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> 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 2005.
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. Fiesty 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 around him?"
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 opposing backfields.
"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.