Vikings season preview: A two-headed monster?

  • Article by: KEVIN SEIFERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2007 - 1:59 PM

The personnel structure all but dictates that, like Lola and Forrest Gump, the Vikings will run and run and run this season.

We could dance in the shadows a bit if you'd like. Your 2007 Minnesota Vikings will lean, ever so slightly, on the running game. Their tailback duo of Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson will break a sweat by halftime of most games this season.

Ah, but you, fickle fan/reader/scout, know better. You know the Vikings will start the NFL's most inexperienced quarterback this season. You're aware that his top receiver is a slot specialist, and, well, you probably can't name Tarvaris Jackson's other targets. You barely noticed his new tight end this preseason, and you remember that his head coach and offensive coordinator gained notoriety through their association with the run-oriented University of Wisconsin teams during the 1990s.

So let's dispense with the pleasantries and consider the facts. The Vikings have positioned the success of their season on a strong defense and a pair of tailbacks who could each rush for 1,000 yards.

There, we said it.

Such a feat hasn't occurred since 1985, when Cleveland's Kevin Mack (1,104) and Earnest Byner (1,002) both reached the milestone. With first-time starter Bernie Kosar at quarterback, those Browns made the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

No one is suggesting such an outcome for the Vikings just yet. But the team's personnel structure all but dictates that, like Lola and Forrest Gump, the Vikings will run and run and run this season.

"That sounds good," Taylor said. "We have depth in our running back corps so we can have a great running game throughout the season. You can't win games unless you can run the ball. We're looking forward to stepping up to this challenge, especially in helping out a young quarterback. We can help relieve some of the pressure on him."

Yes, avoiding gluttony might be the biggest challenge facing coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Taylor employed his power and instincts to rush for 1,216 yards last season, while Peterson's mix of strength, speed and creativity helped him average 130.5 yards per game over three years at the University of Oklahoma.

So how much is too much? Will Jackson's arm collect dust this season while Taylor and Peterson run themselves into the ground? After all, even Forrest got tired after a while.

(Tip: The 1977 Oakland Raiders set the NFL record by rushing 681 times in a 14-game season.)

"There is just a certain comfort level in having a strong running game," Childress said. "I've been on a lot of teams where I wish we could have run the ball. Look, I'm fully aware that most explosive plays come in the passing game. But that doesn't mean you can't explode in the run game. It gives you something to hang your hat on and to be able to build off of."

How will it work?

One little problem, a teeny-tiny little factual issue. In 1985, the Browns ran up their rushing totals because Mack was a fullback and Byner a tailback, enabling them to be on the field at the same time. Taylor and Peterson both are tailbacks. Let's just say neither will be crushing a middle linebacker as the lead blocker any time soon.

So how will the Vikings maximize two players who play the same position? If the preseason is any indication, they will play together sometimes -- but more often will rotate every few series to keep fresh legs on the field.

One of Childress' objectives this preseason was to use Taylor and Peterson for similar plays, so that neither would be pigeonholed by future opponents looking for trends. Childress wanted to display both players as power runners, as receiving threats and as third-down backs in whom he has confidence as pass blockers.

"The goal is to have both those guys be able to do all things," Childress said. "You don't want to lose a step when you're calling a play. If the defense is ready to be hit with a play, and the guy in the game has to come to the sideline because he is out of breath, you want the next guy to come in and not lose anything. It's nice to be able to have a changeup with those two guys and not lose anything."

The Vikings intend to start Taylor and use Peterson as his "changeup," especially early in the season. But if Peterson's preseason is any indication, it will be difficult to keep him off the field as the year progresses.

One solution is to find creative ways to get the players in the game together more often than the Vikings did during the preseason, preventing opponents from focusing too heavily on one or the other.

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