This preseason might be meaningful
Offense has to carry Vikings, but will it?
It's difficult to tell much from the preseason in the National Football League.
A year ago the Minnesota Vikings were 4-0 in the preseason and everybody was predicting great things for the team.
By now you know the rest of the story. The Vikings wound up 5-11 in the regular season and Denny Green was out the door as head coach.
That brings us to 2002.
How will this Vikings' team fare with a new head coach (Mike Tice) and a whole bunch of new players?
This preseason may actually have given us a hint of what is to come. If not the entire preseason, then maybe the first quarter of Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers' first offensive unit moved the football practically at will against the Vikings' defensive starters. They moved through the air and on the ground. The Steelers put together a 98-yard touchdown drive and another of 80 yards.
If you're a Vikings' fan, it was painful to watch.
Meanwhile, the Vikings' offense struggled until putting together a TD drive just before halftime.
If this is what's to come, the Vikings will be lucky to match last year's victory total.
The offense has to put points on the board and put them up early in games. The Vikings at this point simply can't rely on their defense to keep them in games.
I know I've said this year's defense can't be any worse than last year's, but it could be.
The Vikings have only three defensive starters back from 2001. None of the four players in the starting defensive backfield were starters on Opening Day last year. Three of the four weren't even on the team.
None of the three starting linebackers were starters last year. Two of them weren't even on the team.
Two of the defensive starters are rookies -- Raonall Smith at a linebacker and Willie Offord at strong safety.
Veteran free agents Henri Crockett (middle linebacker), Kenny Mixon (end), Corey Chavous (cornerback) and Ronnie Bradford (free safety) are expected to give the Vikings' defense a boost, but just how much of a boost remains to be seen.
Maybe after the players get to know each other, things will get better. But right now this is a defense that's not very good to put it mildly.
It's the offense that has to carry the Vikings. Daunte Culpepper has to throw, Randy Moss has to catch passes and Michael Bennett has to run.
But can we automatically assume this offense can move the football at will? It didn't for most of the first half against Pittsburgh.
The Vikings need a second wide receiver, whether it be D'Wayne Bates or Derrick Alexander, to step up and take pressure off Moss.
I'm already tired of hearing about this Randy Ratio where he's supposed to be involved in 40 per cent of the plays. Moss is good, but if he's not open, get the ball to somebody else.
As far as Culpepper is concerned, he still has to prove he's the Culpepper of two years ago. He made some bad decisions last season.
The jury is also still out on Michael Bennett, the Vikings' No. 1 running back. He has shown signs of brilliance in the preseason, but he still has a lot of proving to do in the regular season.
The offensive line has a gaping hole at left tackle where Lewis Kelly and Everett Lindsay are holding forth while No. 1 draft choice Bryant McKinnie is trying to make up his mind whether or not he wants to play for the Vikings.
And, of course, there are questions concerning the kicking game where journeyman Doug Brien has replaced Gary Anderson as the placekicker and Kyle Richardson has stepped in for Mitch Berger as the punter.
But all is not doom. Tice has instilled more enthusiasm into the Vikings than I've ever seen. So maybe they will go on to finish 11-5 this season. That would be a switch: The Vikings finishing with a better record than we thought they would. When's the last time that happened?
Bob Brown is the executive sports editor of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears every Wednesday and Saturday. He can be reached at email@example.com