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Updated: August 8th, 2010 11:00pm
Pelissero: Assess the Vikings? Tough to do when we've yet to see them

Pelissero: Assess the Vikings? Tough to do when we've yet to see them

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MANKATO, Minn. -- It's safe to say the victor so far at Minnesota Vikings training camp is the defense.

It's also safe to say that means absolutely nothing.

"What the Vikings have is a balanced passing attack," an AFC personnel director said just before camp began, "because they can work the middle of the field with the tight end (Visanthe Shiancoe), they can work the perimeter of the field with Sidney Rice and they can do things situationally and with space play with Percy Harvin, getting the ball simply into a playmaker's hands.

"And I'm not even talking about what they have in the backfield. That guy is one of the best runners in the league, so I think a lot of teams would envy the overall offensive skill-player personnel that's on the Vikings. A lot of teams would envy that balance, never mind the quarterback."

Remove most of that group from the field -- Rice with a hip problem, Harvin with a death in his family, running back Adrian Peterson with a strained hamstring and quarterback Brett Favre with (insert excuse here) -- mix in some nicks along the offensive line, and you have a unit so watered down it makes evaluation more challenging across the board.

Take the Vikings' top two draft picks.

Chris Cook has made enough plays to raise questions about whether he deserves a shot to start at right cornerback. His length, speed and ball skills all have looked superior to presumed starter Lito Sheppard's so far in camp.

But who has Cook been making those plays against?

He's gotten two of his four interceptions off of Sage Rosenfels and the other two off of rookie Joe Webb. Intended targets: Marquis Hamilton (twice), Ray Small and Taye Biddle.

It'd be one thing if Cook were blanketing Harvin and ripping Favre passes out of midair. It's another when he's covering third-string receivers -- a group coach Brad Childress admitted he wanted to fire after only a couple of practices here.

Should Cook get full credit? And should the quarterbacks get full blame?

"You have to be that much sharper in the throwing game," Childress said over the weekend. "It is not fair to completely judge what a quarterback is doing based on the guys that are playing the skill positions around him."

One of those players is running back Toby Gerhart, who has taken his lumps from the Vikings' defense and left observers wondering when (or if) the rookie will flash his potential.

Thing is, Gerhart never is going to be a guy who drops jaws or scares teams on the perimeter. He's a grind-it-out, meat-and-potatoes runner who can break a few tackles and move the chains when he gets the ball enough.

Has Gerhart played too upright here? Has he sometimes been a step behind tempo? Has he not finished consistently enough? Yes, yes and yes. His tailbone tells that tale.

But frankly, it's tough for any back to find space on inside-zone plays against perhaps the NFL's best defensive line when the starting center (John Sullivan) is on the sideline more often than not and both guards (Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson) miss time, too.

Put the offense in a backed-up situation that lets the defense plunge downhill, and of course, the rookie takes a beating.

So, what's to make of the Vikings one month before the regular season begins?

Well ... not much. Because we haven't seen the Vikings.

Harvin should be back when practice resumes on Monday, ending an eight-day absence.

Peterson has declared he'll be ready to go, too, after increasing his workload on Saturday.

Rice? Tough to say, but the primary target has to be the opener Sept. 9 at New Orleans.

"They're a pretty talented team with Percy and Rice and Adrian," an NFC executive said.

That just leaves Favre, who is poised to cause another media frenzy this week when he gets his surgically repaired ankle checked out by Dr. James Andrews.

Tarvaris Jackson -- and the starting offense as a whole -- should benefit from the return of the Pro Bowl weapons around him.

And in turn, the likes of Albert Young, Greg Lewis and Jaymar Johnson will be back where they belong: providing a stronger challenge for Cook and his second-string cohorts.

Unless and until Favre rejoins the team, though, there always will be a sense that analyzing productivity on either side of the ball holds the same value as ever.

Absolutely nothing.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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