Vikings unit-by-unit analysis, offense

The Vikings have an improving offense, but there are still needs to be addressed this offseason. They also need to improve internally, including Adrian Peterson, who needs to engender confidence in his pass-blocking.

QUARTERBACK: Starter — Tarvaris Jackson. Backups — Gus Frerotte, John David Booty.

Jackson might be out of opportunities to be this team's starter. Benched after the Vikings lost their opening two games in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte, the second-round pick in 2006 returned in December after Frerotte suffered a broken bone in his back. Jackson rallied the Vikings to a victory at Detroit and then threw a career-high four touchdowns the next week in a victory at Arizona. But after a solid performance in a loss against Atlanta, Jackson took a step back in the regular-season finale against the Giants and was back to his old struggling ways in a first-round playoff defeat against Philadelphia. Jackson had an interception returned for a touchdown by Asante Samuel, and his 45.4 passer rating was a season low. Jackson finished 2-4 as a starter and could return as a backup. Frerotte did not hide his displeasure with losing his job because of injury. Despite the fact he signed a two-year contract last April he might not be back. Booty, a fifth-round pick last spring out of Southern California, spent the season learning on the sideline but isn't going to be ready to start in 2009. This means the Vikings are likely going to have to look outside for a starter.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Adrian Peterson, FB Naufahu Tahi. Backups — Chester Taylor, Maurice Hicks, Jeff Dugan.

Peterson continued to prove himself to be one of the NFL's young superstars, rushing for a league-leading 1,760 yards on 363 carries with 10 touchdowns. Peterson, though, still needs to make significant strides in his blocking and pass-catching. He had 21 receptions, but that was far fewer than Taylor, who was third on the Vikings with 45 catches and two touchdowns. Taylor continued to be used in many third-down situations because the coaching staff does not have confidence in Peterson's pass-protection abilities. Having to take a dominating offensive presence off the field on a key down is far from ideal. With Taylor entering the final season of his contract in 2009, eventually it's going to become a must that Peterson can be counted to stay on the field. Taylor would seem a likely candidate to depart after next season given that he remains a very capable running back and yet had only 101 carries this season. Hicks, meanwhile, had no role other than to return kicks in his first season with the Vikings. Tahi emerged as the starting fullback and frequent lead blocker for Peterson after free-agent acquisition Thomas Tapeh was released early in the season. Dugan also saw time at fullback and late in the season became a primary ball carrier in short-yardage situations. Tapeh's short tenure with the Vikings had to make one think the team regretted letting veteran Tony Richardson get away to the New York Jets in free agency.

TIGHT END: Starter — Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups - Jim Kleinsasser, Garrett Mills.

Shiancoe proved to be a bust in 2007 after leaving the Giants to sign a big free-agent contract with the Vikings. However, this season he emerged as the pass-catching tight end Minnesota believed it was getting when it made its original investment. Shiancoe finished tied for the team lead with seven touchdowns and was fourth on the club with 42 receptions for 596 yards. In 2007, Shiancoe had 27 catches for 323 yards and only one touchdown and was plagued by dropped passes. Kleinsasser, who will be an unrestricted free agent, had only six catches for 92 yards but continues to be one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends and would be an extremely difficult player to replace. Mills was bothered by injuries starting in training camp and saw action in only eight games. He has shown that he has pass-catching ability, but his inability to stay on the field could cause the Vikings' patience to grow thin.

WIDE RECEIVER: Starters — Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade. Backups — Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison, Darius Reynaud.

The Vikings made a significant financial investment in Berrian last offseason, giving him a $42 million, six-year deal ($16 million guaranteed) to leave the Chicago Bears as a free agent. For the most part, he proved to be the big-play threat the Vikings were hoping to get. Berrian, who was slowed early in the season by a foot injury and late in the year because of a sprained ankle, tied for the team lead with seven touchdown catches and finished second with 48 receptions that went for 964 yards. His average of 20.1 yards per catch ranked first in the league. Berrian's presence enabled Wade to spend much of his time playing in the slot, where he is most comfortable. Wade led the Vikings in receptions for the second consecutive season with 53 for 645 yards. Minnesota wished it had gotten that type of production out of Rice or Allison. Rice was expected to have a breakout year in his second season, but he suffered a knee injury early on and missed three games. He finished second on the team with four touchdown catches but was pretty much a non-factor when it came to the rest of the field. Rice had only 15 receptions for 141 yards. Allison, meanwhile, did not see regular playing time and had 10 catches for 109 yards in 15 games. Reynaud was activated from the practice squad late in the season because of his ability to return kicks. However, a foot injury sidelined him after only three games.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Matt Birk, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Ryan Cook. Backups — T/G Artis Hicks, C John Sullivan, T Marcus Johnson. Injured reserve — T Drew Radovich.

This group deserves credit for helping Peterson win the NFL rushing title, but they also gave up 43 sacks. While Birk, Herrera and Hutchinson did not miss a start, the same couldn't be said for the tackles. McKinnie, who was arrested last offseason after a brawl outside a Miami nightclub, was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. When he did return, it took him some time to get back into the swing of things. Cook, meanwhile, started the first 10 games but was benched in favor of Artis Hicks after making a variety of mental and physical mistakes. Cook did not remain on the sideline very long because Hicks aggravated a triceps injury he had suffered in the regular-season opener at Green Bay while playing in place of McKinnie. It's believed that right tackle will be a primary focus of the Vikings this offseason as they look to upgrade. But this does not mean Cook's days on the roster are numbered. With Birk set to become a free agent after 11 seasons in Minnesota, Cook could get an opportunity to shift back to his college position of center. Sullivan also could get a look at that spot in training camp if Birk departs. Hutchinson, a perennial Pro Bowl player, and Herrera are solid at the guard spots, although the latter still has plenty of room to improve. Hicks is a valuable backup with the ability to play either tackle or guard position. Johnson, the lone remaining member of the Vikings' 2005 draft class, could find himself elsewhere next season. The Vikings liked Radovich enough that they kept him on injured reserve this season after the undrafted free agent from Southern Cal suffered a shoulder injury.


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