QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Gus Frerotte . Backups – Tarvaris Jackson, John David Booty.
Jackson lost his starting job after a tough start to the season. The coaching staff was pleased with Jackson's development in the offseason program as well as in training camp before he got injured. Frerotte, signed as a free agent in April, provides a veteran presence and will be expected to serve as a mentor to Jackson. However, Frerotte still has a very good arm and appears to be far from washed up. Booty will be expected to spend his rookie season absorbing knowledge and observing Jackson and Frerotte.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Adrian Peterson, FB Naufahu Tahi. Backups - RB Chester Taylor, RB Maurice Hicks, FB Jeff Dugan.
Peterson rushed for 1,341 yards as a rookie last season despite missing two games because of a knee injury. He will be expected to improve upon that this year as he moves into the full-time starting role ahead of Chester Taylor. Peterson spent time this offseason working on his pass blocking so he can stay on the field in third-down and two-minute situations. Taylor could start for most teams, but if Peterson stays healthy it will be interesting to see how many carries he gets. His rushing attempts went from a career-high 303 in his first season with the Vikings in 2006 to 157 last year as he shared time with Peterson. Peterson had 238 attempts. Hicks was signed as a free agent from San Francisco; he will be primarily used on kickoff returns. Dugan can play both H-back and tight end.
TIGHT ENDS/H-BACKS: Starter - TE Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups - TE Jim Kleinsasser, TE Garrett Mills.
The Vikings made a significant free-agent investment in Shiancoe in 2007 but got little return as he failed to hang onto three potential touchdown passes and had 27 catches for 323 yards with one TD. Shiancoe appears far more comfortable in the Vikings' offense entering his second season, and that could be a major plus given the impact a reliable pass-catching tight end can have in the West Coast system. Kleinsasser is an excellent blocker and workmanlike player who has the ability to catch passes when called upon. Mills also could slide into the H-back role and is a player the coaching staff really likes, but he was slowed by an ankle injury for most of camp.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice. Backups - Bobby Wade, Aundrae Allison, Robert Ferguson.
The Vikings lured Berrian away from the Bears by signing him to a six-year, $42 million free-agent deal. As Minnesota's top receiver, Berrian will be expected to stretch the field and loosen up opposing defenses for a Vikings running game that finished atop the NFL in 2007. Berrian had a career-high 71 catches for 951 yards and five touchdowns last season, but he also was bothered by a toe injury that continues to give him problems. That could be a major issue given the fact Berrian relies on his speed. Rice led the Vikings with four touchdown receptions as a rookie and provides a big (6-foot-4) target in the red zone. Wade had a team-leading 54 catches in 2007 and should be even more effective this season as he figures to spend almost all of his time playing in the slot. Allison has excellent speed and has shown improvement entering his second season. Ferguson provides a veteran presence, and his willingness to play on all special teams makes him a valuable contributor.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Matt Birk, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Ryan Cook. Backups - G/T Artis Hicks, T Marcus Johnson, C John Sullivan, RG Brian Daniels.
The Vikings have veteran experience on the left side but Herrera and Cook are still relatively new starters and are going through ups and downs. The big question is whether McKinnie will be suspended by the NFL. He was arrested last February after a brawl outside a Miami nightclub and is a multiple offender of the NFL's personal conduct policy. If McKinnie does sit, Hicks will move into the starting role at left tackle. Johnson could challenge Cook for playing time if the latter struggles. Birk is entering the last season of his contract and could be replaced by Sullivan in 2009. Hutchinson might be the best in the league at his position.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Ray Edwards, NT Pat Williams, DT Kevin Williams, RDE Jared Allen. Backups – DT Fred Evans, DT Letroy Guion, DT Ellis Wyms.
A unit that already was extremely strong in the middle - Kevin and Pat Williams are both Pro Bowl players and anchor a defense that was No. 1 against the run last season - got even better with the addition of Allen. Allen led the league with 15.5 sacks last season and is a high-motor player who figures to apply the type of consistent pressure the Vikings have lacked in recent seasons. This is one reason the team finished last in the NFL in 2007 against the pass. Remember, the Tampa-2 scheme calls for the front four to get pressure without a lot of blitzing. Wyms, signed as a free agent from Seattle, figures to play in the nickel package. A slimmed-down Evans also could work his way into that rotation.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Ben Leber, MLB Napolean Harris, SLB Chad Greenway. Backups – Dontarrious Thomas, Vinny Ciurciu, Erin Henderson, David Herron.
A solid unit should be that much better with Greenway entering his second season as a starter. Leber tied for the team lead last season with five sacks and provides the linebacker corps with a steady presence. If the Vikings can stay away from injuries at this spot - they already lost backup Heath Farwell (knee) for the season - the remainder of the reserves figure to make their main contributions on special teams. Erin Henderson, E.J.'s younger brother, is an undrafted rookie out of Maryland who played very well in the preseason. Ciurciu is a veteran special-teams player.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Antoine Winfield, SS Darren Sharper, FS Tyrell Johnson, RCB Cedric Griffin. Backups - CB Charles Gordon, CB Marcus McCauley, CB Benny Sapp, S Eric Frampton, S Madieu Williams.
Winfield missed a career-high six games last season but appears to be completely healthy. That should be a boost to a pass defense that finished last in the league last season. Griffin started all 16 games but somehow did not have an interception. Sharper and Williams will provide the Vikings with a veteran tandem when the latter returns from a neck injury. Williams, signed as a free agent from Cincinnati, is expected to miss at least the first three games of the regular season. Rookie second-round pick Tyrell Johnson will start opposite Sharper until Williams returns. Gordon will see plenty of playing time in the nickel. Frampton is a special teams standout.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Ryan Longwell, P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler, KOR Maurice Hicks, PR Aundrae Allison.
Longwell handled very little kicking for much of the preseason as the coaching staff tried to get the veteran as much rest as possible. He remains extremely consistent from inside 50 yards and has not missed a field goal under 45 yards since joining the Vikings in 2006. Kluwe set team records for punts inside the 20-yard line with 34 and had a team-record 29 punts of 50-plus yards last season. Loeffler is one of the NFL's most reliable long snappers. Hicks was signed as a free agent after averaging 23.8 yards on 63 kick returns last season. Allison is new to returning punts, but he was able to make a quick adjustment to returning kicks a year ago.
Vikings Positional Analysis
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