Big Changes In Store

One year ago at this time, the Vikings were adding new players to a roster that team officials were convinced would win a division title. A year later, even more drastic and sweeping changes have been made.

The Vikings were the Jeckyl-Hyde of the NFL last season. When the team started 6-0 some dared to say that this could be a Super Bowl squad. After losing seven of their final 10 games, no such visions were discussed.

The end-of-season collapse by the Vikings was monumental -- they were just the second team in the modern NFL era to start a season 6-0 and not make the playoffs. Changes were promised and changes have come. But how many is too many?

Coach Mike Tice has a strong belief in the players he has brought to the Vikings and there are sure to be a lot of changes in the 2004 Vikings. Here is a sampling of the changes we can expect.

RUNNING BACK -- With Michael Bennett healthy, there could be some stiff competition for playing time. Bennett and Onterrio Smith will compete for featured back time, while veteran Moe Williams and rookie Mewelde Moore are both in line to be third down backs. With four players capable of carrying the load, keeping all of the team happy and used will be a tall order.

WIDE RECEIVER -- The team has struggled to replace Cris Carter for two years. Derrick Alexander wasn't the answer. Neither was D'Wayne Bates. Newly signed Marcus Robinson is being praised as the first true burner the Vikings have put opposite Moss since he came to the NFL. But, Robinson comes to the Vikings with a long injury history and there are still some serious doubts about Moss' ailing foot.

TIGHT END -- The team re-signed Jim Kleinsasser, but still needed someone to fill the downfield pass-catching role that used to be the domain of Byron Chamberlain. That job fell to Jermaine Wiggins, who will give the Vikings offense a new weapon downfield and change the tight end position from being that of primarily blocking to one of offensive firepower.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- Kevin Williams is only in his second season and, with Fred Robbins out of the picture, he will be starting his first full season as a defensive tackle. On the outside, rookie Kenechi Udeze is expected to provide the consistent bull rush the Vikings have been lacking in recent years. The two are both young, but each is an upgrade over what preceded them.

LINEBACKERS -- A year ago, Greg Biekert, Henri Crockett and Chris Claiborne were the starters. By the start of this season, both Biekert and Crockett are gone and some believe Claiborne is an injury waiting to happen. Two of the three starting spots are open and ostensibly being handed to E.J. Henderson and either Donatarrious Thomas or Mike Nattiel. By the end of the season, all three may be seeing considerable playing time, if not all three being starters.

SECONDARY -- In their biggest off-season move, the Vikings signed Antoine Winfield -- giving the team it's first true shutdown cornerback perhaps in team history. Instead of letting displaced starter Denard Walker (and several others) simply get released, the Vikings have a corner they can put on a team's best receiver and instruct him to take that player out of the game. The Vikings have never had that.

COACHING -- The Vikings have gone through defensive coordinators like a fat man goes through a box of Krispy Kremes. But Tice is convinced that Ted Cottrell can be a long-term solution to the coaching carousel on the defensive side of the ball. The team has bent over backwards to accommodate Cottrell, using most of its free agent money and draft picks to grab defenders and even signing his son as training camp tight end.

Which team do you remember from 2003? The one that started 6-0 or the one that finished 3-7? It would seem the Vikings remember the latter, prompting all the changes we've witnessed in the offseason and putting a lot of new players in new positions for 2004.

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