Offense Could Be A Question Mark

For the first time in nearly a decade, people are wondering how productive the Vikings offense can be. It has added some decent players, but the main question to answer will be how effectively it can operate without Randy Moss.

Vikings coach Mike Tice insists it will be business as usual for the team's high-scoring offense in 2005.

"Offensively," he said, "we're going to be as good as anybody."

We'll see.

The Vikings are the trendy pick to win the Super Bowl because of upgrades on defense. But despite their efforts to spin it otherwise, the Vikings are looking at a massive hole on offense after the offseason trade of their best player, Randy Moss, to Oakland.

The offense was built around the enigmatic receiver who, like him or not, caught 90 touchdown passes and wreaked havoc on defenses the past seven seasons.

The Vikings attempted to replace Moss' speed when they selected South Carolina receiver Troy Williamson with the seventh overall pick in the draft. While Williamson might be able to match Moss' speed, he shows no signs of matching Moss' production any time soon.

Travis Taylor, a free-agent acquisition from Baltimore, is the sleeper offseason pickup. He didn't live up to his first-round pedigree with the Ravens, but he also never played with a quarterback as talented as Daunte Culpepper. Taylor will start out as the No. 3 receiver, but could easily climb to No. 2 behind Nate Burleson.

The running back position depends on the fragile legs of Michael Bennett, especially since backup Onterrio Smith was suspended for the entire season after a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Ciatrick Fason, a rookie from Florida, was selected in the fourth round and might become a factor by the end of the season.

At quarterback, the Vikings lost backup Gus Frerotte, but recovered nicely by signing Brad Johnson via free agency. Johnson won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay and will be a comforting presence on the sideline.

The line will struggle with C Matt Birk expected to miss most or all of training camp because of recent hip surgery and three hernia operations since last summer. Backup Cory Withrow is a step down and often gets hurt when he's called on.

Veteran right guard Dave Dixon is gone, but might be brought back as a backup. Former left guard Chris Liwienski will shift to right guard, while his former spot will be up for grabs between Adam Goldberg and rookie second-round draft pick Marcus Johnson.

Keep an eye on Johnson. He's ready to play, physically and mentally. He's big enough to play tackle yet nimble enough to play inside.

Mike Rosenthal returns to right tackle after breaking his foot in Week 2 last season. If he is reinjured, Johnson probably will step in and start, or at least compete there with second-year pro Nat Dorsey.

At kicker, the Vikings added Paul Edinger, who was released by Chicago after a disappointing 2004. The Vikings insist Edinger will compete with Aaron Elling, who is back from a broken leg.

Elling handled all of the team's kicking duties in 2003. He lost his confidence and his job last summer. The Vikings brought him back as a kickoff specialist when Morten Andersen proved he was too old to do it.

The Vikings appear to have a dilemma. They don't want to keep two kickers, but they don't seem to have one who can handle kickoffs and placekicking.

Elling is a sound kickoff specialist and a shaky place-kicker. Edinger is a more accurate place-kicker, but not as good on kickoffs.

Solving the kicking situation is one of the team's biggest priorities in training camp. Poor kicking has been Tice's Achilles' heel since he became a full-time head coach in 2002.

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