Tice's Team Coming Together

The Vikings start the first of three development camps tomorrow, and there are a few questions left to answer as Mike Tice's team has largely taken shape.

With two solid years of free agency and what appears to be one of the top drafts in the last 10 years, the Vikings have gone from too many holes to count to feeling good about their chances for a division title.

Just one year ago, before free agency 2002 began in earnest, head Mike Tice was saying that the depth chart was like a shotgun blast -- too many holes to fill to really be able to focus in on one position. But over the last two years the Vikings have added numerous solid starters via free agency. First was Kenny Mixon, then D'Wayne Bates, Lorenzo Bromell, Henri Crockett, Corey Chavous, Derrick Alexander and right before the regular season Greg Biekert. This year's free-agent foray brought offensive tackle Mike Rosenthal, reserve defensive lineman Billy Lyon, linebacker Chirs Claiborne, and cornerbacks Denard Walker and Ken Irvin.

Most of the holes have been filled -- if not by free agency, then by top draft picks like Bryant McKinnie and Kevin Williams.

The Vikings now have a nucleus of solid starters. There are few superstars in the group -- you get the feeling that's how Tice likes his locker room -- but there are also few weaknesses. The weaknesses, or at least question marks, that do remain will get closer to being answered with a series of development camps that start tomorrow and run sporadically through the middle of June.

The only obvious question is who will join Chavous as the other starting safety. Willie Offord was given the first chance at the official minicamp earlier this month, but that position is still wide open. By the time training camp opens on July 25, it could be Offord, Jack Brewer, longer shot Brian Russel or, maybe most likely, a free-agent addition from the June 1 cuts.

But other questions remain. Will sixth-round draft choice Eddie Johnson find enough consistency in his booming leg to grab an uncontested hold of the punter/kickoff spot? Who will be the placekicker? Will Rosenthal look more comfortable at right tackle as he gets accustomed to the position? Where will linebacker Nick Rogers fit into the defensive scheme? How will Rusty Tillman's special teams compare to Jay Hayes' teams of last year? Where do talented players like rookies Onterrio Smith and E.J. Henderson find field time? Will Brian Williams compete with Irvin for a starting cornerback spot, or will Williams continue to be used as a nickel back or move to safety?

They are all legitimate questions entering the next three weeks of camp, and they are about to be answered.

TUESDAY NOTES
* After Michael Bennett's brush with bullets earlier this month, Detroit wide receiver Scotty Anderson and his brother, Stevie, were stabbed outside of a Houston nightclub early yesterday. Stevie is in critical condition, but Scotty's injuries aren't thought to be as serious. Two men were arrested near the scene.

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