Who Will Step Up?

For years, the Vikings' trademark was having quality on offense and struggles on defense. But, despite having one of the league's best records in the second half of the 2005 season, the Vikings offense went from venomous to vanilla.

There was only one team in the NFL that didn't have a passer throw for 2,000 yards or a running back or receiver account for 700 yards or more in 2005. The 49ers? Nope. The Texans? Nope. Then who?

It was the Vikings.

In a year that was supposed to be heralded by big years from Daunte Culpepper, Michael Bennett and Nate Burleson, instead the Vikings were led in passing by Brad Johnson (1,885 yards), in rushing by Mewelde Moore (662 yards) and in receiving by Travis Taylor (604 yards). In an era where running backs and receivers by committee rarely work, the Vikings were a team that resorted to Plan B an awful lot in 2005.

Expect that to change this season, since the Vikings have gone a long way to address their deficiencies on offense. With Culpepper, Bennett and Burleson all sent packing, Johnson is the man at quarterback hands down -- but if he goes down, the offense could be in serious trouble. At running back, the team gave Chester Taylor $14 million to be their featured back. At wide receiver, the combination of re-signed WR Koren Robinson and second-year speedster Troy Williamson are at the forefront of the team's plans.

What is expected to make the whole thing work is a revamped offensive line that was a liability much of last year, but has all the chances of being a strength this year. Bryant McKinnie returns at left tackle, but aside from him, the Vikings had a revolving door of O-linemen in '05 that were at times embarrassing. Expect that to change in a big way this year.

With the additions of Steve Hutchinson and Artis Hicks, the healthy return of Matt Birk and the entrenching of Marcus Johnson at right tackle, you can make a case that, if they stay healthy, the Vikings will have one of the top offensive lines in the league this year -- as opposed to a rag-tag group that shuttled in and out of the lineup last year.

Ask any pro football expert about what a team needs to be successful and you'll hear the same thing -- a strong defense and a power running game. The Vikings defense, long the weak sister of the team, solidified itself markedly in the second half of the 2005 season. In the final nine games of the year, the Vikings allowed more than 21 points just once and had games in which their opponents scored a palty 18, 17, 16, 14, 13, 12 and 10 points. The defense clearly did its part.

While fantasy football hard-cores are likely to avoid the Vikings offense like the plague, there is strong reason to believe that the Vikings offense will be much improved -- but with a different look. Whereas the Vikes of recent vintage were known for the deep pass and the quick-strike ability, the 2006 Vikings may well be known more for a grind-it-out running style that eats clock and keeps scores down.

The philosophy of how to get things done with the Vikings has changed and, if history means anything, it could be for the better because the defense has shown what it can do and, with the offensive line additions, the Vikings could have the power running game the top teams need to be a success.

* Talks continue between the Vikings and their two remaining unsigned picks. It is expected that Chad Greenway is going to be signed -- perhaps as early as later today. It may be a little more dicey when it comes to QB Tarvaris Jackson, but is believed that a deal with him will also get done before camp opens.
* One man's misery is another man's opportunity. While the Rams' Marshall Faulk announced that he will have knee surgery that will end his 2006 season and likely his career, VU has been told that talks between the Rams and the Saints have rekindled concerning the potential of trading for former Viking Michael Bennett. The biggest sticking point is the relative health of Deuce McAllister. If he's good to go, look for the Saints to move Bennett within the next couple of weeks -- either to the Rams or another potential suitor looking for RB depth.

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