Do We Know More Now About the Vikings?

While we got to see a number of intriguing individual players during the preseason, there still seems to be a number of unanswered questions left after four preseason games.

The Vikings entered training camp facing many of the same questions they were asked when their disappointing 2006 season came to a close.

Is Tarvaris Jackson ready to be a starting quarterback? Will the passing offense come around? Why is the play calling so generic? Is 2005 first-round pick Troy Williamson ever going to contribute? What about the right side of the offensive line?

Now with the preseason coming to an end and the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Atlanta staring coach Brad Childress and Co. in the face, the Vikings have, drum roll please ... answered very few if any of these queries.

Here's what we know about this team:

  • The defense should be a strong point for the second consecutive year. New coordinator Leslie Frazier has committed to making sure a pass defense that tied for worst in the NFL last season climbs closer to a run defense that led the league. Few changes were made with to this unit. The biggest will see linebacker E.J. Henderson shift from the weak side to the middle, with Chad Greenway sliding into Henderson's old spot. Pro Bowl tackles Kevin and Pat Williams return to clog up the middle and will make trying to run the ball extremely difficult.

  • One-third of the offensive line should be very good with Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson lined up between Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and left tackle Bryant McKinnie. The Vikings' hope is that McKinnie will return to his 2005 form after one season adapting to the Vikings' zone blocking scheme.

  • A running attack that was keyed by Chester Taylor's 1,216-yard performance should be even better with first-round pick Adrian Peterson providing the Vikings with what Childress likes to refer to as "a change up" out of the backfield. Although it didn't happen much in the preseason, Peterson and Taylor are expected to be on the field together frequently.

    But will Peterson and Taylor's presence be enough to make Jackson and an inexperienced group of receivers effective on any type of consistent basis? There is little doubt every team the Vikings face is going to stack the box until Minnesota proves its passing game can be a threat.

    And that can't be considered a sure bet of happening.

    Free agent receiver Bobby Wade and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe — neither exactly a household name — were among Minnesota's biggest offseason additions. If it was a good sign that Wade caught nine passes in the Vikings' first three preseason games, it could be considered ominous that he also had the team's only touchdown pass in that time.

    Jackson, the product of Division I-AA Alabama State, has shown improvement over his rookie season but patience is going to be a must if he's going to become the long-term answer. Among his biggest challenges will be reacting to the frequent blitzes he is sure to see.

    "I'm a lot more comfortable (this year)," Jackson said. "I've got a lot more reps in minicamp and training camp and got the (preseason) games under my belt. I have that experience from those games. ... So I feel a lot more confident overall."

    Patience also is going to continue to be a must with Williamson, who after a miserable 2006 spent part of his offseason working with consultants from Nike's vision center. He entered camp with greater confidence but any contribution from him should be considered as a plus and not a given.

    As for the right side of the offensive line, neither guard Artis Hicks nor tackle Ryan Cook have taken a strong hold of the starting jobs and the competition remained open for those spots entering the final preseason game. This uncertainty means that as good as Birk and Hutchinson are on a game-to-game basis, the unit remains far from dominant.

    Another key topic has been who will be dictating what the offense runs. Childress handled the play calling last season but will turn the job over to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

    Bevell and Childress have many of the same philosophies but if the exhibition games were any indication, Bevell might be more willing to go downfield with the ball.

    This could help to loosen things up for Peterson and Taylor. It also could be beneficial that a largely inexperienced receiving corps added Robert Ferguson in late August after his release by Green Bay. Ferguson had dropped down the Packers' depth chart, but if he is able to stay healthy his veteran presence could prove to be an asset.

    Jackson also should be able to get assistance from veteran quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who was acquired from Philadelphia late in camp for a sixth-round draft pick in 2009. Holcomb's presence became a must when backup Brooks Bollinger struggled in the preseason.

    During the offseason Childress promised that "the Minnesota Vikings will be a better football team this year." That might be a true but judging from what the team has shown in training camp it remains to be seen how much better.

    NOTES

  • While the Vikings' quest to get a new stadium continues, owner Zygi Wilf said recently the team has no plans to vacate its Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie, Minn. Wilf has put "millions of dollars" into expanding and redoing the complex where the team has its headquarters and practices. The most recent projects have included a remodeling of the lobby and installing new lighting in the indoor practice field.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 44 — Number of interceptions by safety Darren Sharper since 2000, putting him No. 1 in the league ahead of Champ Bailey (33) and Tory James (31) during that time.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's definitely icing on the cake. The cake was just coming here and being around the guys and communicating well with the coaches and being on the same page with them. The icing was that we definitely get to play them twice a year. I look forward to that." — Receiver Robert Ferguson on staying in the NFC North and getting to face his former Green Bay Packers teammates twice this year.


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