The talk of building the Vikings from the lines back has taken the next step, at least on offense. Head coach Brad Childress said in an interview with Sirius NFL Radio at the Combine in Indianapolis that this offseason the team will be looking for playmakers.
When asked his team needs by hosts Howard Balzer and Gil Brandt, Childress said: “Playermakers on offense. I feel good about the way our lines are trending, but you can’t have enough of those guys – guys that can hit a home run when they put their hands on it.”
The wide receiver corps of the Vikings has widely been considered a position of need, and with leading wide receiver Travis Taylor expected to hit the market on March 2 as an unrestricted free agent, the team is expected to look for upgrades in the free-agent market and the draft.
Childress was asked about wide receiver Troy Williamson, the team’s No. 7 overall draft pick in 2005. Williamson’s Combine performance that year shot him up the Vikings’ draft board, and the team surprised many when it selected the speed receiver so early.
But while Williamson has struggled to catches passes consistently, Childress said the entire offense has to find a better balance, another indication that the team is seeking skill-position players on that side of the ball.
“I think you have to be balanced in terms of the production you’re getting out of your running backs, your tight ends being able to threaten the middle of the field and then being able to get some plays out of your wide receivers,” Childress said. “You’d like to think you’re going to be able to scheme those guys open, but at some level somebody’s going to have to be able to beat somebody. … You have to be balanced in all areas. You can’t have guys ganging up on you because all you’re doing is running the football.”
The playmaker positions on offense can’t be successful without a solid passing game, and rookie Tarvaris Jackson is expected to get every chance to be the starter in 2007, although Childress cautioned several times at the Combine that he hasn’t named a starter at that position. In limited game situations, Jackson wasn’t that impressive, but given the lack of surrounding playmakers and the limited exposure he had, the jury is still out.
Jackson didn’t play in the first 11 games, then played in four of the final five games of the season, starting the last two. He finished the season completing 58 percent of his passes for 475 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
“I think it was a tough set of circumstances when you come down the road and your first start is in Green Bay and there again in St. Louis, but I thought he got some things in play,” Childress said of Jackson’s season-ending performances. “He improved all the way through the season, and he had a little knee injury there in the middle of the year during practice. But I thought he did a good job. We have not named a starter for next year. We’re going to let guys compete. And I would include if there’s a helluva quarterback there at our pick, there’s nothing wrong with competition.”
That was one of several times that Childress indicated the Vikings would be interested in Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who is considered by a number of draft analysts to be one of two “franchise quarterbacks” available in the 2007 draft.
“Those guys (franchise quarterbacks) aren’t just laying around, they aren’t just available,” Childress said. “You hope if those franchise quarterbacks are there you’re not in a position all the time, that you’re drafting further back. That means you’re doing a good job.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Childress’s comments weren’t a surprise either. While he said the pass defense had to improve and didn’t say specifically if that should come from the coverage or the pass rush, he did say the edge pressure had to improve.
“You’ve got to be able to make that guy (the quarterback) uncomfortable back there, and you hate to rely on the blitz and bringing five or six or seven people,” Childress said. “You can do that for awhile – you live by the sword, you die by the sword. You have to get a rush from the edge.”
Getting zero sacks from Kenechi Udeze in 16 games and Erasmus James in two games before his season-ending injury supports the Vikings’ desire to improve in that regard.