Vikings training camp analysis by Gary Horton
Ok, youse mugs, listen up! "Fingers" Bilensky gave me dis scoop on da Vikes dis afternoon in da practice yard. I had ta give him two packs of coffin nails for it, so it cost me plenty, but it was woith it, y'know?
Vikings camp preview
By Gary Horton
Location: Mankato, Minn.
Start date: July 27 (rookies), July 30 (vets)
2005 Record: 9-7
Three Burning Questions
1)Will Brad Johnson be able to stay healthy and run the offense successfully in 2006?
The Vikings certainly hope Brad Johnson can get through a 16-game season because they do not have a backup quarterback who can step in and run this offense. Backup quarterback Mike McMahon knows new head coach Brad Childress' system from his time in Philadelphia, but he is certainly not the answer, and rookie Tarvaris Jackson is at least a couple of years away from being ready for any kind of game action. The coaching staff will use a lot of three- and five-step drops and a quick, short passing game to protect Johnson. They will also encourage him to get the ball out quickly and not take a lot of hits. He is a smart guy with a quick release and should do very well in this balanced offense, and it is important to remember he is playing behind a massive offensive line, which should protect him very well.
2)Will the Vikings be sorry they let quarterback Daunte Culpepper go in the offseason?
The word out of Miami is that Culpepper's rehabilitation is going very well and he could actually be ready to play at the start of the season. While Culpepper seems motivated to show everybody he is still an elite quarterback, Minnesota seems comfortable with the fact that Culpepper just did not fit in with the new coaching staff and philosophy. His relationship with Childress did not get off to a great start, and there was a feeling that Culpepper had become a player more concerned about himself than his team, and that just doesn't fit in the new philosophy. If he does have a great year in Miami, there will obviously be a lot of second guessing, but it won't come from within the organization, as the Vikings appear ready to move forward. If they can keep Johnson healthy for another year, the Culpepper situation will not be a big deal.
3)Can the Vikings jell with so many new players?
The Vikings were one of the most active teams in free agency in the offseason, bringing in 10 new veteran free agents, and they spent $31.5 million in free agency, basically giving Childress an open checkbook to upgrade this team and tweak this roster. Childress also has the largest coaching staff in the league, with 21 assistant coaches, so owner Zygi Wilf has spared no expense to give this organization everything it needs to win. Although Minnesota is incorporating a new offensive scheme and a new defensive scheme, it has a lot of veteran players with strong character and good leadership. There is a good chance this team will jell and really respond to a no-nonsense philosophy by the head coach. They should come out of the gates fast and play very well the entire season.
Camp battle to watch.
Mike Rosenthal vs. Marcus Johnson
Johnson is a giant man with surprisingly good athletic ability. He played offensive guard as a rookie, but now the Vikings want to move him outside to compete with Rosenthal. He had some problems inside at offensive guard with quick, penetrating defensive tackles, but the feeling is that his power and wingspan, and the ability to engulf defenders, should make him a better matchup at tackle, even against quick edge rushers. He has the wingspan to ride defenders past the pocket, and is just a tough guy to get around. Rosenthal is a veteran who also has great size, but he is not a power player and does not dominate in the run game. He is not the athlete that Johnson is, and struggles against speed rushers. The hope is that Johnson will have an excellent training camp and will become a real road grader in the run game on the right side, while also holding his own as a pass protector. With youth and athleticism on his side, he could be a dominating player for years to come, allowing Rosenthal to be a swing backup at offensive tackle with a lot of experience.
The person under the microscope.
One of Childress' big moves was to get rid of Culpepper and it was a risky one, although Childress felt very confident in his decision. There was a feeling that Culpepper had developed a little bit of a selfish attitude and wasn't on the same page as the organization. He wanted more money and was also doing his rehabilitation away from the team's complex. If he plays extremely well in Miami, Childress will be second guessed for not trying to work things out. Childress also has the pressure of a very young staff, with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (Childress will take pressure off Bevell by calling the offensive plays himself) and defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, who is only 34 years old. Although this is a young coaching staff, they are also extremely loyal to Childress.
The Vikings are coming off a season filled with scandal, and Childress has had to deal with that, along with the firing of top personnel man Fran Foley a day after the draft, so this has not been a very smooth offseason for Childress. However, Wilf has given him complete control to do things as he sees fit, and Childress is a very firm disciplinarian, and is also steady and fair. These players will understand what he expects from them. He is not an emotional guy and can weather these situations better than most coaches, but expectations in Minnesota are high and Childress will be watched very closely by the fans.
After years as a backup in Baltimore behind Jamal Lewis, Chester Taylor now gets a chance to be the man in Minnesota. He still has a very fresh body for an NFL veteran. He is an excellent fit in the West Coast offense installed by Childress. Not only will he run the ball out of two-back sets, with a great lead fullback in Tony Richardson. He is also playing behind a huge offensive line with a great left side of Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson, reminiscent of the left side of his offensive line in Baltimore: Jonathan Ogden and Edwin Mulitalo. He will catch a lot of passes out of the backfield, and the coaching staff will move him around a lot to create tough matchups. The more you watch Taylor, the more he grows on you, and in an offense that wants to have balance, he will give the Vikings a legitimate run game and should have great production, not only on the ground, but in the passing game.
Comeback player of the year.
Kevin Williams had a preseason knee injury in 2005 and was out of shape early in the year. He never really seemed to get into a groove or play with the quickness and explosiveness he did the year before. His sack total dropped from 11Ã‚Â½ in 2004 to only four in 2005. He now appears to be in good shape and healthy heading into the 2006 season, and he now also has his college coach, Karl Dunbar, as his position coach in Minnesota. Dunbar will work with him to use his hands more and keep blockers off his body, and Williams also has the advantage of playing next to Pat Williams, a massive two-gap run stopper who can take some blockers away from him and give him one-on-one matchups. Williams will play the three-technique defensive tackle, and will have a chance to be an explosive one-gap penetrator. He should be back to posting double-digit sacks in 2006.
Childress will instill a two-back offense with a lead fullback. Although this will be a West Coast offensive scheme, Childress will run the ball more than most West Coast offenses, and will also call all of the offensive plays. This is a scheme that likes to move players around to dictate matchups. While it's not overly vertical, they will use a lot of motion, put their backs in the slot and put a lot of pressure on defenses to make adjustments very quickly. The passing game will feature a lot of short-range passes that are very safe, and requires smart and quick decisions by the quarterback with a variety of options, mostly east-west rather than north-south.
Although Taylor will be the featured ball carrier in this two-back attack, he can also split wide and be used a little bit in the same way Childress utilized Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia. As mentioned, this is a short passing game that features a lot of quick slants and crossing routes, designed to give the receivers a chance to make yards after catch. The two-back set will also change the Vikings from their traditional two-tight end formation to only one tight end, and Jim Kleinsasser will be the primary blocker in this scheme, while Jermaine Wiggins will be the primary receiving tight end. Also, look for the Vikings to use a left-handed run game, as the trio up front of McKinnie, Hutchinson and center Matt Birk may be the best in the league. This is going to be a balanced offense with a lot of movement.
Childress has brought Tomlin from Tampa Bay to be his defensive coordinator and install the Bucs' Cover 2 defense. It will feature a four-man front with some over and under alignments, but will primarily be a one-gap penetrating scheme, designed to get pressure from the front seven with a very aggressive attack and a minimal blitzing behind it. The defensive line will feature a lot of loops and stunts, but this defense gets pressure primarily from the front four. Free safety Darren Sharper, a teammate of Tomlin in college, will run the Cover 2 and should handle the deep half safety responsibilities very well. Corner Antoine Winfield should be great in the Cover 2 because of his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage and attack versus the run. Fred Smoot is more of a man-to-man cover guy, which should actually help the Vikings if they want to roll some of their coverages toward Winfield's side, while allowing Smoot to cover man-to-man on the back side. The problem for the Vikings right now is that this defense requires fast linebackers who can cover a lot of ground, and they may have three new starters at linebacker. This will be an aggressive defense, but also one designed not to give up big plays. The early reports are that the Vikings like Tomlin and believe in the system, which indicates they will play hard.
Whaddya think? Me, I likes it, I likes it!
Now I just gotta wait till da season starts. But, I ain't goin' no where, unless da bulls find dat new tunnel me an' da boys been woikin' on, y'know?
"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, save us!"
-- From a monestary in Ireland.