'The Plan' Continues To Progress Toward Draft Day

The Vikings continue to keep in mind the depth of the draft as they work their way through negotiations with other free agents, but their plan on offense and defense is pretty well set.

The Vikings' efforts to resurrect the team from its 2001 collapse have been euphemistically labeled "The Plan." The fact is, however, there are several parts to the so-called plan, which was devised partly to hasten the team's rebound from its 5-11 finish last year and partly to restructure its financial position in order to provide additional salary cap room for future player signings.

Owner Red McCombs has made it clear that he expects a quick turnaround in the team's record, citing a number of quick recoveries by other losing NFL teams.

With their marching orders in place, head coach Mike Tice and his staff, along with the team's personnel department, have apparently bought into McCombs' notion that a team's fortunes can be reversed quickly from one season to the next through free agent acquisitions, the draft and making prudent use of the talent that exists on the team's own roster spots.

The first part of the plan — dealing with the financial problem of creating salary cap room — involved trying to re-negotiate the contracts of players the team wanted to keep, while at the same time allowing aging and poorly performing veterans to exit via free agency. In the initial stages of the free agency bidding wars, the Vikings wound up with a push: they lost strong safety Robert Griffith, linebacker Kailee Wong and cornerback Dale Carter, but they signed linebacker Henri Crockett, defensive end Kenny Mixon and cornerback Corey Chavous.

According to Paul Wiggin, the Vikings' pro personnel director, the Vikings will continue to pursue veteran free agents and several more could by signed.

"The three we've signed — Chavous, Crockett and Mixon — we expect to be starters for us. We had to go out and sign those people to help us get better," Wiggin told VU. "We can't solve all of our problems at once because we don't have quite the wherewithal financially to do that. But when we put together a team going into the draft, we want to feel comfortable about being able to draft the best athlete possible. It could be a defensive lineman, it could be a wide receiver, it could be any number of positions. But we don't want to go into the draft with a gun to our head saying we have to get a certain guy or a certain position.

Say, for instance, we'd want a power defensive end. But maybe when our seventh choice comes up the power defensive end who's there is more like a 20th pick. Well, you're not drafting intelligently if you take him. That's not the way (personnel director) Frank Gilliam, and Scott Studwell and Jerry Reichow and those guys have ever done things here. They've always had great drafts and done well with the draft because they've always drafted the best athlete available when their early turns come up."

After the financial and personnel parts of the plan are completed, the final phase will be when Tice and his coaching staff put their version of the Vikings to the test in game situations.

The offense will be primarily the responsibility of Tice and the team's new offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan. Tice and Linehan have made no secret of the fact that they are committed to a two-tight end offense. And in that regard, Linehan admitted to breathing a sigh of relief when the Vikings and tight end Byron Chamberlain agreed to a new five-year contract that could keep the 30-year old pass-catching specialist in a Vikings uniform for the balance of his career.

Linehan, who is in his first season of coaching in the pros after 12 years of college coaching, told VU, "I've learned a lot of things here in the first two months. I've learned that you put in your system and then you rely on great people like our personnel people and on Mike to get the players who fit our system.

"For example, I was nervous thinking we weren't going to have the kind of tight end I would want to have. But we went ahead and put the system into the playbook based on having Byron or somebody like Byron and they did a great job and went ahead and signed him. And he's a key component to what we want to do."

The other question concerning the Vikings' new offensive style has been termed "The Randy Ratio," meaning how often Randy Moss will be directly involved in the play that has been called.

"I couldn't give you an exact number," Linehan confessed. "But I'll tell you something I heard or read that Brett Favre said about Moss when he was asked what would happen if Moss played for Green Bay. He said, ‘If he was here I'd throw the ball to him 20 times a game.' Well, I guess I can see that happening here, but it will depend on the game. It will depend on the game and maybe even a quarter-by-quarter situation within a game.

"We did a study here and we discovered that during one stretch of five games when Moss had the ball thrown to him 40 percent of the time, we won four of the five games. Those are pretty good numbers to start with." VU

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