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Online Vikings Lines & Predictions - Minnesota Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Minnesota Vikings Season Preview

2006 Vikings NFL News - August 30th, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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The ship never really sunk. It took on water, teetered back and forth, and had rats making haste for the exits. But the Minnesota Vikings' very strange, somewhat troubling campaign of 2005 was less of a capsizing and more of a

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troubled voyage that ended with a 9-7 record and an official retirement from the playoff picture.

Now Mike Tice's era as captain has ended, and folks will revisit the seasons of 2002 through 2005 with the same morbid curiosity as they might a museum erected on the deck of a war-torn battleship. And they'll lament.

In for the reclamation project is Brad Childress, formerly Andy Reid's right- hand man and offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Childress knows all about strange, troubling seasons, having just endured one both with and without Terrell Owens in Philadelphia. Childress didn't exactly come in to the Twin Cities and gather everyone in a circle to sing "Kumbaya." His first major act of business was a public spat with quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who went from the town's beloved star quarterback to expendable refuse nearly overnight. Brad Johnson, who is old enough to have been drafted in a round that no longer exists (the 9th, in 1992), is the No. 1 QB until further notice.

If Childress, who has a reputation as dealing well with quarterbacks, has some grand vision for what to do about the most important position on the field in the long term, he has yet to show it. But Minnesota fans are cautiously optimistic that the outsider Childress can cure all of the franchise's ills and lead the team to that elusive first Super Bowl win in short order.

If he can't, owner Zygi Wilf will be seeking a new skipper in the not-so- distant future.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Minnesota Vikings, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 9-7 (2nd, NFC North)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2004, lost to Philadelphia, 27-14, in NFC Divisional Playoff

COACH (RECORD): Brad Childress (first season with Vikings, first overall)



OFFENSIVE STAR: Brad Johnson, QB (1885 passing yards, 12 TD, 4 INT)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Darren Sharper, FS (51 tackles, 9 INT, 2 TD)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 27th rushing, 20th passing, 19th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 19th rushing, 22nd passing, t19th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Washington (9/11), Carolina (9/17), Chicago (9/24), New England (10/30), Green Bay (11/12)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Mike McMahon (from Eagles), QB Tarvaris Jackson (2nd Round, Alabama State), RB Chester Taylor (from Ravens), FB Tony Richardson (from Chiefs), G Steve Hutchinson (from Seahawks), OL Ryan Cook, (2nd Round, New Mexico), DE DeQuincy Scott (from Chargers), DT Ross Kolodziej (from Cardinals), LB Chad Greenway (1st Round, Iowa), LB Ben Leber (from Chargers), S Tank Williams (from Titans), DB Cedric Griffin (2nd Round, Texas), K Ryan Longwell (from Packers)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Daunte Culpepper (to Dolphins), RB Michael Bennett (to Saints), RB Onterrio Smith (released), WR Nate Burleson (to Seahawks), C Melvin Fowler (to Bills), G Toniu Fonoti (to Buccaneers), DE Lance Johnstone (to Raiders), LB Keith Newman (to Dolphins), LB Sam Cowart (to Texans), LB Raonall Smith (to Rams), S Corey Chavous (to Rams), CB Brian Williams (to Jaguars)

QB: Brad Johnson (1885 passing yards, 12 TD, 4 INT) defied the odds and resurrected his career last season, filling in for an injured Daunte Culpepper and going 7-2 as a starter. Though the Vikings missed the playoffs, Johnson played well enough for the team to trade the former Pro Bowler Culpepper in the offseason, in turn making the one-time Super Bowl winner the oldest starting QB in the league (he'll be 38 on Sept. 13th). Obviously, Johnson does not fit into the team's long-term plans at the position, but 2006 second-round draft pick Tarvaris Jackson (Alabama State) might. Jackson was seen as raw and a reach when Minnesota selected him, but he outplayed would-be No. 2 Mike McMahon (1158 rushing yards, 5 TD, 8 INT with the Eagles) in the preseason and appeared more polished than originally believed. His ascendance meant that McMahon, who was awful in Philadelphia last season, was battling journeyman J.T. O'Sullivan for the third quarterback job.

RB: Four different players have led the Vikings in rushing since Robert Smith abruptly retired following the 2000 season, and it looks as if 2006 will bring a fifth. Chester Taylor (487 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 1 TD with Baltimore) comes to Minnesota after backing up Jamal Lewis for the past four seasons, and will be expected to get tough yards and catch the football out of the backfield a la Brian Westbrook. Taylor had no trouble beating out Mewelde Moore (662 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 3 TD) for the starting job in training camp, as the fragile Moore missed time with knee problems. Ciatrick Fason (62 rushing yards, 4 TD) saw some time as a short-yardage back as a rookie last season, and could stand to get some more carries if Moore can't cut it. Paving the way for the backs will be longtime Chief Tony Richardson (9 receptions, 1 TD), who changes addresses at the age of 35, with two Pro Bowl appearances and 11 seasons in Kansas City under his belt. Minnesota doesn't figure to keep two fullbacks on the active roster.

WR/TE: Minnesota lost former 1,000-yard receiver Nate Burleson (30 receptions, 1 TD) to free agency in the offseason, but had been counting on Koren Robinson (22 receptions, 1 TD) to step in and fill a starting role. Then Robinson, who made the Pro Bowl in 2005 as a kick returner, suffered an apparent relapse of the drinking problems that had previously hastened his exit from the Seahawks, and was released 11 days after being arrested for six counts of drunken driving and fleeing a police officer in training camp. That situation means that 2005 first-round pick Troy Williamson (24 receptions, 2 TD) and fellow holdovers Travis Taylor (50 receptions, 4 TD) and Marcus Robinson (31 receptions, 5 TD) are the only thing resembling proven receivers on the roster, and means youngsters such as Billy McMullen (18 receptions, 1 TD with Eagles) and Jason Carter will have to step up and prove that they are NFL players. Minnesota is deep at tight end, with holdovers Jermaine Wiggins (69 receptions, 1 TD), Jimmy Kleinsasser (22 receptions), Jeff Dugan, Richard Owens (2 receptions) and Richard Angulo (1 reception) all returning. Wiggins and Kleinsasser are locks to make the team, while the other three players are likely fighting for one job.

OL: The Vikings pulled off a coup in the offseason by unexpectedly signing Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson off the roster of the Seattle Seahawks, using a "poison pill" contractual maneuver that ensured Seattle could not match Minnesota's offer. The presence of Hutchinson and former Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who missed all of 2005 following hip surgery, is expected to improve the Vikings' line immensely. Holdovers from last year's starting group include left tackle Bryant McKinnie and right tackle Bryant Johnson, with ex-Eagle Artis Hicks slated to take over at right guard. Four players that started games for Minnesota last season - Mike Rosenthal, Chris Liwienski, Adam Goldberg, and Anthony Herrera - were battling with ex-Giant Jason Whittle and second-round draft pick Ryan Cook (New Mexico) for backup jobs during training camp.

DL: The Vikings ranked near the bottom of the league with just 34 sacks a year ago, a surprising development given the presence of two first-round draft picks, Kenechi Udeze (5 tackles, 1 sack) and Erasmus James (28 tackles, 4 sacks), at end, along with two of the better-regarded tackles in the league, Pat Williams (66 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Kevin Williams (42 tackles, 4 sacks), who were supposed to take the pressure off of the youngsters. The loss of Udeze to season-ending knee surgery early in the year greatly diminished the team's pass-rushing abilities, but the third-year-pro is back, healthy and poised for a breakout year. He and James will be on the field more this season following the defection of top sack-man Lance Johnstone (20 tackles, 7.5 sacks) to the Raiders via free agency. Depth at end in 2006 will be offered by Darrion Scott (58 tackles, 4 sacks), a 15-game starter last season, fourth- round draft pick Ray Edwards (Purdue), and possibly ex-Charger DeQuincy Scott (13 tackles, 4.5 sacks). Backing up Williams and Williams at tackle will be ex-Cardinal Ross Kolodziej (23 tackles, 3 sacks) and holdover Spencer Johnson (29 tackles).

LB: Minnesota is in need of some major improvement in this area, as the previous head coaching regime seemed to have trouble finding three or four players who could be consistent from week-to-week. The Vikings sought to help rectify the situation by drafting Chad Greenway (Iowa) in the first round of the April draft, but Greenway was lost for the year with a knee injury suffered early in the preseason. Strong side man Ben Leber (22 tackles, 2 sacks with the Chargers) now becomes the most notable active new face in the linebacking corps, and will be expected to be strong against the run. The remainder of the starting lineup should consist of Napoleon Harris (25 tackles, 1 sack) in the middle and E.J. Henderson (75 tackles, 1 sack) on the weak side. Harris, who came to the Vikings as part of the Randy Moss deal prior to the 2005 season, will have to prove that he is over injuries that limited his playing time and effectiveness last season. Henderson (75 tackles, 1 sack) has never quite lived up to his second-round billing, but played well down the stretch in '05. Serving as backups will be Dontarrious Thomas (48 tackles), who has started seven games in the past two seasons but is best-used in a reserve role; fellow second-stringer Rod Davis (19 tackles), and special- teamer Heath Farwell (7 tackles).

DB: The Vikings suffered a pair of significant losses in the secondary, where strong safety and team leader Corey Chavous (71 tackles, 2 INT) and cornerback Brian Williams (47 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) escaped to the Rams and Jaguars, respectively, via free agency. Williams' departure means that Antoine Winfield (98 tackles, 4 INT) and Fred Smoot (41 tackles, 2 INT) will have to be consistent at the corners. Smoot, in particular, suffered through both major mental lapses and injury problems in 2005. Rookie Cedric Griffin (2nd Round, Texas) and holdover Dovonte Edwards (17 tackles, 1 INT) are in line to play backup roles at corner. Joining top playmaker and free safety Darren Sharper (51 tackles, 9 INT) in the last line of defense will be Dwight Smith (72 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack with the Saints), who fell out of favor in New Orleans but is still a cagey veteran with a good nose for the football. Willie Offord (6 tackles, 1 INT) and Will Hunter (12 tackles) are holdovers who can help at backup safety and on special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Minnesota turned to Ryan Longwell (20-27 FG with Green Bay) of the enemy Packers when looking to shore up its kicking game, and it is believed that the 10-year-vet will thrive indoors. The Vikings claimed punter Chris Kluwe (44.1 avg.) off of waivers from the Seattle Seahawks just prior to last season, and Kluwe did a terrific job before being bothered with a knee injury (which eventually required surgery) late in the year. Koren Robinson's departure leaves a void at kickoff returner, one that Mewelde Moore could fill if he ever becomes healthy. Young wideout Jason Carter could be the team's opening day punt returner. Cullen Loeffler should be back for his third season as the Vikings' long snapper.

PROGNOSIS: It's been a rough start for Brad Childress in Minnesota. A major falling out with the team's franchise quarterback, a season-ending injury to Childress' initial first-round draft pick, and the arrest and subsequent release of the player that was supposed to be the team's No. 1 receiver are not good signs for a club that was expected to have its troubles to begin with. It's hard to envision great success for a team with a 38-year-old quarterback, a career backup at running back, and fluid situations in both the receiving and linebacking corps. All that, and Childress is a first-year head coach who might have some growing pains in dealing with his new, larger amount of responsibility. The bright side is that this is the NFC North, where anything can happen, but it is going to take a whole lot of good luck for Minnesota to be a playoff contender. And as we have learned, good luck has been at a premium in Vikings camp.

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