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NFC Central: Minnesota Vikings
Paul Wezner - LionsFans.com
In the third of five installments, we take a look at the Minnesota Vikings.
Last season, the Vikings performed well but were once again kept from their ultimate goal; the Super Bowl. This year, they return an offense with most of the key players returning. The two obvious ones are RB Robert Smith, who retired instead of taking $40 million to keep playing another 6 years, and RT Korey Stringer, who lost his life on the playing field during the Vikings training camp. The Vikings will once again follow the same format; try and score as many points as possible, and hope they end up with more than the opponent at the end.
QB Daunte Culpepper took over the reigns of the team last season, and did so in amazing fashion. Culpepper quickly established himself as one of the elite while displaying his cannon arm as well as his unbelievable mobility coupled with his Linebacker-like size. Culpepper is a future All-Pro, but whats behind him resembles something more like chopped liver rather than NFL Quarterback material. Todd Bouman is the backup right now, and the Vikings just traded for QB Spergon Wynn to compete for the backup spot. Culpepper is a stud, but if he goes down, this team is in serious trouble.
First round draft pick Michael Bennett will be in charge of taking over for the retired Robert Smith. Bennett has world class speed and is a good pure-runner, but he doesnt have great vision and has only been a serious football player for one season. Doug Chapman will be the backup, and will see a lot of time because of his pass-catching skills. The Vikings also just traded for RB Travis Prentice, so expect him to see some playing time, especially at the goal-line where the Vikings didnt have a big back before. Jim Kleinsasser will be the Fullback, and will get more involved with the offense this year, both running and catching out of the backfield. Obviously this unit wont be as good as last year with Smith, but they will still be a force.
The Vikings have 2 Hall of Famers at Wide Receiver in Cris Carter and Randy Moss. Moss doesnt yet have the credentials to become a Hall-of-Famer, but hes getting there, and will be there in no time with his ability. The Vikings lost third receiver Matthew Hatchette to free agency, but they were able to bring back Jake Reed. The team also has Chris Walsh as well Troy Walters from last season, who should both see more playing time on offense. Bryan Chamberlain was signed to take over the Tight End duties, and hell add another dimension to the offense. The Vikings have not had a Tight End of Chamberlains caliber in recent years, but you can bet that with him teams will have to think twice about leaving the middle open for him.
The Offensive Line is currently being patched together, with little success. Matt Birk returns as the starting Center, as does LG Corbin Lacina. After those two however, this line is struggling. The line was obviously hurt by the untimely death of Stringer, and theyll have a tough time replacing not only a great football player, but a great person. Chris Liwienski, a former Lion draft pick who was cut in training camp, will take over for Stringer at Right Tackle, while Brad Badger will look to replace Todd Stuessie at the all-important Left Tackle spot. David Dixon will start again at Right Guard. What really hurts however is the lack of depth the team possesses. They lost there bookend tackles and replaced them from within, severely limiting the teams depth.
On the Defensive Line, the Vikings will try and recover from the loss of another future Hall-of-Famer, John Randle. Chris Hovan, last years first round draft pick, will move over to Randles spot from his Nose Tackle position. The team will need Hovan to be a force this year, even if hes only in his second year as a pro. Talance Sawyer is the other returning starter, but was never a big impact-type player. After Hovan and Sawyer, the Vikings went out and signed Lance Johnstone from the Raiders to be the teams main pass-rusher. Johnstone had double-digit sack seasons in both 1998 and 99, but will need to regain that form to help the team in the way they need it. Rookie 4th-rounder Shawn Worthen and 2nd-year player Fred Robbins will share time at Nose Tackle. DE Michael Boireau is looking like a bust, while recent 2nd-round draft pick Willie Howard is struggling to learn the pro game, and is also a man without a positon. Considering how many draft picks have been used on this unit in the past two years along with the addition of Johnstone, you would think this group would be a lot better off than it is.
At Linebacker, the Vikings will struggle once again. Kailee Wong will return at Middle Linebacker, but the team lost its other playmaker in the front seven in Dwayne Rudd. The team will try and replace him with Lemanski Hall and Patrick Chukwurah, but neither player will produce at the level Rudd did. Ed McDaniel will be the other starter outside, and McDaniel has never been all that special either. This is definitely not a group that can be depended on to make a lot of plays, and with this defense, thats a serious problem.
While Linebacker is thin, the Defensive Backfield is borderline terrible. Only Robert Griffith, a Pro Bowl Safety, keeps the group at below-average. Orlando Thomas plays well enough to start next to Griffith considering Griffiths playmaking ability, but hes not an impact player. The Cornerbacks are possibly the worst group in the league. Kenny Wright and Robert Tate will be the starters, and neither would start on almost every NFL team. Wasswa Serwanga will also contribute, and hes just another joke in the laughing-stock known as the Vikings secondary. The Vikings, in desperate need of help, tried to get it through the draft, but didnt. They traded up in round 3 to reach for CB Eric Kelly, a player with raw ability but someone who is nowhere near contributing. Tyrone Carter, an average Safety, might see time in the nickel and dime packages because of the lack of good players.
The offense will once again be explosive, and the defense will once again be atrotious, but never count out a team led by Dennis Green. He somehow gets average players to play above themselves, and dont expect that trend to stop. The defenses job will simply be to slow the opposition down, and hope for an occasional turnover. The offense will have to make sure it doesnt score too quickly, otherwise it will hurt an already weak defense. This offense will get the team into the playoffs, but without a defense that can stop someone, this team wont make it deep.
10-6, Second in NFC Central