Heading into the first preseason game of the year, the Vikings (and the other 31 teams) were under the time constraint of having less than two weeks to get prepared, and players with new contracts had a week to 10 days to prepare. As the Vikings head to the Great Northwest to match up with the Seattle Seahawks for the second week of preseason, they find themselves in a similar boat as their Seattle counterparts.
The Seahawks made the playoffs last year, but were far from dominant, becoming the first team in NFL history to make the postseason with a sub-.500 record. Seattle finished 7-9 and, prior to a win over the Rams in Week 17, the Seahawks had lost five of their previous six games. Their improbable playoff win over the defending champion Saints didn't change the fact that Seattle was and remains a team in rebuilding mode.
Of their seven wins last year, four of them came in the mediocre NFC West. Seattle posted a 4-2 record in the division, going 3-7 in their other 10 games outside the division. It is also a team in transition that, much like the Vikings in the first couple of years of transition under Brad Childress, is cleaning house of the old guard and building a new era of the franchise in the image of head coach Pete Carroll.
There were many who were surprised that Carroll left what, at first glance, would have seemed like one of the best head coaching jobs in the football world – being the head coach at USC. However, with the NCAA ready to drop the guillotine on the program for transgressions with players like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, Carroll took the opportunity to jump ship and head north for asylum in Seattle.
It seems hard to believe that it is barely 12 months since Carroll coached his first game with the Seahawks. Since taking over the team, he has replaced three of the five starting offensive linemen he inherited. Matt Hasselbeck, the face of the franchise the last decade, was allowed to seek his fortune elsewhere. Julius Jones was the starting running back, but he was released and replaced by Marshawn Lynch. In the year since taking over the team, he replaced both starting wide receivers and the starting tight end – adding Mike Williams, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller to take over those roles.
Similarly, he has overhauled the defense as well. He got rid of defensive line starter Lawrence Jackson (ironically a former USC product), starting middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, starting cornerback Josh Wilson and starting safety Jordan Babineaux.
Even the special teams weren't spared. He will have a new kicker after allowing Olindo Mare to leave via free agency and even brought in a new long snapper.
Even Seahawks fans, it would seem, will need a program to know their own players. The Seahawks will open the regular season with almost half of their 53-man roster being comprised of players that weren't on the roster when the Seahawks hired Carroll in the spring of 2010.
What Carroll has done with the Seahawks roster isn't unprecedented. Many coaches gut the core of a franchise when they take over so as to contain a potential division of the locker room. Dennis Green used a similar tactic when he took over the Vikings from Jerry Burns. Brad Childress did it to a similar extent when he replaced Mike Tice. But few coaches have gone to the extent of Carroll in such a short time.
Will it work? If not for the pathetic state of the NFC West in 2010, the Seahawks could have easily finished with 10 or more losses. Of their nine losses in 2010, all of them came by 15 points or more – almost unheard of in the NFL. When they lost, they lost big – by margins of 15, 17, 30, 34, 15, 18, 19, 16 and 23 points – not the kind of loss totals one would expect from a playoff-bound team. In many ways, the Seahawks were as big a failure in 2010 as any team in the league. Yet, instead of being viewed as a failure in 2010, they're hoisting a banner as the defending division champion.
The Vikings were a better team than Seattle in many respects, yet the Vikings enter 2011 as the last-place finisher in the NFC North, while the Seahawks are coming into the season looking to defend their division championship. Carroll moves forward with a team still trying to find its way its way and with a long way to go to get the respect of the rest of the league.
That process starts in earnest Saturday night. How the Vikings' front-liners match up with the Seahawks could provide some insight in determining where Minnesota will end up this season. On paper, the Vikings should be the better team. They have more continuity. They have more top-end stars, but until they can put a team like Seattle in the rear-view mirror and set their gaze on teams like Chicago and Green Bay, they will continue to be viewed as a tier two NFL team.
In the end, preseason games don't have that much importance to the performance of the team when the wins and losses count in the standings, but Seattle should be a good test for the Vikings to gauge what progress they have made since their 2010 season imploded last December. They are a team with a distinct home-field advantage and a loyal and rabid fan base. It won't be easy, but the Seahawks are a team that the Vikings should be able to handle – both early with the front-line starters in the lineup and later when those fighting to win roster spots are determining the outcome of the game.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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