Camp Surprises And The Unresolved

As the Vikings broke camp in Mankato, head coach Mike Tice named his camp surprises and his to-do list before the regular-season opener. One of his surprises agreed with the coach's assessment.

It was a mad dash out of Mankato early Thursday afternoon, as the Vikings broke camp following a shortened morning practice.

Coach Mike Tice called the three-week training camp an excellent one.

"We really improved as a football team," he said. "It's real hard to think of a guy in that group over there that didn't get better."

Tice said the biggest surprise of camp was probably defensive tackle Fred Robbins, a fourth-year player out of Wake Forest.

"I thought Fred Robbins had a tremendous camp," Tice said. "I think he really stood out, in my mind, as a guy that really has taken his game up another notch, which was very, I don't want to use the word surprising, but very, very rewarding for us as a football team. We knew that he'd improved, but he's really stepped his game up measurably."

Robbins said he thinks the entire defense showed improvement over the course of training camp.

"Especially the defensive front," he said. "I've stepped up, the line has stepped up, and we just play well together."

Defensive coordinator George O'Leary said Robbins has become much faster on the rush, something the coach saw coming last season when Robbins started 15 games.

Tice also noted some of the team's rookie defensive players, including defensive back Rushen Jones and linebacker E.J. Henderson, who stood out.

The challenge now, Tice said, is getting them to concentrate on their playbooks during their free time now that they are away from the tightly controlled schedule of training camp.

"The young players have got to keep up with the mental part of the game," Tice said.

While camp has ended, several questions still remain to be answered before the regular-season opener at Green Bay.

Among them: special teams, especially the kicking, No. 1 running back (Doug Chapman or Onterrio Smith) and starting free safety (Willie Offord or Brian Russell) situations.

"There's a lot to be encouraged about," Tice said. "But we have a damn long way to go before we even think about being a good football team."

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