Since being drafted in the third round in 2002, Willie Offord has been a source of frustration for Vikings coaches hoping to find an immediate starter at safety.
They tried that, and it simply didn't work. Now the Vikings are trying something new to give Offord a better chance at suiting up on fall Sundays. Offord is now adding linebacker to his resume of positions with the team.
At Monday's practice, Offord was working as a nickel linebacker.
"We're trying to find a niche for him. We want to try to find a way to get him on the field more, so we talked about him playing nickel linebacker, which would give him more value to suit up on game days because, frankly, it's very, very hard to suit up four safeties," head coach Mike Tice said. "Tyrone (Carter) probably has the edge on Willie (as a reserve safety), at least at this point."
While the team didn't give Offord advance notice of the move, he's not opposed to trying something new to make an impact.
Offord played a similar position during parts of his college career, during which time he amassed 185 tackles.
"I might be a little more comfortable making tackles that close in, as far as making open-field tackles all the time. Tackling is my strength," Offord said. "The last couple of days was the first time I really heard of it. Once they told me that, I just knew I had to be ready to go in and play.
"I'm looking forward to playing it in situational downs if I don't get a starting safety position. I'll just try to help the defense as much as I can when I'm out there."
The Vikings relied on Offord heavily in his rookie season, probably too heavily. He was inserted as a starting safety early in camps, but it became clear as time wore on that he was being given too much too early.
The word around Vikings personnel was that he wasn't picking up the defense quickly enough and, while they liked his physical ability, he couldn't be relied on as a short-term answer for a starting safety. He started six games early in his rookie season, but eventually the Vikings moved Corey Chavous from cornerback to safety in the middle of the season.
As Offord looked back on his first two years, he had a realistic assessment of his progression.
"Things are different for me physically, but especially mentally," he said. "I've got a lot better grasp of the defense, trying to understand offenses and what they do — down and distance — everything that a veteran should know about playing safety, I pretty much know it, but I still feel I've got a lot to learn.
"If you go back and look at it, I was kind of thrown into it, forced to play as a rookie. That kind of caught up with me once the season got going, as far as adjustments and things like that. Sometimes I feel like if I had a chance to just play special teams and grow into defense on the field, I would have had much better production early on."
For now, he's ready to move forward as a reserve safety and maybe as a nickel weakside linebacker.
"That's all the in past," he said of his rookie struggles. "Whatever they need me to do, I'm ready for it. I'm really working on staying consistent."
* Raonall Smith has had three "very, very good days," according to Tice. Smith saw some action with the first-team defense while Mike Nattiel missed practice with an ankle injury and Dontarrious Thomas battled the soreness that came with his first training camp practice Monday morning.
* Darrion Scott and Spencer Johnson both got praise from defensive line coach Brian Baker during one-on-one drills for their ability to disengage from blockers and get to the passer.
* At 6-foot-8, tight end Richard Angulo is thought to be most valuable as a pass catcher. But the angular St. Louis castoff showed a tremendous ability as a pass protector. He consistently shut out linebackers during early drill work.
* In those same blitz-blocking drills, tight end Sean Berton was another standout. Mewelde Moore struggled a bit early, but got progressively better. E.J. Henderson was nothing short of consistently impressive, if not dominant, in shedding a blocker and getting to the passer.
* While Matt Birk was seeing a specialist about a possible sports hernia, backups Cory Withrow and Lewis Kelly struggled early. Withrow and Daunte Culpepper missed a number of exchanges, and Kelly continued to struggle snapping the ball in the shotgun, just as he did in spring camps.
* In a jump ball situation in the end zone to Randy Moss, the diminutive Antoine Winfield was still able to strip one away and break up the pass.
* Horace Willis had an interception when running back Butchie Wallace bobbled a pass out of the backfield and Willis snatched it away mid-bobble.
* Tight end Jim Kleinsasser showed his brute strength while plowing through wannabe tacklers for a 19-yard touchdown.
* Newsflash: Moss dropped a pass in the end zone. Good to get those out of the way early.
* Moss showed why some of the criticism of him as a blocker gets a little overblown. On one play, when Culpepper scrambled to buy time and then finally tucked and ran, Moss blocked Raonall Smith for 8 yards while Culpepper trailed him yelling, "Let's go Moss" all the way to the end zone.
* Willie Offord had a number of huge hits in the morning practice and added to his practice stats with a fumble recovery.
Offord On The Move
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