The Vikes like Jackson's energy but want his arm to be his calling card.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
at Green Bay
at Kansas City
at N.Y. Giants
at San Francisco
The King 500
23Steve Hutchinson, Guard
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-pass blocker -- pulling guard for $49 million. Now Hutchinson has adjusted to Minnesota's zone-blocking schemes. "The key is knowing how the guy next to you is going to respond to the defense," he says. "We've worked a lot on it this off-season. We'll be better."
They stop the run like no one else -- now the offense, with a second-year QB and a rookie running back, must improve
With 2007 first-round pick Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 4,045 yards
in 31 games at Oklahoma, slated to become the team's workhorse running back
behind what might be the best left side in football, Minnesota should be a
better rushing team than last year's 16th-rated group. Strength on the ground is
also the hallmark of the defense, which last year held teams to a remarkable
2.83 yards per carry, third-best for a run defense since the league went to
a 16-game schedule in 1978. (Amazing but true: The Super Bowl-champion Colts
gave up 111 more rushing yards per game than the Vikings, who went 6-10.)
With two star defensive tackles back -- run-stuffer Pat Williams and
pocket-disrupter Kevin Williams -- the run D won't let this team down. Rushing the
passer is another matter, but the return of speedy outside linebacker Chad
Greenway, the 2006 first-rounder who missed his entire rookie season after
tearing his left ACL in his first preseason game, should make passing downs less
painful to watch.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
The Vikings were the most-flagged team in football last season
(123 penalties enforced against them) and one of the most inefficient on
offense -- 26th in scoring, 23rd in total yards. This after hiring a scholarly
offensive coach, Brad Childress, to turn the team around after a troublesome
If a practice in mid-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 later guard 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 month before the season, but it's an area that must improve.
The best thing that happened to the offense on this day? Easy. Feisty
second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson -- who might level a blow better than he
completes a pass -- lowered his shoulder in the open field and blasted Kevin
Williams, an All-Pro defensive tackle, to the ground while staying on his feet
and continuing a long run. "That's one of the things we like about Tarvaris,"
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, then 1) Brooks Bollinger will
be playing by October, because Jackson will never last; and 2) it's going to be
a very long year in Minnesota.
Childress, who tutored Donovan McNabb in his early years in Philadelphia,
says he won't let that happen -- that Jackson, who was drafted in the second round
out of Division I-AA Alabama State in 2006, is not going to be a running QB
who happens to throw once in a while. "The quarterback in this offense will be
the ultimate decision maker, the guy who takes care of the football and moves
the chains," Childress says. "Everybody wants to put this kid in a box -- southern
conference black quarterback, runs first, throws second. Totally wrong. He's
ahead, systemwise, of where Donovan was after one year. Is he ready for
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 be good enough
Minnesota will need to be more efficient. "We've got to get our team into
third-and-manageable a lot more often," says Hutchinson. That will come if
Peterson, who will share duties with incumbent Chester Taylor, can make a quick
transition from Norman to Minneapolis and be the impact back the Vikings drafted
him to be. The rookie looked strong in the preseason and didn't favor his balky
left shoulder in an impressive eight-carry, 70-yard performance in the first
half against the Jets on Aug. 18. "I'll be ready to put a shoulder into
anyone I need to," Peterson said during camp.
The big question on defense -- other than What can the Vikings do for an
encore? -- is how Minnesota's defenders will adjust to a new teacher.
Ever-challenging coordinator Mike Tomlin now coaches the Steelers, and quiet
Tony Dungy-disciple Leslie 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 to call players out, and Leslie's quieter. He lets his coaches coach. But
it's on the players." Childress has encouraged the defense to study some of
Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson's blitz packages for inclusion in the Vikings'
scheme, perhaps with safety Darren Sharper trying to cause more havoc in
"We'll attack offenses a little differently," says Greenway, who looked
superb in training camp. "We've got to do a better job limiting big plays in the
passing game." And making plays in their own passing game. That would help
too. -- Peter King