Russell Scratching For His Job

Free safety Brian Russell's route to being an NFL starter wasn't easy, and his job of maintaining a starting job won't be easy either.

Starting free safety Brian Russell won't mind proving himself to yet another defensive coordinator. After all, he's had to do it every year since he was a member of the Vikings' practice squad in 2001.

The difference this year is Russell is coming off a season in which he started all 16 games, played every single down and tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine.

But Russell is the ultimate overachiever. He's 6-2, 204 pounds, a former rookie free agent who played quarterback until switching to defensive back his junior year.

His competition at free safety this summer is Willie Offord, the same chiseled prototype defensive back who goes about 220 and was a third-round draft pick in 2002. The same Willie Offord that Russell beat soundly in training camp last summer.

But Ted Cottrell is the new defensive coordinator, replacing George O'Leary, who replaced Willie Shaw before last season. Like the others, Cottrell will have to see Russell beat out Offord to believe it can happen.

Unlike last season, when Russell started training camp on the bubble as a third free safety behind Offord and Jack Brewer, who has since been cut, Russell starts camp this summer as the No. 1 free safety.

Don't expect him to lose his grip on the top spot. Yes, Russell needs to work on tackling and taking better angles to the ball carrier. But he also is relatively new to the position.

He has a great work ethic and might be the best-conditioned player on the team. He also doesn't mind having to prove himself. Again.

  • Coach Mike Tice recently donated $5,000 from his players' fine fund to a local wheelchair basketball program.

  • Owner Red McCombs still has the team on the market. Of course, his asking price of about $600 million is still considered too high by those who want to buy the team. McCombs sounds resolved to the fact he might never get a new stadium, and that a new local owner, such as Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, probably has a better shot at getting a new stadium built.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm going to make sure those guys are my best friends. With (first-round draft pick Kenechi) Udeze coming in, there's so much speed up there, so it's going to be really exciting." — Cornerback Antoine Winfield, referring to the Vikings' defensive line, which has gone from a weakness a few years ago to a team strength.

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