Artis Hicks knows the Vikings' offensive line wasn't perfect in 2006, but he prefers to accentuate the positive from what most would consider a disappointing season.
The positive, according to Hicks, is that he believes the offensive line, which was learning a new blocking scheme and incorporated several new parts before the season began and as the season progressed, started to play more cohesively as the season went on. That helped lead to a 1,216 yards rushing for running back Chester Taylor.
"I think we had some good things going and we jelled in a lot of areas; I mean, Chester ran for over 1,200 yards. In this league you don't get that by yourself. You don't rush for 1,200 yards by yourself, so (the offensive line) did some good things," Hicks said during the team's offseason practices at Winter Park. "But I think it was just a matter of guys playing beside guys who we hadn't played beside and just getting familiar with one another. There's always next year, and this is ‘next year' and there are a lot of expectations on us. You've just got to live up to the expectations by working hard at this time of year and preparing ourselves to get ready."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Hicks is one of the guys making positive strides this offseason, and getting more comfortable at right guard after making the switch from left guard from his days in Philadelphia.
"Artis is improving. I think the move from the left side to the right side was new for him last year. Now he is beginning to make those techniques that he learned last year and converted them to the right side. He's doing a nice job of making those coming to play on each play," Bevell said.
Hicks didn't completely excuse the offensive line from blame, and he said the overall offensive success will have to start with the offensive line.
"Any time you don't have the type of success on offense that you would like, regardless of what the media says or any fans, you've got to take it on yourself as a lineman to hold up that responsibility and be accountable for that. If we play great, we make it easier for the quarterback, running back and the receivers because, whether you realize it or not, a lot of skill guys feed off of what we do as linemen," Hicks said. "(Matt) Birk and Hutch (Steve Hutchinson), they had great years individually, but overall we've got to improve and that's why you see us here working hard like we are at this time of year."
While some point to a lack of familiarity with the zone blocking concepts that were being taught last year, it seems there might be a little more diversity needed in the overall blocking schemes.
"There are only so many ways you can block zone. If you know one, the next scheme is not too far off from it," Hicks said. "It wasn't a matter of we weren't familiar with the scheme, it was just a matter of us being familiar with the guys as a whole and how the running backs run, and how the quarterback gets the ball out. It's a jelling process and we jelled on some things and other things we need more work on."
He stopped short of saying that defenses got used to the Vikings' blocking schemes and he said the team changes up its blocking from week to week, depending the blitz packages presented on film by that week's opponent.
"It changes from week to week because it's different defenses, different blitzes and different philosophies," Hicks said. "It was just a matter of doing everything right together as opposed to one or two things good. Try to do everything good."
But even beyond the difficulties that the offensive line faced last year, defenses may have been able to stack to the line of scrimmage with the Vikings lacking a strong-armed quarterback making the throws for most of the season and a consistent deep threat in the wide receiver corps.
"I'm not going to say they didn't respect the playmakers, but if you've got a guy that's killing you, you're going to try to take that weapon away," Hicks said, referring to Taylor's grind-it-out success during the first half of the season. "Sometimes they would game-plan us, like I said, get the linebacker fast-flowing inside because they know we're going to cram the ball in there. This year, God-willing, everybody comes into the season healthy and ready to go and, hey, you've got to be more balanced now."
The Vikings didn't appear to add a new deep threat in the wide receiver corps, although they are hoping Troy Williamson's commitment to working on his eye-hand coordination and vision will help him catch the ball more consistently when he creates separation. Second-round pick Sidney Rice, while a big-bodied receiver with decent speed, isn't likely to stretch defenses on a regular basis.
Still, the Vikings appear to have found an outside threat in the rushing game with their first-round pick of running back Adrian Peterson. If the team runs the ball as much or more as it did last year, Peterson's quickness to the edge and ability to take any handoff the distance could make defenses more honest, even if they are concentrating on defending the running game.
"His biggest thing is just his speed," Hicks said of Peterson. "Chester, he has good speed, but he's more of a between-the-tackles guy. Now I think we have a guy who can keep the defense honest. After a while, linebackers started playing downhill trying to fill the gaps. Now if they try that, bam, you've got them on the outside (with a player who) has the speed to go 60, 80, 90 yards for the touchdown. As a defensive coordinator and a defensive unit, you've got to be more honest now. You can't just sniff your nose inside every time because you've got a big home run hitter now outside."
Hicks: Many Reasons for Offensive Struggles
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