrecks (high ankle sprain, broken collar bone), and as a rookie he had a fender-bender that involved his right lateral collateral ligament. But if Peterson can stay safe, he, as well as Chester Taylor, gives the Vikings a great transport on the ground.

It looks like Minnesota is all set. They’ve packed good special teams. The defensive line is loaded and ready to go. So is the offensive line. All of the young guys are sitting in the back–many of them have matured enough to where they don’t need anyone between them. Peterson’s behind the wheel. Childress is in the shot gun reviewing the itinerary and maps; he’s a great navigator, especially on the West Coast.

Lock the doors, buckle up and have a safe trip–oh wait!

Did anyone pack a passing game? The top of the NFL is a very remote place; the Vikings can drive most of the way, but they’ll only reach the top through the air. Where are Minnesota’s receivers?

Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison are sitting in the back; they’re young, but maybe they can do. Who are the other receivers? Bernard Berrian? Okay:.probably not worth $16 million in guaranteed money, but at least someone thought to bring him along. Anyone else? Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson? That makes for an iffy group, but that might be enough. Depends who’s throwing them the ball.

Say, did anyone remember to bring a quarterback? You need one–you can’t reach the top of the NFL without it. Where is Minnesota’s quarterback? Surely they wouldn’t plan such an elaborate trip without one:would they?

Offense

Tarvaris Jackson, come on down. Minnesota’s seasons rests in the hands of this man. Pardon the third-year pro if he feels like Atlas.

When the Vikings drafted Jackson in the second round out of Alabama State, the plan was to groom him in a backup role the first few years and work out some of the kinks inherent with being a gifted but green quarterback form the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

However, when Minnesota’s ’06 season was lost after 14 games, Brad Childress couldn’t resist putting his callow passer on the field. And when Brad Johnson left in 2007, and Brooks Bollinger and Kelly Holcombe were the only other quarterbacks on the roster, Childress couldn’t resist anointing Jackson the starter.

Jackson went 8-4 last season, but he was the beneficiary of the league’s top-rated rushing attack. Minnesota’s passing game ranked 28th–which matched the rank of Jackson’s quarterback rating. Possessing a set of wheels and body comportment that makes him virtually a right-handed Michael Vick, Jackson is a dangerous scrambler. However, in Childress’s West Coast system, he must develop pocket presence and accuracy. Last year, he had neither.

Jackson impressed coaches by staying around Minnesota throughout most of the offseason and working closely with coordinator Darrell Bevell. The hope is that the quarterback’s recent growth can immediately allay some of the decision-making problems that have plagued him. Jackson’s elevated comfort in the system should naturally decrease his turnovers (he threw just 12 picks last season but his rate of four interceptions for every 100 passes was the fourth worst in the league). He should also improve his atrociously sporadic deep ball. To what extent remains to be seen.

With journeyman backup Gus Frerotte and fifth-round rookie John David Booty likely to be the only other quarterbacks on the roster in ’08, all of Minnesota’s eggs are in Jackson’s basket. The powers that be in Minnesota will say this is by design. But the fact of the matter is, the Vikings pursued a trade for Houston’s Sage Rosenfels, and it’s almost certain that they thought long and hard about Brett Favre. Jackson’s long-term future could be bright (if he matures and becomes a steadier leader), but it’s implausible that he’ll illuminate fully in 2008.

Minnesota just needs Jackson to be effective enough to prevent opponents from routinely stuffing eight or nine men in the box. Last season, defenses dialed in on Adrian Peterson down the stretch, and the NFL Rookie of the Year averaged just 36 yards rushing over the final four games (his sore right knee may have been partly to blame). As if his pair of 200-yard rushing performances–including the NFL single-game record 296 yards against San Diego–didn’t already make it clear, let the record show that Peterson is a very special player. He’s a beast to bring down, and, as Steve Sabol might say, he can change directions like a fish.

The serviceability of the Vikings passing attack will go a long ways in determining Peterson’s fate in ’08. Polishing Jackson is a chore; doing it with a shoddy core of receivers is a challenge. Minnesota ameliorated the situation by bringing in Chicago’s Bernard Berrian. They paid way too much for him, but at least they have a wideout they can call their No. 1 (even if such a label is exaggerated). Berrian’s greatest asset is his ability to stretch the field. However, given Jackson’s erratic deep ball, the fifth-year pro will have to evolve into a more viable intermediate weapon if he hopes to come anywhere near his 71-catch, 951-yard output of a year ago.

Second-year player Sidney Rice is a fluid athlete who has range that is better than his 40-time suggests. Like Jackson, Rice is raw and probably shouldn’t be in the starting lineup this early. But also like Jackson, he’s oozing with talent. The Vikings will ask Rice to run more sophisticated routes in 2008.

Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson are the first backups off the bench. Both veterans are inconsistent, but both at least understand their assignments. What the Vikings would like, however, is a playmaker to fill the middle. Judging from some of the offseason activities, last year’s fifth-round pick Aundrae Allison might be that guy. He seems to have good chemistry with Jackson. The hope was that tight end Visanthe Shiancoe could be the inside receiving presence, but the sixth-year veteran caught just 27 balls in his first season as a Viking last year. That wasn’t too many more than the number he dropped.

Shiancoe will start in ’08, but only because Jim Kleinsasser and Garrett Mills are even more limited receivers. Longtime Eagles fullback Thomas Tapeh is an adept ballhandler who may wind up assuming a majority of the short-receiving responsibilities. Mills has seen some time at H-back in practice. Last season, the Vikings used Jeff Dugan in that role.

Keep a perspective here; with Peterson and Chester Taylor, Minnesota’s top priority is always to run the ball. Having Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson on the left side makes this a no-brainer. Last season, Peterson averaged 6.3 yards per carry when running left (Taylor averaged 5.3). There’s a chance the Vikings could be without McKinnie for a period of time. The seventh-year pro has been arrested four times in his career, including this past offseason after a nightclub brawl in Miami. Though charges have been dropped in two of McKinnie’s arrests, he could still face suspension from the NFL. If that happens, backup guard Artis Hicks would fill in at left tackle (this would be an enormous downgrade).

Center Matt Birk is in the final year of his contract and likely won’t be back in 2009. The Vikings already drafted his replacement, John Sullivan, in the sixth round. The Golden Domer worked with the first unit throughout much of the offseason (Birk did not partake in any of the voluntary team activities). Sullivan’s time won’t come this season, as the 32-year-old Birk is still amongst the best in the business.

Right guard Anthony Herrera is solid, and right tackle Ryan Cook could still become just that. Cook, a brawny second-round pick in ’06, has been more reliable than disappointing ’05 second-rounder Marcus Johnson, but he still has some progress to make in his footwork.

Defense

The 2007 rankings are pretty straightforward: Minnesota’s defense ranked first against the run and dead last against the pass. As long as nose tackle Pat Williams is on the field, a potent run defense will prevail in 2008. The 12th-year veteran is a rotund 6’3″, 317 (likely 340) and plays remarkably low to the ground. Williams may have more sheer power than any defensive lineman in football, and opponents marvel at his immovability in the trenches. Some go so far as to say that he’s impossible to cut block. The caveat with Williams is that he’s 36, which makes him available for no more than fifty percent of the defensive snaps.

Coordinator Leslie Frazier can live with that. Behind Williams is solid veteran Ellis Wyms (an inside-outside player), troubled but gifted Fred Evans, and 328-pound Kenderick Allen. And, of course, next to Williams is another Williams, in the form of a Kevin. Kevin Williams is one of the finest one-gap penetraters in football, and he’s extremely active against the run.

With the Williams tackles clogging the trenches, linebackers E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber and Chad Greenway can roam freely. Henderson has blossomed since moving back to the middle. He led the team with 119 tackles last season and led the entire NFL with 12.5 tackles for loss (he also had 4.5 sacks). Henderson is ferocious at the point attack. He doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sideline-to-sideline plays, but that’s more a product of Minnesota’s Cover 2 scheme.

The flats are the territory of Leber (strongside) and Greenway (weakside). Leber is a gritty player who shows strength and unexpected speed. Greenway displays more finesse but is still capable of making noise in traffic. Both guys are underrated.

The Vikings’ dominance against the run is partly to blame for their struggles defending the pass. Unable to move the ball on the ground, opponents attempted a league-high 646 passes against Minnesota last year. Simple math says, with more passes being attempted, more yards are liable to be given up.

Nevertheless, the Vikings made two key moves this past offseason to stop the bleeding through the air: they traded for defensive end Jared Allen and signed free safety Madieu Williams. In Allen they have one the league’s banner pass-rushers, joining a front four that already posted a respectable 38 sacks a year ago. With an incessant motor and knack for creating turnovers (13 forced fumbles over the past three years), Allen is easily one of the most destructive defenders in the game. His contract pays him $38.4 million over the first three years, which means he had better be toiling near Michael Strahan’s all-time single season sack record of 22.

Third-year defensive end Ray Edwards has officially declared that he is making a run at Strahan’s record in 2008. While rich in hyperbole, you have to admire the guy’s bravado. Edwards is a good player. Returning to his collegiate position of left defensive end, and being the tertiary concern of every opponent (Allen and Williams are the first two), Edwards should post double digit sack figures in ’08. He has an excellent spin move, which could go a long ways once he improves his balance. Also, at 6’5″, he has the length to disrupt throwing lanes.

Most people have never heard of backup defensive lineman Jayme Mitchell, but the fleet pass-rushing specialist could be a surprise factor this season. Mitchell is 6’6″ but plays with good leverage. He has a unique ability to maintain separation and set up his second move. He’ll have to work behind intriguing second-year speedster Brian Robison though.

As for the other big move:.Madieu Williams brings great range to centerfield, as well as refined coverage skills from his early days as a cornerback in Cincinnati. He’ll be stellar tag-teaming with 33-year-old strong safety Darren Sharper. Though a four-time Pro Bowler (including the past two years) and veritable ball hawk, Sharper’s days in Minnesota appear to be numbered. He is in the final year of his contract, and the team just drafted his heir, Tyrell Johnson, in the second round. Johnson was the 17th rater player overall on the front office’s draft board.

Part of the reason Minnesota’s run defense is so potent is that every cornerback can tackle. In fact, diminutive yet aggressive Antoine Winfield is the best tackling corner in the game. The Vikings need Winfield to stay healthy in ’08 (he missed six games with shoulder and hamstring injuries last season).

With Winfield 100 percent and No. 2 starter Cedric Griffin continuing his ascension, the pass defense is destined to improve. In fact, if Charles Gordon–an undrafted rookie in ’06–plays the nickel as well as he did down the stretch last year, and ’07 third-round pick Marcus McCauley grows after his up-and-down yet encouraging rookie season, the Vikings could end up having one of the league’s better secondaries.

Special Teams

Kicker Ryan Longwell has not missed from inside 45 yards since leaving Green Bay in 2006. At 34, he’s in his prime and one of the best in the league. Punter Chris Kluwe has improved his accuracy in recent years; last season, he downed 37 balls inside the 20.

With the departure of Mewelde Moore, the Vikings brought in 49ers running back Maurice Hicks to return kicks. There’s not a lot of lightning in Hicks, but he’s serviceable. Still, Minnesota may want to put Aundrae Allison back there. He returned 20 kickoffs last season, including one for 104 yards. Adrian Peterson returned some kicks in ’07, but he is far too valuable to play special teams. Minnesota is still looking for a punt returner–they’ll probably have to use jittery Bobby Wade.

A bright spot this season could be the team’s coverage units. Newly acquired safety Michael Boulware is a potentially nice special teamer, plus backup linebackers Heath Farwell, Vinny Ciurciu and Derrick Pope are all stellar. Farwell, in fact, is one of the most productive special teams tacklers in football.

Bottom Line

The Vikings roster has quietly materialized into one of the finest in the leagues. They may have the game’s best run offense and defense. Their season comes down to how well Tarvaris Jackson performs.

Myth Buster

Bernard Berrian is a No. 1 Receiver

Bernard Berrian is a good No. 2 receiver who is being paid like a No. 1. The fifth-year pro has never posted 1,000 yards. He had a respectable 951 yards (14th most in the NFC) on 71 receptions last season, and 775 yards the year before that.

Berrian is a fast player who can stretch the field, and he is to be commended for improving in his weak areas over the years. However, to be a bona fide No. 1, a wideout must be dangerous in short yardage as well as over the middle. And, he must be worthy of a double team on every third down.

Berrian is certainly Minnesota’s best receiver, thanks to shabbiness at the position. Perhaps this technically makes him a No. 1. But $16 million in guarantees?

Open Thought

My first inclination was to say that it is time to tone down the Metrodome Horn and make it simply a celebratory echo after a score (as opposed to after every first down). My thinking was that it hums far too often throughout the course of a game.

However, after reading up on the horn and taking in the opinion of Viking fans, I can’t help but lower my head, raise my hands and declare “never mind.” Annoying as it is after the eighth or ninth time, I have to admit, it’s a really cool idea. Sounding the horn after a touchdown is one thing; sounding it after a first down on a momentum-building drive is another. It’s like a battle cry. I imagine the Norsemen in the latter half of the first millennium probably sounded some sort of horn before alighting on an Arctic Island. Keep it up, Minnesota.


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