NFC North: On the radar NFC 70810

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A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

The Vikings’ offensive line can be intimidating. Tackles Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt are twin 6-foot-8 towers. Left guard Steve Hutchinson is one of the best interior blockers of his era. John Sullivan adequately replaced longtime Vikings mainstay Matt Birk at center in 2009, and Anthony Herrera was solid at right guard.

[+] EnlargeSteve Hutchinson
Icon SMINot only does Hutchinson push people around in the trenches, the Titans say the veteran has helped this offseason with his effort and communication skills.
But Minnesota’s line needs to be on fans’ radar as the 2010 season approaches. Has the line peaked? It’s possible. The situation isn’t like the 2007 Bears, 2008 Redskins and 2009 Cowboys – all teams that let their lines reach an average age of 31 with five starters in their 30s, but things bear watching.

Hutchinson, 32, is coming off his toughest season. Injuries nagged him all last season, making every play a struggle. The expectation is he should bounce back , but 32 can be a tricky age for a guard. Alan Faneca had two Pro Bowl seasons with the Jets at ages 32 and 33, but his pass-blocking dropped off so quickly in the second half of seasons that the Jets released him this offseason.

The enigma is McKinnie, which may sound strange because he is coming off his first Pro Bowl season. McKinnie handled his first trip to the Pro Bowl as though it was more of a party than a football game. He tweeted about his nightlife and missed practices, leading to his dismissal from the NFC team. Despite his Pro Bowl invitation and solid blocking for Brett Favre and his quick release, McKinnie allowed nine sacks during the regular season. The league’s trend of finding shorter, quicker pass-rushers could be a problem for him. Herrera also turned 30 this year and could be on the downside of his career.

There were times last season that running back Adrian Peterson didn’t seem to have the holes of the previous few seasons. The Vikings went to the NFC title game and were a play or two from going to the Super Bowl, but the pounding Favre took in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints may take away some of the aura of invincibility for a line considered to be one of the best in football. The Vikings would have benefited by taking Florida standout offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey in the first round, but the Steelers spoiled that possibility. So keep an eye on the line for the Vikings, who have high expectations this season.

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