QUARTERBACK: Starter - Brad Johnson. Backups - Mike McMahon, Tarvaris Jackson, J.T. O'Sullivan.
Johnson stepped in for the injured Daunte Culpepper last season and helped orchestrate an impressive turnaround. The Vikings, off to a 2-5 start under Culpepper, went on a six-game winning streak with Johnson leading the charge and finished on a 7-2 run. It wasn't good enough to make the postseason but Johnson proved he still has something left. The obvious question is how much? Johnson will turn 38 two days after the Vikings' play their regular-season opener in Washington. The Vikings will keep their fingers crossed he can stay healthy. His backup is veteran Mike McMahon, who signed as a free agent after playing under new Vikings coach and former Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress, with the Eagles last season. McMahon went 2-5 in place of the injured Donovan McNabb and had an unimpressive 45.4 completion percentage. Jackson, a surprise second-round pick by the Vikings in April, and O'Sullivan lack the necessary experience to be counted on to be any type of factor.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Chester Taylor, FB Tony Richardson. Backups - RB Mewelde Moore, RB Ciatrick Fason, RB Adimchinobe Echemandu, RB Wendell Mathis, RB Taurean Henderson, FB Richard Owens, FB Steven Jackson.
The Vikings showed confidence Taylor could be a No. 1 running back, signing him to a four-year, $14.1 million free-agent deal last March that includes $5.6 million in guaranteed money. Surprisingly, Taylor might have yet to embrace what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime. The whispers coming from Winter Park are that Taylor did not show the spark or conditioning commitment in the offseason workouts that many expected he would now that he's out of Jamal Lewis' shadow in Baltimore. Taylor, though, will get every chance to prove he is deserving of his rich contract. The fact his 26-year-old body hasn't sustained the beating of a starting running back should help. Another free-agent addition, Richardson, will serve as the first true fullback in the Vikings' offense in several seasons. Under former coach Mike Tice, the Vikings did not have a traditional fullback. Richardson, entering his 12th NFL season and his first not in a Kansas City uniform, is a highly respected player and promises to make a smooth transition. Moore also figures to get carries in this offense. The third-year veteran had problems staying healthy in his first two seasons but still was able to lead the Vikings with 662 rushing yards last season. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Fason, a fourth-round pick in 2005, also could compete for carries.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Jermaine Wiggins. Backups - Jim Kleinsasser, Richard Angulo, Jeff Dugan.
Either Wiggins or Kleinsasser — and perhaps both at times — could find themselves in a starting role. Wiggins has some of the best hands on the Vikings, leading the team in receptions each of the past two seasons (71 in 2004, 69 in 2005). Listed at 6-feet-2, 260 pounds, he also looked noticeably thinner this summer but has refused to say how much weight he has dropped. Kleinsasser is a top-notch blocker who can provide help on the offensive line. That could be necessary with the inexperienced Marcus Johnson starting at right tackle. Kleinsasser also should be a greater presence in his second season back from knee surgery and isn't a liability when it comes to catching the ball.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Koren Robinson, Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor. Backups - Marcus Robinson, Billy McMullen, Aaron Hosack, Kevin Kasper, Chris Jones, Ryan Hoag, Jason Carter, Barrick Nealy, Kelvin Kight, Kyle Smith, Josh Davis.
Koren Robinson stayed with the Vikings in March, signing a three-year contract that should mean a much bigger role in this corps. Robinson joined the Vikings last September after being released by Seattle and going through alcohol treatment. He caught only 22 passes and had one touchdown reception. In the Vikings' new West Coast offense, Robinson will be playing in a system that he is familiar with from his days in Seattle. The speedy Williamson will be counted on to emerge in his second season. The seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft, Williamson was a work in progress as a rookie. One of his biggest difficulties seemed to be his route running. It will be important that he shows improvement because he provides the Vikings with perhaps their only real vertical threat. Taylor led Vikings receivers in catches last season (50) and his sure hands should prove a valuable commodity in the short passing game. The 6-foot-3 Marcus Robinson remains a jump-ball threat inside the red zone. McMullen comes from the Eagles and knows coach Brad Childress' system.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Matt Birk, RG Artis Hicks, RT Marcus Johnson. Backups - LT Adam Goldberg, Sean Bubin, Mark Wilson, LG Chris Liwienski, C Jason Whittle, Ryan Cook, Jason Palermo, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Mike Rosenthal, Donald Penn, Albert Stinson.
This is one area the Vikings should be able to call a strength. Birk, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, returns after missing last season because of a hip injury that required surgery following training camp. To Birk's left will be Hutchinson, who signed a seven-year, $49 million free-agent deal that included a record (for a guard) $16 million in guaranteed money. And McKinnie, coming off a solid 2005, should help give the Vikings a left side that will provide plenty of protection for Brad Johnson and open plenty of holes for Chester Taylor. On the right side, the Vikings have Hicks, obtained in a draft-weekend trade from Philadelphia, and Johnson, a second-year player who has impressed many with his athletic ability. Goldberg and Rosenthal should push Hicks and Johnson, respectively. Johnson replaced Rosenthal as the starting tackle last season and Goldberg finished 2005 as the starter at right guard. If Birk has any problems staying healthy, newcomer Whittle will be counted on to take his place.
Offensive Unit-By-Unit Analysis
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