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Updated: January 25th, 2012 11:49pm
Pelissero: Leslie Frazier targeting improvement, not instant revival

Pelissero: Leslie Frazier targeting improvement, not instant revival

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MOBILE, Ala. -- Leslie Frazier has referred to this as a "critical" offseason for the Minnesota Vikings. He has said there need to be "serious" changes to the roster and the team must hit on every single pick in April's draft.

The tone of his comments in recent weeks raised an obvious question on Wednesday: does he really believe the Vikings can get all of this done by September?

"There is a lot to get done," Frazier said after the North team's third practice of Senior Bowl week. "Can we get it done in one offseason? Who knows? But if we can get some of the right people in place, we'll make improvement this next season."

That's as honest an assessment about the Vikings' prospects for 2012 as you're going to find from anyone in the organization.

To put it mildly, the odds are long of a return to playoff contention in conjunction with a personnel overhaul that could leave the Vikings among the NFL's youngest teams. There are too many holes and too many question marks after the 3-13 wreck of 2011.

But as newly promoted general manager Rick Spielman prepares to execute the plan he recently presented to ownership as a 30-page booklet, Frazier and his staff know they're under pressure to show their side of the operation is headed in the right direction -- or risk not being a part of the team's direction at all.

"It's got to be a productive offseason for us," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "It just has to be. We're ready to work."

The Vikings have enough ammunition to point the arrow up on the personnel side.

They have 18 potential free agents and probably will let most of them walk. They figure to clean up their salary cap by releasing or perhaps restructuring the contracts of multiple veterans, including starting guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera.

Once that's done, the Vikings will enter the 2012 league year around the middle of the pack in available cap space, giving them enough flexibility to address multiple holes in free agency if they choose.

They have eight draft picks, including the No. 3 overall selection, and expect to receive two compensatory fourth-round picks for the free-agent departures of Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards. They'll also be drafting near the top of later rounds and sit at the top of the waiver priority order until mid-September.

Is that enough to get a starting left tackle, one or two outside receivers, a third-down back, a blocking tight end, another option at nose tackle, a middle linebacker, an outside cornerback and at least one safety?

Maybe not, but that's precisely why Frazier has so drastically changed his tune from a year ago, when he spoke about challenging for a division title and exerted the authority he has since ceded to Spielman by acquiring diminished quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"We need to make some improvement in order for us to get to where we want to eventually be," Frazier said. "But we have those 10 picks. We have some players in place at Winter Park. We just need to add a few more pieces so we can do a lot better than we did this past season."

Frazier even acknowledged he misjudged the talent of the 2011 roster coming out of a protracted NFL lockout, which did no favors for a team with three new coordinators and two new faces at the most important position.

At Spielman's behest, Frazier did his due diligence in his defensive coordinator search this month before settling on pal Alan Williams, who is a better fit than demoted Fred Pagac if Frazier insists on standing by the Tampa-2.

Pagac is one of the best linebackers coaches in the NFL and a huge upgrade over Mike Singletary. Energetic Brendan Daly brings a different voice to a defensive line room that had become too comfortable under laid-back Karl Dunbar.

On offense, the Vikings have a highly respected line coach in Jeff Davidson and figure to benefit from an offseason in Musgrave's offense as they try to grow with young quarterback Christian Ponder.

"I just know that having a full offseason will help us, as opposed to coming in the day before the season, knowing that we're a team in transition and really the coaches not having a good feel for the roster," Frazier said. "This year, we'll all have a great feel for the roster -- not just myself, but everybody will."

The thing is, the better the feel anyone has for this Vikings roster, the more obvious it becomes this is more than a one-year fix.

It's on Frazier and his staff to show the improvement he's targeting even if it doesn't manifest itself with a shot up the standings.

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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