QUARTERBACK: Starter — Tarvaris Jackson. Backups — Brooks Bollinger, Kelly Holcomb.
Jackson went 8-4 in his first season as the Vikings' starter, but that doesn't mean he has the job locked up for 2008. That's because not all of Jackson's statistics were as solid as his record. Included in an inconsistent, and at times injury-plagued, season were 12 interceptions to nine touchdown passes and a less-than-impressive 58.2 completion percentage and 70.8 rating. Jackson could have gone a long way toward locking up the job, but losses in the final two games cost the Vikings a playoff spot. He especially struggled in a loss to Washington in the second to last game of the season, throwing two interceptions. Bollinger played in five games and started once and Holcomb started three games. Bollinger's start on Nov. 11 at Green Bay marked the only occasion in which Jackson was benched for performance reasons. All three quarterbacks are under contract for next season. Although coach Brad Childress wasn't willing to commit to Jackson immediately after the season, odds are strong he will remain the starter.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Adrian Peterson, FB Tony Richardson. Backups — RB Chester Taylor, RB Mewelde Moore, FB Jeff Dugan, FB Naufahu Tahi.
Peterson cooled off late in the season, failing to rush for 100 yards in each of the final four games, but the rookie still appears to be an absolute steal going seventh overall in the first round last April. Peterson's 1,341 rushing yards ranked second in the NFL and he also scored 12 touchdowns. The decrease in production could be attributed in part to a slightly torn lateral collateral ligament Peterson suffered Nov. 11 at Green Bay. That cost him two games and, although he rushed for 116 yards in his first game back, Peterson's ability to turn the corner did not seem to be the same through much of December. Peterson's offseason likely will be spent working on his ability to block in pass protection situations. Taylor, who lost his starting job to Peterson halfway through the season, received plenty of playing time on third down when protecting the quarterback was an issue. Taylor's rushing total went from 1,216 yards on 303 carries in 2006 to 844 yards on 157 carries but the veteran seemed to appreciate the fact that sharing the workload helped keep him fresh. Taylor has two years left on the four-year, $14.1 million free-agent deal he signed in March 2006. Richardson, who will be a free agent, will join Peterson at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii after helping open holes for the Vikings to average an NFL-leading 164.6 yards per game. Dugan also played a key role with his blocking at both fullback and tight end. Moore led the Vikings in rushing two seasons ago with 662 yards on 155 attempts but this year had only 20 carries and 26 touches total on offense. Moore did return punts, but it's almost certain the free agent will depart this offseason. Tahi is a fullback and running back but mainly has a place as a special teams player.
TIGHT END: Starter — Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups — Jim Kleinsasser, Garrett Mills. Injured reserve — Braden Jones.
The Vikings surprised many by signing Shiancoe to a five-year, $18.2 million free-agent deal ($7 million guaranteed) to be their No. 1 tight end. After one season, it doesn't look like a wise investment. Shiancoe, a backup with the New York Giants for his first four years, struggled with dropped passes (three in the end zone) and was inconsistent as a blocker. He finished fifth on the team with 27 catches for 323 yards and one touchdown. The Vikings are going to need far more production from him in 2008. Shiancoe has assured everyone that a year in the Vikings' West Coast system should be a big help. Kleinsasser caught only four passes, including one for a touchdown, but is a standout blocker. If anything, Shiancoe's struggles solidified Kleinsasser's importance on the roster. The undersized Mills (6-1, 235 pounds) was claimed from New England at the end of training camp and was inactive for the first 15 weeks. He finally got an opportunity to play in the regular-season finale at Denver and caught two passes for 26 yards. Jones could get an invite to training camp after sitting out the season after injuring his thigh in training camp.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Robert Ferguson, Bobby Wade. Backups — Aundrae Allison, Sidney Rice, Troy Williamson.
This is a position that remains a work in progress. Wade led the Vikings with 54 catches for 647 yards and three touchdowns (two came in the regular-season finale) after signing a five-year, $15 million free-agent deal last March. The best player from this group, however, might be Rice, who was third on the team with 31 receptions for 396 yards after being a second-round pick last April. Rice missed three games because of injury but his four touchdown catches still led the team. Rice presents a big target (6-4, 200 pounds) and although he does not have great speed, he might have the best hands on the team. Williamson had another disappointing season — his two key drops, including one of a sure touchdown in the final game at Denver, perfectly summed up his time in Minnesota — and it's likely the Vikings will part company with the seventh overall pick from the 2005 draft. Williamson's 18 catches were a career low and came after he put in numerous hours of work during the previous offseason in an attempt to improve his game. Williamson's departure could provide an opportunity for Allison to move up the depth chart. The speedy rookie was used primarily on kickoff returns but did have eight catches for 122 yards and should become a threat to stretch the field. Ferguson, meanwhile, provided a veteran presence in the locker room after being signed as a free agent following his release by Green Bay late in training camp. He signed a one-year, $700,000 contract and made it clear he wants to return to Minnesota.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Matt Birk, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Ryan Cook. Backups — T/G Artis Hicks, T Chase Johnson, T Marcus Johnson. Injured reserve — G Dan Mozes.
Veterans Birk and Hutchinson will be headed to the Pro Bowl in February after anchoring a line that helped the Vikings lead the NFL in rushing. The team did give up 38 sacks, including 19 against regular starter Jackson. This unit came together as a run-blocking unit in part because of the play of the right side. Cook showed big improvement in his second year playing tackle and Herrera stabilized things when he replaced Hicks five games into the season. Herrera had been a non-factor in 2006 in part because the coaching staff felt he often let his emotions get the best of him. That did not happen this season, and Herrera was rewarded with a five-year contract extension in November. McKinnie's play was up and down throughout and he still appears to struggle with some of the Vikings' zone-blocking schemes at times. Hicks is the top backup at both guard spots and left tackle, while Marcus Johnson is insurance for Cook. Chase Johnson, a rookie 6-8, 330-pound free agent out of Wyoming, was inactive for 15 games and did not see any action in the one game he was on the active roster. Mozes' season was ended by a torn ACL in training camp. The coaching staff likes his potential and he's expected to go to training camp with the team next summer.
Vikings Team Analysis: Offense
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