Tim Yotter: His strengths are definitely in his athletic abilities at this point. He has extremely impressive arm strength, a high release point and is agile enough to get out of the pocket and pick up the occasional first down. All this isn't to say he doesn't have a strong mental game, but it's far too early to know how he will do against live action. He started the final two games of last year with lackluster results, one on a short week of preparation for a Thursday night game in Green Bay and followed that with the final game of the season when a number of his teammates felt some of the players had given up, making his supporting cast less than desirable in that contest.
I think he has a good chance at starting all 16 games if he can prove the one thing that Brad Childress seems to emphasize most strongly to his quarterbacks – protecting the football. In his limited action last year, Jackson looked nervous and ended up throwing four interceptions against two touchdowns. He'll need to improve on that to earn the confidence of his teammates, but he's a hard worker and dedicated to getting better. In my opinion, it's just a matter of how quickly it will come together for him, and more playmakers surrounding him should help.
JC: Review Minnesota's offseason activity. Who was brought in, who was shipped out, and who might be missed?
TY: The short answer is that the Vikings didn't lose anyone that they really wanted to retain. They had the money to keep whomever they chose, but, among others, they elected to allow MLB Napoleon Harris (free agency), QB Brad Johnson (released), OT Mike Rosenthal (released), CB Fred Smoot (released), WR Travis Taylor (free agency) and TE Jermaine Wiggins (released) walk out of the door.
Their 2006 first-round draft choice, Chad Greenway, who spent the season on IR, is why they allowed Harris to bolt to the Chiefs, with the intention to move E.J. Henderson into the middle and have Greenway play on the weak side. Johnson wanted an opportunity to start at QB or be released, and Childress was intent on giving Jackson every opportunity to start with Brooks Bollinger as his competition, so both parties did the decent thing and parted ways without any public smear campaigns. Smoot's on- and off-field problems, along with the emergence of Cedric Griffin and the drafting of Marcus McCauley, made the veteran expendable. Taylor never really seemed to buy into the post-Daunte Culpepper era in Minnesota, and the Vikings were looking for more of a stretch-the-field tight end than the skills that Wiggins offered.
On the acquisition side, they didn't get any big-name players, but they did add a starter or two and depth in other areas.
Former Colts safety Mike Doss brings familiarity with new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and Doss could compete for a safety position with Dwight Smith and Tank Williams opposite Darren Sharper. Former New York Giants TE Visanthe Shiancoe was a surprisingly big-dollar signing ($18.2 million over five years) as a replacement for Wiggins, and former Titans and Bears WR Bobby Wade likely will be a starter early on. He has proved to be a reliable, consistent slot receiver for the Vikings in offseason practices.
JC: Tailback Chester Taylor was pretty good last year as a first-time starter, but that didn't stop the front office from taking Adrian Peterson at No. 7 in the draft. Does this have platoon written all over it, or should we expect Peterson to get more carries as the season goes on and eventually emerge as the featured runner?
TY: Depending on the durability factor, Peterson should eventually get more action than Taylor. Initially, however, they likely will split time and even be used in the same backfield at times. The Vikings like the many different ways they can take advantage of Peterson's speed. He is looking like he will be something special if his offseason practices translate well into full-pads games. Initially, we'll probably see about a 50-50 split in the carries he and Taylor get. And if Peterson can stay healthy and pick up the blitz, he'll probably get more action by the midway point of the season. His hands were a question entering the draft, but he has shown very solid pass-catching abilities to date.
JC: Aside from Peterson, what member of the draft class has a chance to make a big impact right away? This team has had such bad luck with receivers since Randy Moss left town, so can one of the three wideouts taken become a go-to guy sooner than later?
TY: There is no question in my mind that Sidney Rice has shown the skills to do that more than Aundrae Allison or Chandler Williams, despite Allison being rated nearly as high as Rice before the draft. Rice has some excellent red-zone qualities with his height and leaping ability, but he just needs to get a little more consistent with his footwork and making every catch he should. He'll likely start the season as the No. 3 receiver behind Troy Williamson and Wade, but by midseason he could be viewed as a starter no matter the personnel grouping. I see only bit roles for Allison and Williams, and they may have to secure a return role to make the 53-man roster.
JC: The Bears appear to be overwhelming favorites to win the NFC North for a third straight season, but build me a case for Minnesota. What must happen if the Vikings want to become a serious threat, and what must they avoid?
TY: Given their success last season, the Bears should be the favorites. The case for Minnesota would have to revolve around two factors: 1) They jell together on offense in the second year of Childress's system with a better understanding of the scheme and more playermakers like Peterson and Rice; 2) They avoid injuries at certain positions that I'd classifying as having decent drop-offs between the starter and the backup.
On the first point, there are indications that the offensive line is beginning to understand how to work their zone blocking schemes a little better, and it appears the communication between the players themselves and the players and coaches has improved. With Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson, there is no question the line has some talent in place, but they seemed confused and frustrated at times last year while trying to get everyone on the same page.
After losing Nate Burleson and Koren Robinson between March and August last year, the wide receiver corps badly needed someone to step up. Instead, Williamson struggled to consistently catch the ball and Marcus Robinson and Childress clashed, which hurt the team's ability to finish drives in the red zone without a big target there. Williamson is hoping a trip to vision specialists helps solve some of his inconsistencies, which would be a much-needed boost for the team.
While the Vikings are somewhat deep in potential at wide receiver, there are a few positions where they probably can't sustain many serious injuries without feeling the effects of it. Should Birk, Hutchinson or Bryant McKinnie be lost for any significant stretch, it would likely cripple the progress of the offensive line. Likewise, while the Vikings have Pro-Bowlers Pat Williams and Kevin Williams at defensive tackle, the dropoff in their backups is pretty significant, especially when it comes to every-down run-stoppers – the strength of the defense last year. The linebackers would also be a position of concern. While Dontarrious Thomas has some starting experience, there isn't much experienced depth behind him, especially in the team's current scheme.
The injury factor is a concern with most teams, but with the Vikings they are mainly hoping their additional playmakers on offense can come together quickly enough to give them a shot at the division title in Childress's second year at the helm.
To read Part II of this series, where John answers five questions from Tim, Click Here.