When Ted Cottrell came to the Vikings two years ago after a philosophical falling out with Herm Edwards of the Jets, he was given the task of rebuilding a defense that had been mired near the bottom of the NFL for five years.
With the shockingly open purse strings of the Vikings this off-season, Cottrell's job has been made considerably easier. Several players who were full- or part-time starters last year are now backups -- giving the Vikings more defensive depth than they have seen in a decade.
But, with the Vikings coaching staff effectively playing in a contract year, 2005 is a make-or-break season for a lot of people. And if the Vikings are to succeed and remain intact as an organization, the defense will have to step up in a big way.
To that end, Cottrell has been given considerable latitude in having his recommendations for players to fit his defense not only listened to by the top brass, but acted on.
His sphere of influence became apparent last year when the Vikings pulled a cloak-and-daggar operation that literally spirited Antoine Winfield away from the Jets facility in the dark of night like a hostage retrieval mission. At the time, it was a shock for Vikings fans, who had never seen the Vikings spend so much for a player outside of the organization.
Cottrell's hand was all over the signing of Pat Williams, who like Winfield, played under Cottrell at Buffalo. Then the Vikings traded a seventh-round pick to the Jets for Sam Cowart -- who played under Cottrell for both the Bills and Jets.
If the Vikings are to succeed defensively this year, there can't be an excuse that Cottrell didn't get the players to make his system work. He now has former players as starters at all three levels of the defense and arguably the most important three -- shutdown cornerback, middle linebacker and run-stuffing DT.
The pieces have been put in place. A lot of jobs are riding on this season. Whether he succeeds or goes down in flames, Cottrell is going to do it swinging -- and with a trio of key components that are truly "his guys."
* The Mike Tice Kreskin moment of training camp came this weekend when he predicted Michael Bennett would rush for 1,600 yards this year. Keep in mind that he predicted 1,300 yards for Bennett on draft weekend of 2003 -- and he finished well short of those lofty expectations.
* Tice's admiration of Bennett might be somewhat misplaced. It should be bad enough that Bennett has had five or more carries in 16 of the Vikings last 32 games, but even more troubling is that the team is 5-11 in the games in which Bennett has been a factor and 12-4 in those he hasn't.
* One of the hot training camp battles to keep an eye on the next few weeks is at wide receiver, where Travis Taylor is continuing to make a case for himself to be the starter instead of Marcus Robinson.
* As the standoff between the Vikings and the agent for Erasmus James continues, word is that the two sides haven't had face-to-face discussions since camp opened. A candlelight vigil continues.
Cottrell Stamp On Defense
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