It has had to have been a strange few days for new Vikings head coach Brad Childress.
On January 9, Strib columnist Sid Hartman quoted the freshly-minted head coach saying: "I spoke to Daunte Saturday morning. I had a nice conversation with him. I will have a chance to sit down face-to-face with him here later in the week."
On the same day, Pioneer Press writer Don Seeholzer quoted the coach seemingly trying to put Culpepper at ease: "Daunte Culpepper right now is the franchise quarterback. That’s how they signed him. He’s the guy."
A handful of days later, with Daunte Culpepper in town, the coach and his star quarterback finally hooked up, over the phone. How very odd.
[UPDATE 1/18/06: The Pioneer Press‘ Don Seeholzer and Sean Jenson report that Culepper was in town to meet with his doctors, not Childress. Still…]
All the while, in the background were the rumors that Brad Johnson wanted to be traded, or, at the very least, start for the the Vikings next year. The rumors became fact when Johnson himself confirmed to ESPN that though he didn’t ask for a trade, he does want to be a starting quarterback.
The Vikings have had a quarterback controversy since the final game of the season ended with their win against the Chicago Bears. Johnson’s insistence now that he start just moved up the time table of the eruption of the controversy from when it would have otherwise occurred: The point next season when Daunte is healthy enough to play again.
Perhaps that explains Culpepper’s odd behavior in not meeting face-to-face with his new head coach; perhaps he saw the inevitability of Johnson beginning the season as the Vikings’ number one signal caller and he wanted to play a Whose The Boss? card.
I don’t know that another quarterback in the NFL has ever returned from the type of catastrophic injury that Culpepper suffered: He injured three of the four major ligaments in his knee: The ACL, PCL, and MCL. That’s going to take a while to recover from. From what I understand, it would be a miracle if Culpepper were to be ready to play by the time training camp rolls around.
Couple that with the fact that Daunte would need to learn an entirely new offense, and it’s reasonable to think that he couldn’t possibly be ready to start the season opener.
And all that, of course, makes Johnson’s boat-rocking all the more aggravating. He signed a three-year contract. He’s locked in. And he should just keep his mouth shut because he already is the de facto starting quarterback. If he plays well enough, who knows? By the time Culpepper’s ready to play, Childress may not want to change quarterbacks.
Who Is Best Suited To The West Coast Scheme?
For a West Coast offense you need a quarterback who is accurate and can throw with touch so the ball is catchable. He has to have an excellent sense of anticipation in order to effectively execute the timing routes upon which the West Coast offense it built.
Another skill you want in a West Coast quarterback is the ability to throw all types of passes, from screens and timing passes, to Short, middle, and deep routes.
But since the West Coast offense is predicated upon the idea of obviating the running game with a short passing game, throwing the deep ball is not nearly as important as it is in other schemes. The idea in the West Coast is that when you start killing a team with a short passing game, they’ll inch up to defend it to the point that the middle and deep routes open up.
When that happens, you don’t need to be able to throw that deep in order to get the ball behind the defense. Your deep routes are explosive because the receiver catches and then runs for a lot of yards.
Right off the bat, it would seem that Brad Johnson is currently better suited to running the West Coast offense. He is very adept at getting the ball out of his hands to his receivers quickly and he can put some touch on the ball. While his arm strength is nowhere near that of Daunte’s, he’s got enough of a long ball to work well in the West Coast offense.
Perhaps the biggest thing Johnson has over Culpepper right now is his experience. He’s played in three different offensive schemes in Minnesota, Washington and Tampa Bay and, with the Bucs under Jon Gruden, he ran an extraordinarily complex system. That bodes well for Brad quickly picking up Childress’ version of the West Coast. Check out the following video clips to understand Johnson’s understanding of the game:
- This interview with Jon Gruden includes Johnson discussing the intricacies of Gruden’s offense.
- Brad Johnson diagrams plays from the Vikings 2005 season.
- Super Bowl XXVII Highlights.
- More Super Bowl XXVII Highlights.
Oh, yeah; and, uh, Johnson has won a Super Bowl.
Assuming Culpepper can come back from is injury, no one seriously thinks he is not the long-term answer at quarterback. But it is a big assumption he can come back and even if he does, it’s an even bigger assumption that he will return as the same player he was before he was injured.
One of the things that made Daunte such a dangerous weapon on the field was his mobility; not just the ability for him to tuck the ball in and run downfield or beat defensive ends to the edge, but his ability to make a quick move in the backfield to make a rusher miss. He’s also got a cannon for an arm, he’s a very accurate passer, and he’s a load to bring down.
But Daunte has played in one system his entire NFL career and for most of that time he was afforded the ability to freelance on the field. When both he and Randy Moss were on the field together, if a play broke down, both were such superior athletes that they had the ability to make something out of nothing. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
The West Coast offense, however, is built on precision and timing. There’s very little freelancing involved. So that part of Daunte’s game would not be utilized.
In addition to his injury, he’s also got to learn a new offense. It’s not that he’s not capable of overcoming his injury and learning the West Coast offense, it’s a question of whether he can do it in time to be of much help to the Viking next season.
Yet when you take a look at the following video highlights of Daunte Culpepper, any Vikings fan can only fervently hope that he comes back as good as new and thrives in the West Coast system. Because, damn, that guy can play: