Unlike a year ago when the Vikings returned every starter from a team that had lost a heart-breaker in the NFC title game at New Orleans, Minnesota enters this season with plenty of question marks.
Can an offense now run by new coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterback Donovan McNabb get on track without having had any type of offseason in which to work together? Will the secondary be able to stay healthy and show improvement?
Can an offensive line that already was deemed suspect entering training camp protect McNabb despite the fact left tackle Bryant McKinnie was cut only a few days into camp after he showed up at nearly 400 pounds?
The good thing for the Vikings is that coach Leslie Frazier has done an excellent job of bringing stability to a franchise that lacked it for much of the four-plus seasons that Brad Childress ran the show at WInter Park.
Frazier navigated the Vikings through some extremely rough times last season after being promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach when Childress was fired following a 31-3 loss to Green Bay on Nov. 21.
Frazier remained in control when McKinnie arrived grossly out of shape. A quick decision was made to cut him, creating a definite hole for the Vikings, but also removing the circus-like atmosphere that had surrounded this team the past two years as Childress waited for Brett Favre to decide whether he wanted to play another season.
"When you're trying to build a championship team, it's hard if you've got a lot of other things you're dealing with other than football," Frazier said. "Nothing against anything that we've ever done – it's just my mindset is we've got to be focused on the now and what we have to get done to win a championship.
"That's not to say that we're not going to have to deal with some issues along the way, but not to the point where hopefully it becomes a distraction to what we're trying to get accomplished."
A run at a championship seems like a far-off goal. But no one associated with the franchise is upset about the lack of respect they are getting. Instead, the Vikings almost seem to embrace being under the radar after entering last season with such high expectations and falling flat.
That's why Frazier seems to be the perfect coach for this team. He's a guy who is perfectly happy to fly below the radar himself and has little interest in attracting attention.
"As players, we appreciate it, and I think we knew what we were getting with Coach Frazier, and that's what we really expected," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "He's as consistent and steady as they come, and he's going to expect that from his players, and he's going to make decisions according to that, and he's going to hold himself to that as well."
Frazier quietly does remain confident that the Vikings are not a rebuilding team and that they can be much better than many expect. A lot of that will depend on how McNabb does as Favre's replacement.
Coming off a disappointing season in Washington, McNabb does have the advantage of working with Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson and operating in an offense where he will be given plenty of say in how things operate.
One of the key things will be how Charlie Johnson does as McKinnie's replacement. Johnson was signed as a free agent from the Colts. He spent the past two seasons protecting Peyton Manning's blindside but was going to be moved to guard.
McNabb is going to turn 35 in November – he has a one-year contract with the Vikings – and if he can remain upright throughout the season then he could have a chance to rebound with a strong performance.
If McNabb takes too many hits, however, the Vikings would be forced to use first-round pick Christian Ponder at quarterback and then there would be little doubt the rebuilding phase would be starting in Minnesota.
Frazier focused on consistency
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