A new long-ball threat at receiver will help lighten Peterson's load.
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September 8 at Green Bay (M) 14 INDIANAPOLIS 21 CAROLINA 28 at Tennessee
October 6 at New Orleans (M) 12 DETROIT 19 at Chicago 26 Bye
November 2 HOUSTON 9 GREEN BAY 16 at Tampa Bay 23 at Jacksonville 30 CHICAGO
December 7 at Detroit 14 at Arizona 21 ATLANTA 28 N.Y. GIANTS
Cedric Griffin, Cornerback: The Vikings ranked last in pass defense in 2007, and Griffin, in his first full year as a starter, was one reason -- he usually had good position but often failed to finish plays. Antoine Winfield, the other corner, is a quality veteran, so offenses will again challenge Griffin. Coaches and teammates say he's been more confident and assertive in camp.
An upgraded roster means less pressure on the young QB. An improved attitude means they're serious about a playoff run.
Vikings fans aren't the only ones thinking big this season. CornerbackAntoine Winfield sees greatness in the defense. Running back Adrian Petersonbelieves the offense has no ceiling. And defensive end Jared Allen can envisiona season-ending stroll through a shower of confetti.
Coach Brad Childress? He sees the potential pitfalls in such talk. "The greatthing about this league is that you've got to show up week in and week out andbe consistent," he says. "We harp about that all the time. There are noflash-in-the-pans. Each game counts. They're one-sixteenth deals, and we have totreat each one as such."
Still, as the Vikings went through two-a-days in Mankato, Minn., theexpectations among the players soared with the temperature. The team finished6-10 and 8-8 in Childress's first two seasons, showing promise late last yearwith a five-game winning streak. Now the off-season additions of savvy freesafety Madieu Williams, big-play wide receiver Bernard Berrian and Allen, theNFL's sack leader in 2007, have the players thinking about more than winning adivision title and getting back to the playoffs for the first time since2004.
"When I saw the trade for Jared and the signing of Madieu, I knew they weremaking all the moves for us to make a run at not only the playoffs but thepinnacle, the Super Bowl," says strong safety Darren Sharper. "Coach's firstyear here, we knew there would probably be some growing pains. We knew it wasgoing to be a process each and every year to get better. But with the pieces wehave in place, we have the attitude that it's win now."
The key will be third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. He was 8-4 in hisfirst full year as a starter in 2007, but with 12 interceptions against justnine touchdown passes, he failed to consistently make the right reads andthrows. Minnesota masked his shortcomings to some extent with a ground game thatled the NFL in rushing. The catalyst was Peterson, the 2007 Offensive Rookie ofthe Year. Showing a unique blend of size, speed and power, he set a leaguerecord with 296 yards rushing against the Chargers in Week 9 andfinished the year with 1,341 yards on a gaudy average of 5.6 per carry.
This year the beefed-up defense figures to alleviate still more pressure onJackson by improving the Vikings' field position. While Minnesota rankedNo. 1 against the run last season, it was last against the pass, giving upan average of 264.1 yards per game. Allen, whose 15 1/2 sacks with the Chiefs in2007 were 10 1/2 more than any Viking had, will help shut down the aerial attack,as will Williams, a fifth-year veteran from the Bengals who'll act as thequarterback of the secondary.
The Vikings also helped Jackson by bringing in Berrian to stretch the field.Last season Minnesota ranked 31st with only 25 completions of 20 or more yards.Berrian, the former Bear who set career highs with 71 catches for 951 yards, isa bona fide deep threat: 10 of his 15 career scores (including the postseason)have been for 30 yards or more, including six for 40 or more. Childress alsoloves his tenacity.
"He's slightly built, but he's a tough-minded guy," the coach says. "Whetherthat comes from his parents' service background [both are retired Air Forcemechanics] or the fact that he's the middle of three boys, I don't know. Buthe's tough. He'll block you, which is required of our wideouts. He's not adiva."
Childress talks a lot about attitude because he believes the team had amiserable one before he came on board. He illustrates that with a story about aroad trip during his first year. Seated in his customary first-row seat on thecharter, he was stunned to hear a player walking up the aisle, solicitingparticipants for a cash raffle. Suffice it to say the carnival atmospherestopped soon
thereafter. -- Jim Trotter
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