QUARTERBACK: Starter - Tarvaris Jackson. Backups - Brooks Bollinger, Drew Henson, Tyler Thigpen.
Vikings coach Brad Childress had done his best to convince everyone that Jackson and Bollinger will compete for the starting job in training camp. Don't believe it. Barring a meltdown of massive proportions, Jackson will be the Vikings' starter when they open the regular season on Sept. 9 against Atlanta. Jackson, a surprise second-round pick in 2006, saw limited playing time last season but did start the final two games of the season. The Vikings lost to Green Bay and St. Louis in those two games. Jackson, who also entered games in relief of Brad Johnson on two other occasions, completed 47 of 81 passes on the season with two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 62.5 rating. He spent the majority of his offseason at the Vikings' complex working with coaches. Bollinger's low-key demeanor and knowledge of Childress' offense solidifies him as the No. 2 quarterback; seventh-round pick Tyler Thigpen is likely to stick on the roster in a learning role behind Jackson and Bollinger.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Chester Taylor. FB - Tony Richardson. Backups - Ciatrick Fason, Wendell Mathis, Mewelde Moore, FB Richard Owens, Adrian Peterson, Artose Pinner, FB Naufahu Tahi, Arkee Whitlock.
The Vikings took a page from the many teams that have had success with a 1-2 punch at running back by drafting Adrian Peterson with the seventh overall selection in April. The Taylor-Peterson combination will mean the former can carry a lighter workload this season and the latter won't be thrust into the fire without any support. Of course, much of this hinges on Peterson's ability to remain healthy, something that became an issue during his collegiate career at Oklahoma. Taylor proved he has the ability to be a workhorse last season, establishing a franchise record for rushing attempts in a season with 303 but it was clear by late in the year he was wearing down. Richardson, who missed the final seven games last season because of a broken arm, will be the primary lead blocker for both Taylor and Peterson. The odd man out in all of this appears to be Moore, who led the Vikings in rushing in 2005.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups - Jeff Dugan, Braden Jones, Jim Kleinsasser, Stephen Spach.
Shiancoe spent the first four seasons of his career as the backup to Jeremy Shockey with the Giants and has never had more than 12 receptions in a season. That did not stop the Vikings from giving the free agent a five-year, $18.2 million contract that included $7 million in guaranteed money. Childress is confident Shiancoe will be able to fit into the passing game, as well as the blocking scheme. Shiancoe replaces Jermaine Wiggins, who caught 46 passes in 2006 but never did seem to be a favorite of Childress' in the West Coast system. Veteran Kleinsasser is one of the best when it comes to blocking, but his seven receptions in 16 games last season is a clear indication that not many footballs will be directed his way.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Bobby Wade, Troy Williamson. Backups - Aundrae Allison, Jason Carter, Cortez Hankton, Todd Lowber, Billy McMullen, Martin Nance, Sidney Rice, Justin Surrency, Chandler Williams.
This is where the Vikings have their biggest question marks. A weak point in 2006, many don't think the team did enough to address this need during the offseason. Wade was signed to a five-year, $15 million contract to primarily work as the slot receiver. He had 33 receptions for 461 yards and two touchdowns last season and those numbers should increase in the West Coast system. Williamson, the seventh-overall selection in the 2005 draft, is coming off an extremely disappointing season. His 11 dropped balls tied for third-most in the NFL and some already have questioned his future in Minnesota. Williamson, though, worked with representatives from Nike's vision department this offseason and the Vikings are confident that will help. The team also added three receivers in the draft, taking Rice (second round), Allison (fifth) and Williams (seventh). Rice, who like Williamson is a product of South Carolina, appears the most likely to make an immediate contribution. The opportunity will certainly exist. Hankton and McMullen are veterans still looking for a significant chance, while Lowber had never played organized football before signing with the Vikings.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Matt Birk, RG Artis Hicks, RT Ryan Cook. Backups - C Kyle Cook, G Brian Daniels, T Josh Day, G Anthony Herrera, T Marcus Johnson, T Chase Johnson, C Norm Katnik, G Jimmy Martin, C Dan Mozes, T Adam O'Connor.
With Birk returning from injury and Hutchinson signing a seven-year, $49 million free-agent deal, this unit was expected to be dominant last season. It didn't happen. This was in part because the right side of the line proved to be a disappointment, and McKinnie took a step backward after signing a rich contract extension just before the regular season. Nonetheless, no major changes were made. Hicks was moved from the left to the right side of the line in 2006 and the Vikings are counting on that experience to make him a much better player this time around. Cook, meanwhile, replaced an injured Marcus Johnson and showed enough to hang onto the job. A second-round pick in 2006, Cook remains the biggest unknown factor. He was a center in college at New Mexico and has little game experience playing tackle. Johnson, a second-round pick in 2005, could be poised to compete for the job. The left side is expected to be better in large part because of the experience they gained playing together. Birk and Hutchinson, by the way, are coming off Pro Bowl appearances. The Vikings did not draft an offensive lineman in April, but Kyle Cook, Daniels, Day, Chase Johnson and Mozes were signed as rookie free agents.
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