Familiarity Breeding Confidence In Offord

The process of assimilating into the NFL has been a slow, patient ride for Vikings safety Willie Offord, but he finally feels confident in his abilities and the defense he is playing.

In the case of Vikings safety Willie Offord, confidence is breeding more confidence.

After a rookie year in which he was asked to contribute heavily from the outset and overwhelmed, Offord finally is trusting his reads, his coordinator and, most importantly, himself.

Confidence didn't come easily to this 2002 third-round draft choice. When he joined the team, the Vikings defense had holes at each level and he was asked to become an immediate starter. He had an interception in his first start, but eventually he lost his starting role seven games into his rookie campaign.

In 2003, he played almost exclusively on special teams, and in 2004 he was voted the special teams captain.

But Offord's journey to this more comfortable place on defense began toward the latter stages of the 2004 season. When starting safety Corey Chavous suffered a broken arm in the season finale, Offord went from zero starts in 16 regular-season games to two starts in two playoff games.

This spring, Chavous decided not to attend voluntary team camps, giving Offord more opportunity to work with the starting – and revamped – defensive personnel.

"I've been extremely comfortable the last eight or nine months. With Corey gone, it's definitely given me the opportunity to show the team what I can do," Offord said.

"When Corey unfortunately got injured, it gave me a chance to play … and show them I can be a safety."

He showed them he could when he had 15 tackles in two playoff games against Green Bay and Philadelphia, adding two passes defensed and a forced fumble.

The Vikings believe voluntary camp no-shows Chavous and cornerback Brian Williams will be around for the start of training camp, but Offord's opportunity in the playoffs and more recent developmental camps has left a positive impression on coaches.

"He's playing faster. He's making the calls. (He's) in the right spot at the right time. The consistency level is there," head coach Mike Tice said when asked about Offord this year versus last year. "That's the word for our football team, consistency, for all of us. I see a consistency there, a confidence that maybe wasn't there in the past, a communication level that maybe wasn't there in the past, and that comes with knowledge of the system."

Offord agrees. His knowledge of the system has increased with more playing time.

"I'm definitely more confident. I don't look at confidence as an issue right now. I just look at (wanting) extended playing time to show that I can play," he said. "There's no holding back now. There is probably a small amount of things I don't know about this defense."

A second season under defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell may be the biggest contributor to Offord's newfound feeling.

"It's the biggest difference in my game right now, knowing the defense. This is the first time in my career that I've had the same coordinator two years in a row. It's definitely to my advantage and I'm trying to take advantage of the situation," he said.


While the defense is the same and the coordinator is the same, the starting personnel is markedly different in 2005.

The Vikings could have five or six new starters on a defense that finished ranked 28th in the NFL last season. Despite the turnover, Offord doesn't believe melding the new talent together will be an issue.

"We're all pretty comfortable with each other. Everybody's got the same goal, and that's to try and go all the way," he said. "Basically, I'm getting the chance to spend a lot of time with these guys off the field and learn more about them off the field rather than just spend all the time on football."

In the backfield, two new starters will be on the field – cornerback Fred Smoot and safety Darren Sharper. Offord, who likely would be in line for the starting spot if Chavous elected to holdout during the preseason, can learn from each of the newcomers.

Smoot is ever-confident on the field, not afraid to talk to wide receivers after a good defensive play … or even a bad one.

Simply, Smoot is a talker and everyone knows it.

"That's what you expect from him. We played in the same conference in college, so I pretty much knew he was a talker," Offord said.

Sharper has a more quiet confidence, and more years in the league. Despite eight seasons with Green Bay, Offord believe Sharper can be an eventual leader on the Vikings defense.

"He played at Green Bay the last eight years, and pretty much the same defense for the last couple years. … He's not having a hard time with it at all because he knows football," Offord said. "It may be a matter of time before he takes over that leadership role, but right now we've got so many leaders out there that nobody's trying to step up and be that main guy."

Which brings up the questions of all the new players jelling: "I think everybody's on the same page out there. It's just a few glitches here and there, but we'll be fine," Offord said.

By the looks of his attitude in spring camps, Offord will be fine, too.

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