Can Culpepper Adapt Quickly?

With a new head coach and a new offense to learn, the question of the offseason will surround the progress of quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Will he recover from surgery to repair three torn ligaments in his knee on time to even start the season, and if so can he really get up to speed with a new offense without practicing in the offseason workouts? It could be dicey. Then again, what's a Vikings offseason without a little controversy, right?

One of the first questions Vikings head coach Brad Childress was asked at his introductory press conference Friday was if he was going to bring the West Coast offense to the Vikings. He danced around the question, which was repeated in different forms almost a half-dozen times, but it seems clear that if Childress is the head coach and intends to do most, if not all, of the play-calling, that at least some variation of the WCO will be instituted in Minnesota.

At first blush, that looks like a big advantage for someone like Brad Johnson, who played with a WCO in Tampa Bay under Jon Gruden. He knows the terminology and how the West Coast system varies from that of the Vikings. The ultimate test will be how Daunte Culpepper reacts to the change.

Culpepper has never played in a West Coast offense, which uses the short passing game as its staple and gets both running backs and tight ends significantly involved in the offense. The offense that Vikings have run since Dennis Green became the head coach and Brian Billick ran the offense has been viewed by most as a hybrid of the offense that Joe Gibbs popularized in the 1980s – a combination of a power running game behind a huge offensive line and the deep strike capability that can create big plays.

The success of the WCO is predicated on sustaining long drives and picking up yardage in chunks of five or 10 yards – not the 50-yard bomb. If Culpepper is to succeed in the system, he can begin his preparation now while he's still rehabbing – learning the new terminology and check-down rotations. In the old Vikings system, Culpepper operated in an offense that was known for its quick-strike capability and liberal use of the deep ball. Some quarterbacks have never thrived in a WCO – struggling to be as patient as the offense requires.

If Culpepper can adapt quickly to the changes that the likely switch to a modified WCO will produce, he could quickly return to Pro Bowl form. If he balks at the notion or struggles in it, Childress may have to ask himself if the Vikings are better off staying with what has worked for them for more than a decade or make the switch to a system Childress is the most comfortable overseeing.

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