Irvin Maintains Hungry Mentality

For now, cornerback Ken Irvin seems to be the forgotten one among discussions involving an upgraded Vikings defense, but if his early work in minicamps and developmental camps are an indication he looks ripe for making an impact in 2003.

When shopping season opened for free agents, the Vikings immediately began their pursuit of cornerbacks on the rise. They never got to talk in person with Dre' Bly. They lost out on Dexter McCleon too. Then they landed Denard Walker.

But somewhat lost in their pursuit of the top three free-agent cornerbacks was their signing of Ken Irvin, who will be entering his ninth year in the NFL and has made 63 starts at cornerback in 124 league games. Still, after all that time in the league, Irvin doesn't sound like an old man in the closing act of his career. He sounds like a rookie driven to prove himself.

"Although I'm not where I want to be in my technique right now, I want to be the best -- I really do," Irvin said after a developmental camp practice. "For so long I've always been solid and respectable around the league. But you know something? I don't just want to be average or a solid football player. I've been working so hard in the offseason to get to that point because every year it becomes much more valuable and important for an older guy to get hungry. The hungrier I get to be the best, then my longevity continues. Whether that happens or not, that's what I'm going to shoot for."

So far he has proven to be a big upgrade to the Vikings' once-weak secondary. In minicamp and developmental camp, he might be the closest in coverage of any of the cornerbacks -- and they all appear to be in tighter coverage than year's past. He is penciled in as the starter on the right side, opposite Walker, and hasn't been giving the wide receivers much of a cushion.

That's somewhat of a rarity for Vikings cornerbacks in recent seasons, but to hear Irvin talk he still isn't playing at a level he would like.

"Speaking for myself, I still have a long way to go on my technique to get to where I need to be in September when it really counts," he told VU. "The difference in making plays is technique. I don't necessarily mean that the technique is different here, (I just want to) get sharper."

After years of trying to get by with inexperienced cornerbacks, the Vikings finally made a commitment to the position in free agency. Ironically, Irvin could have been here helping solve the problems five years ago.

Minnesota pursued Irvin when he was a restricted free agent in Buffalo, but he decided it was better for his career to sign a one-year deal with Buffalo and become an unrestricted free agent the following year. That was the same year the Vikings signed Jimmy Hitchcock in 1998.

"Things didn't work out for me, but they did have an interest in me and it was real close to me coming here that time," Irvin said.

Now he's here and appears ready to give the right cornerback position an upgrade. The Vikings didn't guarantee Irvin a starting spot, but they did let him know they were looking for veteran leadership.

The transition from one team to another isn't that difficult for a cornerback, Irvin said. "The system for corners is just cover one is cover one, zone is zone. It's just knowing where your help is, the guys you are playing with, and what is expected of me on a particular defense -- where are the weaknesses."

His biggest adjustment will be the new teammates and coaches he is working with. He didn't know any of the current Vikings personally, but he knew some of their reputations, and Corey Chavous' experience as a cornerback could help as the newly transplanted safety and Irvin work in tandem.

"Corey is very knowledgeable about football, so he can just make us feel comfortable. Me and Denard being veterans, he can talk to us in a language where we can graduate very quickly," Irvin said. "By him being a corner (before his move during the 2002 regular season), we know he's been there and knows what it takes and how to put us in position to make plays."

As for his new position coach, assistant defensive backs coach Kevin Ross, who has been working mainly with the cornerbacks, Irvin said Ross' playing experience in the NFL helps him in coaching current players: "I like Kevin Ross. It's a great asset. A guy that's been there can relate and coach us in that situation," Irvin said. "That's just so valuable to me, because even me, being nine years into the league, he sees things in me that I need to get better on and improve on. Once you get complacent is exactly when you get exposed. I'm open to everything. If I can get better and improve myself to go beyond just eight years -- to go nine, 10, 11, 12 -- as I get older I have to gain a little bit more knowledge, a little bit more technique and be smart about the game. That's what Kevin gives us. The young guys at this stage in their careers, it's priceless."

The "old" guys, which is how Irvin categorizes himself, will continue to look for ways to refine their game and get an advantage on the opponents. The mere fact that the Vikings have a nucleus of "old" guys in their defensive backfield is welcome change enough, but the quality leadership that Irvin, Walker and Chavous bring should all be part of the team's overall improvement in the secondary. Irvin certainly seems to be an important cog in that process.

CAMP NOTES
* Middle linebacker Greg Biekert took his clearance to practice with the team and ran with it. He was involved in full-team drills on Thursday.
* With Michael Bennett still recovering from offseason foot surgery, Doug Chapman and Moe Williams are splitting time in the backfield with the first-team offense.
* The players getting the most work returning punts are Kelly Campbell, D'Wayne Bates and Nick Davis. Keenan Howry would be getting reps, but he isn't able to practice until June 12.
* Punter Eddie Johnson has a strained back from doing too much before and during minicamp and hasn't punted this week. He says it's nothing serious and there is no history of problems with it.

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