Nelson Willing To Play The Part

Amid a rash of training camp injuries in the defensive backfield, former receiver Ben Nelson is looking to find a roster spot as a safety, a position where the Vikings have been missing two of their top five players. Plus, get notes on MLB, OL, holder and the best rookie free agents.

The Vikings practiced without three of their top four cornerbacks and lost one of their top four safeties to a broken arm during the first week of training camp.

The secondary depth became so thin during Week 1 that reserve receiver Ben Nelson was moved to safety and three rookies had to assume prominent roles in the nickel and dime defenses.

"I've never played safety," Nelson said. "But they told me they would give me a chance to make the team at safety. So I'm a safety."

Nelson, still wearing No. 17, began lining up at free safety. He took some of the reps that would have gone to third-round draft pick Dustin Fox.

Fox, a promising young player with speed and athleticism, fractured his left arm in practice. It's the same arm that caused him to miss games at Ohio State last season. Fox had a metal plate inserted into his arm after breaking it last season. Ironically, the plate that was supposed to protect the arm helped fracture it this week. He's out three to five weeks.

Meanwhile, starting right cornerback Fred Smoot missed the entire first week of practice because of a strained neck that he suffered during an offseason workout. Smoot, the prized offseason pickup who received a $10.8 million bonus, was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He was taken off the list on Monday.

Nickel back Brian Williams, who missed all four of the team's voluntary developmental camps because he was upset about the Smoot signing, was out with a hamstring injury. Williams, a starter the past two seasons, also missed some practice time because of a death in the family.

Then there's Ken Irvin, the 32-year-old veteran who is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon. Irvin took over Williams' nickel back job and was working some at backup safety until he injured his right shoulder. Team officials worry that Irvin's shoulder injury might be serious.

The steady Antoine Winfield is still at left corner. Ralph Brown, a decent player the Vikings picked up off the street in Week 1 last season, was been starting at the other cornerback position.

Darren Sharper is at free safety and Corey Chavous has looked good at strong safety.

Chavous missed all of the developmental camps as a protest against his contract, which has one year left at $1.9 million. He's pouting and refuses to talk to the media, but he's also clobbering running backs in what looks like an angry rage during practice.

Rookie cornerbacks Adrian Ward, Laroni Gallishaw and Dovonte Edwards have been rotating in with the first nickel and dime defenses.

Ward was the seventh-round draft pick that the Vikings acquired as part of the Randy Moss deal with Oakland. He's a smallish player from UTEP, but he's very fast.

Gallishaw has been impressive. The free agent from Murray State is a good cover guy. He picked off backup quarterback Brad Johnson in a practice and returned it for a touchdown.

Edwards also is a rookie free agent to watch. The 6-foot, 182-pounder from North Carolina State is a physical player.

The Vikings talked all offseason about their depth in the secondary. It certainly was tested in Week 1 of training camp.

NOTES

If you've seen rookie Marcus Johnson up close, you know why the Vikings would love to work him into the starting offensive line. The second-round draft pick from Mississippi is 6-feet-6, 321 pounds and a rarity among NFL linemen in that he's already physically able to take the next step.

But it doesn't look as though Johnson will start unless there is an injury to one of the front-line players.

Originally, the Vikings planned to have Johnson compete with Adam Goldberg for the starting left guard job. But those plans were scrapped because the Vikings need Johnson to fill the valuable role of third tackle.

Nat Dorsey, a second-year pro, was supposed to handle that job while Johnson focused on left guard. But Dorsey is out of shape and can't be counted on.

Starting right tackle Mike Rosenthal is coming off of a broken foot. Coach Mike Tice has hinted that Rosenthal won't be fully recovered until a full year has passed since his surgery. Rosenthal broke his foot in Week 2 last season.

  • The Vikings normally keep two or three rookie free agents each year. The leading candidates this year are LB Heath Farwell, a short but tough-nosed linebacker from San Diego State; Clemson DE Eric Coleman, a 6-5, 300-pound defensive end with some quickness; and North Carolina State CB Dovonte Edwards, a good cover guy who is getting extra reps because of injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart.

  • MLB Sam Cowart is showing what defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell calls a "football intelligence" that the Vikings didn't have at that position last season. During one drill last week, Cowart sniffed out the play before the snap, made the right call and the defense tackled RB Michael Bennett in the end zone for a safety.

  • QB Brad Johnson has been told he will hold on place-kicks, a job he hasn't performed since 1999. P Darren Bennett is the backup holder.

  • RB Mewelde Moore runs hard, makes defenders miss and can catch the ball better than any running back on the team other than Moe Williams. But the Vikings are reluctant to turn over the backup running back duties to Moore until he learns how to pick up blitzes better.


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