First Look: The Minnesota Vikings

Steve Hutchinson's return to Seattle might be the main storyline this week as the Vikings get ready to play the Seahawks on Sunday, but the highly paid left guard made it clear Monday he has no interest in being a main focus.

"This team is going to Seattle, trying to be 4-2 after this week," Hutchinson said of the Vikings. "Obviously I know those guys and those coaches on that team. I played there for five years. That's about the extent of (how much) I'm going to talk about myself."

Hutchinson's departure from Seattle was one of the main stories in the NFL this offseason and helped introduce the term "Poison Pill" into the league's lexicon.

A quick refresher on what happened: The Seahawks surprised many by putting the less-restrictive transition tag on the Pro Bowl guard. The Vikings saw an opportunity and signed Hutchinson to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet that contained $16 million in guaranteed money.

The contract also contained a provision, or so-called "Poison Pill," that said Hutchinson must have the highest average annual salary of any offensive lineman on his team in 2006. No Vikings lineman would average more than Hutchinson, but Minnesota knew that Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones averaged $7.5 million.

Seattle challenged the contract language but a special master ruled in the Vikings' favor. Shortly thereafter, the Seahawks signed Vikings restricted free-agent receiver Nate Burelson to a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet that was structured much differently but also was filled with "poison pills."

The Seahawks were not only livid about what the Vikings had done with Hutchinson but also were upset Minnesota would not take a third-round pick in a trade for Burleson. The Vikings wanted a second-round selection.

The NFL found nothing funny about any of this -- although it appears the "Poison Pill" loophole might not be closed -- and apparently Hutchinson is equally as tired of this topic.

"There are 52 other guys on this team and it's not about Steve Hutchinson against the Seahawks," he said when asked why he didn't want to talk about himself. "It's an NFC team, it's a conference team, they are ahead of us record wise, so we've got to try ... end of the year you want to have one of the best records so you can get in the playoffs. So that's where we stand on that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Brad Childress is expected to use newly signed receiver Bethel Johnson as his main kick-return man. However, Childress is not closing the door on having Johnson in more than one return role. "He also has the ability to return punts, although that's not something that he did all of the time in New England," Childress said. "I think he has rare explosion as an athlete. ... I think he is an excellent athlete."

Johnson, who spent his first three seasons with the Patriots before being traded to New Orleans during the offseason, wants to be seen as more than a return man. "I think in my previous opportunities people slighted me and just thought I was a returner," said Johnson, who was released by New Orleans after injuring his MCL in a preseason game. "But I was drafted as a wide receiver and I always felt that I was a receiver that can return the football. It wasn't (I was) a returner that played wide receiver."

--QB Tarvaris Jackson appears to be completely recovered after having arthroscopic surgery last month to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Jackson will be the Vikings' third quarterback Sunday at Seattle.

--RB Ciatrick Fason appears to be caught in a numbers game. Coach Brad Childress hasn't had Fason active since the season opener at Washington. Part of the reason is because running back Artose Pinner has done such a good job on special teams.

--G Anthony Herrera has been inactive for the past four games. Last season, Herrera played in 10 games and started the final six games at left guard. That position is now manned by Steve Hutchinson.

--RB Chester Taylor is ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing, having gained 421 yards on 111 carries for an average of 3.8 yards per attempt.

--QB Brad Johnson's 78.3 quarterback rating puts him 22nd in the NFL, just ahead of former teammate and current Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper (77.0).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD AFTER 5 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus --
Among the most misleading statistics in the NFL this season is the fact the Vikings entered the bye week in the top 10 in passing offense. Yes, the West Coast offense calls for a quick rhythm, short-passing game, but other than the regular-season opener at Washington, the Vikings have done little to prove they have any sort of vertical attack. Coach Brad Childress claims this is because teams have been taking the deep pass away but a refusal to try and open up things even a little is surprising. Brad Johnson comes out of the bye with one more interception (four) than touchdown pass.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Running back Chester Taylor and a new-look offensive line had their best performance of the season in the last game before the bye week. Taylor rushed for 123 yards on 26 carries in the Vikings' 26-17 victory over the Lions. Much of that yardage was gained going toward the highly-paid left side of tackle Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson. This is the type of production the Vikings expected when they signed Taylor (four years, $14.1 million) and Hutchinson (seven years, $49 million) to free-agent deals during the offseason and gave McKinnie (seven years, $48 million) a big extension in early September. But for the running game to thrive -- especially against top defenses -- the Vikings will need the pass to become a bigger threat.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Vikings' defense has overachieved in the eyes of most this season but it might be the team's performance against the pass that has led coaches and players to feel they can do better. The pass defense entered the bye ranked 17th in the NFL and was giving up an average of 201 yards per game. Nonetheless, they went into the bye on a high note, intercepting Lions quarterback Jon Kitna three times and sacking him on five other occasions. Linebacker E.J. Henderson returned one of those picks for a touchdown and joined cornerback Antoine Winfield in having scored off an interception this season. Of course, that came against a Lions team that was missing two starters on its line to begin with and lost right guard Damien Woody early. One player who has not lived up to expectations is cornerback Fred Smoot. Smoot has struggled at times playing off receivers and has yet to get an interception.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- Led by the performance of tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, this area of the Vikings' defense has been outstanding of late. The Vikings were giving up only 74.4 yards per game entering the bye and ranked fourth in the NFL behind San Diego (66.5 yards), Atlanta (69.2) and Baltimore (73.8). In a Week 4 loss at Buffalo, the run defense was very impressive, holding the Bills' Willis McGahee to an average of 2.8 yards per game. But that was nothing compared to what happened in Week 5 against Detroit. The Lions' Kevin Jones averaged 0.8 yards -- that's not a misprint -- on 10 carries and Detroit finished with 16 yards on 11 carries. While the line gets much of the credit, the linebacker trio of Napoleon Harris, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber also have been quick to the ball.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- This unit has been hit and miss this season. The highlight came in Week 2 when the Vikings caught Carolina off guard, enabling Ryan Longwell to throw a game-tying touchdown pass to Richard Owens on a fake-field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Longwell, signed as a free agent from arch-rival Green Bay, has made 12 of 14 field-goal attempts. His only two misses have been from 50-plus yards. Longwell's only shortcoming so far has been a tendency to leave kickoffs short at times. Punter Chris Kluwe has been inconsistent in his second season. Kluwe, who had offseason knee surgery, has averaged only 34.8 net yards per punt. Receiver Troy Williamson has averaged 23.3 yards on 13 kick returns but it's expected the newly signed Bethel Johnson will step into that role when the Vikings return from the bye. Mewelde Moore is averaging 7.1 yards on 14 punt returns. As far as the coverage units, the Vikings continue to work on staying in their proper lanes under new coordinator Paul Ferraro. This area remains a work in progress.

COACHING: C -- Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin and his assistants deserve an 'A' for their work, but after that the jury is out on coach Brad Childress and the remainder of his staff. Tomlin has gotten the most out of the defense and vows the work is just beginning. Childress' offense, though, has been slower to catch on and needs to begin making a bigger contribution. Childress has put himself in charge of the offense and so the success or failure of this unit largely will be on him. His play-calling has been surprising and downright suspect at times and certainly needs to become more aggressive. Tomlin, meanwhile, probably won't be in Minnesota long if the defense continues like this. The 34-year-old's name likely will start to come up in conversations about head coaching candidates.


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