An offseason makeover, a change of scenery, and a little more attention to the athleticism of the roster are all in the offing as the Vikings move forward following a disappointing end to the 2003 season. Interesting thoughts and some significant player movement will encompass the entire Minnesota organization.
The unbelievable loss to the Arizona Cardinals, which prematurely ended the Vikings' run towards the playoffs, has created a stir within the organization. Now, with the playoffs in gear, the thoughts of what should have been have left many within the Minnesota organization wondering what went wrong.
In the Minnesota Vikings organization, it all starts and ends with owner Red McCombs. Advisors, player personnel evaluators and scouts have a common belief as to where this organization presently stands. Also, the path to improve this team is clear, but it will take McCombs to share in the belief of his trusted hands within the organization.
Becoming a 9-7 team in 2003, the organization is on the path envisioned by the front office prior to the start of training camp. By most accounts, many within the organization felt like a 9-7 record and competing for a playoff spot were about where the Vikings would be come the end of 2003.
Then, a 6-0 start to the season occurred and the dynamics of the game changed.
"Getting off to the 6-0 start was the best and worst things that could have happened to this team. While that sounds a bit weird, this team gained some much needed confidence in itself at a time when we had many people and players questioning themselves," a team source said. "Offensively, we knew we would be a good team. Even without Michael Bennett, we thought we would move the ball, but we had some concerns about consistency."
While the defense showed improvement early in the season, mainly due to the opportunistic style of play and scheme of defensive coordinator George O'Leary, this revamped defense, spear-headed by the addition of linebacker Chris Claiborne and cornerbacks Denard Walker and Ken Irvin, was an early-season surprise. But, it was the play of safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell that led the Minnesota defense.
"The play of the defense, while it was improved from the 2002 season, there is significant room for improvement. Our defensive backfield struggled at times. We are pretty happy with the development of Brian Williams and Brian Russell. Corey Chavous has provided us with a playmaker and leadership, but we need to improve the other corner, along with the nickel and dime packages," the team source continued. "But, the defensive backfield is just one area of this defense that needs to be worked with and on. We have the draft and free agency to supplement this roster."
Midway through the preseason it had been rumored the team was seeking additional help on special teams and defensively. With a few players in mind, speculation is owner Red McCombs was approached with the intent of adding available talent to the roster. The Vikings did not add the additional talent to the roster as the offseason spending by the team had concluded.
"Yes, there was a time in training camp where we wanted to add some talent to the roster to enhance a few areas of the roster. Actually, we were to the point of having a couple players brought to town with the anticipation of signing them heading into the season," the source said. "Being significantly under the (salary) cap, we did not believe there was an issue, but we were shot down by the owner.
In hind-sight, we may have really been able to use a couple of the players we were looking at."
Now, sitting on the sideline with time to reflect on the season, finding one facet of the game that the Vikings need to improve upon should not be difficult. For a 9-7 team, only some minor tinkering could be in order, but if those dealing in player procurement for the Vikings have their way, the story heading into the 2004 season could be different.
"Simply, we have to add more speed, we need to be much more athletic, and we need to add players to the roster that understand the game and have the desire to work hard and want to win," the team source concluded.
With that, the first steps of building the 2004 Minnesota Vikings has commenced.
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