Calm Before Colts' Storm

Tomorrow night against the Colts could be the Vikings' toughest test of the year for Emmitt Thomas and his defense, at least in the first half. It comes at an inopportune time for rookies trying to hang on and make the squad.

In many ways, Thursday is the calm before the storm. The Vikings have a short practice today and many of the players will get out early.

It is all in preparation for the Indianapolis Colts, who should offer the Vikings their toughest test defensively of the preseason. Very likely the Colts could be the best offense the Vikings face all year, at least until midseason if the Packers come into town on Oct. 21 healthy. Either way, Indianapolis' offense will be the ultimate challenge for a Vikings defense many see as improved over last year and other Vikings defenses of the 1990s.

Between quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, the defense can't concentrate on any one portion of their opposing offense.

It is also the calm before the storm in terms of roster size. The Vikings have to get their roster trimmed to 65 players by Tuesday, which means an additional 13 players will be on the outside looking in when the Vikings meet the Dolphins for their final preseason game on Aug. 31. The team has already released seven players since the start of training camp, and likely will start releasing players Saturday or Sunday after evaluating their performance on tape against Indianapolis.

Defensive backs coach and assistant head coach Willie Shaw calls tomorrow's game against the Colts a litmus test. For sure, the first half will be exactly that.

* Two or three draft choices could be among the early cuts, including offensive lineman Brian Crawford, wide receiver Cedric James and cornerback Carey Scott. However, if any or all of these players do get cut, they would have an inside track on the practice squad, which forms Sept. 3.
* Offensive lineman Bennitte Waddell could be getting his first game action to prove his skills against the Colts. He missed the first two games because of an ankle injury.
* The Vikings will host their annual Kickoff Luncheon tomorrow at 11 a.m. at the Minneapolis Hilton and Towers. Players, coaches and front office personnel are seated with fans who pay to attend the event. For more information, call 952-828-6500.

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