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Updated: March 22nd, 2011 1:07pm
Tackling the issues: Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams in fold for now

Tackling the issues: Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams in fold for now

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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NEW ORLEANS -- During his roughly 1-hour session with reporters on Tuesday morning, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier addressed at least one issue facing each offensive and defensive position group in this uncertain offseason. Here's a sampling:

Quarterbacks

The issue: The Vikings need a franchise quarterback.

The plan: All possibilities -- including trades and free-agent signings that can't be made until the NFL lockout ends -- are being discussed. But Frazier made clear his preference is to find a quarterback in the draft, perhaps with the Vikings' top pick.

The quote: "Ideally, it would be to get a young guy that could say, 'OK, we're going to ride with this guy. He's our guy. He's our (Joe) Flacco, he's our (Mark) Sanchez, he's our Matt Ryan.' He would step in as our starter. That would be the ideal situation. You know you're going to go through your lumps early on, but in the long term, you just know you've got the right guy, that's he's just going to get better and better and better and we build around him."

Running backs

The issue: All-Pro halfback Adrian Peterson's contract is scheduled to void after the season.

The plan: Several team officials over the past month have acknowledged a contract extension will be a priority once the labor situation is resolved.

The quote: "You'd like to get him under contract, and I'm sure and I know we're going to make every effort to get that done. He is, in every sense of the word, a franchise back and, in my mind, the best back in the National Football League today. So, we want him to retire a Minnesota Viking and our organization wants that to happen and we're going to put our best foot forward when the time comes."

Receivers

The issue: The Vikings want to re-sign Sidney Rice, but he plans to test free agency if he's eligible under the rules of the next collective-bargaining agreement.

The plan: The team placed a first-round tender on Rice -- "we just felt like that would discourage people," Frazier said -- in case four-year players end up being restricted free agents. The Vikings also have made clear they're interested in giving him a long-term deal, although it's unclear what, if any, multiyear offer has been extended.

The quote: "He's a big part of the plan, but at the same time, I understand he has a chance to be a free agent and test the waters. I can't blame him. In this market, why wouldn't you? He's got to do what he has to do. But at the end of the day, I'm hoping that he'll be back with the Vikings and there's some things that we'd like to be able to do with him."

The other issue: Bernard Berrian is coming off a terrible season, seems to have lost a step and is due $4 million in salary and bonuses in 2011.

The plan: For now, the Vikings are hanging onto the 30-year-old -- perhaps as a fallback option if Rice leaves in free agency.

The quote: "We need to get him up to speed. He's a talented guy. He can run with the best in the league and he did put up some big numbers for us a couple of years ago. So, we've got to get him back in the fold and get him to where he's a major contributor to our offense and we're going to need him this next season in a big way. We had some talks right at the end of the season when they were doing the exit interviews and sat in my office. I talked to him just about that -- how important it's going to be for him to step up and be a featured player in our offense in order for us to get to where we want to go as an organization."

Tight ends

The issue: The group is aging rapidly. After losing rookie Mickey Shuler off waivers early last season, the Vikings were left with Jimmy Kleinsasser (age 34), Visanthe Shiancoe (31 in June) and Jeff Dugan (29).

The plan: Kleinsasser and Shiancoe will return, but they're in the final year of their respective contracts. Dugan has been clinging to the bottom of the roster for years. The Vikings need to get younger and could address this spot in the draft.

The quote: "We've got to do some things at that position. We're getting older at the tight end position."

Offensive line

The issue: Center John Sullivan is coming off a disappointing second season as the starter, has battled injuries and doesn't play as physically as the Vikings want.

The plan: Sullivan remains a starter for now, but he needs to get stronger and likely will face a challenge for his job in training camp.

The quote: "We talked some at the end of the year about just being tough and physical and how we have to do things. Now, with (new offensive line coach) Jeff Davidson coming in, and he has some ideas and plans to really get Sully up to speed in that regard. We have high hopes for him. We think he's capable of being a physical guy. We know he's a smart guy who can really run our offense from the center position, and the rest of his game will come."

Defensive line

The issue: The Vikings' run defense sagged last season as the decline continued for their longtime run stopper, Pat Williams, who can become a free agent and said recently he plans to sign elsewhere because he no longer trusts people in the organization.

The plan: Frazier spoke with Williams and hasn't ruled out re-signing the 38-year-old, although that seems like a long shot.

The quote: "We had a good talk and I think we're on the same page on some things. I love Pat, he's been great for me, especially when I was in the coordinator's role and he's been great for our locker room. ... He has some things he wants to achieve and we have some ideas about the direction we want to go as well and he knows what those directions are. Let's see how it all plays out."

Linebackers

The issue: The Vikings placed the franchise tag on strongside linebacker Chad Greenway and middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is under contract for 2011. Weakside linebacker Ben Leber could leave in free agency, though, potentially creating an opening in the base defense.

The plan: The team has shown interest in re-signing Leber, 32. But when asked for a list of players he hopes will step up, two of the players Frazier listed were linebackers Kenny Onatolu and Jasper Brinkley.

The quote: "Got to figure out a way to get Jasper on the field. He's ready to go. He called me when I was at the Senior Bowl saying, 'Coach what do you think? Is this my year?' I said, 'Jasper your turn is coming, just be patient.' Hopefully, (in) 2011, we'll find a way."

Defensive backs

The issue: Safety Madieu Williams struggled last season, will turn 30 in October and is due $5.5 million in salary and bonuses this season.

The plan: For now, Williams remains the starter opposite Husain Abdullah. And Frazier sounded sincere about keeping him around for his leadership ability -- although that could change if former second-round draft Tyrell Johnson beats him out.

The quote: "(Williams would) like to get more hands on balls, and he'd like to get more turnovers, like to be a little better tackler in certain situations. Those are all things that I'm sure he'd say he wants to improve on, and he will. He still has a chance to. But I still think that neck injury from (2009) has kind of stuck with him a little bit. But I've seen him improve in some areas where he was good at in the past -- even this past season in certain instances. So, I think he's getting better at some things, but this offseason will be critical to his future success."

The other issue: Two of the Vikings' top three cornerbacks, Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook are coming off season-ending knee injuries and Pro Bowl starter Antoine Winfield turns 34 in June.

The plan: Wait and see. Griffin has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees over the past 14 months, and it's unclear when -- if ever -- he'll regain the form that prompted the Vikings to give him a lucrative six-year contract in March 2009.

The quote: "We slate Asher (Allen) as a starting corner until we knew what was going to happen with Cedric. Antoine will probably come in as a starter and then kick back inside in the nickel like he did this past season. So, probably maybe Antoine and Asher until we knew what Chris' status was, and then eventually, hopefully, getting Chris moving forward to one day being a starter."

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.
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