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3 Minnesota Vikings
Tim Layden
September 04, 2006
It's a clean slate (well, almost) for a new coach who has big plans for the offense and for keeping the players in line
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September 04, 2006

3 Minnesota Vikings

It's a clean slate (well, almost) for a new coach who has big plans for the offense and for keeping the players in line

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THE BELIEF
Tranquility reigns. Talent rises to the surface. The cruise boat scandal of 2005 is old news, and the Randy Moss circus is two years gone. New coach Brad Childress will bring good citizenship and double-digit wins in one tidy package. Brad Johnson will steady the quarterback position in his twilight years, behind a line that's potentially as good as any in the game. The defense won't get you beat. The Vikings will build on last year's strong finish (seven wins in their last nine games), and this time they'll return to the playoffs instead of falling one game short.

THE REALITY
So much for tranquility. One day during training camp Childress was telling a reporter, "One of the things I've been hired to do is create an atmosphere of structure and accountability." Four days later, on Aug. 15, veteran wideout Koren Robinson was arrested and charged with six counts, including drunken driving and fleeing police. A court date is set for October.

It was a jolt of reality for the Vikings, for whom the summer had been built on a theme of renewal. Robinson, who with the Seahawks in 2004 was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, said in early August, "New staff, new system, even new uniforms. We all understand it's time to be accountable." Robinson now knows only too well. The Vikings cut him last Saturday-hours after safety Dwight Smith was cited for alleged indecent conduct.

Childress, 50, a no-nonsense coach with a push-broom mustache and gym-teacher shorts, was hired by image-conscious owner Zygi Wilf to get back to the playoffs and to win with class. The question now is whether such blows to the latter will affect the former. "We all know that winning is the cure-all," says Johnson, who's entering his 15th NFL season.

The loss of Robinson dents Childress's offense, a version of the West Coast that he ran as the coordinator in Philadelphia for the last four years. It means the steady Johnson (65-43 as an NFL starter), who replaced injured-and now departed-Daunte Culpepper last year, will have to spread the ball around more without a frontline receiver. Second-year man Troy Williamson, for example, will be expected to improve substantially on his 24 catches of a year ago.

Then there is Chester Taylor, the former Ravens backup to Jamal Lewis. The Vikings are asking the free-agent Taylor to ascend to the role of featured running back. In four years he has carried 20 times or more in only four games. But he and Johnson will have the benefit of a line with huge upside. Left guard Steve Hutchinson was signed from Seattle for a cap-choking $49 million over seven years, right guard Artis Hicks was obtained in a trade with Philadelphia, and center Matt Birk returns after missing all of 2005 with injuries that required surgery on both hips.

Childress hired Mike Tomlin from the Bucs to install the Tampa Cover 2, but the coordinator suffered a setback when the first-round draft pick, linebacker Chad Greenway out of Iowa, suffered what's believed to be a torn left ACL in the opening preseason game and was lost for the season. But four-year veteran E.J. Henderson had played well enough in camp to keep Greenway on the second team.

On both sides of the ball, turning the page-the Robinson incident notwithstanding-should truly help. "Last year was not fun for anyone," says Birk. "People paid for their mistakes, and now it's behind us."

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

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