Revamped Vikings have nowhere to go but up

The repaired stadium has a new roof, and the old quarterback is

gone. So is almost all of the drama, tension and dysfunction that

framed the colossal collapse last year by the Minnesota

Vikings.

This season, their profile is considerably lower – along with

the expectations.

”We’re positioning ourselves to sneak up on some people this

year,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.

He added: ”That’s OK. I think we’ll be just fine.”

The Vikings were humbled as they stumbled to a 6-10 finish. That

one-of-a-kind season featured, among other true stories, the firing

of head coach Brad Childress, a trade for Randy Moss that imploded

with his hasty release a month later, and a battering for Brett

Favre in what the NFL’s all-time leading passer has insisted was

his last year.

Oh, the ceiling at the Metrodome caved in during an epic

snowstorm, too. But the stadium wasn’t all that was rebuilt in

Minnesota this summer.

After guiding that shaky Viking ship for the final six games as

an interim fill-in for Childress, new head coach Leslie Frazier has

helped foster an upbeat outlook for a team that still has several

stars from the 2009 squad that missed the Super Bowl by four

points.

”Just the way the guys have responded here at the very start

has been so positive,” Frazier said. ”That just gives me the

impression that we’ve moved on past 2010 and we have opened up a

new era.”

Many of the players were pleased when Frazier was picked as the

replacement for Childress, respectful of his own experience as a

player on the dominant defense of the Chicago Bears in the 1980s.

He hasn’t been afraid to flex his authoritative muscle, cutting

mainstay left tackle Bryant McKinnie after the 10-year veteran

reported overweight.

He even scrapped the traditional rookie talent show at training

camp. Hazing doesn’t have a place on Frazier’s team.

”I just think it’s better for our football team as we try to

develop chemistry,” he said.

Frazier, a close friend of former NFL coach Tony Dungy, carries

himself with the same calm, carefulness and class that Dungy is

heralded for. His fortitude and focus have already been tested

through dozens of off-field distractions. Now his challenge will be

getting the most out of a team in an awkward transition from

championship contender to afterthought in its own division.

The Green Bay Packers are the reigning champions, and they

didn’t even win the NFC North last year. The Chicago Bears did, and

even the normally low-end Detroit Lions improved. Finishing with a

winning record, let alone reclaiming the division title they won in

2008 and 2009, will be difficult.

The offensive line and defensive backfield are positions of

concern, with key players such as right guard Anthony Herrera and

cornerback Cedric Griffin coming back from reconstructive knee

surgeries.

Favre has been replaced, for at least this season, by Donovan

McNabb, who was benched last year by the Washington Redskins and

has played in all 16 games only once in the last seven seasons.

He’ll need protection to be productive at age 34, and running back

Adrian Peterson will need some holes to show off his elite

skills.

Left guard Steve Hutchinson and defensive tackle Kevin Williams

are a pair of former All-Pros whose performance has been in

decline. None of the candidates for the starting safety spots is

proven after the jettisoning of veteran Madieu Williams, and the

backups behind Griffin and stalwart Antoine Winfield haven’t shown

they’re ready for roles in the nickel and dime defenses or as

emergency injury replacements.

But attitude can go a long way in this league.

There are plenty of proud, proven players such as McNabb,

Hutchinson, Williams, defensive end Jared Allen and wide receiver

Bernard Berrian coming off down seasons who could have their

production boosted by the proverbial chip on the shoulder.

The zone blocking scheme used under Childress in the West Coast

system has been phased out. New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave

has brought a simpler, man-to-man blocking scheme and a fresh set

of ideas and plans from his days on staff with Atlanta.

Wide receiver Percy Harvin, if he can shake those debilitating

migraine headaches, has Pro Bowl and game-changing potential.

Greenway has blossomed. Peterson, just 26, is in a contract

year.

There aren’t any rules against the Vikings returning to

contention, just some big roadblocks for Frazier and his players to

try to clear.

”This is an exciting year for me,” McNabb said. ”I’m looking

forward to it, and good things will happen.”