The offensive line is Mike Tice's area of expertise, so when the former position coach decided it was time to make a change and stick with it – inserting rookie Marcus Johnson at right guard and moving Chris Liwienski to left guard – all that was left was to view the results.
The first returns came in Monday's late afternoon full-pads practice.
"I felt it was the best our offensive line had performed since we went down to Mankato on (July) 29th. And that's always a good thing, that in the last practice your line had its best practice," Tice said Tuesday.
The Vikings will get another chance against each other in a scrimmage later Tuesday, the final full-pads preparations before Friday evening's game with San Diego.
But Tice is also thinking beyond San Diego, the third preseason game, and looking at the regular-season opener against Tampa Bay on Sept. 11. He will be doing that without Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who is considering another surgery after undergoing three surgeries to repair a sports hernia and another hip surgery since the start of 2004.
"Matt is going through a process of getting his body and his mind in order to make his return. I have to show some patience and at the same time intelligence and move forward with our football team to get ready to put the best guys out there for Tampa Bay. At this point I don't think he can get enough in him to help us in that particular game, so I have moved forward," Tice said. "But Matt's return is imminent, I just don't know how imminent. So we will see how it goes. Of course I am disappointed for Matt. I feel bad for Matt. He has had a tough 12 months. Hopefully he can get this behind him and hopefully at some point this season, I hope, he will be pain free. "
However, Tice didn't want to think about the possibility of losing Birk for the season after he missed four starts and was limited for much of the 2004 season.
"I don't want to hear that. I don't even want to think about that crap. No," Tice said. "It's his body; he has to decide what he wants to do. He has doctors, he has specialists, he has got trainers, he has got a wife, and he has got kids. Matt has to decide about his body, what's best for his career and at the same time, keep in the back of his mind that we need him.
"Not that Cory Withrow is a bum or anything like that. Cory Withrow is a good football player, but he's not a Pro Bowl football player."
Tice also said he might not have running back Michael Bennett for the season opener on Sept. 11. Tice ruled Bennett out of action on Friday night.
"Right now, Mike's out, so I'm moving forward, even for Tampa without Mike," Tice said. "I don't see Mike being anything but an outside shot for Tampa. I'm not a doctor, but I know anytime you sprain your neck or tweak your neck or have neck spasms or whatever he has, it's hard to put a guy back in there, especially a guy who has taken a lot of hits, unless he is confident in that neck. It's another area where I am probably in my mind moving on with other players right now."
On Monday, Tice said Mewelde Moore would get the nod for Friday's preseason game, but that Bennett is the team's starter, speaking from an overall perspective.
But the crack may be open for Moore again, just as it was last season when he was impressive over a three-game stretch when Bennett and Onterrio Smith were out of the mix. During that midseason stretch, Moore ran for 90, 109 and 138 yards in consecutive games.
"He has really worked hard on his pass protection even as yesterday, taking Keith Newman down the middle," Tice said. "(That's) not something he would have done three weeks ago, so he is a very diligent young man."
GOOD INJURY NEWS
The Vikings did get some positive news on the injury front. Cornerback Fred Smoot is expected to play on Friday, but the Vikings will be cautious with his conditioning.
"Smoot is a thoroughbred. And thoroughbreds, they need their legs more than anything. We want to make sure that he has his legs," Tice said. "He hasn't been through training camp. He is going to get training camp legs, just like Erasmus (James) had in the game Friday night. So we have to be very careful, and very careful not to let his tremendous enthusiasm, tremendous energy, tremendous passion, keep me from making the best decision, which is to take it slow."
Smoot is coming off neck and knee injuries suffered just before and during training camp. Neither injury is considered serious.
Tice Pleased With Offensive Line
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