Vikings postcard (cont.)
New Face, New Place
Allen, Berrian and Williams all are expected to start. We spoke about Allen and Williams earlier. The Vikings believe Berrian will be the deep threat that was lacking last season. They also expect him to have better hands than the likes of the departed Troy Williamson, who struggled to hold onto the ball. Berrian has surprised some teammates with his playmaking ability in the red zone. Says Jackson: "He can go get the football. If you give him a chance to make a play he's going to make a play. He's more than just a deep-ball guy."
Looking at the Schedule
The thing that jumps out at you is the opener, a Monday night matchup at Green Bay, because there is an outside possibility it could be Favre taking snaps for the Vikings in Lambeau Field. How weird would that be? Overall, the first month is brutal because three of the Vikings' first four games are against clubs that went to the playoffs last season, with two of them on the road. They play Green Bay (Sept. 8) and Tennessee (Sept. 28) away and get Indianapolis (Sept. 14) at home. The schedule appears favorable down the stretch, when four of their final five games will be against teams that failed to post winning records last year: Chicago, Detroit, Arizona and Atlanta.
Memorable Image From Camp
The Vikings definitely have one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the league, and it's a pleasure watching them work against each other. Granted, the players do so in a smart manner, staying on their feet and not giving that little extra oomph if they have the advantage over a counterpart. But when you can watch guard Steve Hutchinson work against Pat or Kevin Williams, or tackle Bryant McKinnie against Allen, it's fun. "I get to go against some of the best in the business each day, which only makes us better," says Allen. "So when we get in the games we should dominate."
There is a connotation that goes with being called a deep-threat receiver. Often people take that to mean that the player is soft. The Vikings say that label doesn't apply to Berrian.
"He's a tough ass, that's what I like about him," says Childress. "He's slightly built as you look at him, but he's a tough-minded guy. Whether that comes from his parents' service background or the fact that he's the middle of three boys, I don't know. He's tough. He'll block you, which is required of our wideouts. He's not a diva. He's a tough guy and a smart guy."
Childress doesn't hide this being the best team he has gone to camp with in his three years as coach. But unlike some of his players, he's not willing to say the team has to win this year. He is preaching efficiency and consistency. "I think this is a good team too, but I know there are 32 teams that start off down this road every year and hope springs eternal," he says. "The great thing about this league is that you've got to show it week in and week out. You have to be consistent. We harp about that all the time."
Pat and Kevin Williams (no relation) are arguably the top defensive tackle tandem in the league, and Kevin says one of the reasons is the two compete against each other on every play. He says Pat is a talker who won't let you forget it if he has more tackles than you. Therefore the only way to silence him is to keep pace.
Cornerback Cedric Griffin might be the most improved starter. The third-year pro struggled to finish pass plays last year in his first season as a fulltime starter. He would be in position or around the ball, but finished the year with only 14 pass breakups and no interceptions. In camp this season he looks a lot more comfortable and is making plays on the ball. That's a good thing, because with standout Antoine Winfield on the other side at cornerback, the former second-round pick is going to see a lot of footballs.
Free safety Darren Sharper played eight seasons with Favre in Green Bay, which means that he has been asked about the Packers standout repeatedly in recent weeks. "I've been asked about him more now than I was when I played with him," he says. "It's crazy."