Another developmental camp practice had come to an end. The players -- the team had virtually 100 percent attendance, something that could not be said about this team in non-compulsory camps in the recent past -- had just finished some team drills and then run some sprints.
They gathered at one end of the field at the team's headquarters at Winter Park. And then Randy Moss, in the middle, began to speak.
"We've all got to be ready for Sept. 7," he yelled, referring to opening day, 2003, when the Vikings will start the season with a key game at Green Bay. And that starts now! All together, now, on three ... GREEN BAY!"
OK, this is strange.
Randy Moss leading the way on the field is nothing new. He's one of the best, most talented players in the game, his often prickly personality aside.
But Moss leading the way in sprints? Then leading the way in a team cheer? C'mon.
Of course, this isn't some kind of Disney-inspired transformation. All you have to do is look to the metro page to see that Moss is still dealing with a civil suit tied to his confrontation with a Minneapolis traffic officer last fall.
But there are signs that, perhaps because of his relationship with head coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Moss is taking further steps toward maturity, towards becoming a leader in more ways on a team whose expectations continue to rise.
Consider: Moss has been among the most consistent participants in the team's offseason conditioning program. He has often been the first to arrive at Winter Park in the morning -- even during the difficult days of winter -- and the last to leave.
But it's more than just that. In the past Moss has passed the time during his offseason playing other games. He dabbled in semi-pro basketball a couple of times. He did just about everything but commit to making himself a better player during the offseason.
No more. He has spent some time at a speed camp in Florida, running in the sand trying to make one of the quickest players in the league a little quicker. And, for the first time perhaps ever, he has become a serious weight lifter.
"He has been lifting weights, religiously, for the first time," head coach Mike Tice said. "He's been leading the way."
The result? He has added more than five pounds of muscle to his wiry frame, most of it in the upper body, which will serve him well while going across the middle. Think of it, one of the most explosive players in the game adding a blue collar work ethic to his gold-plated talent.
It's a scary thought -- for opponents. There are those in the Vikings organization who are expecting Moss to do things in 2003 that he has never done before. For a number of reasons: First, the team expects quarterback Daunte Culpepper to hit the ground running from the beginning of the season. He has his new contract, which puts one potential distraction to rest. And he is under the intense training of Linehan, who took over as quarterbacks coach for the final month of last season, when Culpepper finally started playing well. Everybody knows Moss can only be as good as his quarterback.
Second, Moss appears more determined than ever to do what it takes for the Vikings to win. There figures to be more depth at the receiver position than there has been since Cris Carter left, enough talent in the likes of an improved D'Wayne Bates, an impressive Kelly Campbell and a surprising Nate Burleson that opponents will have a tougher time doubling and tripling Moss.
Finally, Moss could simply be better, physically. He figures to enter the season in the best shape of his career, less prone to late-game tiredness. On a team that is already very close -- witness the impressive attendance this week -- a Randy Moss committed to the team concept should be something interesting to watch.
A More Mature Moss
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