I watched every Vikings game this season and saw the team improve while buying into a new scheme under coach Tice. This was a sometimes-frustrating season but the team has some pieces in place that could be the launching pad for great things. If the Vikings follow the below recipe for improvement (in order of priority), this team could become a dominating one. If not, we are certainly in for a long haul of bad Viking teams.
1. Special Teams
Kick Coverage: How can a team give up runbacks for touchdowns and excellent opponent field position after punts and kickoffs and win games? Seems like every Viking kickoff I had to hold my breath hoping it wouldnâ€™t be run back for a touchdown. Almost as bad, the field position given up by the kick coverage teams was abominable, leading to short fields and easy scores on our D. The Dolphins game was the most telling sign. The Vikes gave the Fins the 46 yard line on kickoff (after an impressive 3rd quarter scoring drive) that lead to a Dolphin touchdown, then the 48 yard line after Mossâ€™ touchdown pass that lead to a tying field goal. On the Vikes side, we rarely go past the 30 on runbacks. It seemed the team was simply content on not turning the ball over instead of attacking. Great teams attack and make big plays on special teams!
Kicking: Richardson did a modest job on punts, and despite an exciting game-winning field goal in the Fins game, Anderson is done. How about giving up a blocked field goal then allowing Detroit to run it back for a touchdown? Disgraceful!
Bottom line: The buck stops at Jay Hayes, who did a lousy job this year as well as in Pittsburgh previously. Fire him and bring in an experienced special teams coach with a proven track record. Also get a kicker that can kickoff as well as consistently nail field goals. Make sure the kicker is clutch, like Vinatieri in New England. The Pats would not have won a Championship, or made it to the Super Bowl if it wasnâ€™t for that clutch kick against the Raiders in the snow, and we all know what he did in that Super Bowl game. How about last week against the Fins? Also, donâ€™t under-estimate the value of the touchback. A kicker that can pound the ball into the endzone for touch backs ensures the opposing team will have to drive the field to score. Special Teams is one of the most important areas of a game, it should be the top priority in the off-season.
Defensive Line: This should be the number one priority for the defense, not the secondary! Surprised? Check this outâ€¦ If the Vikes can put real aggressive pressure on the opposition quarterback with only 4 linemen, the DBâ€™s and linebackers can play tighter, get more opportunities for big plays because the field condenses, can use more players for coverage and stopping the run, and the opposing QBâ€™s have less time to pick you apart. You canâ€™t complete a pass when youâ€™re flat on your back! A sack, pressure, or batted down ball also psychologically fuels intensity and adrenaline. Hereâ€™s a tip: Model this D-Line after one of the best ever fielded by the Vikes - the 1988-89 teams. Noga, Millard, Thomas and Dolemanâ€¦no Viking line has ever created so much havoc before or since! Chris Hovan is a monster and a nice replica of Millard. Quick off the ball, aggressive and intense. After that it gets mediocre. Lance Johnstone is average at best. Kenny Mixon is not the answer to a quality speed rusher like Doleman (4 Â½ sacks from defensive end) and Fred Robbins is no Henry Thomas. The Vikes should keep Johnstone, keep Hovan, pick up or draft a monster speed rusher/sack specialist, keep Mixon (but not as a starter) and bring in a big run stopper for the middle. Then you may suddenly see some of our young DBâ€™s leading the league in picks and scoring defensive touchdowns. It all starts upfront!
Defensive Backs: The Vikes have a lot of young, raw talent here but need a true experienced leader on the field for seasoning. Chavous and Bradford are not it! How good would this secondary be if it had a Rod Woodson or Shawn Springs? Willy Shaw is a great DB coach but heâ€™s not on the field. If the Vikes had just a couple of years with players of this caliber back there, it could be the difference between grooming a lousy secondary and a dominating one!
Linebackers: Biekert was a steal at middle linebacker and Jim Nelson is an adequate back up. Henri Crocket is starter quality. Chukwurah and Nick Rogers are back up caliber at best on the strong side. The Vikes need to pick up a solid strong side linebacker in free agency.
Wide Receivers: Derrick Alexander was one of the biggest free agent busts in recent memory, but Kelly Campbell and Dâ€™Wayne Bates are bright spots. The Vikes still need a free agent burner on the other side of Moss, like Az Hakim was to Isaac Bruce (the Rams suffered greatly this year by losing Hakim).
NOTE- Quarterback: The Vikes best chance for success is with Culpepper, so all of you Todd Bouman fans out there, donâ€™t hold your breath. Top quarterbacks have had their lousy years. This was Danteâ€™s. Hell, Farve, considered the best in the game, had 19 tdâ€™s and 24 picks in his second year with the Packers, then went on to throw 33 tdâ€™s and 13 picks the following year and 38-13 the year after that and 39-13 the year after that! Next year will be Danteâ€™s breakout year, having gotten comfortable with the new system and matured with stability. Patienceâ€¦
Free Agents: Keep this nucleus and re-sign all necessary free agents on offense.
Thatâ€™s it. The Vikes are a division-winning, playoff team with these simple adjustments. In summary, here are the player/coach moves needed in the off-season.
1.Fire Jay Hayes and hire an experienced special teams coach.
2. Draft or pick up in free agency a clutch field goal kicker that can also pound the long ball on kickoffs.
3. Draft or pick up in free agency a dominating â€œDoleman-esqueâ€ speed rusher/ sack specialist.
4. Draft or pick up in free agency a â€œTed Washington-Gilbert Brown â€“typeâ€ defensive tackle.
5. Trade for or pick up in free agency a veteran strong-side linebacker with speed and excellent tackling skills.
6. Trade for or pick up in free agency a veteran all-pro safety and a solid veteran corner to season the youngsters.
7. Draft or pick up in free agency a burner wide receiver to lessen the double and triple-team coverages on Moss.[Edited by MiamiViking on 01/02/03 12:25 PM][Edited by MiamiViking on 01/02/03 12:25 PM][Edited by MiamiViking on 01/02/03 12:26 PM]