Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Best Offseason News so far

For Vikings fans, nothing lends more optimism for 2006 than witnessing two injured incumbents running in mini-camp. In the last month the Vikings traded a Pro Bowl quarterback, signed five potential starters, including an All-Pro guard, in free agency, but the unheralded returns of Matt Birk and Kenechi Udeze may mark the biggest improvement to the team.

It is still very early, both on the football calendar and each player’s recovery timeline, but the early news is encouraging. Last year when Birk could not recover from hip surgery the offensive line fell apart. Now with a healthy Birk, and new guard Steve Hutchinson, the line suddenly is very strong. Aside from his obvious on-field talent, Birk is also the respected and outspoken leader of the team. Birk’s presence should also help second year guard Marcus Johnson’s progress.

Udeze is not an established star like Birk, but his return from a knee injury is just as big for the defense. After requiring microfracture sugery on his left knee, Udeze hopes to fill the Vikings outside pass rush need. In the team’s new cover 2 scheme, pressure from the front four is vital. A healthy Udeze will simplify that equation.

It is only April and setbacks are possible. Remember Birk was in this situation last year too. After a nightmare season in 2005, any positivity is welcome in Winter Park. With the draft only a few weeks away, things should only get better.