Vikings Verdict: Improved

A look back at the Vikings from just one year ago shows an improvement at nearly every position. But the players and coaches both know that a depth chart in June isn't the same thing as proving it on the field.

What a difference a year can make. As the Vikings were completing their 2007 OTAs, few in the national NFL media gave Brad Childress or the Vikings much of a chance. Several respected sports sources even picked the Vikings to finish last.

A year later, it is a much different story. While most of the early projections still favor the Packers, the Vikings are being viewed as something of a divisional co-favorite. What a difference 12 months can make.

Changes have happened everywhere. At quarterback, the plan last June was to go with Tarvaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger while Drew Henson and Tyler Thigpen would battle it out for the No. 3 spot. A year later, Gus Frerotte is the backup, John David Booty is the sleeper with upside and Bollinger is in danger of not even making the team. Verdict: improved

A year ago, Childress said he planned to split carries between Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. While both players will be getting carries on game days, the projections now overwhelmingly favor Peterson, who lived up to all expectations as a rookie. Verdict: improved.

The offensive line is the same with the exception of right guard, where Anthony Herrera has replaced Artis Hicks as the starter. The team will have added depth with John Sullivan likely to make the team as a backup center and Chase Johnson and Brian Daniels both looking to make the team after a year of seasoning. Bryant McKinnie's potential suspension could be a killer, and it continues to loom over the offense like a menacing storm cloud. Verdict: Unchanged, but worrisome.

The receiver corps a year ago saw Troy Williamson and Bobby Wade as the starters. A year later, Williamson is gone and Wade has been shifted back to his ideal position as a third receiver in the slot. Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice are now the starters and could be the Vikings' starting tandem for years to come. At the time, Wade and Williamson were the only receivers with any NFL experience. A year later, veteran Robert Ferguson and Wade will both be coming off the bench as top additional weapons. Verdict: Much improved.

A year ago, the Vikings projected their starting defensive ends as being Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James. A year later, neither of them will be playing for the Vikings this year. There are questions as to whether Udeze will ever play again after being diagnosed with leukemia and James was traded for a conditional late-round 2009 draft pick. In their place, blockbuster trade addition Jared Allen is set at right end and third-year man Ray Edwards, who started 11 games last year, moves to the left side. With Darrion Scott and Spencer Johnson gone, there are backup jobs available for guys like Brian Robison, Jayme Mitchell, Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms up and down the defensive line. The competition should be fierce for the backup spots, but the front four looks like the Purple People Eaters are putting the band back together. Verdict: Exponentially improved.

The linebacker starters are the same, but last year there were some questions marks surrounding Chad Greenway, who missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, and E.J. Henderson. A year later, both have looked very good and much more comfortable in their positions than they did when the season began. Verdict: improved.

The secondary last year had four long-in-the-tooth or beaten up veterans at safety – Darren Sharper, Dwight Smith, Tank Williams and Mike Doss. A year later, only Sharper remains. Smith was replaced by a younger and faster Madieu Williams and the team drafted Tyrell Johnson with their first pick in April. Big hitter Michael Boulware adds depth and a big upgrade on special teams. Verdict: improved.

It's one thing the say the Vikings have closed the gap on Green Bay, but, when you break it down, the team looks better at the mid-June point of the year than it did a year ago. Many of the holes have been plugged and depth added. Maybe it's time to give in and start drinking the purple Kool Aid.

SATURDAY NOTES

  • ESPN is going to give one of the biggest honk-fests of all time for Brett Favre during the season opener against the Vikings. The network announced it is going to send its entire Monday night crew to Lambeau Field – game announcers Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser, as well as "Monday Night Countdown" personalities Chris Berman, Stuart Scott, Steve Young, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, Emmitt Smith and Cris Collinsworth. The game starts at 6 p.m., but the pregame show, "Sports Center" and "Pardon the Interruption" will all emanate from Green Bay. While the network will have to cut away shortly after the conclusion of the game because the Monday night doubleheader game with Jacksonville-Houston, there won't be a post-game recap immediately following the game and the rest of the night will Favre-a-Mania. The retirement of Brett Favre's jersey will dominate much of the coverage. The Vikings are already looking forward to souring that moment as much as Favre's last game at Lambeau – where his interception in overtime was the final play of his NFL career.

  • There continue to be rumors in the national media that the Vikings are potentially one of the teams interested in recently released center LeCharles Bentley, despite the Vikings still having Matt Birk under contract, having drafted John Sullivan – one of the top rated centers in the 2008 draft class – and Childress not showing much interest in working out a vested veteran who would command a big salary as a backup to Birk. Some rumors won't die even if the odds are stacked against them.

  • Vikings fans who were hoping for a contentious standoff between the Bears and Brian Urlacher were disappointed when Urlacher decided to report to the team's voluntary workouts late this week. Urlacher had previously only been to offseason workouts as part of the mandatory minicamp – grousing about a huge, nine-year contract he signed in 2003, before the NFL salary cap landscape changed considerably.

  • It wasn't accompanied with a lot of fanfare after it was announced in May, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell enacted a more punitive get-tough policy of player conduct that started June 1. While Bryant McKinnie awaits what potential wrath from the commish may hand down, many thought Cedric Benson might be the first test-case of the new, tougher policy. Instead it was Chris Henry, formerly of the Bengals. He was suspended indefinitely, joining former teammate Odell Thurman on that list of players who may never be allowed back into the league. Henry has been arrested five times since joining the NFL. In an equally shocking incident Friday, Tennessee wide receiver Brandon Jones was arrested at Nashville International Airport with a loaded .32 caliber handgun in his luggage. It's hard to tell which was more of a shocker – that Jones would think to bring a loaded gun into an airport or that he was only charged with a misdemeanor for unlawful possession of a firearm.

  • Word out of Redskins minicamp is that they don't expect former Viking Erasmus James to be ready by the start of training camp at the end of July.

  • The excitement around the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium took a somber turn Saturday, as one of the electrical workers touch a high-voltage line and was electrocuted. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

  • Kansas City coach Herm Edwards said Friday that Brodie Croyle would enter the preseason as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, but that former Viking Tyler Thigpen and veteran Damon Huard will have an open competition for the No. 2 QB spot.

  • In the latest edition of The Sporting News that has Vikings DE Jared Allen on the cover, the magazine rates the top running backs team-by-team in the NFL. The rankings were split by conference. The Vikings were named the top team in the NFC and, with Jacksonville as the top AFC team, it would stand to reason that Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor are viewed as being better than Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. What a difference a year (and A.D.) can make. Peterson was also selected as the best individual running back in the NFC.

  • Jack Del Rio was glowing at Jags minicamp in terms of Troy Williamson. He was quoted as saying, "He's a heck of a sixth-round pick" – referring to what the Jags gave the Vikings in trade for Williamson. However, Vikings fans will likely reserve judgment until Williamson drops his first critical pass in a game that counts, as he did so many times with the Vikings.

  • All of us at Viking Update would like to wish all the dads out there a happy Father's Day – even dads who are Packers, Bears or (gulp!) Lions fans.


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