It seemed like the inevitable line of questioning that would be typical when a team like the San Francisco 49ers offense comes to town would be centered on the players who have done the most to carry them to a 2-0 record and have many pointing to them as a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC. The rushing of Frank Gore. The emergence of Michael Crabtree as a bona fide big-play threat. The matchup problems posed by All-Pro tight end Vernon Davis. The continued improvement of Alex Smith as more than simply a game manager.
Instead, those Vikings defensive players who were in the locker room Wednesday were fielding questions on Randy Moss. Despite having just five catches this year – none of them more than 20 yards – the indelible mark Moss has made on Minnesota remains – even though he is attempting a comeback at the twilight of his career.
One thing remained constant with the different players Viking Update spoke to: Moss still commands a lot of respect from those who go up against him. Defensive end Brian Robison was asked if he was surprised that, after a year away from the game, Moss returned for one last run at a Super Bowl ring – the only honor of his career that has eluded him.
"No, not at all," Robison said. "He's a competitor, he wants to play and he wants to be the best. That doesn't surprise me at all."
No longer the field-tilter who could almost singlehandedly change the outcome of a game, Moss remains a dangerous threat – even on a team loaded with offensive weaponry. Safety Jamarca Sanford believes that Moss still has the "It Factor" and is capable of flashing his signature move alerting his quarterback that he's ready to haul in a bomb deep in the secondary.
"He's still a guy that can get it done," Sanford said. "He can still get downfield and stretch you deep. He's still throwing that hand up and can go get the ball downfield."
There's no questioning Moss' skill set. While time has taken away his freakish explosiveness, he still has talent. But, in an era where diva wide receivers were the norm, Moss was the biggest drama king of them all. He could be volatile. He could be a genuine pain in the neck (or body part south of the neck). It was this mix of talent and volatility that made Moss such an enigma over the years. Teammates didn't always like him, but Vikings fans loved him because of what he could do on Sundays.
Moss has never lost his edge – as a player with sharp talent or a player with a sharp tongue. As the expression goes, he is what he is and, with the good comes the bad. But, his willingness to honestly express his opinions, whether coaches or teammates wanted to hear it, was also a source of begrudging respect from his teammates.
"There's always a thin line of speaking your mind and stepping on toes," Robison said. "The thing with Randy is that, no matter what people thought of him, he was going to speak his mind. You always knew what he was thinking because he was going to say it. You kind of have to respect a guy like that."
Linebacker Erin Henderson was a rookie when Moss made his second stop in Minnesota and he was able to see firsthand in practice what a motivated Moss is capable of doing. Taking a year off at age 34 at a position predicated on quick-twitch explosiveness is typically a death knell for an NFL wide receiver, but Moss is the exception to that rule and will need to be accounted for on Sunday.
"I'm excited for Randy getting his opportunity to play again," Henderson said. "I wish him the best, but not this Sunday against us. He took good care of his body. I think had a year off to kind of repair and go from there."
For a player who has always been the center of defensive attention and the primary offensive focus, many players would reject the prospect of being a role player. In the 49ers passing offense, it can be argued that the pecking order goes Crabtree, Davis and Manningham before they would get to Moss. However, in his debut with the 49ers, he returned to Lambeau Field – the site of some of his most spectacular moments as an NFL player, from the coming out party on Monday night in his rookie year to the faux-mooning of Packers fans when the Vikings upset the Packers in their only playoff meeting.
Locked in with a nickel back single coverage, Moss got open and Alex Smith found him for a touchdown – the 154th of his illustrious career. The Vikings can't afford to take him for granted Sunday.
"You saw what he did against Green Bay," Fred Evans said. "He may not get the kind of use that he got in the past, but players like Randy Moss command respect from a defense. Any time you have someone who can make the type of big plays he does, it's a concern. If you don't account for him on every play, he's still got the skill to burn you."
Sunday will be the first regular-season game Moss will make his return to the Metrodome as a member of a team other than the Vikings. His former teammates know that he will be motivated. He isn't seeing the ball nearly as often as he would prefer, but the 49ers are dominating their competition to date and, as long as that's happening, you will likely see a happy Randy … and a motivated one.
"Randy's always about winning," Robison said. "As long as he's winning, he'll be happy and good luck to him after this week."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings still respect Moss' abilities
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