So here we are: the Viking season just days away. Let’s take some time to discuss the players that will make or break the Vikings’ season. The Vikings have some obvious givens. The running game, featuring Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor running behind the likes of Steve Hutchinson, is going to produce. The defensive front seven, already great at stopping the run and forcing turnovers, should be near dominant with the addition of Jared Allen. We know these things. But it’s what we don’t know that will determine whether the Vikings can hit the 10 win mark in a season for the first time since 2000.
Everything that can be said has been said: it’s obvious. He has to play well. He has to limit mistakes and make plays. He can’t get hurt.
If Berrian can even match his numbers from 2007 with Chicago (71 catches for 951 yards), he’ll make the Viking receiving corps much, much better than it was last season. If he struggles, the Vikings will continue to field one of the bottom five receiving corps in the league, and Tarvaris Jackson’s development will mean even less. And perhaps another key player is Sidney Rice; if he can take strides over a promising rookie year (he did make some big plays), then the Vikings will have a solid group of receivers.
The right side of the offensive line
We know the Vikings can run. And we that Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, and Bryant McKinnie can play. But can the right side of the line consistently pass protect? Anthony Herrera and Ryan Cook will need to; any quarterback can look pretty good with good protection, and an already shaky quarterback will look absolutely awful with bad protection. And for the first four games, we might have to add the left tackle as an area of concern.
For the past few seasons, the Viking secondary has not been as awful as reported. They gave up a lot of yards for two key reasons. First, the run defense was so good that teams passed against the Vikings a lot. And second, the Vikings really failed to develop a pass rush, which makes any defensive backs vulnerable. Still, the secondary has typically gotten shredded whenever the Vikes face a good quarterback. We’ll particularly be looking for improved performances from Cedric Griffin and Marcus McCauley.
We know we’ll be watching Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor run the ball well. We know we’ll be watching Pat Williams and Kevin Williams crush the run. We know we’ll be watching Jared Allen rush the passer. We know E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Ben Leber are going to make plays. That’s a given, and that’s why the Vikings should be, at the very least, competitive in 2008. But it’s those things we don’t know that will determine whether we’ll be watching a team win seven or eight games, or whether this team could win 10 or 11 games.