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Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Scouts Inc.: The Vikings without Favre

By Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

So it seems as though Brett Favre will not be quarterbacking the Minnesota Vikings this season. If Favre does indeed retire, Tarvaris Jackson will be behind center for Minnesota. If Jackson struggles -- which certainly is not farfetched -- the ever inconsistent Sage Rosenfels could make an appearance. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume that Jackson will be the opening day quarterback. How would this change Minnesota’s offense? The answer, in a nutshell, is drastically.

Adrian Peterson
If Brett Favre retires, Adrian Peterson again becomes the focus of the Vikings' offense.
The first logical thought is that the onus of the offense will be placed on Adrian Peterson and, to a much lesser extent, rookie running back Toby Gerhart. When you have an amazing football player like Peterson, you use him. He is capable of putting any offense on his back, and on many occasions I have referred to him as the best running back in football. But his offensive line was among the worst run-blocking units in the league last season and the Vikings really haven’t done much to upgrade that personnel up front.

Future Hall of Fame left guard Steve Hutchinson was not himself physically as he was battling an injury, but even at 100 percent Hutchinson is not nearly the player he was in his prime. But a healthy Hutchinson will help open holes for Peterson.

The rest of the line didn’t get it done in 2009 and probably won’t in 2010. Right tackle Phil Loadholt could take a step forward in this capacity in Year 2 of his development and maybe more of a fire will be lit under left tackle Bryant McKinnie, but that also might just be wishful thinking. And, of course, with Favre no longer behind center, every defensive coordinator in the league is going to dedicate his team’s respective resources to shutting down Peterson.

But Peterson could play a little better, too. Of course, his fumbling is well-documented, but it could be corrected. He also didn’t press the hole as he did earlier in his career. Peterson's role as a pass-catcher has been growing as he gains experience in this area of his game. It should take another major step forward as a dump-off receiver for Jackson, especially with pass-catching running back Chester Taylor now in Chicago.

Peterson is very special, and when on his game he will be able to run effectively against nearly any defensive front. But those around him are my concern.

And then there is the passing game. Jackson’s lack of accuracy to all levels and poor feel for reading and manipulating coverages is a massive problem. It’s also a problem that the Vikings did not have when Favre was taking the snaps. Jackson isn’t really built to be a game manager, but that is exactly what he must become. More designed quarterback movement out of the pocket, quick, safe throws, play-action -- these are the things Jackson needs to improve upon (in addition to his overall accuracy and feel for coverages) to keep the chains moving for the Vikings.

Jackson will have weapons -- serious weapons, assuming that wide receiver Sidney Rice’s hip is not a lingering problem. Sure, Favre enhanced what Rice and Percy Harvin bring to the table, but both players also have vast ability. Rice is comparable to Larry Fitzgerald in his ability to use his height and exceptional body control to go up and snatch the football at its highest point. That should make up for some of Jackson’s shortcomings. And Rice can really get downfield. With teams stacking the box to stop Peterson, Rice should see favorable coverage in the intermediate and deep zones. But can Jackson deliver the football to him in these circumstances? I have my doubts.

Harvin is only at the tip of the iceberg in his development. Remember, Harvin was more running back than wide receiver at Florida and should only improve in every facet of playing wideout. His talent is off the charts. Not only is he extremely fast, quick and laterally explosive, but Harvin is well built, strong and runs like a running back with the ball in his hands. I think Harvin can revolutionize the slot position and take it even a level further than what Wes Welker has achieved in New England. But to operate efficiently from the slot, very quick decisions must be made on option routes by both Harvin and Jackson. I have little doubt that Harvin will succeed in this capacity, but again, I have my doubts about Jackson.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.