Once again, my plans for a big August were interrupted by travel. For some reason, despite being in a far away place for business, by myself, I just never found the time I wanted to preview the season. Of course, part of that was due to the fact that I wasn't able to watch any of the preseason games and the rest due to the fact that the offseason has been one of waiting, rather than one for arguments, once the Vikings finished up their roster selection. I mean, what was there to argue about, aside from the final wide receiver spot?
That being said, the preseason has exposed the current staff's inability to foresee upcoming issues, even when they are staring them in the face. It was an issue last year, when they didn't go out and get a backup for Tarvaris Jackson, despite the fact he was barely a year removed from playing 1-AA football and it is an issue again at quarterback (Do you trust Gus Frerrote? I know I don't, which is not a good sign, what with Tarvaris already suffering his first injury of the year) and now at left tackle, where the Vikings seem to have no problem playing the first quarter of the season with Artis Hicks protecting Tarvaris' blindside and attempting to open up running lanes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor on the left side of the line.
I know I don't trust Hicks to protect Tarvaris from right guard, with the help of Matt Birk and Ryan Cook (and neither did the Vikings, who benched him after four games last year), let alone on an island against some of the top defensive ends in the NFL. I could list them here, but I'm sure we'll all get to hear their names often enough, usually followed by some riff on the phrase "sacks Tarvaris Jackson". Luckily, the Vikings saw the writing on the wall and gave Hicks a lot of reps at left tackle with the first unit.
What Artis Hicks might bring, however, is the ability to continue running the ball to the left side. Since signing Steve Hutchinson to pair with McKinnie, the Vikings have been dominate running the ball to the left side (not including the issues created by McKinnie's injuries in 2007). Last year, the Purple averaged 4.68 yards on runs around left end and 4.21 yards to left tackle, compared with 3.49 yards per carry around right end and 4.09 yards on runs to right tackle (these numbers are from this year's Pro Football Prospectus). That was a huge drop from the year before, when Artis Hicks started 14 games at right guard, where the Vikings averaged 5.15 yards around right end and 4.54 yards to right tackle. I don't know how much of that success can really be attributed to Hicks, but it's a reason to be hopeful that McKinnie's suspension won't completely derail the running game like it will the passing game.
Hick's run blocking might be enough to keep the Vikings' offense moving, but in the end, the left tackle's main job is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. So what happens if (when, more likely) Tarvaris gets lit up and knocked out after yet another "Look Out" block by Hicks? Let's put it this way--Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will be facing 9 men in the box again, despite the signing of Bernard Berrian (I'm still pretending his toe injury is no big deal--let me have something, please) and the likely improvement by Sidney Rice. So yeah, lots of excitement heading into the opener on Monday.