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Updated: August 12th, 2011 1:28am
Pelissero: Direction remains a mystery after short stay in Mankato

Pelissero: Direction remains a mystery after short stay in Mankato

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MANKATO, Minn. -- Visanthe Shiancoe rocked back and forth at his locker as he spoke. He had anger in his voice and tears in his eyes.

It was Nov. 21, and the Minnesota Vikings had just taken a 31-3 beating from the Green Bay Packers that sealed coach Brad Childress' ouster the next day.

Kevin Williams called it the worst loss in his Vikings career. Adrian Peterson suggested some players gave up the fight.

No one appeared to take the collapse of The All-In Season harder than Shiancoe, who used the word "embarrassing" so often it could have been appended to the team's name.

"Yeah, 'cause that wasn't us last year," Shiancoe recalled on Thursday as the Vikings prepared to wrap their 11-day training camp at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

"But luckily, we can leave that in the past and look forward from now on. I'm just glad about that. Our whole team -- it's like we're looking in the same direction right now."

What direction is that?

It's even harder than usual to draw any conclusions at this stage, no matter how players seem to be buying the message coach Leslie Frazier and his staff are selling.

They've gone through all of 10 practices and eight walkthroughs -- roughly the workload they would have put in by the end of May if the NFL lockout hadn't wiped out the entire offseason.

New coordinator Bill Musgrave needs a couple more weeks just to finish installing his offense, which is a departure from the scheme in which many Vikings have spent their entire careers.

"I have a bead on it," quarterback Donovan McNabb said of the team's potential. "I won't tell you guys. But we'll see. It's patience. You have your highs and your lows. At this point, we just need to work on consistency and gelling together."

One well-traveled assistant coach said he's never seen a more enthusiastic camp. But that could have just as much to do with the lack of two-a-days as belief in Frazier or the uneven early returns on the field.

If anything, those who remember the 6-10 struggle of 2010 seem eager to embrace the idea last year was a distraction-driven anomaly and not a sign this group's window has closed.

"I have an expectation, and that's to be great," Peterson said. "We have all the tools, all the pieces. It's just going to be all about gelling and going through this preseason."

Starters only will play a series or two in Saturday's exhibition opener at Tennessee, where the focus will be on rookies and fringe players. A trip to Seattle the following week will be much of the same.

Not until the Vikings return to the Metrodome and host the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 27 will they have put in enough time to know if they can take a step forward despite personnel movement that looks like a step back on paper.

Out is quarterback Brett Favre and in is McNabb, who was benched and beaten down during his lost season in Washington.

Out is receiver Sidney Rice and in is Michael Jenkins, who has a 12.7-yard career average and lacks Rice's fully dimensional skill set.

Out is left tackle Bryant McKinnie and in is Charlie Johnson, who has a body for guard and was whipped repeatedly by Jared Allen in camp.

Out is left end Ray Edwards and in is Brian Robison, who lacks Edwards' physical talent and has fewer sacks in his four-year NFL career (13½) than Edwards has the past two seasons (20½).

Out is nose tackle Pat Williams and in is Remi Ayodele, who is a decade younger but lacks Williams' track record.

Out is weakside linebacker Ben Leber and in is Erin Henderson and/or Jasper Brinkley, who have yet to earn regular playing time in their young careers.

They're counting on cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook to bounce back from multiple knee surgeries. They're counting on Bernard Berrian to right declining production on the wrong side of age 30.

The only member of the rookie class who appears likely to make an immediate impact is tight end Kyle Rudolph. But he remains raw as blocker, and the Vikings will go with veterans Jimmy Kleinsasser and Jeff Dugan on Saturday while Shiancoe nurses a tender hamstring.

At least they're not entering another preseason opener with no guarantees their starting quarterback is going to show up. And they have a coach players seem willing to trust after their relationship with Childress deteriorated rapidly a year ago.

"Now we can at least focus on what really counts, and that's football," Shiancoe said. "Getting prepared, especially with this short offseason ... it's very important that we get right to work, man, because preseason isn't too long.

"Before we know it, it's going to be September (11th, when the Vikings open the season at San Diego). I'm just glad that everybody is ready to work like this. It's exciting."

Even if the direction remains wholly undetermined.

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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