As former Vikings coach Dennis Green used to say, "Everybody has an opinion." And the opinions on Chris Hovan's 2003 season were just about as widespread as those on quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Coming off seasons with 55 tackles and 6 sacks in 2001 and 73 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2002, Hovan was considered a potential Pro Bowl player entering the 2003 season. But after 38 tackles and two sacks last year …
"I didn't have the numbers, but my reputation precedes itself. I'm not worried about last year, I'm worried about what's going to happen this year," he said.
"I'm just going to settle down, play my game and let all the media hype take care of itself."
Hovan came into 2003 bigger and stronger, but that may have negated his best assets as a defensive lineman — his quickness and disruptive ability.
"I was a little bit too muscular, a little too bound," he said. "I just didn't feel like myself. I felt like I had to put the weight on for the amount of attention I was getting. I'm getting back to my roots, to what got me where I am."
After June's developmental camps, Hovan said he was back down to 297 pounds, an ideal playing weight for him.
Beside shedding weight, Hovan has also shed another defensive coordinator. He will spend 2004 with Ted Cottrell as his coordinator after seeing Emmitt Thomas, Willie Shaw and George O'Leary pass through as defensive coordinators during his four previous seasons.
Once again, the Vikings are hoping that Cottrell's past experience in the league translates into an improved defense. For Hovan, it could mean his aggressive style of play will be better utilized.
"Cottrell coached the defensive line up in New York and was very cognizant of letting the defensive line go and getting a pass rush, where I think we were more of a sit-back, kind of read defense last year. This is more of an attacking defense, let the defensive line go and make plays," Hovan said. "He's a very, very wise man through his years at Buffalo and New York. I have tremendous respect for the guy and can't wait to get to training camp with the guy."
Hovan doesn't seem bothered by a new coordinator every year. "That's just the way the game goes, man. Guys leave and get better jobs," he said. "A coach doesn't want to be a tight ends coach or offensive line coach forever. They want to move up and be an offensive coordinator or a head coach. Everyone wants to move up in life, and that's just the way it goes in the league."
For his part, Cottrell likes what he sees out of Hovan so far.
"A guy I think has really done well and worked hard to improve his technique is Chris Hovan. I think he's really worked hard … on his flexibility and technique," Cottrell said. "I think he had already had his mind made up on how he was going to beat a blocker, especially on pass protection (last year). In the preset, he had his mind on how he was going to attack the guy and then, boom, the guy wouldn't set that way. So then his move was not the correct one that he should have been using. I think now he's being a little more patient and trying to enlarge his repertoire."
Hovan will spend this week in Minnesota's offseason conditioning program, then return to San Diego for another month of workouts with Junior Seau and John Lynch. Then it's back to Minnesota for training camp — a training camp back at 297 pounds.
"I'm noticeably different body temperature-wise and the way I react and my quickness off the line. I'm not as muscular as I was last year, not as muscle-bound," he said. "I'm going back to the way I was a few years ago, which is getting off the ball and creating havoc."
And if he's lucky, he'll be creating high numbers in the statistics columns to help him create higher numbers during negotiations when his original rookie contract expires in March.
Hovan Returning to 'His Roots'
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