[size=13pt]Five Vikings training camp goals[/size]

Last update: September 07, 2006 – 6:24 PM

We charged the Vikings with five goals to accomplish this summer in training camp. How did they do?

1 FIND A MIDDLE LINEBACKER

Partially because they didn't find anyone else, Napoleon Harris remains the Vikings' middle linebacker. Harris' most visible plays this preseason were two boneheaded personal foul penalties, one for taunting against Baltimore and the other for a late hit on Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Harris finished with eight tackles in an otherwise quiet preseason. He appears to be comfortable in the defense, just not particularly active. But there is no one else on the roster, not Dontarrious Thomas nor E.J. Henderson, who can play the position. Henderson never got a look because he seemed so natural at the weak-side position, and the Vikings lost any flexibility they had when rookie Chad Greenway was lost for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

2 CONTINUE THE SCHEME TRANSITION

Because coaches hold back so much during preseason games, it was difficult to get a full assessment of how well players assimilated the West Coast offense and the Tampa-2 defense. But all things considered, there were not too many incidents this summer that would suggest much confusion -- opposing pass rushers getting free shots at the quarterback, receivers running wide open between crisscrossed defensive backs. For his part, QB Brad Johnson made the switch to a short-passing game look seamless.

3 DETERMINE WHETHER MATT BIRK IS HEALTHY

Unless we're missing something, this mission has been accomplished. After sitting out the 2005 season because of hip surgery, Birk did not miss so much as a training camp practice. He sat out the final preseason game, but that was for flu-like symptoms. He admitted to some technical rust, and this offense doesn't call for him to pull into the open field too often. But his consistent presence brings instant credibility to an overhauled line. Whether or not Birk is still the same player from a physical standpoint, the team will be well-served by his experience and guile.

4 SOLIDIFY THE PUNTING SITUATION

The team had its doubts heading into training camp, but Chris Kluwe quickly showed he had retained his leg strength and flexibility despite undergoing offseason surgery on his right knee. Kluwe booted a 61-yarder in the preseason opener, and the Vikings released competitor John Torp three days later. Kluwe finished the preseason with a 47.1-yard gross average. His only challenge now is adapting to the directional kicking philosophy championed by coach Brad Childress and special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro.

5 DEVELOP DISCIPLINE ... ON THE FIELD

Although they continued to get into trouble off the field -- see Robinson, Koren and Smith, Dwight -- the Vikings looked relatively composed on the field this summer. They committed only three turnovers in four preseason games, and even with second- and third-team players seeking plenty of action, the Vikings averaged 5.5 penalties per game -- down from the eight penalties per game they averaged during the 2005 regular season.

+1 HAD THERE BEEN A SIXTH GOAL, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ...

... to get a handle on the Vikings' depth at wide receiver. Even before the release of Koren Robinson, the team had a limited number of proven veterans. Three, to be exact: Koren Robinson, Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson. Barring a last-minute personnel move, their starters entering the season will be Taylor and second-year player Troy Williamson. Marcus Robinson was not a lock to make the team when camp began, but now he is the No. 3 receiver. The Vikings have no receiver who mandates special coverages, so their most dangerous weapon -- tight end Jermaine Wiggins -- could receive more attention than he's used to.


KEVIN SEIFERT