After going 3-13 last year, Leslie Frazier and his assistant coaches are all on the spot to show that the Vikings can post a much better record in 2012.
There were several coaching changes from last season on defense. The Vikings hired defensive coordinator Alan Williams; moved defensive coordinator Fred Pagac to linebackers coach, where he shares duties with Mike Singletary; and fired defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, who is now with the Jets, and hired Brendan Daly as his replacement.
When moves like that are made, it means that maybe ownership wasn't satisfied with the job being done -- and certainly the head coach wasn't, either.
Last season the Vikings ranked 21st in the NFL in total defense, giving up 358.2 yards per game. Oddly enough, that was still second-best in the NFC North behind only the Bears (17th overall, 350.4 yards per game). The Lions were 23rd at 367.6 and the Packers were dead last in the league at 411.6 yards per game.
But despite holding opponents to fewer yards than some of their division rivals, the Vikings were 31st in the NFL in points allowed per game with 28.1, in front of only the Buccaneers' 30.9.
So both of the new defensive coaches are certainly on the spot, especially Williams, who was highly recommended by former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who knows Frazier well.
Williams worked for Dungy at both Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. Dungy believes Williams will turn the Vikings defense around from last year.
"I was coaching the Tampa Bay Bucs, and [former Vikings defensive coordinator] Mike Tomlin recommended him to me," Dungy recalled. "We were looking for a guy to come in and help with our secondary. He and Mike went to school together at William & Mary. Alan is very, very bright, hard working, energetic guy, very sharp. He coached our defensive backs all the way from 2001 to Indianapolis all the way through the Super Bowl years there.
"He's like Mike Tomlin in a lot of ways in terms of his football knowledge and his ability to communicate. Not as fiery, not as outgoing as Mike, but just very, very smart and sharp and a good communicator."
Tomlin, of course, left the Vikings to become the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Steelers.
As for Williams, Dungy said Frazier and Williams worked well together for two years in Indianapolis and played a big part in developing some star defensive players.
"Bob Sanders, Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden were some young defensive backs that helped us go to the Super Bowl," Dungy said. "Alan really did a great job of developing. He's a good teacher. I think he's going to do great things [for the Vikings].
"When we got [to Indianapolis], we kind of revamped the secondary. We had some veteran guys -- Nick Harper was kind of our standout -- but every year, we drafted guys and by the time we got to the Super Bowl definitely Bob Sanders and Mike Doss were really young guys, Big Ten guys, Iowa and Ohio State, and Alan did a good job of developing them.
"[In 2005,] the year before we got to the Super Bowl, we drafted Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden No. 1 and No. 2, Marlin was at Michigan and Kelvin was from Illinois, so we had kind of an All-Big Ten secondary, and they were all young guys, and Alan did a great job of turning them into a Super Bowl-winning unit."
Dungy also pointed out that Williams was able to learn a lot of things from members of the Tampa Bay staff who went on to become head coaches, such as Tomlin, Herm Edwards, Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli, as well as from one of the great defensive coordinators in Monte Kiffin, now working for his son Lane at Southern California.
"We had quite a defensive crew as a matter of fact, so Alan learned from some really good ones," said Dungy, who has all the confidence in both Frazier's ability to becoming a winning NFL coach and in Williams' ability to turn the Vikings defense around.
New blackout policy
The Vikings' new ticket sales policy with regards to television broadcasts should mean that the team won't have another blackout in the Metrodome before moving to their new stadium.
The last time the Vikings were blacked out was in the 1997 home finale, but they have struggled several times in the past two years to make sure that their games were sold out and able to be televised in accordance to league rules.
But the NFL altered their blackout model this offseason so that teams could decide what percentage of tickets, from 85-100 percent, had to be sold in order for the local broadcasts to air. The Vikings have decided on a 90 percent sales base for broadcasting, which means some 6,000 fewer seats have to be sold than in years past in order for the game to be on TV.
• Class AAA Rochester's Esmerling Vasquez, a 28-year-old pitcher the Twins selected off waivers from the Diamondbacks last year, has thrown 18 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, with eight hits, seven walks and 21 strikeouts. He had a seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance Wednesday. He spent the past three seasons in Arizona as a reliever, posting a 4.66 ERA over 137 innings. His last full season as a starter was 2007, when in 29 starts at Class AA Mobile he had a 2.99 ERA in 165 1/3 innings. He made 15 starts in 2008 but didn't start again until this year for Rochester.
• Twins lefthander Scott Diamond is 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 10 starts at Target Field this season. ... The Twins might have the worst record in the American League, but after Wednesday's game, they led the major leagues with 120 double plays.
• Former Gophers righthander and Colorado Rockies 11th-round draft pick T.J. Oakes left his start for Class A Tri-City at Eugene after recording only two outs Wednesday, reportedly because of an undisclosed injury. The first-team All-Big Ten selection and son of Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes is 1-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 10 minor league starts. His father, who is ill with leukemia, is preparing to have a bone marrow transplant, hopefully later this month.
• Rochester Century product Mitch Brown earned his first professional victory Wednesday, pitching five no-hit innings with two walks and five strikeouts for the Indians' rookie Arizona League team in an 8-1 victory over the Royals. The second-round draft pick (No. 79 overall) in June is 1-0 with a 2.75 ERA in six starts, but Wednesday's game was the first in which he pitched at least five innings.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org