From second-year starting quarterbacks who were first-round draft picks to star running backs that aren't likely to start in the regular-season opener, the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars have quite a bit in common.
Both teams struggled with their new quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert finished 26th in yards passing last year; Christian Ponder finished 30th. Ponder finished 30th with a 70.1 passer rating; Gabbert was 33rd at 65.4.
And then there's the fact that the new head coach for the Jaguars, Mike Mularkey, played tight end for the Vikings from 1983-88.
Mularkey and his Jaguars will open the 2012 season against Leslie Frazier and his Vikings, and even the coaching staffs have some strong connections. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave held the same position in Jacksonville from 2003-04 and later worked under Mularkey, who was the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, from 2008-10 as the quarterbacks coach.
"He thinks outside the box, a little bit like I do," Mularkey said of Musgrave, known as "Muskie" to those around him. "He's just not set. Some people are just set – this is the way it's going to be done. He does think outside the box. I like that he takes suggestions. He wants people's input and will take it. I also listened to him. I always wanted his input. I relied on him a lot, especially with a young quarterback like Matt Ryan."
Musgrave and Mularkey helped develop Matt Ryan as a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 and may have been part of the ensuing youth movement at quarterback. That year, Ryan and Ravens rookie Joe Flacco enjoyed unusual success as rookie starters. This year on opening week, the NFL will feature 10 starting quarterbacks who are either rookies or in their second NFL season.
Mularkey, in his first season as head coach of the Jaguars, inherited Gabbert as his quarterback and is going through the process of installing a new offense with a new coaching staff.
But Mularkey has been coaching in the NFL for 18 years and either coaching or playing in the league for 27 years. That started with the Minnesota Vikings in 1983, where he dealt with a locker room that included Tommy Kramer and Archie Manning at quarterback, Darrin Nelson at running back, and Scott Studwell and Joey Browner on defense. By 1988, Anthony Carter had joined the offense and guys like Henry Thomas, Chris Doleman, Keith Millard and Al Noga had joined the defense.
"Some of the things that went on behind the scenes, it was frustrating in the locker room at times for some players to watch situations take place. I'm not going to point out the situations or the players or what they were," Mularkey said of his days with the Vikings. "We should have won more games than we did and I think a lot of things that played into it took place in the locker room."
Mularkey said it was "somewhat selfishness" that kept the Vikings' teams he was part of in the 1980s from winning more.
"It's hard to explain it without giving specific examples, but I know I wasn't the only one affected. I know the guys that were in the locker room and sweated out making the team every year, which was a bunch of us in the locker room, it was frustrating at times to watch things happen as they did. That was an example," Mularkey said. "I've been in the league 28 years now and I've seen it. That was just the start and it's pretty consistent for me as a player and coach to watch different locker rooms and how results happen."
Frazier and Vikings general manager Rick Spielman have tried to let character guide some of their acquisitions on the team. Frazier said selfishness isn't bad to a degree, but too much of it can cause damage in the locker room.
"It could undermine everything you're trying to do, especially if it's one of your key guys, one of your leaders," Frazier said. "You have to be mindful of that and in the role that I'm in, you need your key guys, your star players, to understand the team concept and hopefully think about the team in certain situations before themselves."
The Vikings and Jaguars are in a similar situation with their star running backs, as well.
Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the league with 1,606 yards rushing last year, held out until this week because of a contract dispute with the Jaguars that remains unsolved. Adrian Peterson, who leads league with 6,752 rush yards and 64 rushing touchdowns since entering the league in 2007, had his 2011 season cut short by an injury that required Dec. 30 surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.
Both running backs are expected to play Sunday, but not start. Jones-Drew is likely to get more carries since he isn't coming back from injury.
"If it was up to me, I'd like to take every carry," he said, but admitted that Rashad Jennings has a better grasp of the Jaguars' new offense since he spent the offseason and preseason practicing with the team.
Still, Jones-Drew said he is preparing as if he is the starter.
"You don't prepare half-assed," he said. "I understand it's coach's decision and I've got to show them how much I'm ready to play."
Like nearly everyone else, Jones-Drew also expects Peterson to be on the field in some capacity Sunday, despite Frazier saying Peterson's availability will be a game-time decision.
"The type of guy he is, he's going to be able to get through that and make plays. Hopefully we'll be able to see him on Sunday. I can't wait to see how he looks," Jones-Drew said.
"I've always been watching (Peterson's recovery) and seeing how things are going. (I'm) hoping and wishing him well. As running backs we have to stick together because obviously everybody is trying to devalue us."
The same might be said in the bigger picture of their teams. Whether it's the losing records last year – the Jaguars were 5-11 and the Vikings 3-13 – the second-year quarterbacks who struggled, or the star running backs that aren't expected to get the most carries on their team, the Vikings and Jaguars are being devalued throughout the league. Sunday just provides them with a starting-point opportunity to try to change perceptions.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings, Jaguars similar in many ways
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