Contemplating Pickups

If the Vikings go shopping for free agents released in June, we are told there is only one player who they expect to be released that could really fit their needs.

The Vikings went to minicamp feeling good about their roster.

They had for the most part finished the second of the two strong offseasons of free agency, adding Gus Frerotte, Mike Rosenthal, Hunter Goodwin, Moe Williams, Lorenzo Bromell, Kenny Mixon, Henri Crockett, Greg Biekert, Chris Claiborne, Denard Walker, Ken Irvin and Corey Chavous. In those 12 players are eight solid free-agent starters and four role players in two years.

The Vikings also were coming off the second Mike Tice-led draft. In 2002, they added a starter in left tackle Bryant McKinnie, potential starters in the defensive backfield with Willie Offord and Brian Williams, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and many up-and-coming backups in the following rounds.

But the analysis of the roster at minicamp showed one potential weak link -- the Vikings are quite simply unsure how many of their young prospects at free safety are going to compete. It was a position of need last season, and they never settled on a full-time starter, with Offord and Jack Brewer each got looks at different points last season.

During minicamp, Offord was getting the reps with the first team. If he doesn't convince coaches he is ready, Brewer is a possibility. And even moving second-year player Brian Williams from cornerback to safety is an option.

In reality, the Vikings have 21 of 22 starting positions pretty well filled for starters. Safety, however, remains a question.

A team source told VU that the Vikings aren't expecting to sign any big June 1 cuts -- a time when teams battling salary-cap problems are able to release veterans and spread the cap hit out over two years -- at any of the other 21 positions. The one position the Vikings may look to fill in June free agency, according to our source, is safety.

And the name that surfaced was Pittsburgh's Lethon Flowers. Flowers, 6-0, 214 pounds, is an eight-year player. He was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round in 1995, contributed as a special teams leader for two years, then became a starter in 1997 after the departure of Carnell Lake. He is considered strong in run support but weak in pass coverage.

Because of that, according to our source, if the Steelers release Flowers and the Vikings are able to sign him, then the team would likely move Chavous to free safety and insert Flowers at strong safety.

Flowers acknowledged in February he won't be back with Pittsburgh. He said when offenses began attacking the Steelers with spread formations that his role changed and he no longer fit into the style of defense they use against such formations. He is a box safety, great against the run but not one to be covering receivers man-to-man, according to one Pittsburgh analysis. Even if he returned, he would be no more than a situational player, but there are enough teams interested in signing him that he won't be back.

More than a month ago, New Orleans coach Jim Haslett said he was interested in signing Flowers and only using him on running downs at safety.

For now, the Vikings are still analyzing their current talent at safety, but if they feel the need to go shopping, look for Flowers to be at the top of a short list.

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