This is training camp. Fights, wars of words and good-time razzing between teammates and friends.
Tuesday at camp, tight end Jermaine Wiggins and safety Tyrone Carter started a fight after Carter tackled Wiggins. Cornerback Rushen Jones came in to help, and before you knew it much of the team was involved. The skirmish spilled over onto another practice field, as the mob of players looked like an oversized scrum in a rugby match. Punter Darren Bennett, a former Australian Rules Football player, must have felt right at home.
But the line of the day came from guard Chris Liwienski, who jokingly yelled "Brock, I want Brock" during the melee. Brock, of course, is in reference to former World Wrestling Entertainment champion Brock Lesnar, trying to make the Vikings as a defensive tackle.
After a good look at Lesnar today, all I have to say to his fans is this: He was a great wrestler. He's a nice kid, but he's a wrestler … as of today.
The defense was high energy and it brought a punch today — literally and figuratively.
The defensive line was very, very impressive. Compare the rotation of Kevin Williams, Chris Hovan, Kenechi Udeze, Lance Johnstone, Darrion Scott, Kenny Mixon and Steve Martin to the starting cast of 1999. Just five years ago, the usual starting lineup for the Vikings was Duane Clemons, Jerry Ball, Tony Williams and John Randle (at defensive end during the twilight of his Vikings career). Kevin Williams looks every bit as strong as he did last year, and Steve Martin is a big, pure nose tackle who comes to play. It's an exciting, versatile front in 2004.
Behind that group is a young batch of linebackers, but I've got a positive review on them as well. Raonall Smith looked very good again on Tuesday, and Max Yates seemed to be moving around well. Dontarrious Thomas, man, can he fly. He was really showing his athleticism today. Mike Nattiel, another candidate at weakside linebacker, had a brace on his ankle, which gave Smith and Thomas a chance to show their talents.
It was a hot, muggy morning and, besides leading to a fight, the weather forced left tackle Bryant McKinnie out of action due to dehydration after two long practices yesterday. In his place, Adam Haayer moved from a backup guard to working with the first offensive line at left tackle. After a slow start replacing the injured Matt Birk yesterday, Cory Withrow looked good at center today. The Vikings are lucky they re-signed him late in this year's free agency period.
He was part of an offense that won two of three battles during head coach Mike Tice's practice-ending competition. Daunte Culpepper sealed the offensive victory when he went scrambling for the winning first down. He continued to show his love of the game when he followed that competition-ending scramble with a run to the other field screaming and having fun.
The final player who left an impression on me today was little 5-foot-9 cornerback Antoine Winfield. He showed why he is such a great tackler. On one play, he came up on a screen to meet the ball carrier, and the contact itself cracked throughout the three practice fields at Minnesota State, Mankato. The technique was a thing of beauty — much better than the fighting technique displayed during the full-team grudge match.
Lurtsema's Training Camp Reaction
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