Outside the Lines: Big Uglies Won't Help Vikings in Minnesota
They finished number one in the NFL in rush defense. They had a 1,000-yard rusher. They had four Pro Bowlers. Their offensive and defensive lines were among the league's finest.
But then again, a team doesn't finish 6-10 without doing something wrong. And the Vikes messed up plenty.
The offense ranked 23rd in the NFL, with equally mediocre passing and rushing stats. The pass defense was the league's worst. They didn't get enough sacks. They didn't score enough touchdowns in the red zone.
And they didn't beat anyone other than Detroit and Arizona after Week Six.
The foundation for Minnesota's 2007 season will be its impressive line play—but as the team proved last year, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage isn't enough.
Their strong defensive line is led by DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Kevin made the Pro Bowl last year and is widely known as one of the most disruptive defensive players in football. Pat, also a Pro Bowler, is just as talented—and should continue to blossom playing alongside Kevin.
Big Pat is more suited to clogging the middle, and Kevin gets more penetration and tackles in the backfield. Together, they form a formidable unit.
The offensive line returns stars OG Steve Hutchinson and OT Bryant McKinnie. Those two, along with C Matt Birk, form the backbone of a very good front five.
The right side of the line—G Artis Hicks and T Marcus Johnson—delivers in solid play what it lacks in big-name talent.
Trench work shouldn't be the Vikings' only bright spot this year, thanks to the addition of star running back Adrian Peterson in the draft. With 1,000-yard back Chester Taylor still in the fold, the Minnesota ground attack will feature a potent 1-2 punch: Taylor grinding out tough yards and Peterson posing a home run threat.
The defense, too, may prove to be more balanced after making some important changes in the offseason.
Aside from CB Antoine Winfield, one of the game's best, the Vikings' secondary did not play up to par in 2006. In 2007, safeties Dwight Smith and Darren Sharper will be pushed by free agent signee Mike Doss, and second-year man Cedric Griffin will replace Fred Smoot as a starting corner.
The linebacking corps also received a facelift with the departure of LB Napoleon Harris. In Harris' absence, E.J. Henderson will move to the middle, where he'll be flanked by Chad Greenway (last year's first-round pick) and Ben Leber.
While Minnesota made several positive moves in the offseason, though, the team's success (or lack of it) will ultimately hinge on the deals they didn't swing.
The Vikings will open the year with QB Tarvaris Jackson under center. The sophomore signal caller showed enough promise in his few starts last season to warrant a look as the starter...but his overall play was less than spectacular, and it certainly wasn't good enough to lead this team anywhere.
Jackson has the potential to be one of the most exciting players in the league. As of yet, unfortunately, he has shown no signs that his talent is anything more than average.
A bigger problem is that the Vikes failed to bring in a veteran backup as an insurance policy. For better or worse, the team is counting on Jackson—and his options in the passing game aren't likely to speed the youngster's development.
Travis Taylor, Minnesota's leading receiver in 2006, was released in the offseason. In his stead, the Vikes will lean on underperforming and unproven fill-ins: Troy Williamson (who has been a bust and should be replaced by rookie Sidney Rice) and newcomer Bobby Wade.
Neither Williamson nor Wade will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
Blessed with brawny offensive and defensive lines, the Minnesota Vikings have an advantage that few other teams enjoy. What they do with their special gift remains to be seen.
Bolstering the running game was a smart move, but leaving Jackson with the keys to an uninspiring offense will prove to be the team's downfall.
After all: Those linemen can't do everything.
Projected finish: 4-12, 4th NFC North
Keep your eyes on: RB Mewelde Moore—Dangerous on punt returns and third downs.
Take your eyes off: DE Kenechi Udeze—No sacks last year leaves nowhere to go but up (or the bench).
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