NOTEBOOK II: Weakside Battles

For all the offensive and special teams woes, the Vikings had a few bright spots on defense, and the weakside linebacker spot looks like a battle worth watching for the rest of the preseason. Also, get notes on Travis Taylor, the running game, a struggling corner and other oddities.

One of the Vikings' top objectives coming into the game was to assess the performance of linebacker E.J. Henderson. Henderson started 14 games for the Vikings last year at middle linebacker, but with the acquisition of Sam Cowart from the Jets, Henderson has been moved to weakside linebacker.

Henderson registered only one tackle on Friday night, but he wasn't visibly burned in coverage and he laid a clean, hard hit on Jets backup quarterback Jay Fiedler.

"E.J. is doing real well," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said Tuesday. "Each day you see a little progress at the Will (weakside linebacker). He's feeling more comfortable at the Will backer position. This is his second week there. You can see each segment of practice he's a little better, a little more relaxed and moving quicker."

Playing with the second-team defense, backup weakside linebacker Dontarrious Thomas led the Vikings with seven tackles and a sack.

The battle for the weakside spot may have just intensified.


Wide receiver Travis Taylor made his first start as a Viking and came through early in his first series. Facing third-and-8 from the Jets 32-yard line, Daunte Culpepper found Taylor in the seam of the defense to convert a 25-yard pass for a first down. Taylor finished the evening with two catches for 39 yards.

Marcus Robinson, who started in the first preseason game, had two catches for 46 yards, including a 42-yarder.


Last year, the Vikings struggled with penalties on the road, and Friday night was their first opportunity to start correcting that. It didn't go well.

On Minnesota's first drive, the Vikings committed four penalties. The first was a false start by Michael Bennett on second down. Five plays later, Robinson had a false start on third down and Mike Rosenthal was flagged for holding on the next third-down attempt, turning a third-and-3 opportunity at the Jets 36 into third-and-18 at the Minnesota 49. For good measure, Raonall Smith was flagged for a false start on the fourth-down punt.

It didn't get any better. After the defense held the Jets to three-and-out, Willie Offord was flagged for an illegal block in the back on the New York punt, forcing the Vikings offense to start at their own 13-yard line on the next series.

The Vikings finished the game with 17 penalties for 122 yards. The Jets had eight penalties for 46 yards.


Maybe there was a reason Scott Linehan didn't run the ball as much as Mike Tice might have liked in 2004. Without Matt Birk for their second preseason game, the power inside running game wasn't that powerful for the first-team offense.

Bennett ran for 14 yards on eight carries, not a good average to start. Factor in a 6-yard run, and his other seven carries went for an average of less than 1 yard.

Moe Williams got the Vikings' only touchdown of the first half on a diving 1-yard plunge over the goal line.

The Vikings had only 67 yards rushing on 26 attempts, a 2.6-yard average. Ciatrick Fason had 19 yards on three carries (a team-leading 6.3-yard average) before he was assisted off the field with an ankle injury.


Brian Williams' starting spot isn't expected to last much longer because of the return of Fred Smoot from neck and leg injuries, but Williams didn't do much Friday night to help any hope he had at beating out Smoot.

On the Jets' first touchdown drive, it was Williams who was beaten on back-to-back plays. The more painful of the two was an in-and-out route by Jerricho Cotchery that burned Williams for 18 yards. On the next play, Laveranues Coles caught the game-tying touchdown.

Two offensive plays later for the Jets, following a Michael Bennett fumble, Wayne Chrebet beat Williams in the corner of the end zone. When Williams got turned around and lost his footing, Chrebet had a touchdown and a 14-7 Jets lead.

Ralph Brown, who is expected to be the dime back, had a better game. On back-to-back plays in the third quarter, Brown knocked down a pass in the end zone and tipped away a pass on a crossing route.


There is a reason that rosters are trimmed to 65 players, then 53 players. And there is a reason for preseason games – to see who can play and who might be too nervous for the big-time. On back-to-back punt returns in the third quarter, two young players had a rough time fielding the ball.

On the Jets' first punt of the third quarter, Daryl Jones tried to field a low punt, muffed it, then got his hands on it before the coverage plowed him over and caused a fumble that Cotchery recovered.

On the next kickoff return, Avion Black fumbled the offering before diving on it and recovering.

For good measure, Siaha Burley added another fumble and recovery in the fourth quarter, but a holding call on the Jets before the punt wiped out that play.

The Vikings' punt return line totaled five returns for 2 yards.


Rookie cornerback Adrian Ward, the Vikings' seventh-round draft, was involved in an odd situation. Ward had three pass interference penalties called against him, but two of them came as part of offsetting penalties. Oddly, both of the Jets' penalties during those exchanges were chop blocks.


The Vikings held out the following players because of injuries: Wide receiver Kelly Campbell, safety Dustin Fox, offensive lineman Anthony Herrera, guard Chris Liwienski, tight end Richard Angulo, cornerback Fred Smoot and center Matt Birk. The Jets sidelined wide receiver Harry Williams Jr., cornerback Ty Law, running back Jerald Sowell, safety Andre Maddox, linebacker Darrel McClover, guard Brandon Moore and defensive end John Abraham.

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