Well fans, the magic hour draws nigh when the purple-helmeted warriors once again gird their loins in preparation for the football wars, at least sixteen battles with a final preliminary skirmish to take place this Thursday vs. the Arizona Cardinals at the Hump. For the coaches, little remains to be decided before the September 7 opener against the Cheeseheads.
It appears that Brian Russell will be the free safety, Moe Williams will start at tailback with Onterrio Smith getting lots of carries, Aaron Elling will be the kicker, and all else as in place now.
For the fans, however, the roller coaster ride that is the typical Vikes season is just beginning the tortuous preliminary clicks up to the initial peak of anticipation. Elements of the inevitable first headlong swoop down into the abyss could well be:
1.) Will Daunte Culpepper mature into a smart NFL QB who maximizes his talents for running and passing downfield by making better decisions about when and where to throw the ball? Or will he prove finally to be no more than a mediocre field general with a penchant for fumbling and making dumb, panic-stricken reads which force his throws into the hands of the opposition?
2.) Can the Vikes run the ball effectively without Michael Bennett, who it appears will be gone till next year? Can this offensive line block effectively for the run as well as give Culpepper the time he needs to get his confidence back and avoid disastrous fits of hysteria, with the resultant turnovers?
3.) There are lots of new personnel on defense. Everything looks great. But will the pass rush really be any better? Will the defensive backfield really be any different than last year's bunch of well-traveled hacks and terror-stricken rookies?
4.) Can the Vikes special teams manage not to lose several games through their own putrid misdeeds as they did last year? So far, it appears that the ‘03 road apple has not fallen far from the ‘02 horse. The kicking is unreliable and coverage of punts and kickoffs tenuous. This is where close games are won or lost, and the Purple is fixing to lose several at this rate.
So Mike Tice can rest easy at night for now, most of his decisions made. Three or four games into the season, however, it could be worse than last year if certain prevailing tendencies are not rooted out. On the other hand, much has been done which could turn out well. You can't fault him and his staff for inactivity.
And meanwhile, an eye to the competition spots opportunity at all points of the compass. The Cheeseheads are so shot up they resemble their own fans' hats. The Bears are set to rely on Stewart, always about as reliable as the bathtub gin made famous down there in Chicago. And the Lions continue to rearrange their chaos.
Destiny could favor the Vikes in the NFC Central this year if for no other reason than a lack of opposition.