Starting to come together
Aug. 28, 2006

Author: Josh Fiedler


In a season that, upon entering, was filled with as much uncertainty as it was anticipation, things are starting to come together. As three of the four preseason games have come and gone we are beginning to learn more about the 2006 Minnesota Vikings and their chances for success. And at this point, I like their chances considerably more than I did only a few weeks ago.

Sure, not everything has been wine and roses in the Childress tenure thus far. There have been injuries to guys that were supposed to contribute like first round draft pick Chad Greenway and possible starter Tank Williams, and there have been bumps in the road to finding backups like the tough preseason had by Mike McMahon and lack of preseason thus far for Mewelde Moore, but things are starting to come together. Some fans I have conversed with have been excited about the coming along of Tarvaris Jackson—as have I, but he is not a guy (hopefully) we will be relying on to win football games for our squad. Others have been giddy about the possibility of a return to the black and blue-style ground game of Vikings past with the additions of Chester Taylor and Steve Hutchinson. But despite these items of noteworthiness, I have fallen the hardest in this honeymoon stage of the new staff on defense.

The past seven or eight seasons have typically been marked with average at best or near the bottom at worst, defenses. The offense has typically been the unit that has led the charge in winning football games—and quite frankly that often has not been enough. While it is sometimes fun to see your team run up 30-plus points and gain 400-some-odd-yards, this does little to ensure a winning formula. It obviously will allow the team to come out victorious a fair number of times, but I have always been of the philosophy that one thing is for certain in the NFL: if a team gives up zero points, they have a 100% chance of not losing the ball game. While this scenario is unlikely to play out on a regular basis, my point remains the same: given the choice I would take a top five defense and an average offense as opposed to the reciprocal. There are a few reasons that this squad is better than most in recent memory.


1. Speed. In watching the three games thus far it seems like there are more players around the ball. While it may have only been one or two guys making the tackle, oftentimes there has been a couple more right there to back them up should they not have made it. This was especially apparent in the game Friday night against the Ravens. How many times did we see Heath Farwell either make the tackle or be right in position? Of the QB pressures and sacks the defense was able to apply and make, many featured a trio of Vikings running them down to create havoc for the opposing offense. Youth has played a large role in this area as well.

2. Defensive Line Depth. While many of the current players have been with the team a year or two, most are healthy and on track to have career-type years. With the exception of Pat Williams, who is in his 10th NFL season, the average tenure among the starter and top reserve at each of the D-line positions is 2.14 seasons. Ross Kolodziej has six, Kevin Williams four, Spencer Johnson, Darrion Scott, and Kenechi Udeze have three, Erasmus James two, with Ray Edwards being the lone rookie in the top eight. All of that added up should mean that most of the guys likely to contribute at these positions should have plenty of energy and agility to make an impact. With youth can come mental mistakes, but I feel good about Brad Childress and Mike Tomlin's chances to make this work. Much has been written about the necessity of the front four to get to the quarterback without blitzes and without bringing extra guys—this group has most of the tools to get that done.

3. Confidence. There is no lack of confidence with this group. Led by a very strong and capable starting secondary in Dwight Smith, Darren Shaper, Fred Smoot, and Antoine Winfield, there should be plenty of on-field leadership and presence on this side of the ball. Add in the aforementioned D-line players with the last name Williams and things look ok. This team has done well in forcing turnovers thus far in the preseason and if the ability to continue to do this carries on into the regular season, it should only help the confidence level of the team.

I am not going to go so far as to say this group is without holes. As I mentioned earlier, the early losses of Greenway and Tank Williams hurt this team's depth. With the exception of defensive line, the number two roles are up for grabs at almost every other spot on this side of the ball. And at a couple of the linebacker positions, the backup roles are likely to be determined not by making decisions about second-stringers but rather the make up of the eventual starting lineups as these have yet to be totally defined with the possible exception of Ben Leber. So while this unit is not a perfect one by any stretch of the imagination, they have certainly created some excitement for me as a Vikings fan and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Random Ramblings
Last week I sang the praises of Jason Carter on offense and Farwell on defense and they did nothing to make me look bad with their performances against Baltimore. Farwell finished with nine tackles, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. Carter totaled 107 yards on two receptions, including a 77-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Farwell led both teams in tackles and Carter did the same in receiving yards...I like Wendell Mathis' chances of making the team—and he most certainly deserves it. Injuries and knicks to Moore, Ciatrick Fason, and Taylor aside, I would keep Mathis around regardless, as I think he could be a small contributor to the Vikings ground game. I would, however, like to see him run with the first unit a bit before getting too carried away, as the majority of his success has come against second and third string defenses (albeit he was being blocked for by second and third string O linemen)...Troy Williamson had to be a little worried running helmet-less down the sideline with Ray Lewis giving pursuit. Talk about an unenviable position to be in...one item I have been less than thrilled with is the team's overall inability to run the ball. While I do not have the numbers in front of me, it seems as if they have been running a lot to the right side. Sure, the left side should be just fine with all of the talent there, I would have liked to see some dominance in the preseason and thus far that has not been the case...I heard Smoot in an interview the other day tossing out the line that "Water covers three-quarters of the earth, and Fred Smoot covers the rest." Funny: yes. Original: not exactly. I have made mention of this before, but I follow baseball every bit as much as football and I believe Ralph Kiner (or Harry Kalas depending on who you believe) coined a similar phrase in referring to former Phillies outfielder Gary Maddox when he said, "Water covers 75 per cent of the earth; the rest is covered by Garry Maddox."...I have been a bit surprised at how little Billy McMullen has seen the field. Having come as a former player in Philadelphia under the Childress offense, I had expected him to be playing a bit more...in addition, I was surprised at the amount of time (or lack thereof) given to McMahon Friday night...as long as we're at the quarterback position: I think Jackson's most impressive attribute thus far has been knowing when to stay in the pocket, take a hit, and deliver a pass and when to escape it and try to pick up some yardage with his legs...