Patrick Reusse: Talent is there for Purple, just not enough

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2011 - 1:43 AM

The roster has turned over considerably since the NFC title game loss, but the Vikings' biggest problem in 2011 is the division they play in.

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Adrian Peterson remains one of the Vikings stars still on the roster from their NFC Championship Game loss to the Saints in January 2010.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Vikings and New Orleans played a game of hellacious drama on Jan. 24, 2010. The Saints survived 31-28 in overtime to claim the NFC Championship.

There was a two-fold reaction from much of the Purple Faithful: 1) pride in the Vikings' stout effort on that long Sunday inside the Louisiana Superdome; and 2) sizable optimism for what lied ahead for this team -- presuming the heroic, indestructible Brett Favre chose to play again.

Life moves fast inside the NFL. Brad Childress lasted only 10 regular-season games as a head coach after that loss in New Orleans. Favre returned, and played almost as poorly for 13 games in 2010 as he had played tremendously during the full 2009 season.

And, the optimism that surrounded the Vikings back then has changed considerably in the 587 days since the battle in New Orleans.

The 2010 Vikings lost the tiebreaker of 6-10 teams and finished fourth of four in the NFC North a year ago. It is hard to find a forecast from a credible national source that doesn't have the 2011 Vikings finishing fourth again.

Minnesota's larger sporting public seems to share that outlook. How else to explain that the Vikings do not yet have a sellout for the eight home games?

Childress is not the only one who has lost his job at Winter Park since the OT heartbreaker in New Orleans. New coach Leslie Frazier changed most of the offensive staff. And a large turnover in players continued on Saturday: Special teamer Heath Farwell, tight end Jeff Dugan and offensive linemen Ryan Cook were cut and linebacker Jasper Brinkley was placed on injured reserve.

That means 21 of the 45 active players from the NFC title game will not play for the 2011 Vikings. Included are eight starters: Favre, Bryant McKinnie and Sidney Rice on offense, and Ray Edwards, Pat Williams, Ben Leber, Madieu Williams and nickelback Benny Sapp.

Also, six of the eight inactives from that Sunday are no longer around.

That means a turnover of over half -- 27 of 53 -- on the roster in one full season and one abbreviated offseason. Here's a flier on that turnover:

Quarterback: Favre, Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels have been traded in for Donovan McNabb, Joe Webb and Christian Ponder. If you compare McNabb to the Favre of last season rather than 2009, you have to like this group better.

Receivers/tight ends: The change from January 2010 is Rice out and Michael Jenkins in. That's a considerable downgrade, but this is now a team with a second threat at tight end in rookie Kyle Rudolph (to go with Visanthe Shiancoe).

New coordinator Bill Musgrave will make full use of two rangy tight ends, and Harvin will make more impact than ever after catching passes in the short middle.

Again, this group doesn't look bad by comparison.

Offensive line: The important change is at left tackle, where McKinnie will be replaced by veteran Charlie Johnson. We'll soon find out if McKinnie was as overrated as the Purple zealots were convinced.

Running back: Same guy, Adrian Peterson, without the fumbles -- and he's playing for a new contract. Look out.

Defensive line: Beyond Favre-to-Rice and Percy Harvin, the No. 1 strength of the '09 Vikings was the front of Jared Allen, the Williams lads and Ray Edwards. With Kevin Williams out for two games, only Allen will be around from that group to start the season. This is a place to watch for a drop off.

Linebacker: The Vikings played the title game without E.J. Henderson. He returned to the middle last season, Chad Greenway is outstanding and the Vikings might get creative in replacing Ben Leber. It's an above-average group that could be dynamic if Everson Griffen can play there part-time and add to the pass rush.

Secondary: Everyone fretting the offensive line as the No. 1 problem area might want to look here instead. Antoine Winfield can't lose a step at 34 or this could be the disaster. And if the new defensive front can't pressure Philip Rivers in San Diego -- gulp! -- selling those remaining tickets will only get tougher.

You look at it in the whole and the Vikings don't come off as that bad. What's bad is that the rest of the NFC North looks so good.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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Toronto 6
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