There are no surprises with the Minnesota Vikings. No disguises, no illusions.
Well, outside of that whole Love Boat thing. That was surprising.
The Vikings are the cliched smash-mouth team. Barring unforeseen injuries or the miraculous return of Fran Tarkenton, nothing is going to change that.
Even with some slight changes to the framework, the Vikings are going to look almost identical to past year's models.
The more things change, eh?
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell calls a pretty pedestrian game in comparison to his contemporaries, but that works for his team—somewhat. The Vikings had the NFL's fifth highest rushing yards per game last year at 145, and they were number one in that category the year before with 164 ypg.
But despite a consistently efficient and sometimes spectacular running game, the Vikings could only muster 1.87 pts/drive last year, 16th best in the NFL—or league average.
With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and an offensive line featuring perennial pro bowlers Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, the Vikings can get away with being one-dimensional—to a point. Adding the wholly mammoth offensive tackle from Oklahoma, Phil Loadholt, looks to add to the run-blocking potential of the line.
Second-year player John Sullivan replacing long-time center Matt Birk is a storyline to follow throughout the year. His performance—like that of every lineman—will determine if Adrian Peterson can run like an atomic train against eight-man fronts.
Because while the running game has been and should be good for the Vikings, the passing game has been and should be inconsistent.
The Vikings brass believe recently acquired Sage Rosenfels, or somewhat incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, or the fancy-pants Wranglers spokesman can help a passing game that was 25th in the league last year with 184 ypg.
All of the quarterbacks have question marks: Sage is a career journeyman, Tarvaris was a big reason the passing game was 25th last year and 28th the year before, and the Wranglers guy doesn't even play professional football. For now...
Vikings faithful have high hopes that first-round selection Percy Harvin will produce the lightning the passing game lacks (with the exception of the occasional bomb to Bernard Berrian).
But recent trends suggest that the rookie year is difficult for receivers. Percy could create a few YouTube plays out of nothing, but the odds are stacked against him having a Moss-like impact on the passing game.
So no real changes to the offense: Harvin will get some reverses and screens, the quarterback—whoever it may be—will have some good and some bad games, and Adrian will still butter the bread.
Bevell will have to work hard on developing the passing game and the young lineman if this team is going to make it to the playoffs, and win in the playoffs, though. His job likely depends on it.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has some slight tinkering to do with the pass defense, and absolutely no tinkering with the run defense.
With Kevin and Pat Williams at defensive tackle, the Vikings have ranked first in rushing defense the past three years, allowing an average of 71 ypg over that span. They should only improve on that number this year with returning middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who missed 12 games last year due to injury.
The pass defense was 18th in the league last year, due to an inconsistent pass rush, a cover-two bend-but-don't-break approach, and opponents ditching the running game.
Second-year player Tyrell Johnson got a lot of action last year, and the team feels comfortable about him replacing safety Darren Sharper. He will provide speed that Sharper lacked, but it remains to be seen if Johnson will be an improvement over Sharper.
On the other side of the Mullet, Ray Edwards needs to play up to his potential and help out the secondary.
The Vikings defense shouldn't see a dip in performance as long as the Williams Wall stays intact and not suspended.
A misleading statistic about the Vikings defense is the 20.8 pts/game they gave up last year, 13th best in the NFL. While 13th is an above-average ranking, the defense actually gave up 18.2 pts/game, which would have been fifth in the league.
The discrepancy is because of the Vikings special teams: it gave up four return touchdowns and seven touchdowns overall last year, an NFL record.
That performance earned special teams coach Paul Ferraro a job as the St. Louis Rams linebacker coach, and then assistant special teams coach Brian Murphy was promoted to special teams coach.
The special teams unit will be the biggest difference from last year's Vikings team; actually, "the Vikings better make sure the special teams is different from last year," might be a better way to say that.
They lost a key member—Heath Farwell—to injury early last year. His return, and draft picks Asher Allen and Jasper Brinkley, are expected to patch the holes in the defensive return game.
Harvin could contribute some of his flash to the offensive return game, but who knows if head coach Brad Childress will use Harvin like his Florida coach Urban Meyer did: as an offensive player only, afraid of Harvin suffering an injury on a special teams play.
If Harvin isn't the return man, expect to see a plethora of Vikings return kicks and punts this year, just like in the past few years.
Because the more things change, well, you know.