’08 Preview: Vikings dig into the wallet

The Vikings and their new owner are tired of waiting. After missing the playoffs in his first three seasons as owner, Zygi Wilf authorized an offseason spending spree he hopes will catapult his team into Super Bowl contention. At every turn, the Vikings pursued the top player at their positions of need.

Need a big-play receiver? Wilf sent his private plane to whisk Bernard Berrian into town and paid him $16 million guaranteed.

How about a cover safety? Enter Madieu Williams, who accepted a $13 million guaranteed contract.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

And for the finale, the Vikings, who finished the 2007 season ranked last in pass defense, surrendered three draft picks and $31 million guaranteed to acquire Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen from Kansas City.

Those moves, added to a team that won five of its final seven games in 2007, will make the Vikings a playoff contender.

“Our goal is to win a championship,” Wilf said, “and I think we’re getting closer to that goal.”

Offense

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell utilizes a run-oriented version of the West Coast offense that centers on running backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Most of the plays require zone-blocking technique from the offensive linemen.

Not surprisingly, the most effective pass plays come on play-action and bootlegs. As quarterback Tarvaris Jackson develops, however, Bevell plans to add more downfield passing plays. Bevell calls the plays, with input from coach Brad Childress.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier runs a version of the Tampa 2 defense that requires physical play by cornerbacks and strong coverage skills from safeties. Frazier also likes to mix in blitzes from all positions, a strategy he learned while playing in the Chicago Bears’ 46 defense during the 1980s.

The team plays a one-gap rush defense, which ranked No. 1 overall last season in the NFL.

The book on: Jared Allen

A rival sizes up the Vikings’ newly acquired defensive end:

“It wasn’t hard to figure out why the Vikings had such keen interest in him. If you look at the Vikings’ defense, obviously it was terrific against the run a year ago. But it was suspect against the pass.

“There is an old axiom that the best pass coverage is a pass rush. You look at the Super Bowl and the way the New York Giants played, and it showed that an average secondary can do a terrific job because of pass-rush pressure.

“So if you look at the Vikings, with Allen, that is a huge boost to their defense. He’s not Reggie White or Bruce Smith and never will be. But he is just a guy that you want on your team, most importantly because of the production but also because he has a high motor that is infectious to the other players. He works hard and stirs things up a bit, and most coaches like that combination.”

Bottom line

The Vikings operated this offseason as if they were a few players away from contending for the Super Bowl championship. They made clear improvements to their receiving corps and pass defense, but their success will depend on improvement at quarterback from Jackson.

If Jackson can limit mistakes and make a consistent number of plays in the downfield passing game, the Vikings will be a force to be reckoned with in NFC. If Jackson is unable to improve on his uneven 2007 performance, the team will need to fight to make the playoffs.

SN prediction: 9-7, third in NFC North.

Kevin Seifert covers the Vikings for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008