NFC North: Chase Johnson
|Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE|
|The Minnesota Vikings are counting on Adrian Peterson and Tarvaris Jackson this season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Let's, er, wrap-up our Camp Wrap series today by looking at the Minnesota Vikings. (We covered the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers late last week. And there isn't much to add to this report on the Detroit Lions, which came after a visit on the final day of their training camp).
What we learned about the Vikings this summer:
1. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has made some improvements but needs to be more careful about preserving his health. Most recently, he sprained his right knee after choosing to lower his shoulder on two Baltimore defenders rather than sliding. "Maybe we learn to play another day and take two less yards on running up the field," coach Brad Childress said. Amen.
2. Preseason injuries are a downer. The Vikings have lost special teams ace Heath Farwell (knee) and defensive end Jayme Mitchell (knee) for the season. They will go without new safety Madieu Williams (neck) for at least the first three games and are hoping Jackson is not sidelined long. Receiver Bernard Berrian has been bothered by a case of turf toe and nose tackle Pat Williams is battling elbow and knee ailments. Even with a deep roster, the Vikings can't withstand many more significant injuries.
3. The Vikings have a high degree of confidence in placekicker Ryan Longwell -- so much so that he was a healthy scratch for the first two preseason games. The decision was part of a plan to ensure that Longwell, 34, maintains a strong leg for the duration of the season. In the meantime, rookie Steven Hauschka has kicked well enough in Longwell's place to earn a few tryouts later this summer. We'll bring you more on Hauschka later this week. (Try to contain your excitement).
What we still need to find out:
1. Resolution at left tackle. There still has been no official word on the status of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, whom the NFL is likely to discipline in some way for an offseason arrest in Miami. Will it be a fine? One game? Two? Four? No one knows yet. The same can also be said for his potential replacement. Artis Hicks remains the likeliest candidate, but he spent no time at left tackle during camp. Instead, the Vikings worked three young players behind McKinnie: Chase Johnson, Drew Radovich and Tim Mattran. The latter two are sidelined with shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively.
2. If Jared Allen can fix the pass defense alone. Madieu Williams' injury leaves Allen as the only healthy newcomer the Vikings brought in to improve a pass defense that finished last in the NFL in 2007. Allen has applied some pressure in the preseason but it will be a while before we know whether the Vikings' perennially poor pass defense has gotten any better.
3. If the Vikings are ready to overcome the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears for NFC North supremacy. The Vikings haven't won the division since 2000, and on paper they have as deep a roster as any of the division's four teams. But the injuries and Jackson's uncertain status requires a wait-and-see attitude.
Even as they wrapped up training camp Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings were still assessing their depth at left tackle, where starter Bryant McKinnie is facing possible NFL discipline for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
The NFL has not yet announced McKinnie's punishment, which should range from a fine to a four-game suspension. (Sirius NFL radio speculated this week it would be four games). Even if he misses only one contest, however, the Vikings will have to find a replacement at one of the game's most important positions.
Utility backup Artis Hicks would figure as the short-term answer, but in speaking about the issue Thursday, coach Brad Childress did not mention another name that has been floated about -- second-year player Chase Johnson. Instead, Childress noted the work of two undrafted rookies: Drew Radovich, who is sidelined by a shoulder injury, and former Stanford center Tim Mattran.
Heading into Saturday night's preseason game at Baltimore, Childress didn't pretend that the Vikings are particularly deep at the position.
"I feel like we've got some guys that we can move in and out of there," he said. "... It's rare that you're great at 1 and great at 1A. It's rare."
No matter how deep the Vikings are, losing their left tackle for four games would be a significant blow. Already this summer they have lost two key defensive reserves (linebacker Heath Farwell and defensive end Jayme Mitchell), while safety Madieu Williams likely will miss the first three games because of a neck injury.