Sunday slant: Vikings embrace underdog status

The Vikings know how they are perceived from the outside. They are big underdogs this year in Vegas and in power rankings, including those on FOXSports.com. But after all the turmoil they survived in 2010, they don't mind the lack of attention too much this year. Just ask them.

Word has worked its way around the Vikings locker room: They are getting no respect, especially in the NFC North Division.

Even former Vikings coordinator Brian Billick has a hard time seeing much good happening to the Vikings this year when it comes to their finish in the standings.

"Donovan McNabb may give them a puncher's chance, but the loss of Sidney Rice is hard to overcome," Billick wrote for FOXSports.com's power rankings, where he has the Vikings ranked 26th. "The Vikings will once again need to rely on their running game and their defense, and that defense isn't getting any younger."

Um, well, actually it is, and that is part of the concern in the Land of 10,000 Gnashing Teeth. They got significantly younger by replacing Pat Williams at nose tackle with Remi Ayodele, who is 10 years younger than Williams.

The youth movement continued all around the defense. Brian Robison is only a year younger than 2010 starter Ray Edwards at defensive end, but Letroy Guion is six years younger than Kevin Williams, who is suspended for the first two games. On the defensive line alone, for the first two games at least, the Vikings are 17 years younger than they would have been with last year's starting crew. That might be the issue with those looking at the team from the outside, even if those on that line maintain confidence.

"I think we're excited. I think that's the biggest thing is there is a little more excitement being we were away from football so long. We had preseason and all that," Robison said. "To actually have your first regular-season game, that really brings back the excitement. I think we're excited about the things we think we can do this year if we do the things right. We're just having fun and just very excited about the opportunity that's in front of us."

But news of the lack of respect is almost welcome in the locker room, and not all the players are oblivious to outside talk.

"Somebody said something to me the other day about power rankings. I didn't know anything about it, but apparently we're 26th and they're three. I was just like, whatever, man," said cornerback Chris Cook, who will be one of the young players relied upon in the secondary.

After getting to the 2009 NFC Championship Game, the Vikings experienced the hard knocks of lofty expectations. Super Bowl predictions were flying around prior to last season. They had all 22 starters from 2009 under contract and everyone firmly believed that annual holdout Brett Favre would return like fall allergies. When he did, the Vikings' 2010 quickly began to wheeze and sputter.

Rice wasn't available because of hip surgery. Favre went from 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2009 to 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions one year later. Randy Moss returned for a four-week distraction, and Brad Childress was shipped out after 10 weeks. It all imploded quickly.

"Last year was a little crazy, but we still have the same guys in this room that got it done the year before. We've retuned it, got back to work and we'll be ready," said Percy Harvin, who was informed that most observers have the Vikings finishing last in the NFC North.

"That's good. That's kind of the way I live my life. I like to be under the radar, not a lot of people talking about us. Not a lot of highlights on ESPN and things like that. That's just the way I want it. We get to game day, we'll see."

Former Vikings coach Dennis Green used to play the players-against-media card often. In his mind, the Vikings and their players were always adversaries of the media and sometimes of the fans. Frazier isn't taking any such approach. In fact, he can't even use the underdog angle as a motivational speech with his players.

Why? Because it would contradict everything he has told them to this point.

"I haven't gone down that route with our team because I've been telling our team that we have a good team, so I can't use that one," Frazier said with a laugh. "I'll have to come up with something different. We're looking forward to the challenge of being on the road on Sunday and lining up and seeing where we are."

Sunday will provide a strong test. The San Diego Chargers are getting the hype of the 2010 Vikings, as many consider the Chargers a Super Bowl contender from the AFC this year.

Frazier said having a veteran team helps. But this is only somewhat a veteran team. There are plenty of impressionable rookies and youngsters. There is also a contingent of older players – 10 of them are 30 or older – who have experienced the highs and lows of numerous NFL seasons.

"That helps to have veteran guys on your team who have been through season openers, have been on both sides of the fence when they've been heavy favorites and heavy underdogs," Frazier said. "But in our case, the slate is clean. We're the 2011 Minnesota Vikings and we're approaching it like we're as good as any team in the National Football League."

Cook maintains that "everybody is sleeping on us." Veteran middle linebacker E.J. Henderson said the Vikings are fine playing the underdog role.

But outspoken tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, a media darling because of his often sharp answers and entertaining barbs, put their status in blunt terms.

"Who gives a [expletive], you know what I'm saying?" Shiancoe said. "You've got to go out there and play. Some teams that are predicted to go this and that before the season, and by the end of the season, they look like hot garbage."

QUICK SLANTS

  • It will be interesting to watch the regular-season philosophies of the Vikings unfold in San Diego. Last year, defensive coordinator Fred Pagac blitzed the confidence right out of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. But if linebacker Chad Greenway were the defensive coordinator, that might not happen against Philip Rivers. More than a month ago, we asked Greenway about the aggressiveness of Pagac and the linebacker inserted Rivers into the question unprompted.

    "It's all situational. You get into a game like the Eagles game, we knew it was an advantage for us. You play a guy like Philip Rivers, it may not be as big of an advantage for yourselves," Greenway said at training camp in Mankato.

  • Cornerback Chris Cook had a similar reaction regarding Rivers: "He's a smart guy. He recognizes a lot of coverages fast, better than some of the younger guys that I've seen around the league. He's a smart football player and he has some good weapons around him."

  • Cornerback Antoine Winfield on blitzing Rivers: "It's dangerous to blitz anyone at this level. The quarterbacks are good. We have to disguise our looks. Of course we can't sit back and play Cover-2 against this team or they'll pick us apart. We'll mix some things up, show some different looks and try to make some plays out there."

  • When will the provincialism end? After Zygi Wilf signed Adrian Peterson and Greenway to contracts that could total $140 million, the time for skepticism regarding Wilf's commitment to building a winner should be long since passed. Yes, Wilf is an East Coast businessman, but why does that matter? It shouldn't matter one bit as long as he continues to try to build a winner in Minnesota. The sooner Minnesotans recognize the asset they have in Wilf as the Vikings owner, the better off they will be. Would they rather have a Minnesota owner without the financial resources to keep superstars in purple?

  • While the Vikings are getting younger on their roster, one of head coach Leslie Frazier's goal for the team, they aren't even close to leading the league in undrafted rookies on their roster. As of Friday, there were 58 undrafted rookies on active rosters, which would be most on Kickoff Weekend since 2003 (63). On Friday, linebacker Larry Dean was the only undrafted rookie on the Vikings roster, but on Saturday they added tight end Allen Reisner. That was still less than half of the league leader in that category. The Bears have five, and the Cowboys, Seahawks and Colts all have four undrafted rookies on their respective rosters.


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



  • Viking Update Top Stories

    \r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Word has worked its way around the Vikings locker room: They are getting no respect, especially in the NFC North Division. Even former Vikings coordinator Brian Billick has a hard time seeing much good happening to the Vikings this year when it comes to their finish in the standings. \"Donovan McNabb may give them a puncher's chance, but the loss of Sidney Rice is hard to overcome,\" Billick wrote for FOXSports.com's power rankings, where he has the Vikings ranked 26th. \"The Vikings will once again need to rely on their running game and their defense, and that defense isn't getting any younger.\" Um, well, actually it is, and that is part of the concern in the Land of 10,000 Gnashing Teeth. They got significantly younger by replacing Pat Williams at nose tackle with Remi Ayodele, who is 10 years younger than Williams. The youth movement continued all around the defense. Brian Robison is only a year younger than 2010 starter Ray Edwards at defensive end, but Letroy Guion is six years younger than Kevin Williams, who is suspended for the first two games. On the defensive line alone, for the first two games at least, the Vikings are 17 years younger than they would have been with last year's starting crew. That might be the issue with those looking at the team from the outside, even if those on that line maintain confidence. \"I think we're excited. I think that's the biggest thing is there is a little more excitement being we were away from football so long. We had preseason and all that,\" Robison said. \"To actually have your first regular-season game, that really brings back the excitement. I think we're excited about the things we think we can do this year if we do the things right. We're just having fun and just very excited about the opportunity that's in front of us.\" But news of the lack of respect is almost welcome in the locker room, and not all the players are oblivious to outside talk. \"Somebody said something to me the other day about power rankings. I didn't know anything about it, but apparently we're 26th and they're three. I was just like, whatever, man,\" said cornerback Chris Cook, who will be one of the young players relied upon in the secondary. After getting to the 2009 NFC Championship Game, the Vikings experienced the hard knocks of lofty expectations. Super Bowl predictions were flying around prior to last season. They had all 22 starters from 2009 under contract and everyone firmly believed that annual holdout Brett Favre would return like fall allergies. When he did, the Vikings' 2010 quickly began to wheeze and sputter. Rice wasn't available because of hip surgery. Favre went from 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2009 to 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions one year later. Randy Moss returned for a four-week distraction, and Brad Childress was shipped out after 10 weeks. It all imploded quickly. \"Last year was a little crazy, but we still have the same guys in this room that got it done the year before. We've retuned it, got back to work and we'll be ready,\" said Percy Harvin, who was informed that most observers have the Vikings finishing last in the NFC North. \"That's good. That's kind of the way I live my life. I like to be under the radar, not a lot of people talking about us. Not a lot of highlights on ESPN and things like that. That's just the way I want it. We get to game day, we'll see.\" Former Vikings coach Dennis Green used to play the players-against-media card often. In his mind, the Vikings and their players were always adversaries of the media and sometimes of the fans. Frazier isn't taking any such approach. In fact, he can't even use the underdog angle as a motivational speech with his players. Why? Because it would contradict everything he has told them to this point. \"I haven't gone down that route with our team because I've been telling our team that we have a good team, so I can't use that one,\" Frazier said with a laugh. \"I'll have to come up with something different. We're looking forward to the challenge of being on the road on Sunday and lining up and seeing where we are.\" Sunday will provide a strong test. The San Diego Chargers are getting the hype of the 2010 Vikings, as many consider the Chargers a Super Bowl contender from the AFC this year. Frazier said having a veteran team helps. But this is only somewhat a veteran team. There are plenty of impressionable rookies and youngsters. There is also a contingent of older players – 10 of them are 30 or older – who have experienced the highs and lows of numerous NFL seasons. \"That helps to have veteran guys on your team who have been through season openers, have been on both sides of the fence when they've been heavy favorites and heavy underdogs,\" Frazier said. \"But in our case, the slate is clean. We're the 2011 Minnesota Vikings and we're approaching it like we're as good as any team in the National Football League.\" Cook maintains that \"everybody is sleeping on us.\" Veteran middle linebacker E.J. Henderson said the Vikings are fine playing the underdog role. But outspoken tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, a media darling because of his often sharp answers and entertaining barbs, put their status in blunt terms. \"Who gives a [expletive], you know what I'm saying?\" Shiancoe said. \"You've got to go out there and play. Some teams that are predicted to go this and that before the season, and by the end of the season, they look like hot garbage.\"
  • It will be interesting to watch the regular-season philosophies of the Vikings unfold in San Diego. Last year, defensive coordinator Fred Pagac blitzed the confidence right out of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. But if linebacker Chad Greenway were the defensive coordinator, that might not happen against Philip Rivers. More than a month ago, we asked Greenway about the aggressiveness of Pagac and the linebacker inserted Rivers into the question unprompted. \"It's all situational. You get into a game like the Eagles game, we knew it was an advantage for us. You play a guy like Philip Rivers, it may not be as big of an advantage for yourselves,\" Greenway said at training camp in Mankato.
  • Cornerback Chris Cook had a similar reaction regarding Rivers: \"He's a smart guy. He recognizes a lot of coverages fast, better than some of the younger guys that I've seen around the league. He's a smart football player and he has some good weapons around him.\"
  • Cornerback Antoine Winfield on blitzing Rivers: \"It's dangerous to blitz anyone at this level. The quarterbacks are good. We have to disguise our looks. Of course we can't sit back and play Cover-2 against this team or they'll pick us apart. We'll mix some things up, show some different looks and try to make some plays out there.\"
  • When will the provincialism end? After Zygi Wilf signed Adrian Peterson and Greenway to contracts that could total $140 million, the time for skepticism regarding Wilf's commitment to building a winner should be long since passed. Yes, Wilf is an East Coast businessman, but why does that matter? It shouldn't matter one bit as long as he continues to try to build a winner in Minnesota. The sooner Minnesotans recognize the asset they have in Wilf as the Vikings owner, the better off they will be. Would they rather have a Minnesota owner without the financial resources to keep superstars in purple?
  • While the Vikings are getting younger on their roster, one of head coach Leslie Frazier's goal for the team, they aren't even close to leading the league in undrafted rookies on their roster. As of Friday, there were 58 undrafted rookies on active rosters, which would be most on Kickoff Weekend since 2003 (63). On Friday, linebacker Larry Dean was the only undrafted rookie on the Vikings roster, but on Saturday they added tight end Allen Reisner. That was still less than half of the league leader in that category. The Bears have five, and the Cowboys, Seahawks and Colts all have four undrafted rookies on their respective rosters.
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