Well fans, another season of football is about to dawn, and this could be the year that the Vikes put it all together. No, really. Consider all these bright developments:
1.) Just a few years after it appeared that he was a bust likely to drop the ball shortly after failing to find a secondary receiver, the consensus is that Daunte Culpepper is one of the three best QB's in the league. His completion percentage during the preseason must be close to 80%, and he is a deadlier threat to run as his passing effectiveness increases.
2.) Moss is gone and they can't replace him. But that's good, since what he did best, (and this is not to say he isn't an incredible athlete), was cause trouble and create distractions. The only Randy Ratio you could count on was 2:1 -- that is, every second time he opened his mouth, something would come out to put Vikingsland in an uproar. And that doesn't even count miming or driving in his car.
A seldom-mentioned fact is that Moss has become steadily more injury prone. I would bet he will miss 25% of the regular season games this year, and play hurt in as many. It is clear from the performance of Culpepper and his stable of receivers so far, that the passing game is likely to improve.
3.) Despite Onterrio Smith's year having gone up in smoke, the Vikes are well stocked at running back, at least if some of them can stay healthy. This year's Mewelde Moore, who was last year's Onterrio Smith, is Ciatrick Fason, and of course there is always the hope that Michael Bennett can actually play a full season. They will all benefit from the return of Jim Kleinsasser and Doug Rosenthal.
4.) The defense has looked to be improved. How can it not be, with the addition of new starters at tackle, linebacker, linebacker, corner and safety? The sensible answer to that question is, of course, in a thousand unforeseen ways, but let's not go negative so early in the season.
On the other hand, as a seasoned fan of the Purple, I know better than not to hedge my bets. Some things I have seen so far that fill me with the familiar fear and loathing in Vikingsland:
1.) Drew Brees and the Chargers brushed aside the new, improved Vikes defense like annoying insects, converting long third downs and completing long passes to wide-open receivers. Did I say that the pass rush did not appear to be appreciably better than last year's? It appears able to generate a sack or two, but not the consistent pressure that good defenses are built on.
2.) The Vikes are still stumbling and bumbling on special teams, and still committing penalties in bunches. Yes, it's only the preseason, but there is a familiar stench to all this, as if some Cheeseheads had left something highly perishable in a closed locker all winter long. The Vikings have played undisciplined football since the Dennis Green days. Mike Tice will not be here next year if he can't turn this around this year.
3.) Not long ago the Purple offensive line was considered a strength, but it certainly doesn't look it so far. I don't like what I see in pass protection or run-blocking, especially in the center, where Matt Birk and Dave Dixon are both gone. Adam Goldberg is being projected now at center, where he has never played, while rookie Marcus Johnson has been installed at right guard. This is a shaky arrangement at best, and promises nothing brilliant for the rushing attack being touted to make up for the unloading of Moss.
That said, in the first half of the season, the Vikes must play only one team outside their division with a winning record last year, and within it the competition looks weak. The Purple has every chance of building an insurmountable lead by week ten when they travel to New York to face the Giants!