The Vikings entered the regular season with three new starters on defense, but one of them is more likely to be visible to Vikings fans.
Right end Lance Johnstone and nose tackle Fred Robbins are each in their first year as a front-line starter for the Vikings defense, but rookie Patrick Chukwurah will be away from the trenches and more visible as a defensive playmaker.
Chukwurah can be found in the middle of the field on Sundays, hoping to make his mark and hold down the starting role.
Still, "rookie" is an operative word in the NFL. It can be difficult for any rookie to pick up the defense and make an immediate impact, but Chukwurah seems to be making an impact early while he learns.
In his first preseason game seeing action with the first-team defense, Chukwurah literally made an impact, almost as much on the offensive player as himself. He found himself in coverage against the Indianapolis Colts and when he saw the ball released he turned around to face the middle of the field and immediately tackled (more like ran into) the receiver.
Speed of the game. He turned around and the receiver was instantly in his face, which resulted in Chukwurah staying on the ground.
"I was just seeing birds," he said after being diagnosed with a concussion. "I was cool, I wasn't knocked out."
He was just getting used to his new role as an immediate contributor to the Vikings defense.
"There wasn't nervousness," he said. "I was just trying to do things right, not miss any assignments or stuff like that. As a first-time guy, I've just got to go out there and try to make a name for myself."
That was three weeks ago, and he has made a name already. He returned each of the weeks since and continues to hold down a starting linebacker spot on the strong side. But the difference between the NFL and the University of Wyoming can't be ignored.
"The playbook is this big," Chukwurah said, holding his index finger and thumb about 2 inches apart. "In college you get a sheet of paper with the game plan every week. There is only so much you have to know in college. Out here, you've got to know everything."
He continues to pick up the basics of the position, but he isn't about to be awed by the experience of starting in the NFL. Like most rookies, he wanted to become a starter at some point but didn't think it would happen quite so soon.
Neither did the Vikings.
"I always have high expectations for me. I don't just want to go in there and have a set role. I always try to make myself better and I always try and climb the ladder," Chukwurah said. "They (the coaches) were telling me they were just basically looking at me to be a special teams player, but in the back of my mind, I'm saying: ‘OK, well I'm going to do that good and then when I get a chance to get into the game at linebacker or D-end or whatever, I'm going to try and do that better.' That's my mentality."
"I wouldn't say I've surprised myself. That's what I expect of myself." VU
Transition Still Coming For Chukwurah
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