Monday, January 16, 2006

Vikings Off-season Report: QB's

What happened in 2005: Daunte Culpepper entered the year saying he was a Jedi, that the game was becoming easier. After a record setting 2004 and a strong preseason, it made sense for Culpepper to expect a big season. Instead Daunte’s season was a nightmare from game 1. His 12 interceptions in seven games totaled more than all of 2004, the team started 2-5, and Daunte never looked comfortable. His season ended early in week 8 with a gruesome knee injury at Carolina. Many factors on and off the field contributed to the struggles, but the fact is Culpepper had his worst season since 2002.

Brad Johnson stepped in and won six straight games to lift the Vikings to a winning record and at least give the team hope. The 14-year veteran was accurate, protected the ball and led several game winning drives during the fourth quarter.

Where they stand now: Culpepper and Johnson are both signed to multi-year deals, but both are questionable for next year. Culpepper tore three knee ligaments and rehab is estimated to take a 12-18 months, meaning he would not be ready until mid-season. Culpepper disputes this timetable and says he will be ready by training camp. Even if Culpepper is running by August, it is doubtful he will be 100%. With the challenge of learning Brad Childress’ offense, he will need all the possible reps.

Johnson meanwhile says he wants to be a starter, here or elsewhere. Minnesota would seem a good fit; Johnson’s accuracy is his strength and he has experience with the West Coast offense. The problem is he will be 38 this fall. Considering his lack of mobility and the Vikings’ shaky line, durability will be a question mark.

Third string QB Shaun Hill is a free agent and hasn’t thrown an NFL pass.

The Plan: The Vikings still believe Culpepper is a franchise player. For a franchise QB, he faces plenty of questions. He has to learn a new offense, establish repoire with a new staff, show he is healthy, plus erase the idea that he can’t lead a team. The Vikings should not count on Daunte being fully ready by September and will need a reliable backup.

Johnson’s plans or belief he is a starter will have a large effect on the Vikings’ plans. If he leaves, they will need someone that can be a stopgap starter and maybe more importantly know the finer points of the short passing game that Childress will install. An intriguing fit? Tampa Bay’s Brian Griese, played decently for the Bucs before injuries handed his job to Chris Simms.

With Hill most likely gone, the Vikings should also spend a lower draft pick on a quarterback. The team hasn’t drafted a quarterback since Culpepper, instead relying on veteran castoffs and free agent rookies. It is time to draft and groom a young passer and legitimate NFL prospect.

If Culpepper can be healthy he should succeed with Childress. He is more accurate than people give him credit for, is hard to bring The answers probably will not come for Culpepper or the Vikings until September and beyond, but they can at least try to be prepared.