Offense is Childress' to Figure Out

While Mike Tomlin is running the defense, the offense is under the control of head coach Brad Childress, who will call the plays in his first game as a head coach in front of a national television audience Monday night.

Eight-plus months after being hired, Brad Childress will get an opportunity to coach his first NFL game Monday night when the Vikings play Washington at FedEx Field.

It also will give Childress his first opportunity to see his offense in a real game situation. And make no mistake — this is Childress' offense.

While he has turned over many of the defensive responsibilities to first-year coordinator Mike Tomlin, Childress has spent much of the offseason and training camp installing his version of the West Coast system in Minnesota.

The scheme will look much like the Philadelphia system that Childress helped run as the Eagles' offensive coordinator. Only this time Childress has the keys to the car. In Philadelphia his former boss, Andy Reid, handled the play calling.

Childress will handle that duty with the Vikings, getting assistance from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Bevell, the former Green Bay quarterbacks coach, will be in the coaches' booth during games, communicating with his new boss.

While Childress expressed optimism about the progress the offense has made, one thing remains abundantly clear: starting quarterback Brad Johnson must stay healthy if the Vikings are going to contend in the NFC North this season.

Johnson, who helped Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl while running a version of the West Coast Offense, will turn 38 two days after the opener. He has had various injury issues during his career, although last season he managed to remain healthy after replacing Daunte Culpepper at quarterback.

The Vikings will have no such luxury of plugging in a veteran with a Super Bowl ring this time around if something happens to Johnson. In fact, the Vikings' depth at quarterback is so shaky that they felt it necessary to acquire Brooks Bollinger from the New York Jets after veteran Mike McMahon played himself off the roster in training camp.

The team remains high on second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson but they don't want to rush the former Division I-AA quarterback in his first season. Also, Jackson's success during the exhibition season came with only a portion of the playbook installed.

Childress' offensive concerns likely go well beyond keeping his starting quarterback healthy. The Vikings paid big money to free agent running back Chester Taylor in March but saw little for their return during the preseason.

Taylor averaged only 2.6 yards per carry as the Vikings gained only 375 yards on 114 carries (a 3.3-yard average).

Part of the problem was a lack of cohesiveness on an offensive line that includes two new starting guards in Steve Hutchinson and Artis Center and a center (Matt Birk) who did not play last season because of injury.

Hutchinson, who received a record $16 million to leave Seattle, is expected to be part of a very strong left side of the line that includes tackle Bryant McKinnie. However, the right side is a work in progress with second-year tackle Marcus Johnson and Hicks, who was obtained from the Eagles and is moving from the right to the left side of the line.

Receiver is another area where things don't appear completely set. With Koren Robinson having been cut after his latest off-the-field incident, Travis Taylor, Troy Williamson and Marcus Robinson are the Vikings' top three receivers. But Childress showed he wasn't entirely comfortable with the situation by signing Todd Pinkston only two days after the Eagles cut him.

Childress likes the fact that Pinkston knows the offense and can step in without having to do much learning. The problem is that Pinkston was slowed in training camp after missing all of last season because of a torn right Achilles' tendon.

Pinkston was actually bothered by pain in both Achilles' this summer and missed the Eagles' first three preseason games before finally making his debut Aug. 25 against Pittsburgh. The feeling in Philadelphia was that Pinkston should have been able to play through the pain but that wasn't the case.

Childress, though, is confident the recent acquisition will help.

"He can (help us) physically and mentally, too," Childress said. "His transition, having been familiar with a lot of the words in this offense, there is not a lot of interpretation for him. He's not going to be thinking all the way through it."

SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. Washington leads series, 10-7, and has won eight of the past 10 games but the Vikings have taken two of the past three.

NOTES

  • The most memorable Vikings-Redskins matchup came in the NFC title game following the strike-shortened 1987 season. The Vikings, trailing 17-10 late in the game at RFK Stadium, drove to the Washington 6-yard line. On their last chance to tie the score, Wade Wilson threw a pass that hit running back Darrin Nelson's hands just as Redskins cornerback Darrell Green smacked him to break up the play. Washington, by the way, sacked Wilson eight times in the game.

  • The Vikings will make their first trip to FedEx Field since frustrated receiver Randy Moss walked off the field with two seconds remaining in the game during a loss in the 2004 regular-season finale. The Vikings ended up backing into the playoffs despite that loss and upset Green Bay in the first round of the postseason. Moss, as you might recall, was traded to Oakland shortly thereafter.

  • Monday's game will be a homecoming for safety Darren Sharper, who attended high school in Richmond, Va. Sharper was all set to play in front of his family and friends in 2004 when the Green Bay Packers visited Washington but he missed that game because of a knee injury.

  • Cornerback Fred Smoot returns to Washington for the first time since leaving the Redskins to sign as a free agent with the Vikings in March 2005. Smoot was a second-round pick of Washington and spent his first four seasons with the Redskins.

  • Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson played in Washington in 1999 and 2000 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1999. The Vikings had traded Johnson to the Redskins in a deal that landed Minnesota the draft pick with which they selected Daunte Culpepper.

  • Although the Vikings entered the NFL in 1961 as an expansion team, they did not play Washington until the 1968 season. Minnesota won that first meeting 27-14 at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

  • The Vikings also opened the season against the Redskins in 1972, losing 24-21 at the Met. The Vikings finished a disappointing 7-7 that season under Bud Grant after going 11-3 the previous year.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 8 — Number of starts for Vikings No. 1 running back Chester Taylor in 63 career games with Baltimore.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Usually I'm with the defensive backs all in one section. Now, I'm next to (quarterback) Brad Johnson and (defensive lineman) Spencer Johnson. Those are guys I wouldn't necessarily talk to on a regular basis, and they're sitting next to me. So I think we all know each other a little better." — CB Antoine Winfield on new coach Brad Childress' decision to randomly assign locker stalls instead of putting position groups together.

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