Vikings need to work out kinks

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2011 - 2:52 PM

Areas that need attention include left tackle, backup corners and strong safety.

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Despite pressure from Jasper Brinkley (54), Erin Henderson (50) and Adrian Awasom (67), Titans quarterback Jake Locker was able to throw a 45-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter Saturday night.

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The primary focus of the Vikings' 14-3 loss in their preseason opener Saturday night at Tennessee was on the new offensive scheme being coordinated by Bill Musgrave and run by quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But there are plenty of other areas that need attention from a team that finished 6-10 last season. Here are five of them:

1. The left tackle situation: It would be an understatement to say that new left tackle Charlie Johnson struggled at times during training camp practices after he inherited the job that had been held by Bryant McKinnie before his weight got near 400 pounds and he was released.

In his first game action, the man who protected Peyton Manning's blindside in Indianapolis for the past two seasons did not allow a sack against McNabb but the Vikings put a tight end by him on eight of the 11 pass plays during two series (although the tight end didn't always stay in to help block).

On his final play in the second quarter, Johnson was matched against defensive end Dave Ball. Ball was able to get off Johnson's block and apply pressure on a scrambling McNabb whose pass for Greg Camarillo fell incomplete on third-and-11. Two plays earlier, Jason Jones was able to get free on an inside move against Johnson and apply pressure.

The Vikings' first series in the opening quarter ended on third-and-1 at their own 40-yard line in part because Johnson could not handle Jones at the point of attack on a Toby Gerhart run that went for zero yards.

2. Backup corners: The Vikings did not use veteran corners Cedric Griffin or Antoine Winfield, meaning the starters were Chris Cook (left side) and Asher Allen (right).

It wasn't pretty at times.

Allen failed to wrap up fullback Ahmard Hall on what should have been a 3-yard gain off a pass from Matt Hasselbeck but instead turned into a 10-yarder. On the next play, wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins easily slipped past Allen and caught a pass that went for 20 yards.

Meanwhile, Cook was burned for a 45-yard touchdown pass from Jake Locker to wide receiver Yamon Figurs in the second quarter because when Locker initially fumbled the snap, Cook let the receiver go.

Griffin is coming off his second ACL tear in as many seasons and his health is no sure thing. Winfield moves inside in the nickel, freeing up a spot for someone to play the left corner on passing downs. The Vikings need either Cook or Allen -- but preferably both -- to show they are capable of grabbing these types of opportunities and have improved from last season.

3. About that tackling: Allen's missed tackle on Hall wasn't the only miscue and that is going to need to change in quick fashion. In the first quarter, Titans running back Javon Ringer bounced a run outside on second-and-1 as defensive tackle Letroy Guion missed and end Brian Robison could not contain.

Safety Jamarca Sanford and Cook then had opportunities to make tackles but failed to do so before linebacker Erin Henderson made the play. Granted the Vikings haven't done much tackling in training camp but missed tackles, especially in the secondary, were a problem last season and fiery defensive coordinator Fred Pagac is unlikely to put up with that continuing.

"I don't know if it was necessarily technique -- you've got to wrap people up, move your feet and you've got to knock them back," said head coach Leslie Frazier. "We didn't do a good job of that in the first couple of series."

4. Battle at strong safety: Sanford and Tyrell Johnson have been competing for the starting job, and Sanford got the first opportunity to play with the first team. He finished with three tackles and Johnson had two. Johnson, who missed practice time last week because of a mild hamstring strain, could get the start on Saturday at Seattle. This competition is likely to continue for a few weeks. Husain Abdullah's job at free safety appears to be completely safe.

5. Only one choice? We've heard that Jasper Brinkley and Kenny Onatolu are competing with Erin Henderson for the starting job at weak-side linebacker, but that doesn't seem to be the case at this point. Onatolu has been out since early in training camp because of a stress fracture in his left foot and Brinkley's future almost certainly is as the successor to E.J. Henderson in the middle.

Erin, who is E.J.'s brother, got quite the test from the Vikings on Saturday. While most starters played limited time, Erin was still in the game in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 10 tackles, seven solo, and two for losses.

"I think I played all right," he said. "I think I have a lot of work to do. I have to stay low and continue to try and be explosive like the coaches are asking me to do. I think I came on a little bit stronger towards the end. I had a rough start. I was flying around a little bit."

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