3 Minnesota Vikings

It's a clean slate (well, almost) for a new coach who has big plans for the offense and for keeping the players in line
September 03, 2006

THE BELIEF
Tranquility reigns. Talent rises to the surface. The cruise boat scandal of2005 is old news, and the Randy Moss circus is two years gone. New coach BradChildress will bring good citizenship and double-digit wins in one tidypackage. Brad Johnson will steady the quarterback position in his twilightyears, behind a line that's potentially as good as any in the game. The defensewon't get you beat. The Vikings will build on last year's strong finish (sevenwins in their last nine games), and this time they'll return to the playoffsinstead of falling one game short.

THE REALITY
So much for tranquility. One day during training camp Childress was telling areporter, "One of the things I've been hired to do is create an atmosphereof structure and accountability." Four days later, on Aug. 15, veteranwideout Koren Robinson was arrested and charged with six counts, includingdrunken driving and fleeing police. A court date is set for October.

It was a jolt ofreality for the Vikings, for whom the summer had been built on a theme ofrenewal. Robinson, who with the Seahawks in 2004 was suspended for four gamesfor violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, said in early August, "Newstaff, new system, even new uniforms. We all understand it's time to beaccountable." Robinson now knows only too well. The Vikings cut him lastSaturday-hours after safety Dwight Smith was cited for alleged indecentconduct.

Childress, 50, ano-nonsense coach with a push-broom mustache and gym-teacher shorts, was hiredby image-conscious owner Zygi Wilf to get back to the playoffs and to win withclass. The question now is whether such blows to the latter will affect theformer. "We all know that winning is the cure-all," says Johnson, who'sentering his 15th NFL season.

The loss ofRobinson dents Childress's offense, a version of the West Coast that he ran asthe coordinator in Philadelphia for the last four years. It means the steadyJohnson (65-43 as an NFL starter), who replaced injured-and now departed-DaunteCulpepper last year, will have to spread the ball around more without afrontline receiver. Second-year man Troy Williamson, for example, will beexpected to improve substantially on his 24 catches of a year ago.

Then there isChester Taylor, the former Ravens backup to Jamal Lewis. The Vikings are askingthe free-agent Taylor to ascend to the role of featured running back. In fouryears he has carried 20 times or more in only four games. But he and Johnsonwill have the benefit of a line with huge upside. Left guard Steve Hutchinsonwas signed from Seattle for a cap-choking $49 million over seven years, rightguard Artis Hicks was obtained in a trade with Philadelphia, and center MattBirk returns after missing all of 2005 with injuries that required surgery onboth hips.

Childress hiredMike Tomlin from the Bucs to install the Tampa Cover 2, but the coordinatorsuffered a setback when the first-round draft pick, linebacker Chad Greenwayout of Iowa, suffered what's believed to be a torn left ACL in the openingpreseason game and was lost for the season. But four-year veteran E.J.Henderson had played well enough in camp to keep Greenway on the secondteam.

On both sides ofthe ball, turning the page-the Robinson incident notwithstanding-should trulyhelp. "Last year was not fun for anyone," says Birk. "People paidfor their mistakes, and now it's behind us."

2006 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

11 at Washington(M)

17 CAROLINA

24 CHICAGO

OCTOBER

1 at Buffalo

8 DETROIT

15 Bye

22 at Seattle

30 NEW ENGLAND(M)

NOVEMBER

5 at SanFrancisco

12 GREEN BAY

19 at Miami

26 ARIZONA

DECEMBER

3 at Chicago

10 at Detroit

17 N.Y. JETS

21 at Green Bay(T)

31 ST. LOUIS

(M) Monday (T)Thursday

SCHEDULESTRENGTH
NFL rank T29
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .457
Games against playoff teams 6

ENEMY LINES
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE 49ERS

> If AntoineWinfield and Fred Smoot can put it all together, they make a pretty formidablepair of corners. Both of them can cover and tackle when they're on theirgame.

> UntilChester Taylor proves me wrong, I think he's just a backup in this league. It'sa big jump to 25 carries a game.

> Thatoffensive line is pretty darn good. Steve Hutchinson is the guy they paid allthe money to get, but if I had to start a team with one of them, it would beBryant McKinnie. This will be his fifth year in the league, and he looks as ifhe's coming into his own as a dominant player.

> Is KenechiUdeze healthy? That's a big question mark. And we'll have to see if theirlinebackers-guys like Napoleon Harris and E.J. Henderson-can play pass defensein this new scheme.

Brad Johnson isnot what you'd call a top-level quarterback. The receivers are average withoutKoren Robinson.

BREAKOUTPLAYER
Kenechi Udeze
DEFENSIVE END

Back fromleft-knee surgery, which ended his 2005 season after only three games, Udeze isprimed to fulfill the promise he showed-a five-sack rookie year-after theVikings made him the 20th pick in the 2004 draft out of USC. During theoff-season Udeze not only rehabbed his knee but also dropped 25 pounds, to 268,and worked on improving his quickness. "Kenechi looks fast, man," sayscornerback Fred Smoot. "People are going to be impressed watching him comeoff the edge this year."

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PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2005STATISTICS

COACH BRADCHILDRESS (0-0 in NFL), first season with Minnesota

OFFENSE

TROYWILLIAMSON
POS WR
REC 24 
YARDS 372
TD 2

CHESTER TAYLOR(New Acquisition)
POS RB
RUSH 117
YARDS 487
TD 1

BRAD JOHNSON
POS QB
ATT 294
COMP 184 
PCT 62.6
YARDS 1,185 
TD 12 
INT 4 
RATING 88.9

TONY RICHARDSON(New Acquisition)
POS FB 
RUSH 6 
YARDS 20 
TD 1

TRAVIS TAYLOR
POS WR
REC 50
YARDS 604 
TD 4

RYAN LONGWELL(New Acquisition)
POS K
FG 20-27
POINTS 90

JERMAINEWIGGINS
POS TE
REC 69 
YARDS 568 
TD 1

BRYANTMCKINNIE
POS LT
HT 6'8"
WT 335
G 16

STEVE HUTCHINSON(New Acquisition)
POS LG
HT 6'5"
WT 313
G 16

MATT BIRK
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 309
G 0

ARTIS HICKS (NewAcquisition)
POS RG
HT 6'4"
WT 320
G 14

MARCUS JOHNSON
POS RT
HT 6'6"
WT 310
G 14

DEFENSE

E.J. HENDERSON
POS WLB
TACKLES 75
SACKS 1
INT 0

KENECHI UDEZE
POS LE
TACKLES 5
SACKS 1

KEVIN WILLIAMS
POS LT
TACKLES 42
SACKS 4

PAT WILLIAMS
POS RT
TACKLES 66
SACKS 1 1/2

ERASMUS JAMES
POS RE
TACKLES 28
SACKS 4

BEN LEBER (NewAcquisition)
POS SLB
TACKLES 22
SACKS 2
INT 0

CHRIS KLUWE
POS P
PUNTS 71
AVG 44.1

FRED SMOOT
POS CB
TACKLES 41
INT 2

DWIGHT SMITH (NewAcquisition)
POS SS
TACKLES 72 
SACKS 1
INT 2

NAPOLEONHARRIS
POS MLB
TACKLES 25 
SACKS 1 
INT 0

DARREN SHARPER
POS FS
TACKLES 51
SACKS 0
INT 9

ANTOINEWINFIELD
POS CB
TACKLES 98
INT 4

2005 RECORD9-7
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 27/20/25 DEFENSE 19/22/21

PHOTOGREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGESJOHNSON PHOTOTOM DAHLINMOVING UP A reserve for four seasons in Baltimore, Taylor will be the main man in the Vikings' running game. PHOTOEVAN PINKUS/WIREIMAGE.COM TWO PHOTOS PHOTOHELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)