Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Four more keys

Posted by: under Vikings, Brad Childress, Bernard Berrian, Brad Childress, Brett Favre, Chris Kluwe, Jared Allen, John Sullivan, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Ryan Longwell, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings road games Updated: September 13, 2009 - 9:47 AM

CLEVELAND -- There are three keys to the game I wrote about in Sunday's paper (and for the website) that could impact the Vikings' opener today against the Browns.

This includes the potential for the Vikings to open up their playbook and matchups between Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas and another between Vikings center John Sullivan (making his first start) and nose tackle Shaun Rogers.

Of course, there is still plenty of ground to cover. Here are four more items of interest:

1. Something special? The Vikings gave up an NFL record seven touchdowns last season on special teams. Not surprisingly, that area was a big focus in training camp under new coordinator Brian Murphy. There have been multiple changes made on the approach to these units. Ryan Longwell will look to put the ball toward one sideline or the other on kickoffs and Chris Kluwe is going to put less of an emphasis on booming his punts and more on making sure his coverage guys have time to get down the field and make tackles. Four of the touchdowns given up by the VIkings last season came on punts. It won't take long for the Vikings to be tested to see if they have improved. Browns return man Joshua Cribbs, who has six touchdown returns (five kickoff) over the past four seasons, is one of the best in the business. As far as the Vikings return men, I'd expect to see Percy Harvin returning kicks and Darius Reynaud returning punts. The latter is a guess but Harvin and Reynaud stayed after practice Friday to field punts.

2. What about the Wildcat? The Vikings ran their version of the Wildcat twice in the preseason and both times were with Brett Favre on the field in the third exhibition game at Houston. The expectation that Tarvaris Jackson is going to be the backup quarterback to Favre today leaves open the possibility that if the Vikings run the Wildcat against the Browns it could be Jackson and not Favre taking the field for those snaps. Wide receiver Percy Harvin is going to be lined up as the quarterback but adding Jackson to the mix would give the Browns a look they have not seen on tape. Plus, one has to think Jackson would provide more headaches than the older Favre.

3. The Berrian decision: The Vikings might have a tough choice to make on wide receiver Bernard Berrian. The team's top receiver, Berrian suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the preseason opener at Indianapolis and did not get into another game. Berrian was limited all week in practice. Given that speed is the name of his game -- and the fact that this is the first time he has injured a hamstring -- Berrian and the Vikings don't want to take any chances of having a setback. So do the Vikings' dress him and give him a limited role or just sit him for the day? If Berrian does not play, the depth chart of receivers could look like this: Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis, Darius Reynaud. That would be working under the assumption that Jaymar Johnson would be inactive.

4. Welcome to the NFL: Vikings officials made it sound as if Phil Loadholt would have to win the right tackle job after he was drafted in the second round last April. Loadholt, though, has been working with the top unit since the first day of training camp and is a guy the Vikings hope can solve the issues they've had at the position since Brad Childress took over as head coach. Loadholt, 6-8, 343 pounds, suffered an ankle injury in the preseason but overall has looked pretty comfortable. I talked to him Friday and he disputed the knock on him that he has issues with pass blocking. We'll find out today just how effective Loadholt can be. The Browns' 3-4 defensive scheme promises to present a challenge.

 

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