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.