QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Brett Favre. Backups – Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels.
Favre turned 40 years old on Oct. 10, but he never played like it. His surgically repaired right biceps tendon did not only hold up throughout the season but enabled him to throw the ball with the zip that he had displayed during his days in Green Bay. Until throwing an ill-timed interception in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game at New Orleans, Favre had spent the season making excellent decisions. He had a career-low seven picks in the regular season, threw 33 touchdowns and passed for 4,202 yards. Favre, who came out of retirement in late August to join the Vikings, then tossed four more touchdowns in a playoff victory over Dallas. The Vikings will give Favre plenty of time to decide if he wants to return for a 20th NFL season, but there appears little doubt the franchise wants him back. That likely means Jackson and Rosenfels will continue to wait for their chances. If there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by early March, Jackson will be a restricted free agent and almost certainly will wind up back in Minnesota. Rosenfels is in the midst of a multi-year contract he signed before Farve's arrival.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters – Adrian Peterson, FB Naufahu Tahi. Backups – Chester Taylor, Albert Young.
Peterson continued to be one of the NFL's best running backs, finishing fifth in the league with 1,383 yards and a career-high 18 touchdowns. His rushing numbers were down from the previous season when he led the league with 1,706 yards but that wasn't cause for concern. What has to worry the Vikings, and Peterson, is the fact that he has serious issues holding onto the football. Peterson had seven fumbles and lost six during the regular season. He had two more (none lost) and blamed himself for a third that resulted in a costly turnover on a botched handoff exchange in the Vikings' loss in the NFC title game. Peterson now has fumbled 20 times in three regular seasons and lost 13 of them. This simply can't continue. Tahi continued to be a reliable blocker out of the backfield and caught the occasional pass from Favre. Taylor is a consummate professional, and while he doesn't get that many carries he still sees plenty of playing time on third down. He caught 44 passes this season, including 26 on third down. Taylor will be an unrestricted free agent this March and it will be interesting to see if other teams pursue him. He will be 31 next season but hasn't endured the wear and tear that most running backs of that age have.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter – Visanthe Shiancoe. Backups – Jeff Dugan, Jim Kleinsasser, Garrett Mills.
Shiancoe has emerged as a top-line pass-catching threat and this season established a franchise record for tight ends with 11 touchdown receptions. One of the hardest workers on the team, Shiancoe regularly stays after practice to hone his craft, he established career-highs in catches (56) and touchdowns this season. Kleinsasser, meanwhile, only had 10 receptions but his value comes from his ability to block. The veteran is an elite blocking tight end and is a coach's dream because of his work ethic and quiet demeanor. The same holds true for Dugan, who can play tight end and also fullback. Dugan had six receptions in five seasons heading into this year but caught that many balls and also had his first two touchdown receptions. Mills was promoted from the practice squad during the season.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters – Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice. Backups – Percy Harvin, Jaymar Johnson, Greg Lewis, Darius Reynaud.
Harvin technically is not considered a starter because he often plays in the slot, but the rookie certainly made a major contribution this season. He caught 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns to earn NFL offensive rookie of the year honors. About the only thing that slowed the play-making Harvin was his issues with migraine headaches. While Harvin was very good, Rice was simply outstanding. After having 46 receptions for 537 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons, Rice became Favre's favorite target and dwarfed his previous numbers. He had 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. His yardage total was fourth best in the league. The forgotten man at times was Berrian, who signed a big free-agent contract with the Vikings in 2008. Berrian battled injuries to both hamstrings and finished with 55 receptions for 618 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season. A year after leading the NFL with 20.1 yards per catch, he averaged only 11.2 yards per reception. Berrian's best performance came in the NFC title game when he had nine catches for 102 yards. That was his first 100-yard receiving performance of the season. Johnson, Reynaud and Lewis all saw limited time, although Lewis did have the memorable last-second catch in the back of the end zone that gave the Vikings a home-opening victory over San Francisco in Week 3.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RG Anthony Herrera, RT Phil Loadholt. Backups – G/T Ryan Cook, C Jon Cooper, G/T Artis Hicks.
This unit had a new anchor as Sullivan replaced long-time starter Matt Birk, who signed as a free agent with Baltimore. Although there were mixed reviews of how well the unit performed, especially in the run game, McKinnie and Hutchinson both made the Pro Bowl. Hutchinson played much of the season with an injury but in typical fashion did not miss any time. Sullivan's biggest task was taking on the huge nose tackles around the league. Although he's listed at 6-4, 301 pounds, Sullivan does not look to be that heavy and going against 3-4 defenses was an especially tough assignment. Sullivan, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, did seem to make a smooth transition as far as handling the line calls and the mental challenges that go with playing center. Herrera was in his second season as a full-time starter and still needs to keep his emotions in check at times. Loadholt, a first-round pick last spring, stepped into the starting lineup in training camp and only missed one game because of injury. The 6-8, 343-pound Loadholt battled through various other injuries and appears set to have a long and productive career. One thing the Vikings surely like about him is he seems to have a mean streak on the field that McKinnie lacks. Hicks was the Vikings' most valuable backup, providing insurance at both tackle and guard spots.
Vikings roster outlook: offense
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