Wednesday September 3, 2003
DISCUSSION QUESTION OF THE WEEK
On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings will start their 2003 season in Green Bay at the renovated Lambeau Field. So, this week, weíll devote a little time each day to the Vikings.
I donít want to spend a lot of time reliving the Vikings 2002 Season. They went just 6-10, and had to win the final 3 games of the season to do that. The offense led the NFL in Rushing. Michael Bennett (1,296 yards rushing) and Randy Moss (106 catches for 1,347 yards) were the lone Pro-Bowl selections. The offense overall racked up the most yards of any other team. The Problem? Well, to no oneís surprise, it was the defense. The team was 10th overall against the run, but 29th against the pass. Overall, the defense ranked 26th out of 32 teams. But, even those stats are misleading. The defense always seemed to give up big plays at really inopportune times. It didnít create many turnovers. The only reason the defenseís rankings were even as high as they were, was because the offense (Daunte Culpepper specifically) kept turning the ball over, meaning the defense had less yards to give up.
So, what do we have to look forward to for the upcoming season? Another disappointing season? Or maybe the Vikings can be this yearís surprise, turn-around team? I will give my predictions later, but I want to take a look at both sides of the ball first.
QUARTERBACK - Daunte Culpepper is a stud! No question about the ability that he has. Thereís also no questioning his financial security after he signed his $100+ million dollar deal in the offseason. The one problem that Culpepper had last year was his turnovers. He fumbled last year too much, and too frequently at very inopportune times! If he can cut down on those, expect big things from Daunte and the Vikings offense again. And, with Gus Frerotte replacing Todd Bouman as the backup quearterback, Culpepper should be able to relax and just play, without looking over his shoulder.
RUNNING BACK Ė This position is a huge question mark heading into the season. Michael Bennettís ankle injury will keep him sidelined most of the year, so how will the Vikings replace his numbers? They wonít! It is not even fair for anyone to expect that. Moe Williams will be the starter on Opening Day. Rookie Onterrio Smith is clearly the best big-play option, and I would expect him to be the starter by Week 2. Doug Chapman is slightly injured and expected to miss at least the first game. A combination of the three will have to step up and try to come near the productivity that Michael Bennett achieved last year.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS - Randy Moss is the most talented WR in the NFL, and with Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens, they comprise The Big Three of WRs. Mossís Yards per catch were significantly lower than in previous years, but he had 24 more receptions than he had ever had before. He was more than just a long-threat for the Vikings. He became the possession receiver as well. Reports say that Moss is bigger, faster and stronger this season than ever before, so I expect huge things from him. DíWayne Bates took awhile to adjust to the team last season, but played much better late in the season, and Kelly Campbell opened up the field with his deep-threat ability. Rookie Nate Burleson already is playing as the teamís Number 3 receiver. Jim Kleinsasser will be the key tight end. Heís a great blocker and has good hands. His only problem is staying healthy. Byron Chamberlain will also be important to the team, as soon as his four-game drug suspension is complete.
OFFENSIVE LINE - With a full training camp from Bryant McKinnie, the offensive line should be better. The big man improved with every game he played last season, and should continue to get better throughout the season. Matt Birk is a great, All-Pro center. Ken Rosenthal, David Dixon and Chris Lewienski round out a pretty solid line. Truth is offensive lineman donít get the credit they deserve. There was a reason that the team had the most rushing yards of any NFL team!
DEFENSIVE LINE - Like the offensive line, Defensive Lineman can also be underrated. Or, in the case of Chris Hovan, incredibly OVER-rated! I appreciate how hard he works, but heís done nothing to warrant how much talking heís doing. I love Brett Favre as a football player. I love Warren Sapp as a football player. Theyíve earned the ability to talk. Hovan has done nothing! Maybe this is the year. The defensive backs take a lot of grief, but the Vikings had very few sacks and the opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw. The addition of first-round pick, Kevin Williams should help a lot! To me, this group is the most important group if the Vikings are going to have any success this year.
LINEBACKERS - Greg Bieckert had a solid year last year. Chris Claiborne comes over from the Detroit Lions and should be a huge help to the defense! Henri Crockett is the other starter, with Nick Rogers probably getting a lot of time as well.
DEFENSIVE BACKS - Denard Walker and Ken Irvin both come to the Vikings as free agent signees and will be the starting cornerbacks. Both will improve the secondary. 2nd year man, Brian Russell will be the free safety. Corey Chavous, perhaps the smartest football mind on the team is in the right position, calling the shots at free safety.
KICKER - Aaron Elling will be making his first NFL team after being cut by other teams in previous years.
PUNTER - 2003 Draft Pick Eddie Johnson will take over punting duties. Punters are rarely drafted, so there must be something special about him.
KICKOFF RETURNER - Former XFL star John Avery is making another NFL comeback this year with the Vikings. Heís got the type of skills that should make him a very good kickoff returner.
PUNT RETURNER - 7th round pick Keenan Howry will start out as the teamís punt returner. Clearly a good athlete with good hands, we can hope he averages 8 yards per return!
But, the key with Special Teams is the defensive side of it. Chris Walsh was a great special teams player for a lot of years, and now heís gone. Last yearís leading special teams tackler, Jack Brewer is out 6 weeks with a chest injury. Whether they can tackle their opponentís returners will be a big key to the teamís success!
I think itís important to know that the Vikings finished last season with a 6-10 record. I think itís also important to note that of those 10 losses, SEVEN of them were by a touchdown or less! In other words, if they could have held on to the ball better, they could very easily have won more games last year. Can that translate into more victories this year? Absolutely! Will it? Weíll find out.
On Offense - Daunte Culpepper will come back and have another Ďbreak-outí season. Onterrio Smith will be a big factor toward the Vikings success. Randy Moss will catch about the same number of balls, but I would expect almost 1,500 yards and a lot of TDs. Again, this will be a big-play offense. Who will surprise? I think Nate Burleson is going to catch 50 passes this season, and score 8 touchdowns!
On Defense - Again, I feel that the defensive line is the big key. If Chris Hovan plays as well as he talks, expect the D-Line to put some pressure on the QB, getting some sacks, causing some hurries, and hopefully creating some interception opportunities. Hopefully Defensive Coordinator George OíLeary will be able to develop some schemes to put the players in the right places!!!
Prediction - They play an easy schedule, which certainly should help. I think the offense will come alive, and I think the defense can improve. I think the Vikings can be compared to baseballís Texas Rangers. The Rangers can score some runs, they have a lot of big boppers. One has to think that if they had ANY pitching, the Rangers would be great. Likewise, the Vikings have all kinds of offensive weapons (even without Michael Bennett), and I think that if they have ANY form of defense, they should be successful. I think that the Vikings will finish 9-7, and that will be good for 2nd place in the NFC North Division. Whether or not that is good enough for the playoffs, I donít know.
The Twins got just what they needed last night. Michael Ryan hit a 3-run homer in the 2nd inning. The Twins followed that up with a six run 3rd inning, and another three run 4th inning. That gave them a 12-1 lead. Kyle Lohse got hit a little, but with a big lead, you definitely want him throwing strikes. He improves to 12-10 on the season. Brad Thomas made his first Twins appearance in two years in the 8th inning, and Jesse Orosco pitched a scoreless 9th to complete the game.
Ron Gardenhire is saying that he knew Michael Ryan could hit. Yeah, sure you did Gardy! Thatís why he didnít make a start for three weeks! Guess what though? Because heís hit well in his 2 starts, he will probably be in the lineup again tonight with Ramon Ortiz pitching for the Angels, and I think thatís a good thing! For a great article (and not too long!) on Mike Ryan, be sure to check out todayís Twins Geek article.
Grant Balfour will make his first major league start today (at noon). Many have been asking for this to happen for awhile. Hopefully Balfour will be able to go 6 strong innings! If not, the Twins have plenty of pitchers available in the bullpen! Unfortunately, the game will not be on TV.
So, how did the Twins competition in the AL Central do last night? Well, the Royals lost to the Texas Rangers, 8-7. The White Sox lost to the Boston Red Sox 2-1! So, going into todayís games, the Twins are just one game behind the White Sox, and one game ahead of the Royals.
DISCUSSION QUESTION OF THE WEEK -
And now for next weekís Discussion Question of the Week which was initiated Friday.
For it, we go back to Mike from Chicago:
ďWhich brings me to the main point, now that I've answered your question of the week. I'm astounded how Terry Ryan has gotten virtually a free ride this year, not only from the press but from observers like you who follow the team a lot more closely than the so-called experts. Wasn't it obvious to everyone after the ALCS (no homers in 5 games) that this team was in desperate need for a thumper, a veteran who could bat in the four hole, drive in 100+ runs with 35-40 homers. I talked to Terry Ryan in spring training this year and asked point blank why he made no effort to fill this glaring void. His response was "what do you expect me to do, sign Barry Bonds?" I said no, but what about Frank Thomas who was very available this off-season or Jim Thome? Obviously, salaries are an issue for this team, but Pohlad says he wants to go out a winner, and I'm sure if Ryan could have put together a package of a couple of his "phenoms" plus throw in Mientkiewicz or one of the other average starters, he could have landed a big bat without a major hit on payroll. Look what Kenny Williams did to land Alomar and Everett or what KC did to get Anderson and <Rondell White>. They're smaller market teams than the Twins, but the difference is their GM's are unafraid to roll the dice. Terry still has the mindset of a scout and believes that his minor league system can produce future stars to keep the twins competitive. This might happen if he(or his scouting department) had any talent, but look at the crap we're left with, despite all the high draft choices we've had: does anyone even remember BJ Garbe, Adam Johnson, Ryan Mills, et. al. Have we developed internally one all-star during his reign? Does anyone think drafting Mauer (another non-power threat) over Mark Prior was a shrewd move? My point is the Ryan regime is a disaster. He's afraid to take risks, even when a couple of moves in the off-season could have built upon last year, rather than make 2002 a one year wonder. Executive of the Year! Organization of the Year! How many votes do you think Mr. Ryan and the Twins will get this year?
This is the real debate that should be going on among true, knowledgeable fans - not the sophomoric question of trying to imagine why anyone thinks this lineup can be expected to finish better than third or over .500. Forget this year and concentrate on the dysfunctional organization that's led to this one-year wonder. Maybe if enough of us put the microscope over this current management, even Carl Pohlad (or better yet, a new, more vigorous ownership unafraid to rock the boat) will realize that a complete overhaul starting with Ryan's firing is a necessity. But I'm afraid that's wishful thinking and we're going to fall to the same pre-2001 levels we had hoped were a thing of the past. Put these questions to your readers and we might get some real dialogue going.
So, hereís our Discussion Question for next week:
Looking at this e-mail, should Terry Ryan take some blame for whatís been going on with the Twins this year? From his lack of bringing in the power hitter they needed, so some of the roster moves during the season, to drafting, to scouting? Basically, how has Terry Ryan done as the Twins GM?
I can see answers to this question going all over the place, so be sure to think it over, and let me know what you think. As always, you can then e-mail me, then check back next Friday as Iíll include the e-mails that I receive regarding this question.
Back to Archives Home