Following a game in which Brad Johnson seemed to at least hold off calls for another quarterback to be inserted as a starter, one of those backups – Bollinger – is getting significant attention despite the fact that he might not be healthy enough to play.
Bollinger separated his non-throwing shoulder in relief duty of Johnson two weeks ago and might have been the starter last week if not for that injury. Had Bollinger been able to start and play effectively against the lowly Lions last Sunday, he might be talking about starting this Sunday against the team that traded him to the Vikings at the conclusion of the preseason schedule.
"We had a good look at a tape right before he came here, where he played against the Redskins in a two-minute situation," Vikings coach Brad Childress said when asked what attracted him to Bollinger. "I can remember a couple of years ago, Philadelphia played the Jets every year, home and away because of the proximity. I watched him take a ball 75 yards with about a minute left in a preseason game, but still there is some orchestration that goes on. He studies it; he works at it. He's got a keen mind. His dad was a coach. To me that's always an extra. He's seen him come through the door either elated or dejected, so some of those things."
Childress often mentions the fact that Bollinger's father was a coach as an important part of his makeup, and Bollinger practically slept at Winter Park trying to learn the offense the week after his trade to Minnesota.
It was a trade that hardly surprised him.
"You try to think about it and you try not to speculate about what could possibly happen, because there are so many variables and so many things that could happen. I thought that it was a possibility, I thought that if they did keep me around, and they talked about keeping four guys, I only had one year left on my contract, so if they were going to get anything for me, that would have been the time to do it," Bollinger said of his last weeks with the New York Jets, the Vikings' opponent on Sunday. "I thought that might have been a possibility and I thought them keeping me was a possibility and I thought maybe they'd wait it out and then cut me."
He went to Jets camp with an injury-riddled Chad Pennington penciled in as the starter, Patrick Ramsey getting a contract extension and rookie Kellen Clemens coming in with expectations for the future.
When he was traded to the Vikings for defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, Minnesota immediately gave him an extension. He went from being the third-string quarterback two years in a row to being the second-stringer in Minnesota.
"It is good to be somewhere where they gave me an extension. I felt like they came and actively got me and said, ‘Hey, you're a guy that we want, you fit what we're trying to do here.' Going through some coaching changes the last two years, when you're the third quarterback and a sixth-round pick and the situation that I was in, it's tough to survive those sometimes."
Bollinger was immediately thrust into another new offense with the Vikings, but after the turnover in coordinators he experienced with the Jets, that was hardly a new challenge for him. At least he had some familiarity with Childress, who recruited Bollinger to Wisconsin and was there during Bollinger's redshirt freshman season before Childress left for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I really like Coach Childress, he really does things the right way," Bollinger said. "I don't want to infer that I wasn't treated with respect (by the Jets), because I was. Things happen and sometimes who knows who is pulling the strings? From Coach (Eric) Mangini all the way down the line, I felt that I was treated with respect. I don't hold any grudges as far as how or what happened. It's good to be in a place where I have some familiarity with the coach. I've been around a few of the coaches here. You come in after training camp, no offseason, I don't really know anybody on the team, so you kind of have to start from square one and earn their respect."
That might not happen this week, as Bollinger is listed as questionable with his shoulder injury. Last week, he suited up as the emergency third quarterback, but he wasn't able to throw the ball much leading up to that game and wasn't ready to absorb a hit.
His biggest contribution Sunday might be offering insight into the Jets offense, one that will likely rely heavily on the passing game to try to beat the Vikings.
"I don't really know if there's anything I can tell them. I mean, obviously I've been around the personnel, but they just do so much on both sides of the ball and they do such a good job of scouting themselves and changing things up, not showing the same look twice. What we were doing in training camp and what they're doing now I'm not sure that they're even close," Bollinger said.
NEXT RECEIVER IN LINE
After holding Detroit Lions WRs Roy Williams and Mike Furrey to less than 100 yards each, the Vikings' pass defense will face a similarly productive tandem in Lavernaues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery.
Cotchery has 65 receptions for 802 yards while Coles leads the team in both categories with 921 yards on 75 receptions.
"A lot of people are just starting to take notice, or I guess the writers are starting to take notice, but it's been the same for me for most of my career," Coles said. "Even last year, when people thought we weren't doing so well and things weren't going so well for the team, people always had their top corner match me and follow me around and they put a safety on the hash to try and keep me in check. I say the same thing all the time, there's nothing I haven't dealt with or something I haven't seen. It's something I dealt with week-in and week-out. Either someone else makes plays, like Jerricho Cotchery and other guys, or they find a way to get the ball in my hands."
It sounds like Coles expects the Vikings to put Antoine Winfield on him, but Minnesota rarely moves its corners to get a certain matchup.
"Antoine Winfield is an excellent tackling corner, has always been. I remember playing against Winfield at Buffalo where you had to know where he was in the running game, receivers had to be aware of him in the running game," Coles said. "I think you have three guys in the secondary Sharper, Smith and Winfield that are veteran, savvy guys that play excellent football. They have great ball skills. When you do pass, you have to be aware of those guys and you have to know they're not just secondary guys who knock the ball down; they intercept the football. They're very opportunistic. If we do get passing opportunities, we have to be precise in our routes, precise in our throwing. We just have to play really well to beat these guys."
Coles' biggest concern, however, centers on Minnesota's rush defense.
"It's ridiculous. Fifty four yards a game is just ridiculous. Coach Mangini was mentioning they're closing in on the 1942 record, I believe 47 yards a game, which is unbelievable," Coles said. "Their gap penetration is superb, starting with their defensive line. Both Pat and Kevin Williams do a good job of penetrating, beating linemen to their blocks. Every time they're singled, normally they win. Their linebackers do a great job of pursuing the football and beating the linemen as they're trying to climb up to the next level. They play really tight to the line of scrimmage, so they can get there fast. They're very physical and they're very aggressive and they take the punch to you. When you watch the film, it's really impressive."
"I think he's probably trying to install a system similar to New England," Childress said. "He's in the first year there, so he can't do all the bells and whistles, but you can see similarities as well as some things that he wanted to do."
"The guys are giving him the business on the bus about who should start next week. There's a little bit of peer pressure there, coming back from the airport. These guys can get after each other pretty well. You never can tell whether it's liable to be a Wally Pipp situation," Childress said.