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Vikes test patience of fans, players with unimpressive options at QB


You wouldn't hand your Uncle Ed a baton and have him stand up in front of the New York Philharmonic. You wouldn't stick a Kia engine under the hood of a Mercedes. And you surely wouldn't short-change or cut corners with an NFL team worth of Super Bowl aspirations, chintzing by with also-rans or haven't-yets at quarterback. At least not if you could help it, right?

It's one thing to say fans of the Minnesota Vikings are a little agitated, a tad uncomfortable and way unimpressed with options No. 1 and 1A at the QB position as the team's offseason program begins this week. It will be quite another thing if other players in their locker room start to think and feel that way.

Tarvaris Jackson is the incumbent, sort of, based on his dogged support from head coach Brad Childress and his mini-resurgence late in the 2008 season, wedging some solid play between creaky Gus Frerotte's 8-3 performance in relief of Jackson and a dismal showing by T-Jack in Minnesota's one-and-out playoff against Philadelphia.

Sage Rosenfels is the challenger, more or less, a career backup whom most observers see as better than Jackson at his worst but maybe no real improvement over the younger guy at his best. Rosenfels' acquisition early in this offseason caused a ripple of excitement, proof the Vikings knew an upgrade was in order. It was a nice start. But within a few weeks, as the Jay Cutler situation unraveled in Denver, Rosenfels started looking less like a viable option and more like a stand-in. So if this is it, if Rosenfels and Jackson are the starter and the backup in whatever order for 2009, the unrest of spring among the Purple loyalists might seep into the purple jerseys of autumn.

And make no mistake, the unrest among the loyalists already is profound, with much of the criticism focusing on head coach Brad Childress and owner Zygi Wilf (as culled from the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Vikings Web site):

• Why does the current leadership of the vikings remind me of the Tin Man (No Heart), The cowardly Lion (No Courage), and the Scarecrow (No Brains)? What we got here is a failure to communicate the obvious--Losing without hope is acceptable, Brad Childress!!!!!!--posted by tavarded

• [Owner Zygi Wilf], are you listening? Do you see how many empty seats there will be and how many threats for a blackout there will be unless you dump Childress? He's your problem.--posted by cags777

• No arm no composure. wow...Brad has it figured out. Strong defense, great running back, very good wide receiver, mediocre QB, and boring coaching. The ownership group should be concerned about franchise value...--posted by lajameson

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• Cutler is 13-1 when the opposition scores less than 21. You could blow 5 first round picks on QBs and NEVER get the right guy. I would do Cutler for AP in fact, because RBs shelf life is so short comparatively...--posted by tim_root

The last suggestion that the Vikings consider trading running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, for Cutler is a cockamamie, one-step-forward-two-back idea. Still, it's an indication of how restless the natives are getting, especially with Cutler off the market and the looming draft unlikely to cure what ails Minnesota.

It isn't just the fans, either. Former Ravens head coach-turned-TV-analyst Brian Billick, and a Vikings offensive coordinator under Dennis Green, assessed the situation from the inside. "This is a quarterback-driven league,'' Billick said in a recent interview on KFAN, a Twin Cities sports-talk station. "You can have some outliers -- our championship [in Baltimore], Tampa Bay's championship -- but since then, you're talking about guys named Brady, Manning, now Roethlisberger winning two, the guy in [this year's] game, Kurt Warner. When you see who's winning those games, it's guys with pretty substantial credentials.

"I think with legitimate quarterback play, the Minnesota Vikings shoot to the top of everybody's pick. With that running game, with the run defense they have . . . with consistency and productivity at the quarterback position, that's a pretty attractive combination.''

So can Rosenfels be that guy? Billick's response wasn't exactly Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. "There's no reason he can't be successful,'' he said. "He has the physical tools, he has some experience. What we don't know with Sage Rosenfels is what he does with 16 games. ... We've seen fits and spurts of Sage Rosenfels and he can do it, but until he does, there's going to be those questions.''

Trent Dilfer, an passer-turned-ESPN-studio-voice, sounded more on board with Childress and the Vikings' approach. "I'm one of the few guys who doesn't have a problem with what they're doing,'' he told the Star Tribune. "Their team is built from the inside out both on the defensive and offensive side. That works. ... I think if the quarterback understands, whoever wins the job, that he has to play critical downs better, that is the key. It's not about first and second down all the time.'' And if either of the current Minnesota quarterbacks tries to, or has to, carry a much bigger load? "Then the Vikings are going to be in the same boat they have been the last couple of years,'' Dilfer said.

The guys manning the oars might not like it, either. There were indications last season, cracks and fissures in their public front, of player frustration with the switch from Jackson to Frerotte and back and with the play at times of both. Some of it was normal and expected and easily dismissed. Some of it, though, was pointed, springing from within a team that seemed at cross-purposes.

Remember, the Vikings spent vast sums on players prior to the 2008 season. The personnel department added expensive toys such as pass rusher Jared Allen and wider receiver Bernard Berrian, with returning Vikings also getting paid. The clock, as it does in the NFL more than any other sport, started ticking on all of them, a championship window opening.

Trouble is, those windows start to close almost as soon as they open, and the Vikings are moving ahead with minimal investments and assurances at quarterback but maximum ambitions nearly everywhere else. That's not to say that Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, Jeff Garcia or any other passer who still might be available would guarantee greater success -- Billick, for the record, saw Garcia as an ideal fit, if Childress could accept a little straying from the playbook now and then -- but they might inspire more confidence or quell some fears.

Bringing fans around on Childress, Jackson or Rosenfels (before he even has taken one snap) probably is too much to ask. But the Vikings need to think about the psychology within their ranks and how the mixed message they're sending could undercut everything else. Confidence flows both ways with front offices and locker rooms. And right now, the Vikings are the New York Yankees, handing the ball in the ninth inning to some guy Hank Steinbrenner found playing in a beer league.