Going into the first pre-season game against the Cardinals, Vikings’ fans have several things to wring their hands over. Chief among those worries are two players who’ve spent plenty of time on injured reserve and a placekicker who, apparently, cannot hit the side of a barn.
Both papers have been following Aaron Elling‘s kicking misfortunes for the past few days but today the PPress’ Bob Sansevere is the first one to suggest that maybe it’s time to panic. Elling made 18 of 25 field goals last season and, Sansevere writes, Coach Mike Tice “liked what Elling did in the offseason.”
Really? 18 of 25? Remember all those times Tice went for it on fourth down last year rather than going for a field goal? What could Elling have possibly done in the offseason to restore the coach’s confidence enough to not even bring in a veteran kicker to compete with Elling during training camp? Making field goals during training camp is apparently not a criteria for Vikings kickers.
I’ve telling everyone who’ll listen that if Marcus Robinson can stay healthy and returns to the form that produced his stellar season for the Bears so many moons ago, the Vikings’ offense could be as dominant as 1998’s 15-1 team. Unfortunately, those are big ifs. And Robinson is inspiring ab-so-LUTE-ly no confidence that he’ll be what we all hope he will be for the Vikes. Robinson has been nursing injuries much of camp and yesterday the Strib reported that Robinson missed morning practice because of a tight hamstring and now Tice is saying that Nate Burleson could overtake Robinson for the number two spot.
Now, I’m a big fan of Burleson but the guy’s six feet tall and 197 pounds and not a speedster of the Randy Moss/Kelly Campbell variety. Robinson’s 6′ 3″, 215 lbs. and he’s supposed to be able to stretch the field; that’s what makes him so appealing, he fills a gap in the offense that we’ve been missing since Cris Carter left.
The frustrating thing is, we had our chances–and the money–to sign a proven free agent wide receiver this offseason but we again opted to go for inexpensive potential rather than spend some money on an all-but-sure thing.
There’s plenty of time for Robinson to prove me wrong but it’s beginning to look like we’ve got another experiment at WR.
On paper, it certainly appears that the weak, or, if you want to be more charitable, unproven link in the defense is the linebacking corps. With our projected starters of Chris Claiborne, E.J. Henderson, and Dontarrious Thomas/Mike Nattiel, we’ve traded experience for speed. Henderson and Nattiel are coming off their rookie seasons and Thomas is a rookie. Entering his sixth season, Claiborne is the savvy veteran amongst the group.
Claiborne has been hobbled during training camp after offseason surgery. It’s early in camp, of course, but the Vikes need Claiborne to remain healthy because they need his experience on the field. While it’s nice that we’ll have faster linebackers, I’m worried that quarterbacks will be able to take advantage of the group’s inexperience.
The Small Games
Yesterday, Pinoneer Press columnist Sansevere made the point that the Vikings have a rich history of dominating tougher opponents and, maddeningly, playing down to their lessers. That should bode well, as they open the season with back-to-back games against playoff teams. It’s the small games the Vikes often have problems with–they never seem to want to clean their feet on the doormats of the NFL. But as we’ve seen over the years, the Purple do play well on national television.
Sansevere quotes Claiborne and Bryant McKinnie:
“That’s what we want. That’s the key,” linebacker Chris Claiborne said. “National TV.”
Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, standing beside Claiborne, chimed in, saying: “You play harder on national TV. You don’t want to be embarrassed.”
And losing to the Giants, Raiders, Chargers–the Chargers!?!–and the Cardinals on the last play of the game, to end the season, and keep you from the playoffs, is not embarrassing? Curious.
I’d been meaning to follow the Arizona newspapers to see how the press was taking to new Cardinals head coach Denny Green. I thought it’d be interesting to see how they reacted to the Dennis Green we’d come to know over 10 championshipless seasons. How’d they take to Dennyspeak (and I paraphrase: If you don’t score enough points you won’t win) ? How’d they take to Green’s front office and locker room politics? How long would the honeymoon last?
Well, the Strib’s Patrick Reusse reports that Green’s got a far tougher media audience in Arizona than he did here in the passive/aggressive Midwest. Green’s honeymoon, apparently, is over.