Top Objectives Left To Attain

The Vikings had an extremely productive offseason, but they still have some questions they need answered and goals they need to meet at training camp. Here are the top ones.

The Vikings return to Mankato on July 29 after the most active offseason in their history.

There is a new owner, Zygi Wilf, another rebuilt defense, one less superstar (Randy Moss) and a head coach (Mike Tice) who is planted firmly on the hot seat.

Here are three goals the team must achieve in camp:

1. Prove there is life after Randy.

Obviously, this begins with the receivers. There can be no outbreak of dropped passes. Moss never dropped passes. Nate Burleson needs to act like a No. 1 receiver. Marcus Robinson needs to stay healthy. Travis Taylor, who has complained about playing with bad quarterbacks in Baltimore, needs to step it up now that he has Daunte Culpepper. And rookie Troy Williamson needs to establish some kind of role to prove he's worth the seventh overall draft pick, a pick the Vikings acquired as part of the Moss trade with Oakland.

Williamson won't come in and dominate as a rookie starter like Moss did in 1998. Anybody who is expecting that can forget it right now. Williamson is a raw receiver. However, his 4.34 speed can be put to good use until his receiving skills are sharpened.

Proving that there is life after Randy is a burden that is shared throughout the team. Culpepper needs to be even more precise with his reads and throws. No longer can he just launch a 60-yarder and expect Moss to find a way to come down with it.

Running back Michael Bennett needs to stay healthy. His backup, Mewelde Moore, needs to play through nagging bumps and bruises. And rookie running back Ciatrick Fason needs to make everyone forget Onterrio Smith, who was suspended for the season because of a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

There also is a lot of pressure on the offensive line. Pro Bowl center Matt Birk won't be ready until the regular season because of hip surgery, his fourth operation in the past year. Chris Liwienski is moving from left to right guard. Right tackle Mike Rosenthal is coming off a broken foot that wiped out all but two games last season. And former practice squad player Adam Goldberg is the frontrunner against rookie Marcus Johnson for the starting left guard position.

2. Mesh new faces on defense.

As much pressure as there is on the offense to prove there is life after Randy, there is even more pressure on defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and the new version of the Vikings' defense. Five new starters were added via free agency or trades, and a sixth might emerge from the draft. If the Vikings don't improve dramatically on defense, it will make the Moss trade look terrible.

Most of the pressure once again rests on the linebackers. Sam Cowart, 30, was brought in from the Jets for a seventh-round draft pick. He supplants E.J. Henderson in the middle. Cowart knows Cottrell's defense well and must prove it by taking control early on in training camp.

The strong-side linebacker is Napoleon Harris. His pressure comes from the fact he was the only Raiders player who was exchanged in the Moss trade. Harris claims last year's dismal season was an aberration because he was injured. If he flops again this season, the Moss trade looks worse.

The weakside linebacker position is a major weakness heading into training camp. Even coach Mike Tice couldn't hide his disappointment in the top two candidates, second-year pro Dontarrious Thomas and oft-injured Raonall Smith. One of the two must prove they can play with consistency. Smith also must show that he can stay on the field.

The defensive line and secondary also need to mesh.

The line will have a new nose tackle in former Bill Pat Williams, who has experience in Cottrell's defense and is large enough to take blockers away from All-Pro tackle Kevin Williams.

At end, Kenechi Udeze moves from the right side to his more natural left end position. He also needs to prove that his right shoulder will hold up after offseason surgery. The new right end will either be second-year pro Darrion Scott, who has the slight edge, or rookie first-round draft pick Erasmus James, who is the better pass rusher.

The secondary has to incorporate two new starters in cornerback Fred Smoot and free safety Darren Sharper. The transition could be made more difficult if the disgruntled Corey Chavous and Brian Williams bring their unhappiness to camp. Both of them missed all four developmental camps out of protest.

Chavous, the starting strong safety, is unhappy about his $1.9 million salary for this year. Williams is pouting because Smoot took his starting job.

3. Settle the placekicking duties.

Will this be the year Tice has a kicker he can count on to kick the long ones and not shank the short ones? We'll see.

Aaron Elling, who had a meltdown last summer and was released before the start of the season, is back with a renewed confidence. After expressing total confidence in the new Elling, the Vikings went out and signed former Bears kicker Paul Edinger.

Edinger was horrendous in 2004. He lost his job this offseason to Doug Brien, who lost his job with the Jets to rookie Mike Nugent, the second-round draft pick from Ohio State.

Brien was Tice's first kicker as a head coach in 2002. The coach's mishandling of Brien and Brien's subsequent implosion triggered a series of moves, none of which has resolved the Vikings' kicking situation for the long term.

So, here we are, once again watching the Vikings' placekicking battle in training camp. Elling, who was re-signed during last season to handle kickoffs, claims his placekicking shanks are behind him. Edinger also claims that he re-discovered his stroke this spring.

Elling is better than Edinger on kickoffs. Edinger is better than Elling on field goals. The Vikings, however, don't want to keep both of them. They prefer to use that roster spot on a position player.

The Vikings insist this is an even fight between Elling and Edinger. Tice is hoping the competition brings out the best in at least one of them.

Tice will try to stay out of the way when it comes to kickers this year. He also decided not to bring kicking specialist Doug Blevins to camp this year. Blevins is a highly respected kicking consultant, but his presence didn't work last year. Elling said he was overwhelmed and distracted by the constant and conflicting feedback from Tice, Blevins and special teams coach Rusty Tillman.


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