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2006 Vikings preview

THE BOTTOM LINE

By John Clayton, ESPN.com

First-year head coach Brad Childress grew accustomed to working without a No. 1 receiver in his successful days with the Eagles. Once he finally got a No. 1 receiver, Terrell Owens teased him with a trip to the Super Bowl and then tore apart the Eagles' locker room with his selfishness. Childress took over the most talented of the teams given to the first-time head coaches, but he lost his No. 1 receiver when Koren Robinson was caught driving drunk going over 100 miles per hour to training camp one night. Childress had no choice but to cut him.

The Vikings aren't flashy. Chester Taylor isn't an explosive running back, but he should catch more than 60 passes and rush for more than 1,000 yards. Except for Troy Williamson, the Vikings don't have much speed in the receiving corps. The defense has the ability to dominate teams with its talented line, but overall the Vikings lack the big-name stars who draw headlines. This might work well for Childress, who is trying to bring structure to the organization.

Brad Johnson takes over for Daunte Culpepper, but the league's oldest quarterback can't go down with an injury. Johnson was the best backup quarterback addition of last season because he's good enough to win if given the chance. To be a winning team, Johnson has to stay healthy for 16 games.

SCOUTS TAKE

By Dean Dalton, Scouts Inc.

Returning after missing the better part of the last two seasons with injuries, All-Pro center Matt Birk will lead a revamped offensive line that includes top free agent Steve Hutchinson alongside Bryant McKinnie with former Eagle Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson on the right side. The depth of this group is a plus with several former starters competing for the top reserve spots.

Although the fronts on both sides of the ball seem to be outstanding, a big concern for new head coach Brad Childress is who will emerge as a playmaker. Brad Johnson is a great system quarterback, but he needs a go-to receiver and a running back to step up.

Defensively, young coordinator Mike Tomlin inherits a talented group as he tries to install his version of the "Tampa Cover 2." The secondary has quality veteran starters in Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith, and the defensive front can be formidable with big Pat Williams anchoring the nose alongside All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams.

Prediction: Second in NFC North.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD

By KC Joyner, ESPN.com

The Vikings' secondary could be a sieve waiting to happen. Antoine Winfield had one of the worst success percentages of any cornerback last year. Winfield stopped only 33.7 percent of the 89 passes thrown his way, which is a much lower success percentage than would be expected from a player of his talent level.

If Winfield's metrics weren't enough of a concern, the Vikings also added one of the worst coverage safeties in the league in Dwight Smith. Smith was signed as a backup, but he will start at free safety in place of the injured Tank Williams. Smith ranked dead last among strong safeties in seven different major coverage metrics in 2005. Smith also did very poorly in the coverage metrics in 2004, so his numbers last season were not an aberration.

The rest of the Vikings' corners and safeties can all hold their own in coverage, so Winfield and Smith likely will be tested early and often this year.


From ESPN the MAGAZINE
The Big Number60% Consider it the touch of gray: Brad Johnsonhas completed at least 60 percent of his passes for an NFL-record 10 straight seasons, including 62.6 percent in 2005.

STRENGTH


The defensive line is lethal, with the interior big men in particular setting a ferocious tone. Pat Williams (left) somehow wasn't even named a Pro Bowl alternate last season, but he might have had the best 2005 of any NFL DT. Simply put, he owns the line of scrimmage. If Kevin Williams (four sacks, down from 11.5 in 2004) shows up with his mind right and his body in shape, the Vikings will obliterate inside running lanes and pulverize pockets.

WEAKNESS

Brad Johnson is a survivor and actually could thrive in this West Coast-flavor scheme. But about those receivers: Unpolished 2005 first-rounder Troy Williamson and declining vet Marcus Robinson are vertical weapons not known for the precise route-running vital to this offense. Sure, Travis Taylor has decent size and possession skills. But, well, he's still Travis Taylor.

PROSPECTS

The Vikings are loaded -- with potential, with questions. New headman Brad Childress hired 21 new coaches, including two first-time coordinators: Darrell Bevell on offense and Mike Tomlin on defense. Bevell's version of the West Coast will be a more run-oriented attack, which suits new personnel like Steve Hutchinson and Chester Taylor. And the team has taken to Tomlin's frenzied Cover 2 -- even if the front seven ultimately might lack the talent to pull it off. In the end, everything new will hinge on the oldest Viking, the 37-year-old Johnson. He's lost some zip, but not his accuracy or his sense of humor. "I took my family to Perkins a couple days ago, and they didn't hand me a senior citizen discount card," he says. "So I feel pretty good."