Sunday, June 24, 2007

Childress Builds Straw Man to Make Weak Case

Last week, Minnesota Vikings' head coach Brad Childress went into one of his defensive-style, sales-pitch modes when responding to questions about his confidence in this year's rag-tag-at-best receiving corps. With a number one receiver in Bobby Wade, a number two receiver in Troy Williamson, and no clear-cut number three receiver, the question was understandable. The response was less so.

Childress' reply to the wide receiver question was to compare outside doubts about the Vikings' 2007 receiving corps to outside doubts about the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps. "Last year at this time, the linebackers were the concern of everybody except us," Childress said, patting himself on the back for having pre-season confidence in a linebacking corps that he helped put together. If Childress had stopped there, the comment would have been understandable and acceptable--though its use as an analogy to doubts about this year's Vikings' receiving corps would have fallen short of convincing.

But Childress, as he is wont to do, continued, offering absurd, general characterizations of the views of most about the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps. "Everybody wanted to know about Napoleon Harris, how he was going to be. Who's Ben Leber? E.J. Henderson was considered to be, not a bust, but nobody spoke in high remarks. I didn't feel that way after coming in and watching those guys work. I feel much the same with the the wide receivers."

Setting aside Childress' convoluted English, some explication is in order. And if Chilly won't provide it, I will.

At the beginning of the 2006 season, it is correct to state, most Vikings' fans were concerned about the ability of Napoleon Harris to ties his own shoes, let alone play linebacker in the NFL. Harris was awful in his final season in Oakland and worse in his first season in Minnesota. Childress, himself, clearly had concerns about Harris' ability to play in the NFL as he made Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway the Vikings' number one pick in the 2006 NFL draft.

Under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's tutelage, Harris improved significantly in 2006, to the point that most Vikings' fans were even upset that the Vikings refused to spend some of the $30 million that they have left under the salary cap to match Kansas City's relatively modest free-agent offer to Harris.

The reality, however, is that, while Harris made strides in 2006, he was still utterly incapable of covering his man in passing situations and did little, as the play-calling middle linebacker, to improve the Vikings' linebacking corps' overall coverage in the passing game. That, as Childress made clear during the 2006-07 offseason, made Harris expendable, justifying many of the pre-season concerns about Harris' ability to play in the middle and actually indicting Childress' confidence in Harris, both then and now.

The Vikings signed Ben Leber from San Diego last off-season. The move prompted two immediate responses from the Vikings' fan base. The first was that, if healthy, the recently injured Leber would shore up the Vikings' linebacking corps and that Leber might even be able to play in the middle, offering an upgrade over the previous MIKE linebacker, Sam Cowart. The second general outsider response was to wonder how serious Leber's injury was.

Nobody impugned the Vikings' signing of Leber or even remotely suggested that it was anything other than an upgrade until the Vikings' organization had a fallout with Fran Foley, the former Charger ball boy who was instrumental in signing Leber. Even then, fans considered Leber a low-risk, high-reward player. And last year, Leber showed some promise as a part-time player.

As for Henderson, not only was nobody speaking of him as a "bust" prior to 2006, most fans considered Henderson the best of the Vikings' linebacking corps and a very solid outside linebacker. While Henderson had been among the worst in league history playing MIKE in 2005, his speed and quickness made him one of the better edge players in the league in 2006. Childress' straw man reference to outsiders' views of Henderson heading into 2006 is thus preposterous, but par for the course for a coach reaching for ways to demonstrate his coaching acumen last season.

More preposterous is Chilly's comparison of the state of the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps to the state of the Vikings' 2007 wide receiving corps. As with virtually everything that Childress has done since arriving in Minnesota, he essentially is arguing that, while outsiders only think they know talent, he does know talent. While, relying on Chilly's straw man, outsiders thought they saw a bad linebacking corps heading into the 2006 season, for example, he saw a solid linebacking corps. The same, Chilly is now arguing, applies to outsider versus Chilly perception of the 2007 Vikings' receiving corps. And there is no doubt in Chilly's mind who has the proper assessment.

As with Chilly's recollection of outsiders' perception of the Vikings' 2006 linebacking corps, Chilly again is setting up a straw man of sorts, arguing that outsiders think that the Vikings' receiving corps will be a bust. That misses the mark considerably, however, as it misconstrues where outsiders believe the problems are with the Vikings' wide receiving corps and with the Vikings' offense, in general.

What most Vikings' outsiders believe is that the Vikings are without a legitimate number one receiver, that the moves that the Vikings made in the off-season did little to improve upon last year's receiving corps, that a young and, to date, utterly non-productive receiving corps will have difficulty improving playing with a young and, to date, non-productive quarterback, and that, even with a miraculous turn-around from Troy Williamson, a career season from Bobby Wade, and the discovery of a number three receiver from among the twenty or so receivers currently in camp vying for the third-string receiver role in an offense that routinely uses two receivers, if it uses receivers at all, there is little reason to expect that "great improvement" will mean anything this season other than that the Vikings' receivers are not an after-thought this season.

While last year's Vikings' linebacking corps had talent and a history of at least decent production in the NFL, this year's Vikings' receiving corps appears short on talent and clearly lacks an NFL pedigree. That cannot be said of many NFL teams' receiving corps in an era in which the passing game is nearly as vital to a team's success as a team's defensive play. Add to that the likelihood that Chilly will still influence the offensive playcalling--something with which last year's linebacking corps was not hamstrung--and there is every reason to be skeptical about the Vikings' 2007 receiving corps.

Up Next: Dog Days.

7 comments:

Pacific said...

I respectfully disagree.

As intelligent as you sound, Childress' main point flew right over your head:

1. There was much deserved skepticism about the 2006 Vikings LB core before the season started.

2. The 2006 LB core exceeded expectations.

3. People do not have faith in the Vikings WR core for 2007.

4. Therefore, Childress draws a comparison, and says the WR core will exceed expectations, just like LB Core did in 2006.

Any Viking fan can tell you those first three points. If you seriously are going to argue any of those points, I have doubts that you really watch the Vikings. It leaves me wondering if you, like some of our beloved STRIB writers, just have a problem with Childress coaching the .

Some other points:

1. E.J. Henderson - I remember a plethora of fans saying Henderson was too slow to be an OLB in the Cover 2. He just didn’t have the speed according to them. Just because he had a lot of tackles in 2005 didn’t mean he had a good year. I’m sorry, prior to 2006, most fans would agree that all Henderson had done was disappoint. A lot of people loved his potential, but to say most thought he was solid? Baloney.

2. Ben Leber – “ Nobody impugned the Vikings' signing of Leber or even remotely suggested that it was anything other than an upgrade…”

Nobody had a problem with signing Ben Leber? Puhh-leeeaze. The complaining was rampant over at VikingUpdate.com that Ben Leber was a nobody who had been supplanted by a rookie linebacker halfway into his previous season. They were concerned about the injury to his foot. People wanted Julian Peterson and Will Witherspoon. Yea, a LOT of people REALLY had their doubts with the signing of Leber. Go tell the fans at VikingUpdate that everyone liked the signing of Leber, see the collective laugh you get.

3. “Childress, himself, clearly had concerns about Harris' ability to play in the NFL as he made Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway the Vikings' number one pick in the 2006 NFL draft.”

Wrong. The buzz throughout the whole offseason was that Napolean Harris would be lining up at MLB. Chad Greenway was drafted to be an OLB. That would mean Childress had concerns with E.J. Henderson’s ability, not Napos. Not to mention E.J.’s contract was going to be up so it’s obvious who Greenway was drafted to replace. Henderson’s stellar play in 2006 changed all that.

Willy The Pimp said...

From the STrib April 29, 2006

"They signed 10 players and filled openings on the offensive line, at running back, kicker and safety.

Even after signing San Diego linebacker Ben Leber, the Vikings were still searching for an impact player to headline the unit that also has the steady but unspectacular E.J. Henderson in the middle."

jaguarxtype said...

Look at all the Monday morning Quarterbacks talking and we have the whole season to go. Let Chilly,(which I'm not fond of) put a Viking team on the field for 20+ games and see where we are then. We have no way of telling how this will play out till after the 12th month, not the 6th month. The man has been in the NFL for many years, so who knows best. Don't beat him down before the season even starts. We should be more worried about a stadium first.

Rick said...

Analysis aside, the bottom line is the Vikings will be lucky to win 5 or 6 games this season.

Vikes Geek said...

Pacific,

You prove the point that I make ever so often. The longest responses and biggest rants come from readers who don't read the article carefully. To boot, you opted to rely on VikingUpdate.com to represent Vikings' fans and knowledgeable fans--and you did so without bothering to cite specific statements made by anyone at VikingUpdate. Nice touch!

As for your general criticism, if by "flew over my head" you mean that I virtually repeated Childress' point, I agree with you. Those were the very points to which this article was a response.

What is a "plethora of fans?" Two? Three? Three hundred? Henderson had a strong season in 2005 and appeared well-suited to playing outside. The sole concern that most informed observers had was over Henderson's ability to play MIKE with so little NFL experience. Feel free to dig through my columns from 2006 if you like. And feel free to support your comments with something other than the unsubstantiated N of 1 that you offer.

Somebody wanted Julian Peterson over Ben Leber? Stunning revelation Pacific. Next you'll inform me that the Vikings would have preferred Brian Urlacher over Leber. Nobody argued that the Vikings could not have done better or had higher aspirations than Leber. In fact, as I note, the jury is still out on Leber who primarily was a sub last season. But few people questioned Leber's ability when healthy. The main concern--and a legitimate concern--was whether Leber would recover from his injury.

I think you'll understand the point about drafting Greenway if I spell it out all the way. If Greenway had been healthy and ready to go last year, the plan was to move Henderson inside and use Greenway outside. That obviously didn't happen as Greenway was out for the season with an injury. Instead, it happened this year.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Why is 20 games a magical number? Why not 48? 64?

If Childress has the experience of the world behind him, why does he need more than he has already had to prove something? And, to date, what, if anything, has he proven?

It's silly to say we have "no way of telling how this will play out" when the Vikings will be starting either a rookie or a player with one full season at quarterback and has no proven number one receiver.

In the long run, Chilly might prove something. And his offense might prove to be a "kick-ass offense." After one full season, and a promise from the front office that the next two seasons will be re-building seasons (their precise words), there is room for skepticism.

In any event, I'll grant you the 20 games that you requested, since I have no say in the matter and Chilly appears to be going nowhere for at least that long.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Rick,

You're probably right. The Vikings have a much tougher schedule this year than last with a five-game stretch after the bye week at Chicago, at Dallas, against Philly, against San Diego, and at Green Bay. That easily could be five losses in a row even if the Vikings are getting some offensive production and the defense holds up. 5-11 or 6-10 looks pretty realistic. Playoffs do not.

VG