Vikings new, but not rebuilding
Editor's note: Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune is traveling around to NFC North training camps. Here are his impressions from the Vikings' camp.
MANKATO — The soap opera that was Brett Favre is retired.
It's a lot quieter, and roomier, in the part of the locker room where Pat Williams used to rule.
Sidney Rice took the money and ran, presumably without a limp, to Seattle.
Nearly 400 pounds of offensive tackle have been trimmed.
These are not the same Vikings who went 12-4 in 2009, barely missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl and sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl. But they also are not the same Vikings who went 6-10 in 2010.
"You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't put it to use, it doesn't mean anything," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Unfortunately, we lost some good players. But you look at where we were last year, and maybe some changes were necessary."
Despite the presence of quarterback Christian Ponder, their first-round draft pick, they will tell you until they are purple in the face that this is not a rebuilding job. And, really, how can it be called rebuilding when a dozen key players are 29 or older?
If it's not rebuilding, though, it's at least substantial rehabbing. The Vikings are trying to replace seven starters, and they are doing it with a new head coach in Leslie Frazier and a new offensive coordinator in Bill Musgrave.
Frazier, the former Bears cornerback, strongly believes the Vikings can be competitive in an NFC North that never has looked tougher. "We have enough weapons in enough places, and some other guys will have to step up to replace some starters we lost," he said. "We've been developing guys, and I don't think it will be a dramatic drop-off. We'll be in a position we can compete hopefully for an NFC North championship."
If the Vikings end up as NFC North champs in January, it may be because Donovan McNabb is comeback player of the year. After a down year with the Redskins, the 34-year-old would like to show the NFL that he still has the goods.
McNabb's passer rating of 77.1 last season was his lowest since his rookie season, 12 years earlier. His struggles, and some frosty comments from Redskins coaches, made it easy to forget McNabb has played in six Pro Bowls, has been to a Super Bowl, has won 62 percent of the games he has started and ranks third in NFL history with an interception percentage of 2.2.
So McNabb was not brought to Minnesota merely to hold Ponder's hand. In fact, McNabb says he does not look at himself as Ponder's mentor. He said he won't be in the rook's ear about what he should and shouldn't be doing. Instead, he plans to set a good example and answer any questions Ponder has for him.
Frazier was reminded of McNabb's value when he phoned Eagles coach Andy Reid, for whom Frazier once worked.
"He had a lot of good things to say about where he thought Donovan would be and why he'd be a good fit for us in Minnesota," Frazier said. "He reminded me that although I was hearing different things from different places about Donovan that weren't flattering, that I know Donovan. He knows Donovan. We know what makes him tick. We know what he is capable of doing. I thought about that, and it made sense."
As old as McNabb is, he is seven years younger than the team's previous quarterback.
"We knew it was a short-term deal with Brett," Allen said. "With Donovan, it gives us an opportunity to pick up where we left off with veteran leadership."
McNabb says he feels no effects from aging. And he is not too old to excel. Upper-echelon quarterbacks typically play into their late 30s.
"Peyton (Manning) is my age," he said. "Tom Brady is my age. Drew (Brees) is like two-three years younger. If I'm getting old, what are they getting, younger? If I get back to playing the way I played in Philly just two years ago, all of a sudden no one will say anything about how old I am."
If McNabb gets back to the way he was playing in Philly two years ago, the NFC North may have four contenders.