Last year the Viking offensive line opened holes so well for Mason and Brown that both backs ranked in the top eight in the league in rushing, and the Viking team was second only to Green Bay. Despite Tarkenton's tendency to leave the pocket, he got enough protection from the scrambling blockers to rank second in the league in passing and to put the Vikings on top in passing yardage.
In Tackle Grady Alderman, Guard Larry Bowie and Center Mike Tingelhoff the Vikings have three topnotch offensive linemen. The rest of the line is competent. According to Van Brocklin, Hal Bedsole, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end who was a rookie in 1964, could become another Ron Kramer or Mike Ditka. He is a fine blocker and a strong receiver.
"He can run over safety men," Van Brocklin says, "and he can catch the ball in a crowd. He could be a great one."
Paul Flatley, now in his third pro season, is an excellent flanker; he caught 28 passes last year. Oddly, Brown led the club in receiving, with 48 catches; Tarkenton completed more passes to his two running backs than he did to his flanker and spread end, indicating that many of the passes were thrown out of a scramble into a broken pattern. With better protection and more confidence this year, Tarkenton probably will throw more often to the traditional receivers.
The Viking defensive line is sturdy but, again, not deep. Jim Marshall, the big defensive end who earned a niche in football history last year by recovering a fumble and running the wrong way with it to score a safety against the Vikings, is one of the quickest pass-rushers in football. Carl Eller, in his second season, is still learning the intricacies of defensive-end play, but he is enormously strong and quick and eventually should take his place as the Viking equivalent of the retired Colt terrorist, Gino Marchetti.
"He has more strength in his arms and shoulders than anyone I ever saw," says Van Brocklin. "When he learns how to use it no one will be able to stop him." Like Marchetti, Eller is powerful enough to absorb a tackle's block with his arms and hands, then toss the man either way to get to the passer or to the ballcarrier.
Defensive Tackles Jim Prestel and Paul Dickson are good NFL players. The addition of Gary Larsen, obtained in a trade with Los Angeles, gives the Vikings a bit more depth at tackle than they had last season.
Probably the strongest segment of the Viking defense is the linebacking. The best of a strong trio is Middle Linebacker Rip Hawkins. Hawkins is 6 feet 3, weighs 235 pounds and has extraordinary mobility for his size. He was in the Vikings' original draft. Experience has cured him of making the mistakes that cost the Vikings first downs in his early years. Flanking Hawkins are Roy Winston and Bill Jobko—both better-than-average linebackers. Lonnie Warwick, a big rookie from Tennessee Tech, has been a pleasant surprise in training camp and in exhibition games. So the Vikings are both deep and strong in the most vital position on defense.
In training camp Van Brocklin juggled his secondary, testing Corner Back Ed Sharockman as a safety and shifting other personnel as well, looking for the most effective combination.
"Sharockman is a tremendous tackler," Van Brocklin said. "He can use that ability more as a safety than as a corner back. He hurts people."