After the Minnesota Vikings opened the 2006 season with narrow victories over the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers, Vikings' fans believed that there was reason for optimism. After all, the team had brought in a new head coach who lauded himself on his commitment to detail and knowledge of the game and the team had defeated two of the consensus, pre-season favorites to challenge for the NFC crown.
In hindsight, those early season squeakers appear to be underachievements. With Clinton Portis in the lineup, Washington has been below average. Without Portis, the team has been hapless. That makes the Vikings' season-opening, low-scoring victory rather unimpressive now.
Similarly, the Panthers have been mediocre offensively with Steve Smith in the lineup and less so without the speedy receiver. With last year's demolition of Vikings' cornerback Fred Smoot still fresh in the mind, it is easy to envision Carolina having scored another touchdown or two against the Vikings' relatively soft pass defense.
Even allowing for the cliche that one takes one's opponents as one finds them, the victories against Washington and Carolina suggested numerous issues for the Vikings. Most notable of these issues were those along the offensive line.
"Just wait." Childress admonished skeptics in his more-knowledgeable-than-thou tone. "The line needs time to gel. And it will gel."
Eleven weeks into a seventeen week regular season, we are still waiting. Waiting for Bryant McKinnie to live up to his billing as an impenetrable pass blocker with sound run-blocking capabilities. Still waiting for Matt Birk to live up to his self-assessed clean bill of health. Still waiting for Marcus Johnson to play beyond the level of a rookie. Still waiting for Artis Hicks to demonstrate why the Vikings traded away a draft choice for him.
And as we wait, head coach Brad Childress continues to plead for patience, as though the line were filled with underpaid rookies instead of overpaid veterans. The question being, of course, what a wait is worth when it pays dividends only when the season is lost?
As Childress begs for the fans' patience for the offensive line to gel, he also pleads for patience for the emergence of an offense. Unfortunately, Childress' has the same approach to correcting the ills of the Vikings' woebegone offense that he has for correcting the ills of the offensive line--tap heals and wish for better.
When asked how the Vikings would fill the team's fullback hole in the aftermath of placing Tony Richardson on IR for the season, Childress scratched his head. "We might have to use Richard Owens back there. We don't really ahve a clear solution. I don't know."
Clearly, Childress does not know. Never mind that Owens rarely plays and probably is ill-suited for the role at this point in the season. All one really needs to know about Chilly's thought process is that he never even mentioned the possibility of using Jim Kleinsasser at fullback--despite the fact that Kleinsasser has played the position, purportedly specializes in blocking, and is one inch shorter and a few pounds heavier than Owens, giving him a lower center of gravity.
The solution at fullback is obvious for the Vikings. It's clearly Kleinsasser. If that means using Owens--who appears able both to catch and run with the ball--as a tight end, all the better. But that's not in Chilly's head. And that means that it probably never will be--particularly if he discovers that the move has been made in the past and that he might not get full credit for making it.
As any honest NFL head coach will admit, coaching in the NFL is not rocket science. Expectations of winning are high, the hours tend to be long, and there are quick decisions to be made. Overall, however, the job merely requires competence. That means making proper personnel decisions, having a sound game plan, and managing a game without overt gaffes.
To date, Childress has failed to meet this standard. He continues to make questionable personnel decisions. He refuses to adjust his game plans to meet that of the opponent. And he refuses to admit his short-comings or to learn appropriate lessons. His latest failure to identify the proper fullback to replace Richardson and his on-going love affair with four suspect offensive linemen only heighten the sense that Childress has not reached the modest level of competence required of him at this level. To date, there remain few signs that this will change anytime soon.
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