Vikings Continue To Work With Williamson

Vikings coaches know that wide receiver Troy Williamson has a propensity to drop long passes over his shoulder, but they aren't ready to give up on the 2005 first-round draft pick. They also aren't writing off Tarvaris Jackson's rookie season. Plus, find out how Frank Gore's presence on Sunday has given the defense something more to think about.

Troy Williamson has been the subject of much consternation in Vikings nation the last two seasons.

He teases with his speed and his raw talent, but he can frustrate and sometimes infuriate with the whiff of a would-be long reception.

"He's continuing to work on it. We work on it at practice every day. We give him balls down the field in terms of being able to locate the ball over his shoulder. That probably seems to be the biggest problem right now is being able to pick the ball up in flight," said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. "He has made catches down the field, the exact same ones that he dropped on the ground last week, so we know that he can make the play. I think the biggest thing is just locating the ball right now."

"Last week" was on Monday night in front of his home Metrodome crowd and a national television audience.

Brad Johnson overthrew Mewelde Moore on a short route for a would-be touchdown on the Vikings' second drive of the evening. Johnson then threw another interception on the next drive, and the whole team was hoping to regroup at halftime after trailing 17-0.

They came out in the second half and drove the ball across midfield – ironically, it was Williamson who made a 13-yard reception that put them in New England Patriots territory. Facing third-and-5 from the Patriots 44-yard line, Johnson dropped to pass and found Williamson in single coverage and step in front of the defending cornerback down the left sideline.

Johnson released what looked to be a perfect pass … and one that ended up falling from the sky and harmlessly hitting the Williamson's shoulder or part of his helmet instead of his hands.

"His eyes have been checked and he's 20-20," Childress said when asked about Williamson's struggles for consistency. "They have the visual acuity with your peripheral vision. He was checked at the Combine with all that kind of thing. I think one of the toughest adjustments in sports is to adjust to a football that's thrown back over your head going full speed and then being able to locate down the field. Obviously, at the professional level you need to be able to make that adjustment and he's demonstrated some problems with that. I thought it was a very good throw and I would have liked to seen him adjust to the football obviously."

If he had, it might have resulted in a touchdown and the Vikings trailing 17-7. The next time they touched the ball, Mewelde Moore returned a punt for a touchdown, which would have brought them within a field goal of the Patriots early in the third quarter.

Instead, Williamson missed the ball, Moore scored his touchdown and the Patriots quickly responded with another touchdown for a 24-7 lead that the Vikings never came close to again.

The frustration for observers is that Williamson has shown the ability to make those catches – sometimes, at least. But he has also shown a propensity to drop them as well.

"I think everybody knows what Troy Williamson can do and what type of speed that he has, and I think they're definitely conscious of him," Bevell said. "You look back to the Washington game, he had a big reception early in the game down the field, and then the same play down the field again he didn't make it. So they know his speed, they know that he can get behind them. We're still going to keep taking those shots. He has made those plays, like I said. If it's there, Brad (Johnson) is going to take it and we expect him to make the play, and we're going to continue to work on them so that he can make those plays."

In that season opener at Washington, Williamson had a 46-yard reception on the first drive of the game, then on that same play call on the second drive of the game another nicely thrown pass went right through his hands. He still ended the game with 77 yards receiving and a kickoff return of 44 yards.

Without making those catches consistently, however, defenses might not respect the Vikings' ability to reliably make those connections. So far, however, neither Childress nor Bevell indicated that defenses don't respect the Vikings' passing game.

"I haven't seen that as an issue. I think we're, just if you look at the numbers, we're in the top five in terms of plus 20-yard gains ranked in the NFL," Bevell said. "We have the ability to get the ball down the field. We've been able to do that. The numbers I guess speak for themselves, but again, we're still taking opportunities for shots down the field when the opportunity presents itself. We don't just throw it down there just to say, ‘Hey, we threw it down the field.'"

There best chance to improve in that aspect might come this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, who have the 31st-ranked overall defense and 31st-ranked pass defense.

"They are very stout against the run. They haven't really given up many running yards against a lot of teams," fullback Tony Richardson said. "Obviously, they've give up a lot of points, but that's through the air and I know they'll get that fixed."

SOME HOPE FOR JACKSON

The Vikings drafted Tarvaris Jackson late in the second round of April's draft hoping he would be their quarterback of the future. While he had a good off-season, training camp and preseason, he hasn't gotten into a regular-season game.

Against the Patriots, Brooks Bollinger took over when Johnson was pulled following his third interception of the game. After being inactive for the season opener in Washington (he was acquired by the Vikings in an Aug. 31 trade with the New York Jets), Bollinger has been the Vikings' No. 2 quarterback ever since, and last week Childress said he didn't think Jackson would be their No. 2 quarterback the rest of the season, meaning he would enter games as the emergency quarterback and would be used only if both Johnson and Bollinger were hurt.

But Bevell cautioned that the Vikings aren't giving up on their rookie for this season.

"I would never write off anything. He's in practice, he's working, he gets a lot of reps on the scout team, but that's a decision made by the head coach of who he wants to get in there and when," Bevell said.

BACK TO THE BACK

Despite the Vikings using a short-passing game that relied on running backs and tight ends in the 1970s under the guidance of offensive coordinator Jerry Burns, analysts usually credit former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh with inventing the West Coast offense.

All these years later, the 49ers are still keeping their running backs extremely involved in the passing game. While Frank Gore is leading the Niners in rushing (124 carries for 631 yards), he also is tied for the team lead with 26 receptions for 211 yards.

Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said that will change the Vikings' approach to defense Sunday.

"I think last week the Patriots had some success running screens on us. There are different ways to get a guy the ball out of the backfield. We're working on the screen game a little bit," he said. "But (Gore) is a very talented runner. He has nice hands. They are going to find ways to feature him and get him the ball, and we have to let our keys talk to us. We have to play disciplined football."



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