But the team is also hoping to see improvement from some of the returning players that helped them to an 8-8 record in 2007. Two key players – quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe – seemed to step forward in that regard during the Vikings' past three days of minicamp.
Jackson looks a bit more poised and confident in directing the offense while Shiancoe seems to making the plays that the team envisioned when it signed him to a five-year, $18.2 million contract during free agency in 2007.
"I look at a guy 365 days later, like Visanthe Shiancoe, where he's not thinking his way every step. He's letting his God-given athletic ability show," head coach Brad Childress said. "… I think when you think, think, think, think, think, then that impedes your natural abilities. Am I doing the right thing? So when you're flowing, when it's rote, you can't be thinking about what you're doing."
The Vikings spent a good deal of their short final practice Sunday morning working on the red zone offense and defense, and Jackson looked solid in most instances.
On the first play of the session, Jackson put enough air under the ball to send it over the reach of safety Madieu Williams and hook up with tight end Garrett Mills for a touchdown.
Later, Jackson ended up with another touchdown on a throw to wide receiver Aundrae Allison.
"I think he's more comfortable with the mantle of what being a starting quarterback entails," head coach Brad Childress said. "It's neat when you've got a chance to be the starter, but then there's a lot that goes along with that – not just the preparation but obviously the production. With that said, he understands the production business. I see him a year more comfortable."
After Jackson's first red zone series Sunday, Gus Frerotte then directed the second-team offense against the second-team defense and he worked the small spaces in between defenders for a couple of close touchdowns. On the first one, he zipped a pass narrowly between linebacker Rufus Alexander and safety Dee McCann. Frerotte worked the middle of the field again and had some good fortune on that throw. This time, Alexander slightly deflected the pass, but receiver Nate Jones still tracked the pass and made the catch in the end zone.
Jackson returned and hit Adrian Peterson with a short pass that he turned into a good gain when he introduced linebacker Derrick Pope to his quick moves. But Jackson also showed some recognition at the line of scrimmage as he appeared to audible and alert before hitting Shiancoe with a touchdown pass. Jackson then took a cue from Frerotte's arsenal and fired a bullet between the linebackers to Mills.
On Frerotte's second go-round, he wasn't quite as fortunate. When he unloaded a mid-range pass for Braden Jones near the goal line, cornerback Charles Gordon made the read and stepped in front of the tight end for the interception. On his next pass, Frerotte's throw was too high going for running back Maurice Hicks.
The defense gained some momentum from that series and cornerback Marcus Walker knocked a pass out of the hands of Mills near the goal line before John David Booty put his next pass right where it needed to be. Booty saw Shiancoe with one-on-one coverage and linebacker David Herron barely trailing him. The tight end extended for the ball, making that catch, and followed it up with another solid minicamp reception on a short diving reception toward the end of the red zone drills.
"Quarterback progresses and a guy wiggles himself open, if he's in the right spot, he's got an opportunity," Childress said.
Working free in tight quarters was what the majority of the seven-on-seven and full-team sessions Sunday morning were about, and the players who started minicamp looking better than last year finished with a solid Sunday session.