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Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Vikings offense a work in progress

Associated Press

MANKATO, Minn. -- Tarvaris Jackson didn't try to hide the uncertainty following a tense practice that served as Minnesota's final on-field workout at training camp this year.

The Vikings' passing game remains a work in progress. Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and the rest of their offensive teammates have much to prove.

"We've got to kind of find ourselves," Jackson said, adding: "When we have to throw the football, can we throw it? Not just on running downs and first downs. When we have to throw the football late in the game, can we do it? We've just got to try and get to that level and be consistent."

Brett Favre or not, this was going to be the season's biggest focus. Jackson and Rosenfels have each shown ups and downs during their auditions for the starting quarterback job over the past two weeks. Full-team drills in Wednesday's workout exposed more of the downs.

Madieu Williams intercepted a pass by Jackson over the middle, and Antoine Winfield nearly did the same on Jackson's next throw, which he dropped. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers was in a fit.

Rosenfels later hit a defensive lineman's helmet with one of his passes, and Erin Henderson picked it off. Conclusions can't fairly be drawn from practice performance, but this was clearly not a good day for the offense.

"It's promising, but it's nowhere near where it needs to be," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "We have work to do. We have to all get on the same page. So work, work, work."

In particular: timing. The Vikings must be able to consistently complete deep passes to keep opponents from blitzing as they please. Handling the rush has been a weakness of Jackson's, but it's also up to the receivers to get open and the linemen to protect the quarterback. Even All-Pro Adrian Peterson has his struggles with pass blocking.

Last week, coach Brad Childress said this: "We have a lot of work to do in all areas. Whether it's throwing it, route running, protection, blitz pickup, breaking and beating man to man or knowing where to sit in the zone. We have a long way to go to be happy with the passing game."

After Wednesday's practice, Childress softened his stance: "I don't feel too bad about it."

The chemistry, though, must still come.

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie used the word "slowly" when describing the way the offense is jelling. Noting the importance of working with both quarterbacks throughout the preseason, Shiancoe expressed mild frustration about not knowing yet who the starter will be.

"We have to get used to everybody's technique, everybody's little ins and outs," Shiancoe said.

Especially with Rosenfels, the newcomer.

"It's like having a new girlfriend," Shiancoe said. "You have to learn her."

Rosenfels expressed confidence in his development in Minnesota's system.

"I feel like I've gotten better. I've tried to improve every day," he said.

The Vikings play their first exhibition game at Indianapolis on Friday, but Childress said he hasn't decided who will start against the Colts. He has downplayed the significance of that decision, however, with his plan to start the other one in the next contest.

Whether deep-seeded worries about the passing game contributed or not, offensive coaches and players were on edge Wednesday. Wide receivers coach George Stewart yelled at the defense for being too aggressive when rookie Percy Harvin appeared to hurt his right arm while making a catch.

This was perhaps the chippiest and most physical session of two-a-days.

McKinnie laughed: "That heat was getting to people, and they were getting a little frustrated. I guess everybody was waiting until the last day, like it's the last day of school to get their little frustration out."

Quipped Shiancoe: "We were a little feisty today and yesterday. If we were practicing tomorrow, it would probably be a little bit worse. Our testosterone level is off the chains."

Notes

Harvin came back on the field after being attended to. His injury didn't look serious. ... Center John Sullivan also limped off, but returned with his left ankle taped. ... Wide receiver Bernard Berrian didn't participate, and Childress indicated he was sick. ... Backup tight end Garrett Mills, hurt in Tuesday's practice, had his left arm in a sling.