Smith Gets His Shot

The averages show that the Vikings need to improve on kickoff returns, so this Sunday night Onterrio Smith will get his shot on special teams. Plus, notes, stats and rankings galore that tell the state of the Vikings.

The Vikings' kickoff return unit ranks 30th in the NFL with an average of 19.5 yards and will have a different primary return man for the third consecutive week.

Onterrio Smith, a rookie who has started two of the past three games at running back, will return kicks this week for the first time since his senior season at Oregon.

Smith averaged 25 yards on seven returns last season and 26.7 yards with one touchdown on 20 returns in college.

Smith replaces Doug Chapman, who was yanked after one game. Chapman averaged 12.8 yards on four returns against the Giants. Chapman replaced John Avery, who was averaging 21.6 yards before being placed on injured reserve because of a knee injury.

Rookie Keenan Howry, the secondary kick returner, is too tentative. He's averaging 20.7 yards per return.

  • QB Daunte Culpepper had 23 fumbles and lost nine last season. He has six and three this season. He is on pace to fumble 17 times and lose eight.

  • RB Moe Williams has the only 100-yard rushing game of the season, a 108-yard effort against Chicago in Week 2. But the team is still sixth in the NFL in rushing.

  • LB Nick Rogers, a backup, was used some as a pass-rushing defensive end against the Giants. He didn't have a tackle or a sack, but he did pressure Kerry Collins into throwing an incompletion inside the Vikings' 5. The Giants had to kick a field goal after having first-and-goal at the 3.

  • WR Randy Moss has made a first down on 33 of his 46 catches, including 11 when the Vikings were facing third down.

  • FB Charles Stackhouse didn't touch the ball in his first four games with the Vikings. In the past two games, he has four catches and a carry. But he's still most valuable as the team's first legitimate fullback since Chuck Evans in 1998.

    --Randy Moss has 58 catches for 1,126 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games against the Packers. He has troubled them since the beginning. In his fifth game as a rookie in 1998, Moss caught five passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings 37-24 victory at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football.

  • Special teams captain Jack Brewer, a former University of Minnesota standout, was being considered as an assistant coach by Gophers coach Glen Mason before Brewer scratched his way onto the Vikings' roster last season. "(Brewer) was the best leader on a team that I ever had," said Mason, who is in his 18th season as a head coach, including seven with the Gophers. "He had more influence on players than I had observed before. Jack definitely sees the big picture. His personality and leadership qualities would make him an excellent recruiter." Brewer holds a bachelor's and Masters degree in sports studies. He served three years as an intern for his current agent, Ed Hitchcock. Brewer also was considering a career as a sports agent.

  • Speaking of Brewer, his blocked punt against the Giants Sunday was the Vikings' first since Mike Merriweather had one against the Rams in 1989. That's a span of 236 games. Brewer blocked the punt at the Giants' 5. The Vikings were leading 17-16 early in the fourth quarter. But, in one of the oddest plays of the season, the ball was picked up by the Giants' Wesley Mallard and carried for a first down. Momentum and field position changed as the Giants went on to win 29-17. "We blocked a lot of punts in college, and I never saw anything like that," Brewer said.

  • The Vikings entered last week's Giants game leading the league in interceptions (16) and turnover margin (plus-13). The Giants were 31st in turnover margin (minus-8). So what happened? The Giants won the turnover battle, 2-1. The Vikings are second in the NFL this week at plus-12. Green Bay is tied for 24th at minus-5.

  • The Vikings are 9-2 against Brett Favre at the Metrodome. Packers coach Mike Sherman said it has more to do with the Vikings having good teams than the dome itself. "When we throw the ball, it doesn't hit the roof," Sherman said. "When we run, the fans don't tackle us."

  • Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss have combined for a team-record 31 passing touchdowns. Second on the list 26 touchdown passes from Warren Moon to Cris Carter.

  • Culpepper needs four rushing touchdowns to break the record for quarterbacks in their first five seasons. He is tied for second with Jack Kemp (1957, 60-63) at 24. The leader is Otto Graham (1950-54) with 27.

  • LB Raonall Smith is the only Viking on the injury report. He is doubtful with a hamstring injury.

  • WR Kelly Campbell, who was inactive against the Giants because of a calf injury, will play against Green Bay.

  • K Aaron Elling, who didn't kick off for two weeks because of a sore back, is healthy again. The Vikings released kickoff specialist Jose Cortez.

  • WR D'Wayne Bates missed four consecutive games because of a bruised foot and played only the final series against the Giants because of a sore hamstring. He will play against the Packers.

  • RB Michael Bennett, who fractured his foot in the offseason, will make his season debut against the Packers. He probably will get two or three carries. The Vikings want to work him into the starting lineup by the Dec. 7 game against Seattle.

  • KR-WR Nick Davis was inactive last week because of a shoulder injury that had him on the physically unable to perform list for the first six games.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 7 — Consecutive games the Vikings have used the same 11 starters on defense. Defenders have rarely shown up on the injury list, let alone missed any playing time.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "My passion got carried away in commenting on things that really were not exactly the way I would feel or think about the team ... but, having said that, I don't carry any heavy feeling at all toward the fact that we really screwed up." — Vikings owner Red McCombs, trying to be contrite on Monday, the day after he told his players in the locker room they had "humiliated" themselves and their fans in the 29-17 loss to the Giants.

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