The Vikings have fielded their strongest defensive line in years, and Chris Hovan wasn't even given a passing thought to be a part of it.
Hovan officially became a former Viking when he signed with Tampa Bay last week as an unrestricted free agent. He is expected to compete for a starting spot because the Bucs lost free agent Chartric Darby to Seattle.
The Vikings couldn't care less. Their 2000 first-round draft pick had fallen so far from his 2002 level that he spent last year's playoffs on the bench in street clothes as a healthy game-day inactive.
Hovan was beaten out in midseason by Spencer Johnson, a rookie free agent on the skinny side. Johnson has since been replaced as a starter by former Buffalo Bills nose tackle Pat Williams, a physical, 317-pound veteran.
Williams is a much better fit alongside All-Pro tackle Kevin Williams, who might be the best interior defensive lineman in the league. Hovan and Johnson were too light to take the maximum pressure off of Kevin Williams.
Williams and right defensive end Kenechi Udeze are former first-round picks. Had Hovan lived up to his potential and self-promotion, the Vikings defensive line might be unstoppable today.
Hovan's fall was quick and decisive. In 2002, he was fast off the ball, disruptive in the backfield and a second-team All-Pro pick by the Associated Press. Since then, he has lacked quickness and patience with coaches who have tried to improve his footwork and hand techniques.
Hovan's tackles dropped from 73 to 38 in 2003 and 23 last season. He had 5.5 sacks in 2002, but only 3.5 the next two seasons.
Hovan often resorted to bad habits rather than accept coaching. With his quickness gone, he usually ended up being overpowered or tied up in one-on-one matchups against bigger guards.
Hovan now has a fresh start in Tampa Bay. He turns 27 on May 12, so there is time for him to resurrect his career. But don't be surprised if he doesn't.
Williams & Williams The Right Combo
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