For a team that barely missed a trip to the Super Bowl last season and has realistic ambitions of making the final push this season, the Minnesota Vikings enter the 2010-2011 season with an unusually high number of question marks.
Chief among the Vikings' concerns are whether Brett Favre will return as quarterback, whether linebacker E.J. Henderson will return from a second major injury in as many seasons, whether cornerback Cedric Griffin will return at all in 2010, whether the offensive line can improve on an underwhelming 2009-2010 season, whether the safeties are up to par in the league, whether Albert Young can handle the backup running back duties, and whether Pat and Kevin Williams will be around for the entire season.
That's far more questions than most NFL teams have entering the new season and a slightly uncomfortable level for a team with such high aspirations.
What provides some measure of comfort for the Vikings and their fans regarding these issues is that the Vikings feel reasonably confident about a positive resolution on most of these matters. The Williamses' legal battles could linger for at least another year, Henderson has suggested he will be fine for camp, Griffin reportedly is already on the mend, though with no clear time-table for full recovery, Young appears as intelligent and thoughtful as any Viking player and mindful of what he needs to do to meet his obligations behind Adrian Peterson, and the offensive line, by sheer maturation, cannot help but be better than last year.
Yet, still, there are concerns. Despite the type of dubious on-field performance that led to the banishment of some of his brethren, Bryant McKinnie remains the exception to the Wilfs' pledge to clean house of those of suspect character, John Sullivan struggled at center last season, and Phil Loadholt, though showing significant promise, routinely required tight end coverage in blocking schemes; Young, despite his clear intelligence, has done little in the NFL after shining at Iowa; the Vikings' safeties are far below league average; and the Vikings have no clear replacement for Griffin, should Griffin be unable to return in 2010.
The Vikings appear prepared to enter the 2010 NFL draft with each of these questions at heart, and with the added sense of urgency to identify Favre's eventual replacement. These concerns have prompted the Vikings to scout quarterbacks, offensive linemen, cornerbacks, and running backs as possible first- and second-round selections this year.
Barring Clausen's or McCoy's drop to the Vikings at the end of round one, or a sudden belief on the part of the Vikings' draft team that Tebow can do in the NFL what he did at Florida, the Vikings appear set to take an offensive lineman with their first-round pick.
Maurkice Pouncey of Florida appears to be the Vikings' current first-round target. Pouncey can play either center or guard, fitting the Vikings' need to push two players--Anthony Herrera and John Sullivan--and possessing the ability to start immediately at either guard position. If not Pouncey, the Vikings could look to Rodger Saffold, a left tackle out of Indiana who has the agility that McKinnie never will exhibit, or, if available, guard Mike Iupati of Idaho.
Improving the offensive line would provide the Vikings dividends across the board, lending greater protection for the quarterback, creating bigger holes for Peterson, and allowing the Vikings to keep the defense off the field, when necessary. That's why teams build from the line back and why the Vikings need to go big this year before they return home for the season.
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