College Candidates Emerging For DC

If the Vikings are unable to lure one of their candidates with professional experience for defensive coordinator, there are a couple of names emerging from the college ranks. Plus, updates on the Vikings' own free agents.

The Vikings need to find a defensive coordinator who will be with the team longer than a season. With George O'Leary gone to Central Florida, the Vikings will have their fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons in 2004.

Head coach Mike Tice reached into the college ranks two years ago to get Scott Linehan, a young unknown from Louisville. Linehan, 40, has grown with the offense and enters his third season as Vikings offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Among the college coaches Tice is considering for defensive coordinator are Charlie Strong at Florida and Bob Elliott at Kansas State.

Tim Lewis, fired Tuesday after four seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator, could become a candidate to replace George O'Leary, who left to become head coach at Central Florida.

Tice finished his year-end coaching evaluations and decided to extend the contracts of all his coaches through the 2005 season.

Tice's contract runs through the 2004 season, but owner Red McCombs could exercise the option for a fourth season in 2005.

Tice is one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the NFL. He will make $750,000 this season and $1 million if his option is picked up for 2005.

FREE AGENT UPDATE: One reason the Vikings claimed TE Richard Angulo off waivers from St. Louis during the season is they don't expect to be able to re-sign TE Jim Kleinsasser. Kleinsasser will become a free agent and wants to test his value on the open market. The Vikings placed the franchise tag on Kleinsasser last season, but won't do that again.

They have four other tight ends on the roster, but none as talented or versatile as Kleinsasser. Angulo, however, is an interesting prospect because of his size and soft hands.

Other players expected to become unrestricted free agents are NT Fred Robbins, P Leo Araguz, C Cory Withrow, OL Lewis Kelly and OL Everett Lindsay. CB Eric Kelly and RB John Avery will be restricted free agents.

Rookie Kevin Williams has made Robbins expendable. Araguz will have no other offers. Withrow is expendable. Kelly and Lindsay are important backups that need to be retained. Especially Lewis Kelly, the heir apparent at right guard.

Eric Kelly is a valuable special teamer and dime back. Avery showed promise as a kickoff returner and receiver out of the backfield.

FEELING A DRAFT: The Vikings will draft 19th in the first round. Depending on moves they make in free agency, the Vikings priorities for that first pick will be: Defensive end, outside linebacker, receiver, tight end or cornerback.

MEDICAL WATCH: LBs Chris Claiborne, who missed three of the past four games, and Henri Crockett had surgeries this week and are expected to be healthy in time for mini-camp in April. Claiborne had surgery on his heel. Crockett had shoulder surgery.

  • Vikings coach Mike Tice is a huge admirer of Joe Gibbs, the 63-year-old Hall of Fame coach who returned to the Washington Redskins Wednesday after an 11-year absence. "I played for him for a year and a half," said Tice, who played in the NFL for 14 seasons. "I give him the ultimate compliment. When he cut me, I told him I learned more from him in a year and a half than any other time I played." Tice gets a lot of his offensive philosophies — one-back formations, maximum pass protection, multiple shifts — from Gibbs.

  • WR Randy Moss, who played the final four games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, might skip the Pro Bowl. He isn't a big fan of the Pro Bowl, having skipped it because of injury following the 2000 and 2002 seasons. Those are the only games Moss has missed in his career.

  • WR Nathan Poole and QB Josh McCown were nominated for NFL Play of the Year for pulling out a dramatic comeback upset win over Minnesota on the final snap of the season.

    With 4 seconds left, facing fourth and 24 and trailing by five points, McCown found Poole barely inbounds in the end zone for a 28-yard scoring pass.

    The award was created by the NFL to recognize the single most exciting play of the year as determined by fans. The league chose five finalists from the pool of 17 weekly winners. Fan voting on closed yesterday.

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