Offensive Questions Remain

While much of the focus of camp is on the new faces on defense, the offense is also hoping to improve. Here are three key questions they hope to answer, with comments from the lead characters.

There are very few question marks here, but the main cogs stay healthy and play up to expectations they will be good again.

1. Which Daunte Culpepper will we see?
Culpepper is the total package as a quarterback as long as he doesn't let his intense competitive nature get the best of him.

"The only one that I want to keep their emotions under check is Daunte," head coach Mike Tice said. "Daunte needs to smile and settle down; he is too fierce of a competitor. Those other guys can play with as much emotion as they want. The quarterback is the only one that I try to settle down a little bit."

The key for Culpepper is to play smart. Based on early training camp performances, so far so good.

"I think Daunte has made a lot of good decisions," Tice said. "I wish the fans would start cheering when he throws the ball out of bounds because I tell you what: those are smart football plays. A good football person knows that when he chucks that ball out of bounds that is a big play. I would rather line up second-and-10 any day of the week than put the defense back on the field. We are really, really pleased internally as a football staff of what he is doing with the football."

It appears that Culpepper has learned from his mistakes of last season.

"I can look back on it and say, I want to win so bad I feel like sometimes I can do it all myself, but nobody can," Culpepper said. "I don't care who it is, nobody can do enough to win in this game by themselves. In this game it takes 11 guys on each side of the ball."

2. Will the running game go without Bennett?
Given the blockers they have up front, it should. With a massive offensive line from left to right of Bryant McKinnie, Chris Liwienski, Matt Birk, David Dixon and Mike Rosenthal flanked by line-sized tight ends Jim Kleinsasser and Hunter Goodwin, there is no reason to believe the running game will not still thrive.

The key at running back is good health, not talent.

Doug Chapman is a strong, slashing inside runner who can break tackles, make people miss and simply grind out yardage. He's not the breakaway threat that Bennett is, but he brings a little more power.

Rookie Onterrio Smith brings some baggage and character issues with him, but he's an Emmitt Smith-type talent who many think is actually a better pure runner than Bennett.

Neither is lacking for confidence.

"I think I have good balance and good strength and good explosion through the hole," Chapman said. "I haven't been able to show it yet, but I can break away and break some long runs. Randy (Moss) will tell you, I did it a lot in college. If I get the amount of carries you'll be able to see that. I'm a total-package running back. I'm not huge, I'm not small. I have good balance, I read the blocking scheme well, and all around — blocking, receiving and running the ball — I think I can do it all out of the backfield."

What does Smith offer?

"Actually I would say everything," he said. "I can make people miss, I can run though you, I can run away from you. All aspects of my game are complete."

3. Who steps up to take pressure off Moss?
There are a lot of candidates, but one really needs to emerge.

D'Wayne Bates assumed the role last season with above-average productivity. But the expectation is pretty high opposite Randy Moss.

"I like D'Wayne Bates," Tice said "I think the problem that we have here is we are trying to compare him to Cris Carter, and he's not Cris Carter. He's D'Wayne Bates. He's still a good football player. Let's not get caught up in comparing him to Cris Carter or try to replace Cris Carter because Carter is going to the Hall of Fame. Those kind of players only come around every once in a while. Our goal wasn't to replace Cris Carter; our goal was to get a good second receiver, a solid second receiver. We think D'Wayne has done everything we've asked him to do."

Last year's primary candidate for the job, Derrick Alexander, could still rebound to fill that No. 2 receiver role in stellar fashion, but it's clearly make-or-break time for him. However, Alexander has typically performed much better in his second season with a new team than his first, so don't be surprised if he steps up after being virtually written off by most folks.

The other guy that's going to be hard to keep out of this spot is rookie Nate Burleson, who has looked solid from the start. Burleson shows rare polish and overall skills for a rookie and might be ready to contribute very early in his pro career.

Second-year man Kelly Campbell will also take some pressure off Moss, but his diminutive stature might limit him to more of a No. 3 receiver role.

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