Focused On The Pack Already

With Randy Moss leading the charge, the Vikings continue to focus on the division -- specifically the Packers on opening day -- and former Green Bay defensive lineman Billy Lyon can understand the anticipation.

Autumn Sundays are usually when observers hear the names of opposing teams shouted from NFL huddles. It's a ritual almost as old as the sport itself, used as a call to arms before a game begins.

But to hear wide receiver Randy Moss leading a post-practice team huddle and talking about Green Bay on Sept. 7 was a little surprising -- especially considering that this was during a developmental camp more than three months before the Vikings' regular-season opener. With head coach Mike Tice proclaiming the Minnesota roster talented enough to win the NFC North after the 2003 draft and Moss leading the player huddles and focusing on a division rival, it's easy to see why this team appears ready to turn around its losing ways of the last two years.

The national publications may not buy into it -- Street & Smith has the Vikings finishing third in the division behind Green Bay and Chicago -- but most of the Vikings' free agents this year, including former Packer Billy Lyon, are believers in the ascension of the Vikings.

Those free agents saw the Vikings building last year and continuing to address the remaining weaknesses in free agency this year. Chris Claiborne and Ken Irvin both told VU about what they saw happening in Minnesota this year.

And now Lyon weighs in.

"The biggest thing right now is I can tell it's a hungry team," Lyon said of the Vikings. "It really is. The last few years in Green Bay, we were so used to winning we kind of got complacent. I think it really showed at the end of the year last year when (Green Bay) got blown out by Atlanta."

The Vikings have gone from a 41-0 thrashing at the hands of the New York Giants in the 2000 NFC Championship to working their way back to a competitive level last year through the rebuilding of a roster ravaged by salary-cap cuts two years ago. In fact, Lyon said the Packers were very concerned about the Vikings offense last year.

"We were scared," Lyon told VU. "We didn't feel like we could take advantage of anything on their offense. You have to limit Moss, which we did last year. Both games he only had a few catches, but the game here he had like three catches for 109 yards. … The addition of (Mike) Rosenthal I think is only going to bolster the offensive line."

Moss had six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' 31-21 win over Green Bay in the Metrodome last year, and he added three catches and a touchdown in their 26-22 loss at Lambeau on Dec. 8, 2002.

The defense, however, has been a different story with the Vikings the last five years. But, like Claiborne and Irvin, Lyon also sees that the defense has been upgraded where necessary. Last year the Packers knew the Vikings' weaknesses on defense and tried to exploit them. This year, they'll have to search harder to find the weak spot.

"(The Packers) knew last year that (the Vikings) were struggling. They knew depth was a problem," Lyon said. "Last year the two games of the season, we felt like we could take advantage of the secondary, which is one of the areas they've addressed this year with Denard Walker. And the linebacker corps was not as strong as it is this year. … I think they've addressed the needs."

Those who follow the Vikings closely believe they have done exactly that through free agency and the draft. However, the national football media (specifically Street & Smith) may not be so quick to believe, placing a 4-12 Chicago team from last year ahead of the Vikings in its preseason prognostication. But as long as Moss and the Vikings can maintain their focus on knocking off the defending division champs in the regular-season opener, and as long as the key players in Minnesota believe so deeply in the Vikings' commitment to improve, they appear anxious to prove the national pundits wrong.

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