Patrick Reusse: Who says it's all downhill for the Purple?

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2007 - 2:41 PM

Nay-sayers seem to think this year's Vikings might be headed for disaster. But with a soft schedule and a strong group of defensive players, only minimal competence is required from the offense for a winning campaign.

There were sizable crowds and much optimism when the Vikings arrived in Mankato for a training camp a year ago. This carried over to the days before the regular-season opener against Washington.

The Internet responders and callers to talk shows were nearly unanimous in the belief that the 2006 Vikings would top the 9-7 of the previous season.

The reasons for optimism seemed to be threefold: A) Brad Childress would be a significant improvement over Mike Tice as a coach; B) Brad Johnson, the crafty veteran quarterback, would be the starter from Game 1; and C) Zygi Wilf's first full year as the owner had resulted in much higher spending for free agents and a coaching staff.

Frankly, I didn't get it.

This question was asked of Kevin Seifert, Judd Zulgad, Mike Max, Mark Rosen and numerous other local media types: "Why is the public so optimistic about this team? Beyond adding Steve Hutchinson as a left guard, how have they gotten better?"

The answer was generally a shrug, and then we would agree on this: This was the nature of the Vikings' hardcore followers. They were more determined to be optimistic than any other large group of fans in the Twin Cities.

It was a fine theory, but in the late summer of 2007 it has proved to be inaccurate. Childress' 6-10 flop in his first season seems to have left the Purple loyalists feeling as gloomy about their club as followers of the Arizona Cardinals.

You can read and hear predictions of four and five victories from the same Internet and talk-show crowds that foresaw the Vikings sliding past the Chicago Bears in the NFC North a year ago.

Frankly, I don't get it.

There's every reason to be confounded by what the Vikings can expect from Tarvaris Jackson, the second-year quarterback and Sunday's starter against Atlanta.

Johnson's play turned so sour in 2006 that the fans were asking to see Jackson in the final weeks of the schedule. This finally happened in Games 15 and 16. Jackson was dreadful at Green Bay and not much better in the Dome against St. Louis.

For sure, we won't see the same leap forward that Daunte Culpepper made in his second year -- from not playing as a rookie to taking the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2000 -- but Jackson can't possibly be as inept as he was in two late starts for a team that had quit caring.

He has a good release. He'll have a strong running game that should limit the number of his throws to the 20s on most Sundays. And here's the good news:

If Jackson can't cut it, the Vikings now have a better option as a veteran quarterback in Kelly Holcomb than they had in the used-up Johnson a year ago.

Jackson will play the first fourth of the schedule. You couldn't find a softer start: the Vick-less Falcons in the Dome, the gutless Lions in Detroit, the rudderless Chiefs in Kansas City and the runnerless Packers in the Dome.

The kid quarterback could play like Spergon Wynn in these four games and the Vikings still will be 2-2 at a minimum. And then there's a bye week, and Childress can make the switch to Holcomb, if necessary.

Even if Troy Williamson remains a stiff, the potential at receiver is much better with rookie Sidney Rice and a couple of veterans in Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson.

Followers of the Bears scoff at Wade because he was a pass-dropper in his time in Chicago. Followers of the Packers scoff at Ferguson because of his injury history.

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