| A new long-ball threat at receiver will help lighten Peterson's load.
|Tom Dahlin/Getty Images|
8 at Green Bay (M)
28 at Tennessee
6 at New Orleans (M)
19 at Chicago
9 GREEN BAY
16 at Tampa Bay
23 at Jacksonville
7 at Detroit
14 at Arizona
28 N.Y. GIANTS
Cedric Griffin, Cornerback: The Vikings ranked last in pass defense in 2007, and Griffin, in his first full year as a starter, was one reason -- he usually had good position but often failed to finish plays. Antoine Winfield, the other corner, is a quality veteran, so offenses will again challenge Griffin. Coaches and teammates say he's been more confident and assertive in camp.
An upgraded roster means less pressure on the young QB. An improved attitude means they're serious about a playoff run.
Vikings fans aren't the only ones thinking big this season. Cornerback
Antoine Winfield sees greatness in the defense. Running back Adrian Peterson
believes the offense has no ceiling. And defensive end Jared Allen can envision
a season-ending stroll through a shower of confetti.
Coach Brad Childress? He sees the potential pitfalls in such talk. "The great
thing about this league is that you've got to show up week in and week out and
be consistent," he says. "We harp about that all the time. There are no
flash-in-the-pans. Each game counts. They're one-sixteenth deals, and we have to
treat each one as such."
Still, as the Vikings went through two-a-days in Mankato, Minn., the
expectations among the players soared with the temperature. The team finished
6-10 and 8-8 in Childress's first two seasons, showing promise late last year
with a five-game winning streak. Now the off-season additions of savvy free
safety Madieu Williams, big-play wide receiver Bernard Berrian and Allen, the
NFL's sack leader in 2007, have the players thinking about more than winning a
division title and getting back to the playoffs for the first time since
"When I saw the trade for Jared and the signing of Madieu, I knew they were
making all the moves for us to make a run at not only the playoffs but the
pinnacle, the Super Bowl," says strong safety Darren Sharper. "Coach's first
year here, we knew there would probably be some growing pains. We knew it was
going to be a process each and every year to get better. But with the pieces we
have in place, we have the attitude that it's win now."
The key will be third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. He was 8-4 in his
first full year as a starter in 2007, but with 12 interceptions against just
nine touchdown passes, he failed to consistently make the right reads and
throws. Minnesota masked his shortcomings to some extent with a ground game that
led the NFL in rushing. The catalyst was Peterson, the 2007 Offensive Rookie of
the Year. Showing a unique blend of size, speed and power, he set a league
record with 296 yards rushing against the Chargers in Week 9 and
finished the year with 1,341 yards on a gaudy average of 5.6 per carry.
This year the beefed-up defense figures to alleviate still more pressure on
Jackson by improving the Vikings' field position. While Minnesota ranked
No. 1 against the run last season, it was last against the pass, giving up
an average of 264.1 yards per game. Allen, whose 15 1/2 sacks with the Chiefs in
2007 were 10 1/2 more than any Viking had, will help shut down the aerial attack,
as will Williams, a fifth-year veteran from the Bengals who'll act as the
quarterback of the secondary.
The Vikings also helped Jackson by bringing in Berrian to stretch the field.
Last season Minnesota ranked 31st with only 25 completions of 20 or more yards.
Berrian, the former Bear who set career highs with 71 catches for 951 yards, is
a bona fide deep threat: 10 of his 15 career scores (including the postseason)
have been for 30 yards or more, including six for 40 or more. Childress also
loves his tenacity.
"He's slightly built, but he's a tough-minded guy," the coach says. "Whether
that comes from his parents' service background [both are retired Air Force
mechanics] or the fact that he's the middle of three boys, I don't know. But
he's tough. He'll block you, which is required of our wideouts. He's not a
Childress talks a lot about attitude because he believes the team had a
miserable one before he came on board. He illustrates that with a story about a
road trip during his first year. Seated in his customary first-row seat on the
charter, he was stunned to hear a player walking up the aisle, soliciting
participants for a cash raffle. Suffice it to say the carnival atmosphere
thereafter. -- Jim Trotter