I'm definitely jumping on quarterback Daunte Culpepper's bandwagon this year, as I've seen his awareness improve by leaps and bounds and his energy level at an all-time high. He seems very confident when rolling out, knowing when to throw the ball out of bounds rather than taking a loss of yardage or forcing himself into a situation that could create a turnover. People might think his motivation is due to the hefty contract extension he signed this offseason, but with Culpepper's heart and love of the game, to me the money isn't a contributing factor.
How good was Culpepper this preseason? He had no turnovers and finished the preseason with a quarterback rating above 100. Even though the Vikings lost their last preseason game to Arizona, they scored on both series Culpepper was leading the offense, with a 52-yard field from Aaron Elling and a 27-yard touchdown pass to rookie Nate Burleson.
Culpepper's great growing and learning process is directly attributed to head coach Mike Tice. Mike Tice is a good head coach now and he'll be a good head coach 10 years from now, as he is constantly taking care of the little things. The Vikings do not have a lot of depth this year, and with about 46 of the 65 players on the roster for the final preseason game with three or fewer years of NFL experience, they had the possibility of a rather large number of mental mistakes from a lot of deadbeat ballplayers. Each player will develop at a different pace, as is the case with any business. As this coaching staff has gone through the offseason and preseason, they now understand their players' strengths and weakness.
Take tight end Sean Berton. Boy has he come a long way since training camp began, with a good attitude and the help of tight ends coach John Tice. Berton had a late hit in the Oakland game, and head coach Mike Tice casually grabbed his facemask three different times — I absolutely loved that. It was a great lesson for Berton, but also a lesson for the entire team. A young team needs to learn to play smart. Now, less than a week later, Berton learned from that experience and had a great game against Arizona. While he caught a 4-yard touchdown pass and blocked well, I thought his best play was when he pancaked a potential tackler on a kickoff return. As you watch Berton play during this upcoming season, take a little extra notice on the special teams as he gets an opportunity to excel.
The defensive depth is definitely on the thin side, and it is obvious that the defensive unit will grow consistently as the NFL season progresses. The Vikings offense will produce from the get-go, as I feel they have the best offensive line in football, and, yes, even you readers out there could gain yardage behind this talented bunch. With Culpepper's energy, effort and awareness leading this team, you are going to see some exciting football this year.
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