Amid the pending sale of the team and an ongoing investigation of coach Mike Tice's involvement in a Super Bowl ticket scalping scandal, the Vikings are finding time to improve a defense that has been considered the Achilles' heel of this organization in recent years.
Five new starters have been added in a span of less than three weeks. Nose tackle Pat Williams, cornerback Fred Smoot and free safety Darren Sharper were signed as free agents. Strong-side linebacker Napoleon Harris was acquired as part of the Randy Moss trade with Oakland, and linebacker Sam Cowart was acquired with a seventh-round draft choice.
"This team has been on the brink of getting over the hump, but the one thing that always held it back was its defense," said Sharper, who signed with the Vikings two days after his eight-year career with the rival Packers came to an end in a salary cap move. "I think with what they've done in the offseason, we have a chance to have one of the top defenses in the league and get over the hump."
The Vikings should be improved defensively. Then again, it can't get much worse since the defense was 28th last year and hasn't ranked higher than 23rd since 1998.
There are, however, some red flags to watch for this fall once all the excitement fades. Such as:
Williams is 32 and H-E-A-V-Y. Maybe too heavy. Can he keep carrying around those pounds effectively at 32?
Harris had an off year in 2004 because he came back too early from knee surgery.
The same can be said for Cowart, who has had an extremely productive career when healthy, but who has also struggled with leg injuries since his Florida State days. He lost his starting job to rookie Jonathan Vilma with the Jets last year after a sprained medial collateral ligament.
Sharper wasn't at his best last year because he also battled a knee injury. He has rested it since the end of last season and says it's better. Anybody who saw Sharper whiff on RB Moe Williams on the third play of the Vikings-Packers playoff game last year knows something wasn't right with Sharper's health last season. Williams turned the missed tackle into a long touchdown reception and the Vikings never trailed.
Part of the glee after the Smoot signing involved having the luxury of moving Brian Williams, the starter at right corner the past two seasons, to the nickel back position. But remember what happened last year when the Vikings signed Antoine Winfield and told Denard Walker he would be the nickel back? Walker balked and eventually forced his way off the roster. Williams wasn't happy when Smoot was signed, and it's doubtful his mood will be any better this fall.
Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell is optimistic that the new additions will pay off in the fall.
"We're well on our way to having the kind of defense the people of Minnesota expect," Cottrell said. "And I don't know that we're done (adding players) yet."
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