Commitment To Change

The pressure to put together a better draft can be seen in looking at all the changes the Vikings have made in the way they approach draft weekend this year.

For the Vikings, the proof is in the plethora of mistakes that have streamed out of the Vikings draft room in recent seasons.

Start in 1998, when the Vikings lucked out with Randy Moss tumbling to No. 21 overall, giving the Vikings a franchise-turning player. But look after that first round, with picks like linebacker Kailee Wong, cornerback Ramos McDonald, linebacker Kivuusama Mays and safety Kerry Cooks.

Try 1999. The Vikings got a starting quarterback in Daunte Culpepper with the 11th overall pick. After that? Opportunity lost. The Vikings, with Culpepper's pick secured because of the Brad Johnson trade, had another first-round draft pick and they took Dimitrius Underwood, a bipolar defensive end who went AWOL after the first practice of training came and soon became known as one of the worst first-round draft choices in recent history. The only other consistent contributor to come out of that draft was tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser.

How about 2000? Chris Hovan was a good first-round pick. But then the Vikings strained while reaching for Fred Robbins and Michael Boireau, a pair of defensive linemen, in the second round. In 2001, Michael Bennett was a great first-round pick, but has anybody heard of Willie Howard, Eric Kelly, Shawn Worthen or Patrick Chukwurah?

Is there a pattern developing here? Even last year, when Dennis Green and his autocratic war-room ways were gone, much of the same scouting apparatus was in place, and the Vikings wound up hitting on the first round (tackle Bryant McKinnie), then failing to find another quality starter the rest of the draft; Raonall Smith got hurt, Willie Offord played himself off the field.

This is why owner Red McCombs has decided that things have to change.

This is why long-time head of the draft, Frank Gilliam, has been made a consultant, why Scott Studwell was elevated to the top position as head of college scouting. This is why tons of money has been poured into upgrading the technical aspect of preparing for the draft, and why coach Mike Tice has seen to it that three intense weeks of 10-hours-a-day meetings involving scouts, coaches and the front office will have been held by the time the clock starts running next Saturday.

In the age of free agency, it's not enough just to hit on your first-round selection. You have to fill your team with quality in the later rounds. This year McCombs has demanded and Tice has admitted that no less than three quality starters will have to come out of the draft when it's all said and done.

All in all, a daunting task.

"There are ways to get better," Tice said. "Foremost is to coach better, and get your players better in the off-season. The second is to fill some holes, based on your evaluation of the draft and its depth, through free agency. And the third way is to have a great draft, which we haven't had recently."

Of the last five drafts, more than half of the players the Vikings have taken are no longer with the team.

McCombs has made it clear that must change.

To that end, Studwell has been in charge of the scouts, who have been introduced to the digital age. A system has been put in place where at least two people -- from among the scouts and the assistant coaches -- and usually more will have seen a player the Vikings are considering drafting; in the past, it was a regular event for a player who had just been drafted to say he hadn't even talked with a member of the organization. What's more, all the scouts and coaches have been asked to make more detailed reports, and to file them via computer -- rather than the hand-written reports they used to make. Then the reports are filed and cross-referenced, and made more easily accessible.

And then there is the committee. There is Studwell, and Tice and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski. They make up the triumvirate that will ultimately make the decision. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how this will play out on draft day. But it appears that Studwell will have a lead role in the decision-making process. McCombs, though, has said that Tice will not be given a player he doesn't want. Ultimately, those in power will have to come to an agreement.

Come Saturday and Sunday, fans will see whether all the changes will pay off.

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