D Talking Smack -- For a Change

The buzz around minicamp Saturday surrounded something it hasn't for almost a decade at Winter Park or from Vikings fans -- defense. With the additions through the draft and free agency, the Vikings defensive players are convinced they won't be the ugly stepchild of the organization.

For more than a decade, the Vikings have been known around the NFL as a team that can win with offense, but, if you make the defense wins games, it's not going to happen.

Even when the Vikes ran roughshod over the NFL in 1998, defense was seen as the weakest link (good-bye!) standing between the team and dynasty status.

Saturday at the team's minicamp, many observers saw a visible change in that mindset. New CB Ken Irvin was talking smack back to Randy Moss. Chris Claiborne was asking the offense to bring its best. The nickel defense -- a pass-oriented formation the Vikes were forced to play half the time because of deficiencies that made passing a constant option for opposing offenses -- was saying "bring it on." As ironic as it has seemed in recent years, the Vikings are ready to bring a defense capable of winning games, instead of a defense trying to hold leads for the offense.

Mike Tice had a smile Saturday that hasn't been seen in awhile. With the additions to the Vikings defense -- and the promise of more coming before training camp opens -- the eternal optimism that tends to permeate minicamps has a new meaning with the Vikings this time around. The defense, according to players, coaches and media observers alike, is as good as it's been in years.

Chris Hovan, who was as elated as anyone by the drafting of Kevin Williams, said he expects the Vikings to be a "top 10 defense" within the next couple of years -- as opposed to a team closer to the bottom of the league as it's been the last four years.

While the Vikings defense had been predicated on stopping the run -- and, to a large extent, it did last year -- now the idea is to stop the pass. The early indications are that it has been a successful transition.

The Vikings won't be a chic pick for one of the NFC's top defensive units this season, but, for those who underestimate where they're at right now, it would have been nice to see more of their detractors at Winter Park Saturday. A change is blowing in the wind and defense -- which hasn't been a buzz word since the early 1990s -- may become a phrase we here much more this season.

* DB Brian Williams, rumored to be a strong candidate to move to safety, is currently being viewed in competition with Ken Irvin to start at cornerback and any plans to move him to safety -- at least for now -- are on hold.
* Punter Eddie Johnson lived up to his hype by wowing special teams coaches with his high, long punts Saturday. Johnson, who could potentially fill all the duties once held by Mitch Berger -- punter, kickoff specialist and holder -- has earned some solid marks with special teams coach Rusty Tillman. While the Vikings have other options at the kicking positions, Johnson has done everything right to this point and could make decisions like keeping Gary Anderson that much easier.
* Michael Bennett was a spectator at minicamp Saturday, but told VU he is ahead of schedule for his rehab and intends to start running next week. While VU has been told the team wants to take things slow in his rehab process, Bennett is ready to end any speculation about a committee backfield before it gets started.
* To all the mothers, wives and daughters out there who are reading this, the staff at VU would like to wish all of you a Happy Mother's Day. As tough as many of the VU staffers try to be when dealing with NFL players and coaches, off the sidelines, they're a bunch of mama's boys and today is special to all them for many reasons -- and we hope it will be special for all the women who are hopefully going to be pampered for one day.

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