|Berrian should thrive now that he's paired with a premier QB.
13 at Cleveland
20 at Detroit
27 SAN FRANCISCO
5 GREEN BAY (M)
11 at St. Louis
25 at Pittsburgh
1 at Green Bay
6 at Arizona
20 at Carolina
28 at Chicago (M)
3 N.Y. GIANTS
Cedric Griffin, Cornerback: Opposing teams do not like to run against the Vikings' front four.
They do not like to throw against Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield. That
makes Cedric Griffin, the corner opposite Winfield, a very busy man. Griffin
showed last season that he's capable of handling the workload. A second-round
draft pick in 2006 out of Texas, where he was an integral part of the Longhorns'
national championship team, Griffin saw limited action in '06 and was victimized
often after moving into the starting lineup the following year. But his coverage
skills improved noticeably last season, when he also made 85 tackles (third best
on the team) and showed a willingness to come up from the secondary and butt
helmets with running backs.
At 6 feet, 203 pounds, Griffin is one of a new breed of cornerback -- rangy and
physical, able to match up with supersized wide receivers. The Vikings believe
he's built to last, signing him to a five-year, $28.5 million extension in the
spring and then inking Winfield to a five-year, $36 million extension this
summer to keep the pair intact. While Winfield, 32, is a finished product,
Griffin is 26 and still has room to improve. He had only one interception last
season, and Minnesota finished 18th in pass defense.
"We had some missed tackles, some balls go over our head," Griffin says. "Our
defense isn't the best yet, but we're going to be the
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Brett Favre adds a new dimension to the offense -- it's called a passing game -- and juices the postseason prospects.
Since wide receiver Bernard Berrian broke into the NFL five years ago,
his quarterbacks have been Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, Jeff
Blake, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Tarvaris Jackson and Gus
Frerotte. Berrian started his career with the Bears, which explains the initial
turbulence, before signing with the Vikings as a free agent in 2008. He quickly
discovered that there was as much quarterback drama in Minnesota as there used
to be in Chicago. "It does seem to follow me around," Berrian says. "Sometimes
you think about what you could do if you had the same guy, but I try not to go
A burner who was born in Spain, raised in California and drafted in the third
round out of Fresno State in 2004, Berrian's productivity is remarkable when
considering who has been passing him the ball -- he was second in the NFL last
season with 20.1 yards per catch. Now he finally has a chance to show what he
can do with a marquee passer. His Brett Favre may not be in Minnesota for more
than a year, but with Berrian, tailback Adrian Peterson and a defense that
ranked No. 1 last year against the run, the Vikings now have arguably the best
roster, top to bottom, in the league -- one good enough to make a serious run at
the Super Bowl.
As Berrian stretches defenses, Favre's favorite target may become Percy
Harvin, the first-round pick out of Florida. He'll run underneath, providing an
intriguing outlet for Favre. The Vikings are going to use the rookie in as many
ways as the Gators did en route to last season's national championship. Harvin
figures to return kicks and punts, run reverses, catch bubble screens and
possibly take some direct snaps. "It's not like he hasn't done a few different
things in the past to touch the ball," says coach Brad Childress. "We're going
to completely submerge him in this offense."
Says Harvin, "I'm going to be all over."
While the Vikings adapt to those changes on offense -- new quarterback, new
threats, much higher expectations -- the defense is basically the same as the one
that ranked sixth in yards allowed last season. One crucial difference is the
return of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, a team leader who was playing at a
Pro Bowl level when he tore ligaments in his toe in the fourth game of the year.
Minnesota was only 18th against the pass last year, a figure that Henderson
can't help but improve. If he hadn't been placed on injured reserve, ending his
season, he believes he could have made it back for the first round of the
playoffs, when the Vikings' defense finally caved at home against the Eagles.
With Henderson on the field, the Vikes wonder if they could have advanced as far
as Philly did, or beyond. "E.J. is a beast, he's an animal, and he's hungry,"
says cornerback Cedric Griffin. "Having him this year is going to make us a lot
Henderson arrived at training camp with a customized present for his
teammates: white T-shirts showing purple defenders tackling a huge numeral 1.
That stands for No. 1 in total defense, the spot owned last season by the Super
Bowl-champion Steelers. The fact that the Steelers are coached by Mike Tomlin,
Minnesota's former defensive coordinator, makes the competition more personal.
"We're trying to make a run at him," Henderson says. "Number 1 -- that's what
we're striving to be. That's our goal."
The Vikings used to daydream about winning the Super Bowl the way the 2000
Ravens did, by scoring a couple of touchdowns a game and stopping everybody
cold. With Favre, their options grow, and so does their margin for error. They
can pitch the ball to Peterson, hand it to Harvin and, assuming Favre's arm
still allows, launch a few long ones to Berrian and let him run.
-- Lee Jenkins