As the Minnesota Vikings have rumbled through the first six games of the 2003 season, surprise may not be a strong enough term to describe the achievements of this team. Optimistically seeking to improve and compete in the NFC North division, the Vikings have easily surpassed every goal the organization imagined.
"In no way did we imagine this team would have gotten off to the start we have, not a chance. Our offense has been consistent, bordering on explosive at times and we have done this without our starting running back (Michael Bennett), as well as battling through injuries with our quarterback (Daunte Culpepper) and wide receivers," a team source said. "The play and improvement in this team from just a year ago is outstanding. We are certainly ahead of any timetable we could have placed on our progress.
"Guys like Moe Williams and Gus Frerotte have stepped in and played exceptionally well. Without those efforts, we wouldn't be talking about this team as we are. It is a long season and anything can happen though."
The Minnesota offense has been the catalyst of this team's early season success, displaying that explosive score from anywhere on the field at any time. Seemingly lost over the past few seasons, the Vikings are again the offensive threat offensive coordinator Scott Linehan envisioned heading into training camp.
"This is a team with a lot of talent and potential. Last season we struggled with consistency, execution, and really learning the meaning of an offense we believed could be solid," Linehan said. "This season, we have a better understanding of the offense, we are becoming consistent in practice and preparation leading up to the game, and we are executing much better. Much of our success has been due to being confident and prepared, knowing what to expect on any given play or situation."
While the offense arguably has been the hot topic around the league when discussing the Vikings, the offseason moves on the defensive side of the ball may be the factor that carries this Minnesota team deep into the season. Adding cornerbacks Denard Walker and Ken Irvin through free agency to a stable of defensive backs that includes the impressive Brian Williams and veteran safety Corey Chavous, the Vikings have become an opportunistic defensive unit. The turnaround is remarkable considering the state of the Minnesota secondary in recent seasons.
"We have a great group of guys back there (secondary) that are comfortable with each other and communicate well," Walker said. "I have heard of some of the problems they (Minnesota) had back there (secondary), coming in here and getting off to the start we have is a great feeling, but we have a lot of work to do."
Along with Williams, Walker and Irvin, the Vikings have received solid play from safety Brian Russell. Throughout training camp, the Vikings struggled with the notion of moving Williams to the safety spot next to Corey Chavous, as Russell and Willie Offord were not impressive in attempts to grasp the starting role.
"One of the best moves that Mike Tice may have made was the one he didn't make. He fought all through camp deciding what he wanted to do at the safety spot manned by Brian Russell. If he (Tice) would have moved Williams to the safety spot, we would have lost depth at the corner, and who would have known how well Russell could have adapted to our aggressive, attacking defensive scheme," the team source said. "George (O'Leary, the defense coordinator) kept saying in camp that Russell was getting it. After either the first or second preseason game, Russell began to really grasp what we wanted in the secondary and he starting to jell with Corey (Chavous). These guys haven't play together long, they are getting better all the time and we are comfortable with the play of the defense."
As they say, offense wins games, but defense wins championships. For the first time since the defense of the late 1980s, Minnesota may have a defense to be proud of.
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