2009 Vikings, Big Changes From Last Year
By: Christopher Torola
This Sunday the Vikings will play their first meaningful football since their playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and a lot has changed. Since then the Vikings have a new starting Quarterback, two new starting Offensive Linemen, some key players coming back from season ending injuries, a new starting Safety(sort of), and a potential play making rookie to handle kick returns among other things.
These personnel changes include some big steps forward, as well s some possible steps back. First off, the good.
In case you missed it, Brett Favre is now a Minnesota Viking. With #4 under center the Vikings now have a legitimate NFL starting quarterback for the first time since Daunte Culpeppers big year. Farve, although new to the team, is already familiar with the Vikings offense, which is pretty much the same as he ran all his years in Green Bay. If this is the upgrade it appears to be we could see the Vikings offense open up. It has always seemed that the coaching staff never had faith in Tavaris Jackson, as they limited his reads and did not have him call audibles pre-snap. Now we should hopefully see more consistency from #1 receiver Bernard Barrian as well as the continued improvement of Visanthe Shiancoe; however, the biggest improvement may come from an already spectacular Adrian Peterson. Since his rookie season, opposing defenses have constantly stacked the box against the run when facing the Vikings. If teams attempt to keep 8 in the box against the Vikings, Favre should be able to find plenty of one-on-one match-ups with wide receivers and tight ends to exploit.
The Vikings have two big time contributers coming back from injuries this year. Middle Linebacker E.J. Henderson missed most of last season with toe injuries. Prior to that his play was amongst the best at his position in the NFL. In 2007 he lead the team in tackles. Special team captain Heath Farwell is also back from a season long injury. Many in and around the organization believe that the loss of Farwell last year was a major contributing factor to the Vikings special teams allowing an NFL record 7 touchdowns.
The Vikings also used their 1st round draft pick to acquire Percy Harvin. They plan to use Harvin to return kick-offs, despite never doing so in college. He will also see reps as a wide receiver, running back, and even Quarterback in the Wildcat formation. From the brief glimpses of Harvin seen in the pre-season he should easily be an upgrade as a return man. He was able to catch some balls from Favre. It does seem that the Vikings plan to design some plays to get him the ball, possibly like Reggie Bush in his rookie season or Ronnie Brown last year.
With the positive, there are also some potential set backs.
The "Williams Wall" (Pat Williams and Kevin Williams) have yet to serve a suspension for violating the leagues banned substance policy. It is likely that the issue will be resolved during the season, which could lead to missed games for the Vikings Pro-Bowlers.
Second year safety Tyrell Johnson will attempt to fill the shoes of 4 time Pro-Bowler Darren Sharper, who signed a deal with the Saints this off-season. Johnson did start last year when Madieu Williams missed time due to a neck injury. The Vikings seem to believe that Johnson is ready to handle the job, as they made no attempt to resign Sharper.
To me the biggest and least discussed concern may be the changes at the Right Tackle and Center positions. Neither John Sullivan or Phil Loadholt has taken a meaningful snap in the NFL. Last year the Colts started 2 rookies on the O-Line and dropped from the #5 rated offense to #15. The good news for the Vikings though, is that unlike the Colts of last year, neither Loadholt or Sullivan is starting due to injury. Loadholt has outplayed Ryan Cook to earn the job. Sullivan has been groomed to take over at center, and the Vikings must feel that he is ready. They had plenty of time to make a deal to keep Matt Birk in Minnesota, as he was looking for a contract extension since the beginning of last year. Both players will need to be successful for the team's overall success, as the team will remain a run first offense.
There is no doubt that this team will compete for a play-off spot at worst, and if they are able to gel on offense and improve on special teams, this year's Vikings could be the one that finally wins them their first Super Bowl.