Michael Bennett will cary the load on the ground for the Vikings
Like a participant in the Federal witness protection program, the Minnesota Vikings emerge this season with a completely new identity.
Familiar Pro Bowl faces such as John Randle, Todd Steussie, Jeff Christy, Robert Smith and Randall McDaniel have gone elsewhere during the past few seasons. That exodus continued after last season's disappointing 5-11 finish, most notably with the departure of head coach Dennis Green, wide receiver Cris Carter and safety Robert Griffith.
The Vikings still are blessed with star wide receiver Randy Moss, and his talents will be needed more than ever. New coach Mike Tice has promised Moss a large role in the offense, but at the same time Tice has made it clear that he won't tolerate laziness. Moss, who has been known to let his intensity wane, will be the focus of considerable attention.
So will quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who enjoyed a spectacular 2000 campaign but struggled somewhat last season before an injury sidelined him at year's end. The Vikings are counting on him to stay in the pocket more, read defenses better and get the ball to Moss.
If the offense does its job, then it will be up to the Vikings' defense, led by tackle Chris Hovan, to improve, especially against the run.
2002 TOP DRAFT PICKS
- OT Bryant McKinnie, Miami
- LB Raonall Smith, Wash. State
- S Willie Offord, South Carolina
Dennis Green struggled to motivate Moss and lost control of the team last season. Green, who led Minnesota to the playoffs eight times during his 10-year tenure (1992-2001), was replaced after Week 16 by Mike Tice, the team's offensive line/assistant head coach. The first order of business for Tice, who played tight end for 14 seasons in the NFL, is to bring more order to the Vikings' locker room, especially with regard to Moss.
Tice also has to repair a defense that put far too much pressure on the offense with its poor play. Fortunately for the Vikings, they had a lot of room under the salary cap, so they opened up their pocketbook and signed a bevy of free agents to bolster their defense, including Corey Chavous (cornerback, Arizona), Henri Crockett (linebacker, Atlanta), Kenny Mixon (end, Miami), Lorenzo Bromell (end, Miami) and Darius Holland (tackle, Green Bay).
Hoping to make up for the loss of the veteran Carter, Minnesota signed promising fourth-year player D'Wayne Bates (from the Bears) and nine-year veteran Derrick Alexander (Chiefs). Alexander's three 1,000-yard seasons include a career-high 1,391 in 2000.
POCKET PROTECTORS: In 2000, Culpepper fired 33 touchdowns behind a huge line that allowed only 35 sacks. In 2001, the Vikings surrendered 47 sacks behind a revamped offensive line after the free-agent loss of Steussie and the tragic training camp death of Korey Stringer (both were Pro Bowl tackles). Consequently, Culpepper's production fell significantly and an injury ended his season after 11 games.
ALL BARK NO BITE: For the second consecutive season, Minnesota's defense posted the fewest takeaways (18) in the league. That shortcoming was the main reason for the team's league-worst minus-21 turnover ratio.
NOT IN A RUSH: In 2000, Robert Smith set a club record with 1,521 rushing yards. Then he retired. His replacement, first-round draft choice Michael Bennett, managed just 682.
Offense: 12 (25 rush, 7 pass)
Defense: 27 (30 rush, 18 pass)
Reprinted from the 2002 preview issue of NFL Insider