EX­PEC­TA­TION

Min­nesota has same 22 starters of last sea­son back, some bet­ter than be­fore

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

Com­men­tary:

On paper, it looks like the Min­nesota Vik­ings have what it takes to be the next Su­per Bowl champs

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Brad Chil­dress has gone from six vic­to­ries in 2006 to eight, 10 and 12 in the sea­sons that fol­lowed. An­other two-vic­tory in­crease in 2010 would be a vault more than a step, but it’s not out of the ques­tion with the tal­ent the Min­nesota Vik­ings have in camp.

One im­por­tant fig­ure, Brett Favre, will not be seen un­til the third week of Au­gust, when the Vik­ings are pre­par­ing for their sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion.

The Aug. 22 game at San Fran­cisco is Sun­day night and na­tion­ally tele­vised by NBC. The net­work will do as much plead­ing as it takes with the Favre camp to have him avail­able to take his first few snaps of the pre­sea­son.

The Vik­ings’ two-week stay in Mankato, Minn., will be over­shad­owed na­tion­ally by the oc­ca­sional and mean­ing­less Favre bul­letins from Hat­ties­burg, Miss. Mean­time, the rest of the lads will be go­ing through 22 prac­tices that will as­sist Chil­dress and his staff in mak­ing no im­por­tant de­ci­sions.

None are nec­es­sary, what with a ros­ter that car­ries the same 22 play­ers who made the most starts at their po­si­tions in 2009.

This in­cludes mid­dle linebacker E.J. Hen­der­son and for­mer Texas Longhorns cor­ner­back Cedric Grif­fin, both re­turn­ing from in­juries. There’s a chance Hen­der­son will be back to play mid­dle linebacker in the opener at New Or­leans on Sept. 9. Grif­fin’s re­turn will be a few weeks later, with vet­eran Lito Shep­pard ex­pected to take the starts at right corner un­til then.

There’s also the risk of more in­juries, but for now, it’s as­tound­ing in this era of free agency to see the Vik­ings po­si­tioned to have the same 22 play­ers make the most starts for two con­sec­u­tive sea­sons.

There was in­cred­i­ble ros­ter sta­bil­ity dur­ing the Vik­ings’ glory years from 1969 through 1977, yet there were never two con­sec­u­tive sea­sons when Bud Grant had the same 22 get the most starts.

It wasn’t fru­gal­ity or a lack of cre­ativ­ity that led to this cur­rent ab­sence of change. This team demon­strated in Jan­uary — with the an­ni­hi­la­tion of the bal­ly­hooed Cow­boys and a bad-luck loss to the Saints in New Or­leans — the nu­cleus was in place to en­ter 2010 among a few Su­per Bowl fa­vorites.

Go ahead. Rate the Pur­ple pieces from 1 to 5.

De­fen­sive front: 5. Linebacker: 4, with Hen­der­son. Cor­ner­back: 3 now, 4 with Grif­fin. Safeties: 3, with im­prove­ment from Madieu Wil­liams and Tyrell John­son, plus depth with Ja­marca San­ford.

Of­fen­sive front: 4, with Phil Load­holt get­ting bet­ter at right tackle. Re­ceivers: 5 — and that’s ig­nor­ing a healthy, more in­volved Bernard Ber­rian. Run­ning back: 5. Quar­ter­back: 4, based on a slight drop off from 2009 for the Great Pre­var­i­ca­tor. This bunch is loaded. This fran­chise has reached the play­offs in 25 of its 49 sea­sons. All 25 have ended with a loss — even 1968, when the Vik­ings had a chance to end a play­off sea­son with a vic­tory with­out win­ning the Su­per Bowl and lost 17-13 to Dal­las in the pres­ti­gious NFL Play­off Bowl.

Yup. The Vikes couldn’t even win the last one when the stake was third place.

Con­sid­er­ing that his­tory, the start of train­ing camp should be greeted more with trep­i­da­tion than joy among Vik­ings fans.

That’s es­pe­cially true with the 25th vi­sion of doom be­ing so fresh:

An ill-thought pass over the mid­dle from an an­cient war­rior hav­ing the least care­less cam­paign of a Hall of Fame ca­reer.

Vik­ings lif­ers should ex­pect tra­di­tion to con­tinue in the team’s 50th sea­son. They should ex­pect the end to come as a kick to the stom­ach, but then you look at this ros­ter.

Look at the de­fense. Look at Favre’s weapons.

This is it, ye pur­ple of heart. This is the play­off sea­son that ends with a vic­tory.

Ro­ge­lio V. So­lis

Min­nesota Vik­ing quar­ter­back Brett Favre catches a pass in Hat­ties­burg, Miss., where he helps high school­ers prac­tice. He’ll be back for the Vik­ings’ sea­son most likely.

Jim Mone

Min­nesota lineback­ers E.J. Hen­der­son, top, helps bring down Chicago Bears run­ning back Adrian Peter­son in 2007. Hen­der­son will be back from an in­jury this sea­son, per­haps for the opener.

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