As we approach the end of the season and the mathematical chances of the playoffs are fading rapidly, a long and tedious time awaits the Viking faithful until the Draft, off-season workouts, OTAs, and training camps and then finally the preseason. From now until then, we will likely have many more opinions, adding to the existing ones already, on what the Vikings need to do in order to return to playoff form. So I shall toss my hat into the ring and give my not-so-expert opinion on the matter.
First, let me say, I’m an optimist by nature when it comes to theVikings. I always hope for the best and see the potential this team has with the talent currently on staff but I also like to evaluate things from a logical stand point and be critical when it calls for it. Now with that being said, the Vikings are not that far from returning to a dominate form. I don’t see that many glaring holes that cannot be filled by some of the backups and younger players we have drafted over the years. So here we go!
QB: Obviously, this is the most glaring need. T-Jack doesn’t have a contract after this year, Webb is far from polished and Favre isn’t or shouldn’t be coming back. I’m not sold signing T-Jack would be a great idea if the general consensus is the best he can be is a serviceable back-up since he will likely want a contract much more than we should pay a back-up. Webb needs quite a few more years to develop. Two free agents we could look at could be Bulger and Stanton. Bulger could be a good mentor for any prospect we draft. He played well in St. Louis until his O-Line had an open season on him for D-Linemen. It’s difficult to be effective with broken ribs and it didn’t seem like he ever got healthy after that to return to a decent form. He’s sat for a year and should be in pretty good shape to play for one or two years while a blue-chip prospect develops. Stanton, depending on how he plays the rest of the season, could compete for a back-up spot on the roster if Webb does not pan out as a QB but can develop elsewhere on the roster. He played well against a stout Bears D and is still fairly young. He was pretty highly regarded coming out of a college but got drafted by Detroit. The future of this position likely resides in whoever we draft this year from a pretty deep pool of recruit out of college this year.
RB: This position doesn’t have any real glaring needs. AP needs to be resigned to a long-term deal to keep him here for his entire prime. Gerhart is developing nicely and can spell AP to keep his carries low enough to not run him into the ground. The one area we may have need is the 3rd string back. I’m an Iowa fan but Young hasn’t developed as they had hoped thus far. He does an okay job of filling in when need be but competition should be opened up for that 3rd spot.
FB: Tahi does a serviceable job at points blocking. I thought D’Imperio showed some better skills out of the back field catching. Honestly he reminded me of a younger K-Sauce with the physical punishment he dealt out. Finding a “True” FB anymore is very difficult since the position isn’t really used in college anymore.
WR: Rice and Harvin. Together they can be one of the most dominate Duo of WRs in the league. This past game against Buffalo demonstrates why Minnesota needs to resign him. Before the “injury prone” label gets assigned as well, consider that his injuries have been to different parts of the body. He hasn’t been injuring the same knee, or the same ankle, or the same shoulder. He comes back healthy and ready to play as well. Harvin is like AP and Wes Welker combined. The guy is a beastly receiver who explodes off the line and can drag defenders with him. It’s rare to find a duo like these two, especially so young and so close together. Keeping them will only speed the development of our future franchise QB. Outside of them, release both Lewis and Baskett. Lewis’ “get on the team free” card expired a long time ago. Baskett was a desperation signing and hasn’t done anything substancal on the team all year. Camarillo should stay. He makes for a good 3rd or 4th WR option with his sure hands. Yes he doesn’t have elite speed, height or jumping ability but he runs crisp routes and is almost a lock to get you 5-7 yards when you line4WRs and let him run a curl or an out route. He’s not an every down WR but he fits situations better than most options. That leaves the Vikings finding a #3 in the draft or through free agency and then a few back-ups.
TE: Shiancoe is one of the better receiving TEs in the game but has seen his production fall off this year due to numerous issues. He may be 30 already but due to the late start in his career, he likely has at least 5 years left of good production. Dugan is a serviceable blocker. K-Sauce still performs at a high level for the job he is asked to do. He routinely takes on DEs and LBs fairly well and has caught some passes this year for some pretty good gains. He is slated to make quite a bit for a blocking TE next year but he is still one of the best in that area so keeping him might not be bad. I can also see D’Imperio moving to FB if they found someone else. I think this kid could be one of the next great blocking FB or TE. He showed a lot during preseason for being a converted LB.
OL: This is a huge variable. Big Mac has been disappointing this year and Hutch has done well for the most part run blocking like expected. Sully has performed well as the center when he is healthy. Herrera is average at best and Loadholt still needs polishing. Based on all that, I think we could give DeGeare an opportunity to beat Herrera out for the starting spot. He needs work but has the raw potential to perform well. Sure, he isn’t up the Hutch’s level but few OGs are. Given time, I think he could perform well on the right side, perhaps not Pro-bowl level but it isn’t possible to have a ProBowl player at ever position. Loadholt should be given at least a year or two more. He performs well at points and then has a lapse and misses. He’s a second year player so those can be expected still. Big Mac is something different. I think he can perform well enough next year for us to draft a stud LT in 2012 if we go for a QB in round 1 this year. Trading for another ProBowl caliber LT probably isn’t much of a reality given our lack of draft picks and cap constraints.
DL: I know people have been down on Allen for the majority of this year and some think he should be traded while his value is high due to his salary requirements in his later years. I disagree. Allen is still one of the top five pass rushers in the league. Watching the games, it seemed to me that Allen and Edwards both suffered from a lack of push by the DT, primarily Phat Pat. Allen is an edge rusher and when Minnesota brought him in, they gave him the freedom to push the edge and try to run around the LT. This worked really well last year because Phat Pat and Kevin were able to collapse the pocket and push the OGs and Center back, not giving the QB any room to step up as Allen came around. And if he stepped toward the RT, Edwards was there keeping containment. That hasn’t happened this year, which has lead to QBs stepping up and avoiding Allen, huge holes opening for RBs where there were none last year and an overall disappointing pass rush. Whatever is happening now, those problems seem to be getting resolved but for that success to continue I don’t think Phat Pat should come back. At 38 this year, the wear and tear he has sustained by pounding OL-men his whole career is showing. Kennedy should be given his opportunity in the middle with Guion helping out in passing situations. Kennedy was a former 1st round draft pick that seems to have improved in the Vikings system like he never did with the Rams. Keeping Edwards depends on his contract demands. Keeping him around 3-4 million per years might be feasible if he would accept that offer for the next 4 years or so. His stats last year were greatly inflated from being the forgotten man by the OL with Allen and the Williams wall up front. He has talent and works well but if he decides he is worth more than the Vikings can offer, Griffen and Robison can step in just as well. Griffen looks like a future stud that could give the Vikings a tandem like Mathis and Freeney. I think he was definitely a steal in the 4th round last year, if he can keep his nose clean.
LB: Henderson and Greenway are pretty phenomenal. Signing Greenway is critical. This guy understands the game, makes sure tackles and has a motor that never stops. He makes plays all over the field and has been extremely durable after a freak injury on the opening kickoff his rookie year. EJ is the leader of that core and plays at a high level every year and should still have several years remaining of being a solid performer. If EJ Henderson is gone after 2011, Brinkley filled in pretty well when EJ was injured and with another fast LB like Greenway providing pass-coverage, he could provide solid run support. Leber’s spot is a little more suspect. He’s had breakdowns in his tackling this year. It seems like every time a player puts a spin move on him, he misses. He doesn’t seem to cover as well this year and I’m not sold on Erin Henderson as a starter. He should be given a shot with some first team reps in the preseason to see where he is at. He has the tools but we should find out about the instincts.
CB: Winfield still performing well and I know some want to see him not be the starter anymore so his salary will decrease by nearly 4 million but if the guy is earning the job, you can’t take it away. That being said, he could lose the job to Allen or Cook, depending on their play for the rest of the year and how much they improve into next year. I think Cook will end up being pretty much the same type of CB Griffen is when he’s healthy. He’s big, he’s physical and he can tackle pretty well. He’s still a rookie and learning the system but he will grow and improve to be a pretty good coverage CB. Allen has been getting better over the year and may win the starting job over Winfield and Cook next year. He’s gotten beat this year a couple of times but his performance hasn’t been bad for a guy who never really started before this year. He spent last year filling in at nickel when Sapp was starting but playing #4 CB mostly. Griffen, Cook and Allen could be a great trio in years to come, especially if the pass rush keeps forcing the QB to make quick decisions. Walker and Sheppard don’t belong anywhere on the squad.
S: Ugggg….. What can be said about ANYONE at these positions? Johnson hasn’t panned out; Abdullah is late on coverage and possesses hands of stone, minus those two INTs. Williams is much the same, poor tackling, bad angles, and late reads. Frampton and Sanford are good on special teams but not holding down the deep part of the field. This entire group needs overhauled and most given their outright release.
K/P: Longwell is still kicking as well as ever and Kluwe is a beast, as far as punters go. Perhaps in a few years the Vikings will have to look at a replacement for Longwell but kickers have an insane life expectancy.
So after all that, the holes I see on the team that need to be filled are:
QB: Drafted 2011/Free agent veteran as a stop gap.
WR#3 or 4: Drafted 2011
LT: Drafted in 2012
LG: Drafted in 2011 or 2012 Depending on Depth of the draft
Weakside LB: Drafted 2011
SS/FS: Drafted 2011
The Vikings do not need to rebuild completely. We have a solid foundation. The defense is still good. Minus a few big plays since Frasier has taken over, the defense has been improving back to hopefully it’s dominate form. The important thing is to see how the players respond to the new atmosphere Frasier is projecting prior to saying we need to let go of so-and-so. If they turn it around and start performing like last year, then obviously the problem was with Chilly. The first 10 games I’m ready to write off as a mulligan. It didn’t fit the talent level this team had. Not the way they destroyed the Cowboys, Packers (twice) and handed the game to the Saints last year after manhandling them all game long. You can pin a lot of the woes this year on Favre if you want but he’s only one player. He’s throw more INTs this year than last year by far and most have been his fault from trying to do too much, but we need to let go of that as Vikings fans, thank him for helping to develop Sid and Harvin and move on next year with our draft pick. We have talent. We have the offensive weapons for someone who knows how to use them. We have the ability to be in the top tier next year I believe. We don’t need to try and pursue every big free agent. We don’t need to trade away our young talented players for draft picks. We just need to focus on our strengths, find the areas we are weak and find the person in the draft that best fits our system.
I’m looking forward to the following season, hopefully with Coach Frasier at the helm if they continue to play this well. These next few weeks will tell us a lot about the quality of our players. Fight on Norsemen, fight on.