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Vikings ready to get to work

MANKATO, Minn. -- We interrupt the Brett Favre-tampering-phone bill soap opera with this important piece of news: The Vikings officially open training camp today with a 9 a.m. practice.

MANKATO, Minn. -- We interrupt the Brett Favre-tampering-phone bill soap opera with this important piece of news: The Vikings officially open training camp today with a 9 a.m. practice.

Barring a ruling by the NFL on tampering charges, the Vikings will escape the Favre sideshow and finally get down to work. Their busy and expensive offseason resulted in bold predictions, but now it's time to see whether a product that looks good on paper can match those expectations on the field.

Here are a five things to watch:

1. Signs of progress

The Vikings' biggest question is whether third-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is capable of leading his team to the playoffs. Coaches and players rave about Jackson's improvement in offseason workouts, but he must show progress in several areas to erase doubts.

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Jackson has the physical tools, but is his decision-making better? Does he look more comfortable and confident in blitz situations? Does he have a better overall command of the West Coast offense?

Minnesota coach Brad Childress said Jackson, in particular, looked more decisive this offseason in third-down situations when faced with pressure.

"I just thought he handled himself with the protection, with the mechanics, with the ball out and then throwing it early and not holding on to the thing," Childress said.

2. The Allen effect

The Vikings spent a boatload of money (team-record $74 million contract) on defensive end Jared Allen, who led the NFL with 15.5 sacks last season for Kansas City.

Allen's presence on the edge should immediately upgrade the Vikings pass rush. That, in turn, should improve the Vikings pass defense, which was ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season.

Allen's non-stop enthusiasm and energy also could spread through the locker room and keep the tempo in practice at a high level.

3. Talented duo

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Childress has downplayed how much he will play running backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor together, but the Vikings can get creative.

Childress said he thinks Peterson will be a better blocker and pass catcher this season, which means he could be on the field more on third down. The Vikings could give defenses different looks by having formations that include Peterson and Taylor on the field at the same time.

They probably won't tip their hand too much in camp though. Childress indicated the staff will monitor the running backs workload in Mankato.

4. Real or mirage?

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe caught just about everything thrown his way during offseason workouts, which was noteworthy considering his disappointing first season with the team.

The team clearly wants Shiancoe to play a key role in this offense, but he has to prove that he can hang on to the ball. A strong Shiancoe performance should allow new wide receiver Bernard Berrian to stretch the field more and also create more room for the running game.

5. Prepare for Plan B

Bryant McKinnie is the starter at left tackle, but the team must make contingency plans in case McKinnie faces disciplinary action from the NFL stemming from his criminal case in Miami.

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McKinnie, who has pleaded not guilty to four charges after a brawl outside a nightclub, could face a suspension from the NFL as a repeat offender of the league's conduct policy.

Veteran Artis Hicks worked with the first team at left tackle during McKinnie's two-day absence during organized team activities. Hicks would be the likely candidate, but Childress said he'll look at several players in that spot. It will be interesting to see how many snaps Hicks or others take with the starters.

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