1 Minnesota VIKINGS

An upgraded roster means less pressure on the young QB. An improved attitude means they're serious about a playoff run
August 31, 2008

VIKINGS FANSaren't the only ones thinking big this season. Cornerback Antoine Winfield seesgreatness in the defense. Running back Adrian Peterson believes the offense hasno ceiling. And defensive end Jared Allen can envision a season-ending strollthrough a shower of confetti.

Coach BradChildress? He sees the potential pitfalls in such talk. "The great thingabout this league is that you've got to show up week in and week out and beconsistent," 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 haveto treat each one as such."

Still, as theVikings went through two-a-days in Mankato, Minn., the expectations among theplayers soared with the temperature. The team finished 6--10 and 8--8 inChildress's first two seasons, showing promise late last year with a five-gamewinning streak. Now the off-season additions of savvy free safety MadieuWilliams, big-play wide receiver Bernard Berrian and Allen, the NFL's sackleader in 2007, have the players thinking about more than winning a divisiontitle and getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

"When I sawthe trade for Jared and the signing of Madieu, I knew they were making all themoves for us to make a run at not only the playoffs but the pinnacle, the SuperBowl," says strong safety Darren Sharper. "Coach's first year here, weknew there would probably be some growing pains. We knew it was going to be aprocess each and every year to get better. But with the pieces we have inplace, we have the attitude that it's win now."

The key will bethird-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. He was 8--4 in his first full year asa starter in 2007, but with 12 interceptions against just nine touchdownpasses, he failed to consistently make the right reads and throws. Minnesotamasked his shortcomings to some extent with a ground game that led the NFL inrushing. The catalyst was Peterson, the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year.Showing a unique blend of size, speed and power, he set a league record with296 yards rushing against the Chargers in Week 9 and finished the year with1,341 yards on a gaudy average of 5.6 per carry.

This year thebeefed-up defense figures to alleviate still more pressure on Jackson byimproving the Vikings' field position. While Minnesota ranked No. 1 against therun last season, it was last against the pass, giving up an average of 264.1yards per game. Allen, whose 15 1/2 sacks with the Chiefs in 2007 were 10 1/2more than any Viking had, will help shut down the aerial attack, as willWilliams, a fifth-year veteran from the Bengals who'll act as the quarterbackof the secondary.

The Vikings alsohelped Jackson by bringing in Berrian to stretch the field. Last seasonMinnesota 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, is a bonafide deep threat: 10 of his 15 career scores (including the postseason) havebeen for 30 yards or more, including six for 40 or more. Childress also loveshis tenacity.

"He'sslightly 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 alot about attitude because he believes the team had a miserable one before hecame on board. He illustrates that with a story about a road trip during hisfirst year. Seated in his customary first-row seat on the charter, he wasstunned to hear a player walking up the aisle, soliciting participants for acash raffle. Suffice it to say the carnival atmosphere stopped soonthereafter.

PROJECTE STARTINGLINEUP

WITH 2007STATISTICS
COACH BRAD CHILDRESS (14--18 in NFL), third season with Vikings

OFFENSE

Sidney RICE
POS WR
REC 31
YARDS 396
TD 4

Ryan COOK
POS RT
HT 6'6"
WT 328
G 16

AdrianPETERSON
POS RB
ATT 238
YARDS 1,341
AVG 5.6
REC 19
YARDS 268
AVG 14.1
TD 13

AnthonyHERRERA
POS RG
HT 6'2"
WT 315
G 16

TarvarisJACKSON
POS QB
ATT 294
COMP 171
PCT 58.2
YARDS 1,911
TD 9
INT 12
RATING 70.8

Matt BIRK
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 308
G 16

Thomas TAPEH
POS FB
ATT 5
YARDS 18
AVG 3.6
REC 8
YARDS 50
AVG 6.3
TD 0

SteveHUTCHINSON
POS LG
HT 6'5"
WT 313
G 16

BernardBERRIAN
POS WR
REC 71
YARDS 951
TD 5

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

Ryan LONGWELL
POS K
FG 20--24
POINTS 99

VisantheSHIANCOE
POS TE
REC 27
YARDS 323
TD 1

DEFENSE

Chad GREENWAY
POS OLB
TACKLES 99
SACKS 0
INT 2

AntoineWINFIELD
POS CB
TACKLES 65
INT 1

Ray EDWARDS
POS LE
TACKLES 30
SACKS 5

MadieuWILLIAMS
POS FS
TACKLES 70
SACKS 2
INT 2

Pat WILLIAMS
POS LT
TACKLES 64
SACKS 2

E.J. HENDERSON
POS MLB
TACKLES 119
SACKS 4 1/2
INT 0

Kevin WILLIAMS
POS RT
TACKLES 38
SACKS 3

Darren SHARPER
POS SS
TACKLES 62
SACKS 0
INT 4

Jared ALLEN
POS RE
TACKLES 65
SACKS 15 1/2

Cedric GRIFFIN
POS CB
TACKLES 89
INT 0

Ben LEBER
POS OLB
TACKLES 65
SACKS 5
INT 1

Chris KLUWE
POS P
PUNTS 81
AVG 44.7

NewACQUISITION

2007 RECORD 8--8NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 1/28/13 DEFENSE 1/32/20

SEPTEMBER
8 at Green Bay (M)
14 INDIANAPOLIS
21 CAROLINA
28 at Tennessee
(M) Monday

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

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL Rank: 5
Opponents' 2007 winning
percentage: .551
Games against playoff teams: 7

UNIT GRADES

SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Vikings' units.

QB C-
Can Jackson handle all the looks that will be thrown at him?

RB A
Greatness with Peterson; depth with Chester Taylor.

WR C
Need Berrian to be a deep threat, and Rice to emerge.

TE B-
Shiancoe improving as a receiver; Jimmy Kleinsasser is mobile.

OL B+
McKinnie's status (possible suspension by NFL) is the key.

DL A
Allen brings an edge rush to already stalwart group.

LB B
Henderson anchors a unit that is big, strong and fast.

DB C+
Pass rush will take pressure off; Sharper is a playmaker.

ST B
Solid in every phase; Longwell is a reliable vet.

SPOTLIGHT

Cedric Griffin
CORNERBACK

The Vikings ranked last in pass defense in 2007, andGriffin, in his first full year as a starter, was one reason—he usually hadgood position but often failed to finish plays. Antoine Winfield, the othercorner, is a quality veteran, so offenses will again challenge Griffin. Coachesand teammates say he's been more confident and assertive in camp.

NOW AT SI.COM
SI VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
October 29, 1962

FRAN TARKENTON, the often beleaguered quarterback ofthe Vikings, is a football player whose cup runneth over. More often than not,young Mr. Tarkenton's overflowing cup leads to a varied assortment ofcontusions, sore bumps and miserable afternoons that he remembers with as muchenthusiasm as he would an acute case of food poisoning.
--Tex Maule

SI.com/vault
Free access to all VIKINGS stories and photographs from the SI archives, plusvideo clips.

PHOTOTOM TOMSIC/US PRESSWIREFOR PETE'S SAKE A new long-ball threat at receiver will help lighten Peterson's load. PHOTOTOM DAHLIN PHOTONEIL LEIFER (COVER) PHOTO

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)