Most won't watch. The first preseason game is like a movie trailer. it will give you a quick glimpse of the future, but only enough to entice. Was that Adrian Peterson in there? Will Donovan McNabb throw a touchdown? Who will replace the recent departed Bryant McKinnie? We will not learn tonight.
Tonight is a chance for players to hit someone other than their teammate. A chance to look good for coaches. A first look at new offenses and defenses for many. A chance to turn it up a notch, as it were. And the starters will be on a short string. But we should get a chance to see some rookies. My underdog rookie claim is Emmanuel Arceneaux. I want him to be the next Sidney Rice.
Oh, I will be watching. I have taken all I can of "Jersey Housewives", people who hoard, and crews that look for ghosts in the dark. Tonight is about reclaiming the television. Tonight is a glimpse of sixteen Sundays. As a Vikings fan I have been accustomed to winning, and despite a 6-10 2010 season, I want to win now. Again.
I will hope to see rookies Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard justify their selection. I do not need much, just a play that says "Wow, he could be...". That's all.
I want to see McNabb protected. Brett Favre looked an awful lot like Archie Manning last year, which in turn made the turnovers, which led to the awful point differential, and hence a poor record. Guys like John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera, and Ryan Cook have to improve. We need to see recent picks Chris DeGeare and Phil Loadholt start to pan out. And most important, someone needs to emerge as a solid left tackle. Right now that looks like former-Colt Charlie Johnson.
I need to see a pass rush. Brian Robison steps in for departed Ray Edwards. There seems to be depth at the defensive line, and it has religiously been our bread and butter for good defense. If the line returns to elite form, the high ranking will follow, and so will the wins. Pat Williams is gone. Kevin will need a substitute. Will Ballard be good enough in his rookie year to play? How good are Fred Evans and Letroy Guion going to be?
I hope to see the team play inspired. In the words of Tupac, "Keep Your Head Up". Too much negativity last year. It is hard not to be down when the Packers and Bears are playing in the NFC Championship and the Lions win out to finish ahead of you. The talent is there. Much of it was in the 2009 NFC Championship. A rise to the top may not be as hard to accomplish as most think. I want the 2011 Vikings to play with more heart than in 2010.
No, I am ready for the 2011 season to begin. The final countdown begins....
Right after "Marley and Me".
Love him or hate him, Randy Moss changed football by himself. When the Vikings drafted Randy Moss with the 21st pick in the 1998 draft our world was never the same. Like a terrifying rollercoaster, Moss' actions both on and off the field kept the world of football exciting until the end. Now with word of his retirement, Randy Moss can be canonized and vilified all in one. Or, we can chose to remember him the way we want.
According to sources, Randy Moss grew up basically without his father. As is often the case, this impacted early choice making about friends and how to handle yourself. But fatherless or not, Randy was an athlete. He lettered in four different sports in high school (basketball, football, baseball, and track). He was selected as the best athlete in the state in both football and basketball. He also won state his one year in track, in both the 100 and 200 meter events. In 2005, Parade magazine listed Moss as one of the 50 greatest high school athletes of all-time.
However, in March of his senior year randy joined another in a fight in a hallway against a white student. Randy's kicking of the student would lead to a felony charge, later reduced to two misdemeanors for battery, of which he plead guilty. The greatest athlete DuPont would ever see was expelled. Moss finished his high school diploma at an alternative school. Did he lose his control over a racial slur? Did he feel the need to defend a friend? Or was he 'punking' another student?
Obviously, this impacted his desire to attend his dream school, Notre Dame. He then decided (upon advice) to attend Florida State, where he was then ruled ineligible, costing him the year. Compiling his troubles, Randy ended up testing positive for marijuana and was dismissed from FSU. Randy then chose Marshall University, as being a 1-AA school there was no year of redshirt for transfers. He shined at Marshall, which ironically became a 1-A school in Randy's second year. With Chad Pennington throwing TDs to Moss, Marshall became a national interest.
When the 1998 draft arrived Randy Moss was more than a known commodity. His legal troubles, chemical issues, and amazing talents were on everyone's white boards. He was projected to go early in the first round. But he did not. Minnesota swooped him up after teams like the Cowboys had snuffed him, afraid of his personal issues.
His career with the Vikings has been well documented. Any Vikings' fan can tell you Randy was the greatest game changer the Purple had ever seen. In 1998 he scored 17 times in his rookie year. His first game on national television he scorched the Packers for three TDs (one was called back). The Vikings, 9-7 the two previous years, went 15-1 and set an NFL record for points (34.8 per game). Randall Cunningham, thrown in for an injured Brad Johnson, threw 41 TDs including the playoffs. Only a tragic self-destruction vs. the Falcons kept the team from winning the state's first Super Bowl.
Other things changed as well. The Vikings had averaged between 50,000 and 58,000 per year from the 1980s and on since moving to the Metrodome. In 1998, the Vikings averaged almost 64,000 and continued to sell-out ever since. Randy put fans in the stands.
Randy was a Pro-Bowler no matter who threw the ball. Cunningham was replaced by Jeff George, and he by Daunte Culpepper. It did not matter. Teams drafted different, and schemed defensively different. Moss forced the other divisional teams to worry about defending against his 4.4 speed and leaping ability (dubbed Randy Rules by Chris Walsh).
Minnesota coaches were affected as well. Mike Tice developed the Randy Ratio during his short tenure. You remember? Get the ball to Moss at least 40%. The experiment was ended the same year it started, but in that season the Vikings were 4-1 when they complied with the ratio, 1-10 when they did not.
And then there were the mounting incidents. The walking off the field before an onside-kick would be recovered in a three point game. A few years earlier the traffic incident, with a joint in the ashtray, and felony charges for attacking an office with his Lexus (later reduced to pot possession only). His final season in 2004 would end with the Vikings only 8-8, but in the playoffs. After upsetting the Packers in Lambeau, Moss was in trouble for a fake mooning of the Green Bay faithful. He was instantly vilified. Luckily, Tony Dungy came to his rescue by excusing his behavior as a response to a traditional drunken "attack" waged on Vikings yearly as they left the stadium. But it was simply more social damage.
Minnesota moved him on. He floundered in Oakland for two years, and flourished in New England for three. In 2007 he set an NFL record with 23 receiving touchdowns. But despite his success, the Patriots could not bring in a Super Bowl victory, despite an undefeated regular season.
2010 saw him back with Minnesota and then later off to Tennessee. His comments to media about team catered food the final straw. Minnesota surrendered a 3rd round draft pick for his services. Tennessee also gave up a draft pick in trade. Both coaches would end up losing their jobs. Randy had his worst season in his career by far.
So now he is retired. There will be talk of Hall of Fame status. There may even be a return should a team need him in a playoff run. But it is over. One of the all-time greatest athletes to play sports in America is too old. His amounted troubles being a sign of a kid without proper guidance turned a pro athlete whom lacked impulse control. Proof of that is his Gumbel interview in 2005 where he declared he had smoked pot, and may again "every blue moon".
Or maybe he was a street thug like the kind assessed at DuPont High who just happened to be an incredible athlete?
From strictly a football fan point of view, there were few better.
Dear fellow Vikings' fans,
It's hot outside. Too hot. I live out in the rural area, where my wife and I assumed a house with a GE heat pump that looks older than me. And we are on off-peak, which means whenever you really need the AC, you cannot have it. Still, recent events cause me too make a stand in saving money. I will not give in. I suffer through this in order to fight injustice, or the rising cost of energy.
Many of you have watched the recent free agent events and made up your minds that more must be done to save the 2011 season. We have to get another quality wide receiver. We have to add an offensive lineman. We have to strengthen our defensive line. Who will play cornerback?
But I am more confident in this year's Vikings already.
First, one of the greatest injustices done to my purple was the giveaway/takeaway ratio. Last year Minnesota ranked dead last in the NFC with a -11. Vikings' passers threw 26 interceptions and ball handlers provided 11 fumbles to the opposition. That type of injustice must end. Brett Favre had a career percentage intercepted (pct. int.) of 3.3, yet last year he was 5.3. Favre would end with a passer rating of 69.9, well below his career average of 86.0
So we have added Donovan McNabb to tutor Christian Ponder and probably lead the 2011 Vikings. McNabb has a career pct. int. of 2.2%. Last year, his worst, he was 3.2% for the Redskins. As bad as McNabb's season was last year, he still had a passer rating significantly higher than Number Four (77.1). McNabb is less likely to be intercepted than Brett Favre.
I am cognizant of the need to improve in other areas. One reason I have so much hope is the work of Coach Dunbar with the Vikings' defensive line. I have been in Dunbar's audience at football clinic;. his presence commands respect. Since he joined the Vikings in 2006 good things have happened. Dunbar, a teammate in college of Henry Thomas and coach in college of Kevin Williams, immediately impacted the Vikings, Minnesota was first against the run in 2006, 07, and 08, becoming only the 2nd team in NFL history to accomplish the feat. Ever since his arrival Minnesota has been known for shutting down the run. In 2010, a down year, the Vikings finished 9th, up from 2nd in 2009.
Moreover, the Vikings have managed a decent pass rush while applying run pressure. In 2009, Minnesota led the NFL in sacks. Jared Allen has had three 14+ sack seasons, one of only a few to ever accomplish the feat. In 2010 Minnesota fell to 15th, though it is difficult for losing teams to acquire sacks. In a land known for great defensive lineman (Page, Eller, Randle, Marshall, Doleman, Millard, Thomas, and so on..), Dunbar has continued to provide. Kevin Williams and Jared Allen are considered among the best in the game.
So fellow fans, there are a few key steps a team must take to enter the playoffs. We must reduce our turnovers. We must provide ample blocking. We must increase our takeaways. And we must apply pressure with the front line.
Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder will do their best to control the ball. Dunbar and his crew will continue to impress with the front four. Gone are Ray Edwards and Pat Williams. Kevin Williams will have to sit out four games for a delayed suspension. It will be time for newer players to step up. Brian Robison, a 6th year veteran, will be asked to start at DE. Recently signed Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, and rookie Christian Ballard will man the middle until at least one Williams comes back. DE Everson Griffin, the 4th round pick of 2009, and NT Remi Ayodele, a Saints castaway, will also provide efforts.
Given the last five year history, I have no doubt the d-line will provide. The rest is up to the offense. If they can control the ball and score a bit, it could be a much quicker recovery than the pundits would expect. Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson can help ease the transition to an explosive offense that holds onto the ball.
And despite the summer heat index, I remain cool in thought. Justice can be served by Minnesota in 2011 if they learn to hold onto the ball. And with the Packers hordes gloating (as they should) since the last Super Bowl; it can come none too soon. Maybe by saving money (enduring the heat), I can afford to attend a game or two.
Yours in hope for 2011,
From an off-peak home.
There has been a change in red zone offenses over the last few years. Sure, it is nice to have that power running back that can blast it in from inside the five yard line. Another weapon is the tall receivers with good hands that snatch TDs away from shorter cornerbacks.
Recently there has been a swing toward finding the leaping basketball-playing TE. Guys like the Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis and Oakland's Rob Gronkowski each had ten touchdowns. Better known TEs like the Chargers' Antonio Gates (10) and the Cowboys' Jason Witten (9) also found the red zone often in 2010. Vernon Davis of the 49ers had seven TDs, and his stock is rising. So too is the play of Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions, and many others.
The Vikings have benefited from the efforts of Visanthe Shiancoe. The last three seasons Shiancoe has 145 receptions for 1,692 yards and 20 TDs. And those numbers are tainted by missed time due to injury. Shiancoe had only two TDs last year, a significant drop from the previous two.
So when the Vikings chose 6'6, 259 lb. Kyle Rudolph, a junior from Notre Dame, with the 43rd overall pick fans were curious. Some thought it a wise move right away, after all, Shiancoe is a nine year veteran and 31 years-old. There was still Jeff Dugan and Jim Kleinsasser on the roster, but that was easily rationalized as the difference between receiving and blocking tight ends. Others were upset. Why hadn't we addressed positions of greater need? S Rahim Moore, OL Stefen Wisniewski, and DE Da'Quan Bowers were all available. What were the purple brass thinking?
They were thinking Kyle Rudolph was special. He was a serious talent in two sports in high school: basketball and football. For example, in his senior season Rudolph scored 25 of his team's 52 points in a close loss to the top team in the state. He finished 2nd all-time in scoring at Elder High. He was offered basketball scholarships to attend ACC universities. But he decided to attend Notre Dame and focus on football.
At Notre Dame Rudolph became the first true freshman to ever start for the Irish at TE. He would finish with the fourth most receptions all-time at TE, despite a shortened junior year due to a hamstring injury, and an early exit to the NFL draft. In 2010 he had back-to-back games with eight receptions vs. Michigan and Michigan State.
So now it appears Rudolph has signed with the team. Suddenly, the Vikings look not-so-good at receiver, but really good at tight end. With both Shiancoe and Rudolph in the lineup, the Vikings find themselves with red zone options similar to the aforementioned TEs of 2010. Could it be that the Vikings are leaning toward having both in the lineup? Maybe Donovan McNabb and/or Christian Ponder will utilize the athleticism of the new TE?
It makes sense. Minnesota may be bringing a new look to the 2011 offense. One with an emphasis on TEs.
So close. So much anguish. The loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship ranks with the harshest losses in Minnesota history. There was the "Hail Mary' loss to the Cowboys in 1975 at the Met. Then there was the 1998-99 Championship OT loss to the Falcons at home in the Dome, after the 15-1 season, due to a missed kick. The Super Bowl losses. They all hurt.
Worse yet, the New Orleans Saints went on to win the Super Bowl, validating just how good the 2009 Vikings really were. The 34-3 handling of the Cowboys in the previous playoff game was one of the most lopsided games in Minnesota playoff history. The way the Vikings dismantled the cocky Cowboys was breathtaking. While the Green Bay Packers were allowing over fifty points in their loss the week before, the Vikings surrendered three in an easy win.
So the question(s) is asked for this season: Will the Vikings be able to repeat their 12-4 season? Will this be the year that Minnesota finally wins a Super Bowl? In order to answer those questions we first have to ask ourselves ... do we feel lucky? Or at least be able to answer these questions....
1. Does Brett Favre return or will Tarvaris Jackson take leadership?
The most thought of question. If Favre does return things look very good. His 107.2 passer rating in 2009 was proof that he is far from over the hill. His ankle injury at the hands of a very violent Saints defense is the deciding factor according to reports. But Favre is a question mark until he actually puts on the uniform. Once he does, the answers will come. This offense will explode with Favre back at the helm.
If things are left to T-Jack, all is not lost. He actually had a higher passer rating than Favre, at 113.4. However, it was based on only 21 pass attempts. We Viking faithful are hopeful that Jackson learned from the best last year, and has grown into the skills and mind set needed to succeed in the NFL. If Jackson performs like he did vs. the Cardinals in 2008, then no problem. If he is the QB who faced the Eagles in the playoffs, then the answer will be no.
2. Can Adrian Peterson regain his 'old form' and fumble less?
Peterson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2007. He averaged 4.8 ypc in 2008. And last year, he fell to 4.4 per carry. In those three years he has carried the ball 915 times. That is a lot. Each year he has regressed in average. Is this a slowing down of a running back, or the reality that defenses have focused more and more on this prolific back? Is it the offensive line that has slowed down? I cannot say which is the truest answer, but he is still the most impressive back in football, no apology to Chris Johnson needed.
As for the fumbles, things have been bad for two seasons. In his rookie season, AD (Peterson's acronym - for All Day) had 4 fumbles in 257 touches, or about every 64 times he touched the ball. In 2008, AD had 9 fumbles in 384 touches, or a fumble every 43 tries. Last year, AD had 7 fumbles in the 357 times he saw the ball, or one fumble every 51 attempts. An optimist would say "Hey, he is getting better!". But the reality is he is a very violent-type runner. The previous best back in Viking history, Chuck Foreman, also struggled with fumbles. The answer to this question lies within AD.
3. Will E.J.Henderson return to form or Jasper Brinkley step up?
When Henderson went down in the 12th game last year, Vikings faithful cringed. Not only because of the horrific fracture of the femur that E.J. suffered, but also because his replacement was Jasper Brinkley, a relative unknown. Henderson was averaging about seven tackles a game, on pace to lead the team and be considered for All-Pro honors. What would become of the defense?
Jasper Brinkley had 23 tackles in his four starts and change, and was probably more of a liability than an asset. But he was maybe better than expected. Now reports are that he had a terrific off-season, and is having an even better camp in Mankato. If Henderson returns to form all is well. But if not, many feel Brinkley is ready to come forward.
4. What will become of the Vikings secondary?
Cedric Griffin's ACL tear during the NFC Championship was as big a factor in the loss as any of the turnovers. Griffin had developed into the best defensive back, given Antoine Winfield's injury and slow recovery. Now Griffin appears to be unable to play until at least October. What will we do?
Luckily, the Vikings did address this issue in both off-season moves and the draft. 34th overall pick, Chris Cook of Virginia, is a 6'2, 212 lb, specimen that will help the future at cornerback. This is good considering Winfield is in his 12th year. Add to that the signing of Lito Sheppard, an Eagles runaway, who joins former coach Brad Childress. Benny Sapp and Asher Allen also return. At safety, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams come back with another year of experience. Minnesota finished 19th in yards allowed versus the pass. 23rd in tds allowed. This area must be improved.
5. Is the offensive line getting better or worse?
In the loss to the Saints, it was apparent that the O-line could not handle the rush of the Saints. Although Bryant McKinnie was awarded All-Pro honors, most knowledgeable fans did not see it that way. There were frequent mistakes by McKinnie, Sullivan, Herrera, and Loadholt. Even Steve Hutchinson struggled once in a while. In that NFC Championship the line was overmatched. On top of all that, the Vikings lost their most experienced back-up, Artis Hicks, to free agency.
Minnesota did draft an offensive lineman (too late for my taste) in Chris DeGeare, a 6'4, 325 lb., from Wake Forest with the 161st pick. The starting five returns as well. In Mankato, reports are that 2nd year OT Patrick Brown from Central Florida, and 3rd year player Chris Clark from Southern Mississippi are looking good. But neither would address the biggest concern: Herrera. This line did lead the offense to an overall 5th ranking in yardage and 2nd in scoring, albeit most due to the uncanny play of Favre and the running of Peterson. To go farther in the playoffs this unit will have to get better.
The 2010 season awaits. The questions are there. We await answers. The first game, a Thursday Night affair to kickoff the season begins in New Orleans, the source of many of these unanswered thoughts.
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