Defense Shaping Up

With three new starters for sure and more vying for playing time, the Vikings defensive depth chart began to take shape at their first full-squad practice Friday morning. Plus, notes on some of the new faces at practice.

While there are few questions about the long-term depth chart on offense, the defensive depth chart is taking early form. Changes are expected as young players make improvements throughout the spring and summer camps, but for now here is how they are lining up after the first minicamp practice.

On defense, the first base defense features a front line of Kenny Mixon, Chris Hovan and Lance Johnstone, and Fred Robbins is starting the camps with the first line. At linebacker, Chris Claiborne, Greg Biekert and Henri Crockett are base backers. In the secondary, free-agent acquisitions Ken Irvin and Denard Walker man the base corners and Corey Chavous and Willie Offord are at safety.

In the nickel, things are likely to change before training camp, but in the first practice of minicamp here is where the players were lining up: Mixon and Hovan remain from the base, with Johnstone and Lorenzo Bromell rotating at right end. Rookie Kevin Williams was put immediately into the nickel package.

"We started (working) last night when I got in (with defensive coordinator George O'Leary and assistant defensive line coach Pete Bercich)," Williams said.

For now, Claiborne and Crockett are staying in on the first-team nickel defense, along with safeties Offord and Chavous. Walker and Irvin are remaining at corner, with second-year cornerback Brian Williams playing nickel.

On the second-team base defense, the defensive line features Chuck Wiley, Billy Lyon, Williams and Bromell from left to right. At linebacker, rookie Mike Nattiel is already getting repeated looks, along with second-rounder E.J. Henderson in the middle and Nick Rogers on the strong side. Eric Kelly and Brian Williams are the base corners with the second team, with Brian Russell and Jack Brewer at safety.

Brewer and Offord appear to be in a battle for base safety position opposite Chavous, but Hovan is happy with the overall look of this new defense.

"Now we've got impact players," he said, saying that in recent years they've added role players for stop-gap purposes. But last year, with players like Mixon, Biekert and Chavous, the Vikings started a return to getting true starting talent across the defense. "Impact players are different (than role players)."

Hovan also singled out the acquisition of Chris Claiborne, call him "a blue-chip player. That's really Detroit's loss."

* Kevin Williams hasn't had much of a chance to work with Hovan, but Williams knows where he needs to improve: "I've got to really use my hands. It's more important here (in the pros)."
* Walker is impressed with the way the defense, with all of its new faces, is working together at this early stage. "Guys are working really very well together," Walker said. "I've been in three secondaries and I'm very impressed."
* Daunte Culpepper, on his new 10-year extension, worth $102 million dollars with a $16 million signing bonus: "I had a feeling that we were going to get it done." Culpepper was all smiles at his press conference, and Moss was joking with him in practice about picking up the tab for an evening out.
* Culpepper showed just how valuable a mobile quarterback can be. On one play, Mixon was bearing down hard on Culpepper, but one pump fake and a side step and Culpepper was off to the races with the receivers being heavily covered.
* McCombs on Culpepper's extension: "We know that Daunte is the best quarterback in the NFL."
* Vikings salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski said they'll move as much of Culpepper's money as they can to this year's cap in order to give them more flexibility in the future. The Vikings have less than $14 million to work with.
* The Vikings have hired two consultants for different purposes. Blaze Winter, who play from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s on three different NFL teams, will develop the handwork of the defensive linemen. He is a motivational speaker, with his company, The Power of Mind and Body, located in Green Bay. He has worked several places with defensive coordinator George O'Leary and says he's loyal to him, calling O'Leary "like a father." The other consultant is Joe Gentry, whose specialty is track and field. He will be working with the speed and breathing of the players.
* Doug Chapman was getting many of the first-team reps at running back with Michael Bennett sidelined after foot surgery.
* D'Wayne Bates was getting most of the work as the No. 2 receiver opposite Randy Moss, with Kelly Campbell and Nate Burleson next in line. Derrick Alexander was sidelined riding a stationary bike.

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