Without Rice, Vikings offense must change
Without addressing Sidney Rice's Monday hip surgery — the procedure, first reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Tuesday morning, subsequently was confirmed — a prominent Vikings official confirmed to The Sports Xchange that the team's offense "definitely will have to change."
Translation (and fantasy football alert): more carries for Adrian Peterson, who wasn't quite an afterthought in 2009, but wasn't exactly the fulcrum of the offense once Brett Favre arrived.
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The tweaking of the Minnesota attack, even if the dilatory Favre is now aboard for a second season, is only logical. And perhaps now necessary.
Under the best of circumstances, Rice is gone for at least a half-season. So much for the folks who suggested that Rice, who had a breakout year in 2009 with 83 catches, 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns, might be dogging it in camp to secure a contract extension.
For all his jaw-dropping playmaking skills, the Vikings can't count on reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin because of the unpredictability of his chronic migraine problems. Harvin, who left the practice field in an ambulance last Thursday because of a migraine attack, will visit an expert this week. But he's done that before, even been to the renowned Mayo Clinic, and no one has yet discovered a viable remedy.
Javon Walker, added Monday as a free agent, hasn't posted more than 26 catches since 2006, when he had 69 grabs in Denver. The former Pro Bowl wide receiver, beset by injuries in recent seasons, has appeared in only 19 games (with 12 starts) the past three seasons. Incumbent Bernard Berrian is a proven receiver but has suffered through fits of inconsistency in his six-year tenure, and has averaged only 51.5 catches since notching a career-best 71 in 2007.
Greg Lewis, a nice spare part but that's all, has only once registered more than 25 catches in his six-year career. While his last-second grab at the back of the end zone versus San Francisco was one of the highlights of last season, it was his only touchdown in 2009.
Visanthe Shiancoe had a career-best 56 receptions in 2009, but teams don't go to the Super Bowl simply throwing the ball to the tight end. And Chester Taylor, a former 1,000-yard rusher and accomplished third-down back, departed to NFC North rival Chicago in free agency this spring.
Which pretty much leaves Peterson as an increased option, both as a runner and perhaps as a third-down receiver — although his deficiencies in pass protection were further exposed in Sunday's preseason game against the 49ers.
Second-round draft choice Toby Gerhardt of Stanford, selected in part to fill the void created by Taylor's departure, simply isn't ready to handle the third-down role.
Peterson did score a career-best 18 rushing touchdowns in 2009. But the third-year back's overall carries were reduced from 2008 (363 to 314), as were his yards (1,760 to 1,383) and his yards per rush (4.8 to 4.4). As for big plays, the former Oklahoma star had 12 runs of 20 or more yards in 2009, and three for 40-plus yards. In 2008, however, those numbers were 20 and four, respectively.
In '08, with Tarvaris Jackson as the starting quarterback, the Vikings rushed on 51.2 percent of their offensive snaps. Last season that dropped to 44.3 percent.
Last year Peterson ceded his rushing crown, along with the fictitious title of the NFL's "best running back," to Chris Johnson of Tennessee. This year, even with Favre back, and despite the star tailback's maddening propensity for fumbles, Peterson could regain both.
Given the Rice surgery, he might have to.