Much has been made of the Minnesota Vikings' reported flirtation with the Wildcat offense in 2009. With first-round pick Percy Harvin taking some snaps under center at training camp, the Vikings' fan base is being led to believe that head coach Brad Childress is on the precipice of discarding his old, staid stripes in favor of the more free-wheeling, daring-do offense.
Before the cart races too far in front of the horse, however, it is worth noting the numerous obstacles to such a startling transformation, not the least of which is Childress' innate struggle with change.
Through his first three seasons as Vikings' head coach, Childress has overseen offenses ranking near the middle of the league in scoring. For some teams, that would be adequate. For a team with the best running back tandem in the NFL and a sudden slew of well-paid and highly touted receivers, however, it is not.
In four seasons as head coach of the Vikings, Mike Tice had offenses ranked eighth, sixth, sixth, and nineteenth in the NFL, in successive years. Ranking sixth in offense in 2004 appears a relative miracle compared to the Vikings' offensive difficulties under Childress' much better-healed 2008 squad.
The 2004 Vikings included a gimpy Randy Moss and a young Nate Burleson at receiver, Onterrio Smith and Michael Bennett at running back, and Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. Burleson was the team's leading receiver with just over 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Moss chipped in 756 yards receiving and thirteen touchdowns and Culpepper passed for 4700 yards and 39 touchdowns in what should have been an MVP season.
Since arriving in Minnesota, Childress has seen his team add Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Bobby Wade, and the team has traded up in the draft to take center/right tackle Ryan Cook and quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and JD Booty. This year, the team drafted right tackle Phil Loadholt and running back/receiver Percy Harvin.
And still, there is little expectation that the Vikings will even come close to replicating the Vikings' 2004 numbers in 2009. That, despite having a healthier and arguably more talent-laden receiving corps and a far-superior running-back tandem.
It's not simply the downgrade at quarterback from 2004 to this year that has plagued the Vikings--a condition largely of Childress' own making--but also the continued fumbling of personnel decisions on the offensive line and the failure of the Vikings' offensive coaches, specifically Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel (who one suspects fills the same limited role in the offense as did Childress in Philadelphia), to put players in the proverbial "position to succeed."
Since arriving in Minnesota, Childress has yet to field an offense even remotely approaching the Vikings' 2004 offense, with the primary culprit being an ineffective passing game. The Vikings' 2008 numbers are telling, as the team posted the league's 25th-ranked passing yardage totals. Those numbers largely were the result of the Vikings ranking 23rd in offensive turnovers and attempting a near-league low in passes (28th).
Clearly, the Vikings remain plagued by below-grade quarterback play, but the team continues to struggle along the offensive line and in play-calling, as well. The loss of Matt Birk and the insertion of second-year center John Sullivan and rookie Loadholt will make it difficult not only for the Vikings to show improvement under center this season, but even more difficult for the team to run "exotic" offensive sets--whatever that means in the mind of the staid Childress.
Up Next: Running and Passing.