Keys to Season, Players to Watch

The Vikings' uncertain 2007 season could boil down to a few basic issues if history is an accurate guide. And they have a few key players to watch that could help alleviate some of those concerns.


Three keys for the season:

1. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is going to have to prove he is a quick study if the Vikings want to get anywhere near north of .500 this season. Jackson appeared to be showing improvement against the blitz during the preseason but teams are going to keep coming at him with different and more sophisticated looks once the regular-season begins. It's also no easy chore for a second-year quarterback to try to run the complex West Coast offense.

2. This isn't all on Jackson. The Vikings must get more from their receiving corps. Receiver Bobby Wade (Tennessee) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (Giants) were added as free agents during the offseason and Robert Ferguson (Green Bay) was signed in late August when presented with the opportunity to see substantial playing time. The once receiver-rich Vikings got very little from this unit a year ago. That's going to have to change.

3. One reason the Vikings' pass defense was porous last season was because of a lack of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With right end Erasmus James having returned from knee surgery and Ray Edwards appearing set to emerge at that spot in his second year, the coaching staff is counting on more pressure and sacks coming from that edge.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • RB Adrian Peterson made a spin move in a preseason game against the Jets that showed just how special of a talent the Vikings landed when they selected him seventh-overall last April in the draft. The key for Peterson will be staying healthy. He battled a variety of injuries during his collegiate career but the Vikings are banking on the fact he will be able to stay healthy at this level. It's a bit of a gamble but the franchise can't be blamed for taking it.

  • WR Troy Williamson is facing a make-or-break season. The seventh overall pick in the 2005 draft, Williamson had a miserable 2006 and finished second in the league with 11 dropped passes. He spent time this offseason at Nike's vision center and caught countless balls over the summer. Williamson seemed to have a newfound confidence when training camp started but still struggled to catch the ball consistently. Another mediocre to poor season and Williamson could find himself an ex-Viking.

  • LB E.J. Henderson makes the move from the weak side to the middle, where he will replace Napoleon Harris. Harris left the Vikings after last season to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. Henderson has spent most of his football career playing the middle but this is his first experience in the Tampa-2 scheme, meaning he will be counted on to cover substantial ground. Henderson, a reserved type, also will need to be a vocal presence playing in the middle.

  • CB Charles Gordon spent the first eight games of last season on the practice squad after being an undrafted free agent. Started the regular-season finale against St. Louis and appears poised to make the roster as a special teams contributor. Has ability to return punts and also could see action at corner if there are injury issues.

    TOP GAME TO WATCH: Philadelphia at Vikings, Oct. 28: Brad Childress gets to coach against Andy Reid for the first time since leaving the Eagles coaching staff. Childress served as Reid's offensive coordinator, although the latter handled the play calling.

    NOTES

    NOTABLE MOVES: Released WR Cortez Hankton, WR Billy McMullen, RB Artose Pinner, QB Tyler Thigpen (seventh-round pick). Assigned TE Garrett Mills on waivers from Patriots.

    The Vikings have anointed Tarvaris Jackson as their starting quarterback but the backup job is another story. After watching Brooks Bollinger struggle in training camp and then throw two interceptions in the third preseason game against Seattle (one was returned for a touchdown), the Vikings acquired veteran Kelly Holcomb from the Philadelphia Eagles for a sixth-round draft pick in 2009.

    Coach Brad Childress said Bollinger has a spot on the Vikings' 53-man roster but it likely will be as the No. 3 guy behind Jackson and Holcomb.

    Veteran safety Mike Doss, who continues to miss time because of a calf injury, was joined on the sideline by Tank Williams after the Vikings' preseason loss to Seattle. Williams sat out the first practice after the team returned home because of an undisclosed injury.



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