This week I asked Gonzo of the Daily Norseman to answer a few of my questions. He agreed, but not before he had raped and pillaged my blog's coastline and absconded with my womenfolk. Of course, as it was happening I couldn't help but think of how much that was like what the Colts did to the Saints last night. So a Viking hello to Gonzo, and away we go:
1. Tarvaris Jackson doesn't have a bandwagon so much as he has a wagon where national media members come to take swings at his kneecaps with bats. Why does everyone think he's so bad, and what are your expectations for him?
Gonzo: I think that there are two main reasons that the "experts" think that Tarvaris Jackson is so bad. The first is that he didn't go to some big-name, fancy school. . .he went to Alabama State, a little I-AA school from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Had he gone to a bigger school, I don't think people would have as big a problem with him. . .and people forget that he had a full ride to Arkansas before he transferred to Alabama State.
The second reason, and the bigger reason, in my opinion, is that everyone seems to be under the impression that Tarvaris Jackson's entire career is going to mirror the two starts that he got in 2006 for a team that had pretty much stopped caring and was out of contention. He got to make his first start on the road, on a short week (it was a Thursday night game, so he had 3 days to prepare to start), against the Vikings' biggest rival. Considering how badly his receivers hosed him in that game (of Jackson's 10 incompletions, the receivers were credited with 7 dropped passes), I didn't think he did all that badly. This year, he's had all off-season and all pre-season to prepare for being "the guy," and I think we'll see a markedly better quarterback as a result.
2. A lot of people expect instant results from Adrian Peterson. Can he take a lot of pressure off the passing game, or is that expecting too much his freshman year?
Gonzo: Peterson is the best pure running back to come out of college in a long time, in my opinion, and I'm ecstatic that he's a Minnesota Viking. That having been said, I think that the carries early in the season are going to be relatively evenly divided between Peterson and Chester Taylor. Brad Childress is going to want to keep Tarvaris Jackson in more manageable 3rd down situations, and keeping both Peterson and Taylor fresh for four quarters is going to be the best way to do that. I think there's a good chance that Peterson will do more with his carries than Taylor will with his, simply because of the size and speed advantage that Peterson has. As the season wears on, I think Peterson will start getting more and more of the workload. He's still my pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year this year.
3. I just got Troy Williamson in a trade. After getting his eyes fixed and in his third season, he seems like a breakout candidate. Is that going to happen, and if not, can Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison contribute this year?
Gonzo: Williamson started out very strong this pre-season in the game against St. Louis, making a few very nice catches. Then he went the final three pre-season games without catching a pass. If the Vikings' offense is going to keep opposing defenses honest, then someone needs to emerge as a deep threat at some point, and Williamson is the most logical candidate for that. He's got very good speed and has never had a problem getting open. . .it's what happens after he gets open that's been the problem. But with the vision problems he had being corrected, he has a very good chance of remedying that problem. Say what you will about Williamson, but if he doesn't succeed in the NFL, it won't be because he didn't work his tail off.
As far as the Vikings' other receivers, I'm very excited about Sidney Rice. I think he's got the size, the hands, and the body control to become a great NFL wide receiver. His route-running skills aren't where they should be yet, but that can be coached up. And for as much flak as the Vikings took this off-season for signing Bobby Wade, he looks like he's going to be a viable option for us in the slot, at the very least.
4. It may just be because I don't keep up with the Viking's defense, but parts of it look pretty makeshift. Who are your standouts at end and at linebacker, and what can we expect from the unit as a whole this year?
Gonzo: Well, the Vikings' defense starts with the best defensive tackle combo in the National Football League, that being Kevin Williams and Pat Williams in the middle. Pretty much everything the defense does feeds off of those two guys. As far as the ends, the situation is kind of in flux. Kenechi Udeze has been very good against the run, but hasn't given us the pass rush that was advertised when he came out of Southern Cal. Erasmus James has shown flashes of being a great pass rusher, but he tore an ACL in the third game of the year last year. Ray Edwards, our fourth-round pick from Purdue last year, has been causing all sorts of havoc this pre-season, and will start at end opposite Udeze while James is recovering. One player I'm also high on is Brian Robison, our fourth-round pick out of Texas in the 2007 draft. He looks like he could be the sort of situational pass rusher that we had for a few years with Lance Johnstone, and hopefully he can provide us the same sort of disruption.
As far as linebacker, there are two major changes in the unit over last year. The first is E.J. Henderson, who had a monster year on the outside in 2006, moving back into the middle to replace Napoleon Harris. Henderson struggled at MLB as a second-year player, but he's better and smarter now than he was then. The other move is that Henderson's spot on the outside will be filled by Chad Greenway, the Vikings' first-round pick in the '06 draft that missed the entire season after tearing his ACL covering a kickoff in the '06 pre-season opener. Greenway doesn't look like he's lost a step, and will hopefully bring the advertised skills. . .his coverage skills, in particular, to the party this season.
5. Rebuilding year or year where you pull off a great big purple miracle?
Gonzo: Why can't it be both? (-:
Seriously, the homer in me wants to think that the Vikings can go 10-6 this year. The schedule starts off relatively soft, give us an absolutely hellish 4-game stretch after the bye week (at Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, at Dallas), and then gets weaker again. With the way the NFC is, I think the Vikings can seriously challenge for at least a wild-card spot this season, but as long as they show improvements over last year and give us an indicator that the team is moving in the right direction, I won't be displeased.