MANKATO - The Vikings are that well-aged banana sitting on the counter.

The few green spots are disappearing. The gnats haven't arrived. And not even the most cynical among us would say "ick" while holding these bananas up for closer inspection, although it did come to mind while watching the offense sans Brett Favre on Monday morning.

The question is how much longer will the Purple remain this wonderfully ripe shade of yellow?

Tick-tock. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson turns 30 on Tuesday.

"Oh no you don't," he said on the last day of his 29th year. "Don't put me in that category yet."

Tick-tock. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams turns 30 on Aug. 16.

"To be eight years into this and turning 30 ... shoot," he said. "Time is really flying by."

When Williams turns the big 3-Ouch, the Winter Park crowd of 30-somethings will increase to nine starters (five on defense), one kicker and 14 players overall. And that doesn't include a certain allegedly undecided 40-year-old passer.

Why are we counting 30-year-olds 90 minutes south of the Cities? Well, it seemed like a good way to pass the time while watching a fresh-story line-challenged team that retained 94.4 percent of last year's roster. A team that has all 22 starters back. A team whose only hint of a healthy incumbent not starting Sept. 9 in New Orleans is at strong safety, where 2009 starter Tyrell Johnson and challenger Jamarca Sanford are splitting time evenly with the first unit.

And even that competition lacks pizzazz since it comes with a preferred candidate.

"Tyrell is still our starter," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "But we wanted competition at the position. ... In order for Jamarca to have a chance to beat him, he needs to have a chance to work with the [first team]. No slight against Tyrell."

The problem at strong safety is the Vikings have two good, but young and fairly one-dimensional players who might take some time to become more well-rounded. Johnson is better than Sanford when it comes to pass coverage, particularly against taller tight ends. Sanford plays faster, particularly in the box against the run, and hits harder.

The idea Monday was to ask the relatively old folks if there was any more pressure on whippersnappers like Johnson, 25, and Sanford, 24, to get their acts together before the old folks start drawing gnats as older folks.

"Nah," Frazier said. "All these guys feel the same way, whether they're 30 years old or 23 years of age. We all feel we have a good enough team to have a long run. So it's is not just on Tyrell and Jamarca, but our entire team, our entire organization."

We also encountered several attempts to retrain the way we should look at 30-year-old NFL players.

"You always hear when you turn 30, you're old," said cornerback Antoine Winfield, 33. "But look at all the guys still producing when they're in their 30s and even Brett into his 40s. That thinking is going out the window, even at a position like cornerback. Look at Charles Woodson," the Packers cornerback who won 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year at 33.


Linebacker Ben Leber, 28, said he "doesn't pay attention to numbers," which sounded somewhat soothing to a 45-year-old sportswriter until he also said: "I pay attention to how my body feels."

"Thirty is not a devastating number anymore," Leber added. "It's not like you're turning 60 or anything like that."

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had his best season last year with 11 touchdowns at age 29. He turned 30 on June 18 and now predicts "this will be my best year."

"I feel faster and stronger than I've ever felt in my life," Shiancoe said. "Being 30 is different nowadays, with all these supplements and ways you can take care of yourself. Plus, when you get into your 30s, you've learned your craft. You've learned how to do things. You're not all wet behind the ears. Man, 30 is no big deal. If you're looking for a story, I'd say 35 is the new 30 in the NFL."

Mark Craig •