Shaw Era Begins

Emmitt Thomas and Willie Shaw will attempt to install a more aggressive defense, and tomorrow is D-day.

While the emphasis locally among the media hasn't focused as much on Shaw as it has in the national media, who have made him as big a news item as the death of Korey Stringer and the losses of John Randle, Robert Smith, Todd Steussie and Dwayne Rudd, Shaw has become the focal point of many people's projections for the Vikings.

The thinking has been that the Vikings will go as far as their defense will take them and Shaw will be the key to getting that done. Although Emmitt Thomas remains the defensive coordinator, it is clear that Shaw is being asked to put his imprint on the defense. And, while many people seem to think the Vikes are going to a new scheme, they're actually going old-school Vikings.

When Dennis Green took over the Vikings in 1992, Shaw was one of his assistant coaches. For the next two years, the Vikings employed a young, aggressive defense under Tony Dungy that stressed athleticism and aggression over size and brute strength. When Dungy left for Tampa Bay, that system that worked so well was switched up by new defensive coordinator Foge Fazio. Now the Vikings are looking to get back to what was successful in the past.

Shaw is convinced the Vikings can have a plus-20 takeaway ratio and believes his maligned secondary will get as many as 20 interceptions. It's a lofty goal, but he has the players believing in the system — and that's half the battle.

While some think the Vikings won't be able to make much improvement on the 28th ranked defense last year, it poses the question — if the Vikings could go to the NFC title game with one of the worst defenses in the league, how well will they do if it merely moves to the middle of the NFL pack?

SATURDAY NOTES
* One player who may be a little nervous is Carolina CB Rashard Anderson. Built like a safety, he'll have to prove this year that he can be an effective cornerback. His first assignment? Randy Moss. Ouch, babe.
* The first-team Vikings defense allowed just 38 points in eight quarters during the preseason. If that holds up, the Vikings will win a lot of games this season.
* A pregame ceremony will be conducted Sunday honoring Korey Stringer. Teammate Todd Steussie, now with Carolina, said he won't participate in the ceremony because it would be "too emotional." Steussie and Big K were best of friends on the Vikings during their years together.
* Look for the Vikings to "Go '98" on teams this year. When the team signed fullback Matt Snider, it cut TE Shonn Bell, leaving just two tight ends on the roster. When asked if he was concerned about having just two tight ends on the roster, Green said, "We're going back to the Three-Deep concept (of 1998). We hope it is going to work for us."
* Steussie has said he is looking forward to hitting against some of his old Vikings teammates, but he'll be lined up opposite Lance Johnstone, who wasn't with the Vikes at the same time Steussie was.
* Daunte Culpepper threw for a career-best 357 yards in his only career game vs. the Panthers.

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