Palpable buzz surrounds '09 Vikings
MANKATO, Minn. -- The stands are filled daily at Vikings camp. A trip to the playoff last season, plus the tease of possibly having Brett Favre wearing purple, has created a buzz that the Vikings haven't seen since the Denny Green days.
Without question, the Vikings are loaded. Playmakers dot the starting lineup on both sides of the ball. The defense is impossible to run against, and Adrian Peterson has become the best running back in the league.
Too bad Favre didn't make a trip to Minnesota to see these guys. Whether it was the concerns about lasting 16 games or his distaste for training camp, Favre missed a chance to take this team to 11 or 12 wins. Had he seen this team on the field, he might have reconsidered. Now, the Vikings have to do the best they can without him.
Here are five observations from Vikings camp:
1. Show of hands: The most notable improvement is at wide receiver. Over the past couple of seasons, the Vikings have built a receiving corps that teams such as the Bears, Jets and Ravens would envy. Bernard Berrian lived up to his $7 million-a-year contract by averaging more than 20 yards a reception last season. Bobby Wade is a solid possession receiver who led the team with 53 catches. The addition of Percy Harvin adds a weapon that might drive defenses crazy. Outside of Peterson, Harvin is the most noticeable athlete on the Vikings' practice field. He runs with a fluid style that will give cornerbacks trouble. He also seems to have soft hands. Sure, his route-running is inconsistent, but he's not going to be the main receiving option, so receivers coach George Stewart has plenty of time to polish that part of Harvin's game. Harvin said he's run as fast as a 4.23 40-yard dash in the past year. With his explosiveness out of the slot, along with his ability to run the Wildcat offense, the Vikings might have a secret weapon.
Sidney Rice has made a significant jump since last summer and might be a viable receiving option. Drafted when he was 20 and skinny, Rice was somewhat of a project. Now he's heavier and stronger. Getting off the line of scrimmage against press coverage shouldn't be a problem. Along with that, he has great leaping ability. The Vikings might try some four-receiver sets that could create major matchup problems for opponents.
2. "All Day," all the time: It's hard to believe the Vikings can ask more of Peterson, but they can and will. Peterson played only 46 percent of the team's offensive snaps as a rookie and 65 percent last season. When you look at his 1,760-yard rushing total from 2008, you'd think he'd played more snaps. Peterson is trying to work his way into more of the passing offense. Coaches are lining him up in the slot. He's improved his pass blocking. Weightlifting has increased his weight to 220 pounds without damaging his speed.
The Vikings still plan for Peterson to share the running back position with Chester Taylor, but his receiving numbers should improve. Peterson caught only 21 passes for 125 yards last season. Peterson sets team goals before individual accomplishments, but he still has 2,000 yards and more on his mind. The Vikings ran him 363 times last year, which is a dangerous number for young running backs. Peterson doesn't care. He loves the action.
3. Loadholt's impact: Second-round pick Phil Loadholt has already moved into the starting lineup at right tackle, which shouldn't be a surprise. At 6-foot-8 and 343 pounds, no one can stop him. The Vikings already had an elite offensive line, but the addition of Loadholt should make the running game more powerful on the right side.
The 6-8, 335-pound Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson form one of the league's best left sides. Loadholt appears to be a natural at right tackle. The only question surrounds John Sullivan at center. Sullivan is replacing longtime Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who wasn't offered a contract by the Vikings and signed with the Ravens. Sullivan's numbers look positive. He's 6-4 and 301 pounds, but visually he looks a little small at center, particularly when he goes against big defensive tackles. Of course, maybe that's an illusion because he's playing in the shadows of Loadholt and McKinnie.
4. Circle your calendar:The defense should be as dominant as ever, but Aug. 18 might be the most important day of the year for coordinator Leslie Frazier. That is the date the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will weigh in on the water pill case involving defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams. If the federal court take the case, both players might be suspended for the first four games of the season. If the case stays in state court in Minnestoa, a trial is unlikely to be held during the NFL season meaning the Vikings will start the season with the best inside tackle combo in the league. In case you are wondering, the Vikings are giving veterans Jimmy Kennedy and Fred Evans ample reps in case the Williamses are suspended.
Overall, the defense is loaded. Jared Allen looks fresh and dangerous as a pass-rusher after spending a month on safari in Africa. E.J. Henderson is back from injury problems and ready to claim a middle linebacker spot. Outside linebackers Ben Leber and Chad Greenway keep running around and making plays. Cornerback Antoine Winfield is even more motivated now that the organization has given him a contract extension.
5. Quarterback derby: All right, I saved the quarterback talk for last, which is probably fitting. Face it, the Vikings would have had 12- or 13-win potential with Favre as their quarterback, even at his age. Coach Brad Childress has an open competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels;h Jackson has been the favorite because he's been around Minnesota the longest. Jackson appears to be bouncing back nicely from his recent MCL sprain. He threw passes with authority and good velocity. Rosenfels seems to be getting more comfortable with the offense. He runs a nice huddle and has a good touch on his long passes. John David Booty made a few nice throws, but he's clearly third in this race.
It's still hard to get a feel for how either Jackson or Rosenfels will fare because neither is getting blitzed in practice. Rosenfels has a bit of an elongated delivery, which might leave him vulnerable to sacks. Jackson has shown difficulty being accurate when opponents blitz him. Childress did offer an interesting stat in regard to offensive expectations. Using a basic formula, Childress says you can have a playoff offense if pass completions and running attempts total at least 48. If the number goes into the 50s, the offense is one of the best in the league. The Vikings averaged 32.4 rushing attempts last season and 16.7 completions. They made the playoffs. Favre, by the way, completed 21.4 passes a game for the Jets last season.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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