Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Vikings, Part I

Seahawks.NET's Doug Farrar asks Tim Yotter of Viking Update five questions about the Minnesota team preparing to invade Qwest Field. How is Tarvaris Jackson developing, what's the one thing that could upend Adrian Peterson, and who can give the Vikings a pass-rush presence?

Doug Farrar: Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is an interesting player - having watched him this preseason, I see a young quarterback who alternates impressive stretches of efficiency with series in which he will throw balls to weird spots (like high and over the middle, which receivers do NOT like), and pull the ball down at the first sign of pressure. From what I've seen, he also really needs to learn to slide before he's tackled. What are Jackson's primary attributes, and how does Brad Childress and his staff rate his progress?

Tim Yotter:
Jackson's opportunities have been pretty limited so far this preseason, mainly due to a first-team defense that scored twice in last week's game. His first preseason action against St. Louis was the best I've seen him look. During that game, he looked as decisive and confident as he ever has. So far, the coaching staff seems pretty pleased with his progress and his ability to go through his reads. Brad Childress is relentless in stressing protecting the football and I believe that has made his quarterbacks a bit more conservative at times and therefore may be a reason why you see Jackson pulling the ball down at the first sign of pressure.

Childress also likes a quarterback with mobility that can occasionally pick up a first down with his feet – he has statistics to back his desires there. An 8-for-11 showing in Jackson's most extensive action to date and the fact that he hasn't turned over the ball has put him on a positive path with the coaches. This season, I don't think you'll see a huge play-making quarterback in Jackson, but as his career progresses and his confidence grows – along with the skill positions around him – you'll probably be able to see what a strong arm he has, what a tight spiral he throws and a good, high release point. For now, however, I think they just want him to manage the game well and let the running game slowly break him in as an NFL quarterback.

Doug Farrar: There's no question that rookie running back Adrian Peterson has the potential to be one of the most electrifying players in the NFL. Two things I'd like to know: Have his coaches advised him to run at a lower angle (he reminds me of ex-Titans RB Chris Brown, in that I keep wincing when he gets hit because he runs so high); and how will Peterson alternate with Chester Taylor?

Tim Yotter:
The coaches are aware of his high pad level, but Childress has suggested that when Peterson gets into traffic he does lower his pads. The problem could arise, however, when he doesn't see a hit coming and therefore doesn't get his pads down. One of the issues is that he is a tall running back relative to most of them in the league, but he is very well-built and has amazing balance and speed for his size. Locally, he reminds some people of former Viking Robert Smith, but with more elusiveness. Nationally, he has often been compared to Eric Dickerson, which I think is a pretty decent comparison, although obviously early in his career from a production and longevity standpoint.

The coaches insist that Taylor will be the starter and Peterson the "change of pace" guy. However, it's obvious that Peterson oozes talent and can hit the edge to loosen the defense, so I'd expect him to get at least half the time this season if he stays healthy. There are also some plays where they will have both of them in the backfield at the same time, which gives them the option to use either of them in multiple ways in the running and passing game while they look for mismatches.

Doug Farrar: The common perception is that the Vikings might have less overall talent at the receiver positions than any other team. Tell me about the one player who could make that perception a myth.

Tim Yotter:
Realistically, I'm not sure they have that "one player" I could make that argument with. What they have slowly built this offseason is a number of players who fit different roles. Bobby Wade is the reliable slot guy, a little like what they lost in Nate Burleson. Troy Williamson is the boom-or-bust deep threat. He is their former No. 7 overall draft pick that is probably entering a make-or-break year, as his 2006 season was marred by double-digit drops that seemed to exploit a vision problem he has been working on this offseason.

Sidney Rice is a big-bodied receiver who should help this offense in the red zone, an area of definite struggle for them last year. And recently acquired Robert Ferguson probably will assume a No. 3/No. 4 type of role that is to be determined. Collectively, they have a nice mix and match of different talents, but there is not a single one of them that I'd stake a 50-cent reputation on as ready to break out this season.

Doug Farrar: Though Steve Hutchinson did well in his first season as a Viking, my impression was that he seemed to struggle at times with Minnesota's blocking schemes - he looked like he was flailing to get to the second level when assigned an area in zone blocking. Do you think there was a schematic mismatch, and how will Hutch do in 2007? Also, tell us about left tackle Bryant McKinnie and the rest of that line.

Tim Yotter:
I think that's a very fair observation. One-on-one, I'm not sure I've ever seen a player in purple who just stonewalls defensive linemen like Hutchinson does, which is why I've never been convinced that the Vikings' zone blocking scheme is the right one for their personnel. They also have a very good pulling center in Matt Birk who rarely pulls anymore. There Is no question that the entire offensive line struggled to get accustomed to the new scheme and the new bodies they were playing next to. That could be the single biggest factor in the success of the team this year – if they can get the scheme to match their talents, they could be a team to contend with, as they have a solid running game and very good defense.

McKinnie is loaded with talent, especially as a pass blocker, but I'm not sure he has even come close to his potential. He's a pretty laid-back individual and I think if he had the on-field intensity of Hutchinson, he could be a perennial Pro Bowl player. For now, he is an above-average talent, but not yet a Pro Bowler. The right side of the line was pointed at for many of the team's failings in 2006, and they are hoping that 2006 second-round pick Ryan Cook can settle in at right tackle after playing his entire college career at center. Right guard produces a battle between former Eagle Artis Hicks, who started and struggled there last year, and Anthony Herrera, who is an ultra-aggressive player that is still a bit raw and very hard on himself.

Doug Farrar: Pat and Kevin Williams, Minnesota's dominant defensive tackles, insured that no running back did much against the Vikings. However, the team was very vulnerable against the pass, and opponents started to go away from the run altogether when playing the Vikings - if I remember correctly, the Cardinals ran six times in their entire game against Minnesota last year. What has been done to insure a more balanced defense?

Tim Yotter:
With Mike Tomlin going to Pittsburgh, the Vikings have a new defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, who is focused on fixing a defense that nearly broke the modern-day record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season but also tied for 31st in the league against the pass. A few things should help that this year. First, they are much deeper and talented at defensive end this year, as second-year player Ray Edwards has really come on strong this offseason and looks like he could be a double-digit sack guy.

At some point during the season, they hope 2005 first-round pick Erasmus James will return to full health. Saturday will be his first snaps since tearing an ACL in Week 2 last year. And rookie Brian Robison has shown amazing aggression and speed around the edge. Getting pressure from their front four – especially those aforementioned right ends – will be key, but if they can't get it consistently enough there, Frazier has installed some new blitz schemes that the players seem to like. So far, Edwards looks like a real key to improving that flawed area.

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