The Vikings are banking (literally) that the additions of Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and safety Madieu Williams, along with the continued development of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, will help take them from a .500 team in 2007 to the playoffs in 2008.
Williams, however, already is out for six weeks because of a neck injury that is expected to sideline him for at least three regular-season games. Jackson, who missed four starts last year because of various injuries, suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the second preseason game.
It also doesn't help that Berrian has been slowed by a sore toe. Coach Brad Childress, entering his third season, is hoping his team can get past the injury issues and make a run for its first NFC North title since 2000.
1. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson must not only stay healthy but also show significant improvement. Jackson went 8-4 in 12 starts last season but he also threw 12 interceptions and only nine touchdown passes and had a sub-par completion percentage (58.2) and passer rating (70.8).
2. Jared Allen must be a difference-maker. The Vikings added Allen at a steep price - they traded three draft picks to Kansas City and signed the Pro Bowl end to a six-year, $72.36 million deal - in order to improve a pass defense that has been at the bottom of the NFL the past two years. Allen had 15.5 sacks in 2007 and the pressure he puts on quarterbacks should make their life much less pleasant.
3. Bernard Berrian's presence has to keep run defenses honest. The Vikings had the NFL's top-ranked rushing game a year ago but opponents began to slow then-rookie sensation Adrian Peterson by putting eight men in the box on a regular basis. Teams could get away with this because the Vikings had no legitimate down-the-field threat. Berrian should provide that, assuming his toe doesn't continue to give him trouble.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
RB Adrian Peterson: Sensational for much of his rookie season, Peterson isn't going to catch anyone by surprise this year. He also must stay healthy after missing two games in 2007 because of a knee injury.
FB Thomas Tapeh: Tapeh, who played college football at the University of Minnesota, returns to the state after spending his first four seasons with the Eagles. Tapeh replaces veteran Tony Richardson, who wasn't re-signed after having a Pro Bowl season in 2007. Peterson had great success behind Richardson and the Vikings will look for the same with Tapeh as the lead blocker.
S Tyrell Johnson: He was taken by the Vikings with their top pick (second round) in the April draft and the hope was that he could spend a year learning behind veterans Darren Sharper and Madieu Williams. It appears there will be no such luxury as Johnson is expected to start until Williams returns from his neck injury.
DE Ray Edwards: He tied for the team lead with five sacks last season despite missing the final four games of the regular season for violating the NFL's policy on steroid use. Edwards spent last season at right end but has been moved to the left side with the addition of Allen. The third-year player from Purdue could have a big season given the attention opponents will pay to Allen and Pro Bowl tackles Kevin and Pat Williams.
TOP GAME TO WATCH: Vikings at Packers, Sept. 8: These two already were bitter rivals before the Packers accused the Vikings of tampering with Brett Favre. And it's a Monday night game, too.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Rd. 2/43, S Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State - The hard-hitting safety is expected to be a long-term replacement for Darren Sharper. He stands to be a starter early this season in place of injured Madieu Williams.
Rd. 5/137, QB John David Booty, Southern California - He has had plenty of growing pains in first pro camp but is sticking based on the fact the Vikings like to have a young quarterback to groom.
Rd. 5/152, DT Letroy Guion, Florida State — Very raw but has potential and will learn plenty playing behind Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams.
Rd. 6/187, C John Sullivan, Notre Dame — He can play both center and guard and figures to spend this season learning behind veteran C Matt Birk. Birk is entering the last season of his contract and Sullivan could end up replacing him next year.
Rd. 6/193, WR Jaymar Johnson, Jackson State — Speedy receiver has ability as return man. He will spend the season learning on the practice squad.
Quick Regular-Season Primer
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