Team Defends Hovan's Play

Chris Hovan shows up with one tackle and four assists through three games this season, and, while some fans are getting impatient, the team is defending his worth to the middle of the defensive line.

There once was a time when defensive tackle Chris Hovan appeared to be a lock to move onto great things as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Times have changed, the Vikings are changing, and Hovan has quickly become an under-appreciated player. Whether deserved or not, Hovan does not command nor receive the respect

In an age where statistics are key and perception is nearly as important within the public scope of rating a player, the Minnesota Vikings may have a different opinion of their fifth-year defensive tackle from Boston College. Despite regressing statistics and an increased focus on the state of the Minnesota defense, Hovan is a leader and a player that has had his fair share of criticism over the years as the Vikings have been far from a solid defensive team.

The team in recent weeks has taken an about-face regarding criticism of their one-time star player. While Hovan appears to be playing the game at a higher level thus far in the 2004 season over his 2003 production, he is far from the force he was in the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

"The criticism of Chris Hovan really is not warranted. He comes to play every day, he is an emotional player that does more on the field than show up on a stat sheet," a team source said. "His job is to take up space in the middle of the defense, keep an offensive lineman off a linebacker, and to shoot the gap, penetrating into the backfield when the opportunity or scheme call presents itself.

"Is he the same player he was in 2001 or 2002? No, he has not developed into the consistent inside presence we thought he might become, but with a better surrounding cast, he is a player that makes those around him better."

The latest player placed around Hovan is Kevin Williams. Somewhat of a surprise selection in the 2003 draft, Williams quickly received the fanfare with a breakout rookie season in which he gathered 10.5 sacks and numerous pressures. Williams quickly became the center of attention, leaving Vikings fans clamoring for more intense and physical play from others.

Left in the shadows of doubt, Hovan now appears to be a player without his home. For what was once his domain, Hovan is now playing second fiddle to Williams along an improving Minnesota defensive line. Rarely mentioned on game day or on a stat sheet, Hovan remains a fixture, though an inconsistent presence.

"Williams and Hovan complement each other very well in our defensive scheme. Both play off one another. Hovan is sort of a quirky kid that really loves to play the game," the source continued. "He isn't a flashy player, though he can be animated. He does everything well from the defensive tackle position. Some of the better defensive tackles in this league are players that you rarely hear their name called.

"Kevin Williams is our flash, our physically gifted player that doesn't come around often. Hovan is the player that helps knock the door down for the flash to charge through. Believe me, with those two guys in the middle of the defensive line, we are pretty comfortable."

Being comfortable is a far cry from a time when the team thought Hovan was going to be a star in Minnesota.

A free agent following the 2004 season, Hovan could position himself to be a hot commodity with a strong season. Standout defensive tackles are a premium product in the league, and at one time Hovan established himself as one of the better this game had to offer. But it is questionable if there is a pot of gold at the end of Hovan's potential free-agency rainbow.

"We are fully aware that Hovan will command some serious interest if and when he becomes a free agent. At the end of the season we'll look at this team and see where we are as an organization. Of course we would like to have him back, but that may be out of our control once the season ends if we don't get something done with him prior to the end of the season.

"Right now, we are not negotiating, but that could change in the future."

For Chris Hovan and his time in Minnesota, the future is uncertain.

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