2009 will be a big season for the Minnesota Vikings. If they fail to reach the lofty expectations that many have set for them, Brad Childress and the rest of the coaching staff seem likely to pay the price by losing their jobs.
A team with a lot of talent such as the Vikings has only a few spots that truly up for grabs in terms of starting spots, but they do have competition at some key spots due to offseason acquisitions and departures.
Here are the most notable position battles for the Vikings leading into the 2009 season, in my opinion.
Minnesota reportedly tried to acquire quarterback Sage Rosenfels from the Houston Texans prior to the 2008 season, only to have to wait a year to bring him aboard via trade. He will compete with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job, but Rosenfels should be considered the front-runner at this stage.
Rosenfels has just 12 NFL starts under his belt, including 10 over the past two seasons with Houston. In his seven-year career, he has thrown 30 touchdowns and 29 interceptions and has a 62.5 percent career completion percentage.
In three NFL seasons, Jackson has a 10-9 record as a starter, including 8-4 in 2007. He has thrown 20 career touchdowns and thrown 18 interceptions. Jackson played solidly at the end of 2008 in place of an injured Gus Frerotte as the Vikings won the NFC North and ultimately lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.
Whoever wins this battle will hold a big key to the Vikings' success in 2009. Lack of consistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Vikings under Brad Childress, and if the team doesn't reach it's goals this season bad quarterback play is likely to be the biggest reason why.
Since veteran Matt Birk departed via free agency during the offseason, second-year man John Sullivan seems likely to become the Vikings' starting center in his place. Offensive tackle Ryan Cook could also be in the mix, since he played center in college.
Birk will be missed for his veteran presence and his talent, although his physical skills had declined a little in recent seasons.
If the new starting center struggles with the mental aspects of making line calls or is over-matched physically (or both), it could easily lead to the entire Vikings' offense struggling to move the ball.
Right Offensive Tackle
Ryan Cook is also in the mix at right tackle, as he has started 33 games in his three-year career. It is an understatement to say that his play at right tackle has been underwhelming.
Which is why the Vikings used their second-round pick this season on big Phil Loadholt out of the University of Oklahoma. The rookie would seem to be an upgrade if he can step in and learn all aspects of the position. His skills seem to make him well suited to playing right tackle in the NFL.
In my opinion, Loadholt should be the front-runner for the starting job as long as he is healthy and works hard to learn his craft. He is certainly physically superior (6'8", nearly 340 pounds) to Cook (6'6", 325 pounds).
If they can find a consistent right tackle, the Vikings' offense could open up some and become less predictable. Especially in terms of the running game, since Adrian Peterson and company could find more room to run on the right side.
The Third Cornerback
Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are locked in as the Vikings' starting cornerbacks, barring only injury.
After that, depth could be a concern. Marcus McCauley struggled last season, so the team brought in Karl Paymah via free agency from the Denver Broncos and used their third-round pick on Asher Allen from the University of Georgia to the mix.
If Winfield or Griffin are out for a significant length of time this season, the Vikings' defense could struggle in pass coverage on the outside.