NOTEBOOK II: Pep's Impressive Preseason

Daunte Culpepper continued to build on an impressive preseason while spreading the ball around. But that was just one of many sidebars in the Vikings' 19-16 preseason win over San Diego. Troy Williamson continued his progress, Fred Smoot made his return, and a kicker had an impressive outing. Get quotes on those notes and many more.

Once again, Daunte Culpepper was nearly flawless Friday night against San Diego, this time taking the first snap of the fourth drive before leaving the game. Culpepper finished 12 of 14 for 197 yards and no interceptions. His passer rating was 118.8.

But he said he is still progressing as a quarterback.

"I feel more comfortable the more I do it. The more games I play, the more practice I get, the more time I'm at quarterback, the more comfortable I'm feeling," Culpepper said. "I tease with guys all the time on the team that I feel like a Jedi Knight. Everything is slowing down for me out there."

For the preseason, that puts Culpepper at 28 for 33 for 427 yards in roughly one full game of action.

"The one thing I've learned about the preseason is you go 4-0 and then start out (the regular season) 0-3," Culpepper said. "We don't want that. We want to be deep into the playoffs. Like Coach (Mike) Tice says, ‘We're a song that has two notes on it – the NFC North champions and the Super Bowl champions.' That's our main focus."

Culpepper continues to spread the ball around to all of his different receivers and said it doesn't matter who is in the game with him.

"It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is their effort and the way they pay attention to detail," he said. "With the guys we've got, I'm extremely excited about what we're going to be able to do."

So is his main target on Friday night, Nate Burleson, who caught five passes for 97 yards.

"I think Daunte is doing a great job going through his reads," Burleson said. "You don't go into the game saying certain guys need the ball. We just try to take advantage of the opportunities given to us. Daunte has done a great job. It is just a product of the environment here."

WILLIAMSON FILES

Wide receiver Troy Williamson didn't start, but he made an impression on the home crowd early.

On the opening play of the game, Culpepper threw a wide receiver screen to Travis Taylor, but when Marcus Robinson whiffed on his block on a defensive back, he was called for a leg whip. That put the Vikings in an immediate hole. Facing second-and-20 from the 16-yard line, Williamson entered the game and beat the coverage deep, but the pass was overthrown. Culpepper came right back by stepping up in the pocket to avoid a sack and found Taylor across the middle for 27 yards and a first down.

Williamson was also the recipient of Culpepper's final pass of the game, a 36-yard reception deep down the left sideline.

"Pretty much when I looked back, the ball was there and I was able to make a play on it," Williamson said. "It was a pump-and-go (with) the pump to the slot receiver, and my (defender) bit."

"The more I'm playing games, the more comfortable I'm getting, the more I'm learning. It's just getting better and better as I go along," Williamson said.

He said he's still learning the right routes against certain defenses even though defensive schemes are much simpler in the preseason.

Culpepper seems just fine with Williamson's progress as long as his speed is present.

"People definitely are going to be aware of his speed," Culpepper said. "If you don't worry about that, we're going to hit you over the top. It's as simple as that. We're going to take our chances when the chances are there."

TALE OF TWO PHILOSOPHIES

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer took a decidedly different approach to the third preseason game than Vikings coach Mike Tice.

Even last week, San Diego star running back LaDainian Tomlinson had one rush for 55 yards and was immediately pulled from the game. This week, Tomlinson dressed but didn't play. Starting quarterback Drew Brees took the opening drive for a touchdown and sat down.

"If there is one good thing about Minnesota's offense it's that they hold the ball for a long time," Brees said. "So it ate up a lot of clock and we were supposed to play the first quarter. The first quarter only happened to be one drive. We got points out of it, so we're happy."

In contrast, Tice played his offensive starters for much of the first half. Originally, most of the starters were supposed to play into the third quarter, but that plan changed. In the second quarter, on Minnesota's fourth drive, Culpepper attempted one pass, a 36-yard completion to Troy Williamson and was pulled.

NEW-LOOK LINE

The Vikings were sporting a number of new positional players along their offensive line.

Center Matt Birk is likely out for the season after electing to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. In his place is Cory Withrow, with a challenge from Adam Goldberg and maybe eventually Anthony Herrera when he returns from a staph infection in his leg.

At guard, Goldberg returned to a backup role, where he started last season, and Chris Liwienski returned to left guard, where he played the previous two seasons. Rookie Marcus Johnson was inserted as the starter at right guard.

The initial results were mixed. The running backs averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

"I feel real good with the offensive line," Culpepper said. "Matt Birk is not in right now, but Cory Withrow is doing a tremendous job."

STILL KICKING

Kicker Aaron Elling suffered a hip injury in pregame warmups and wasn't used at all in the game. Paul Edinger may have taken the lead in the kicking battle, but Tice wasn't about to give one kicker the advantage over the other.

"I thought the kicker tonight kicked well," Tice said, repeating that phrase when asked about the kicker competition again.

Edinger made all four of his field goals – from 25, 30, 50 and 20 yards – with room to spare, and his kickoffs all traveled inside the 5-yard line with three of the six making it into the end zone. Tice said one kick was too low, but the coverage unit did a good job making up for the lack of hang time. Five of the six kickoffs had a hang time of 4.0 seconds or better, Tice said.

SMOOT'S BIG RETURN

Fred Smoot made his debut in purple after struggling through early injuries in training camp. He played nearly all of the first half and said conditioning wasn't a big factor for him.

"I felt good. I think guys did a good job of getting me workouts where I'm not practicing. I feel real good out there," Smoot said. "Their first drive was an 11-play drive, and that felt good to be my first drive."

Smoot also thought the communication in the coverage was good.

"That's basically what I wanted to get out of it, get that continuity, and see where I was personally," he said.

MOORE'S START

Running back Mewelde Moore got the start in the place of the injured Michael Bennett, but Moore left the game in the second quarter with a mild injury to his left ankle, the same one he injured last year.

"I don't think it is an ankle sprain," Moore said. "I feel pretty good. I am walking around and moving pretty good. I don't have any pain. I think by (Saturday) I'll be alright."

Moore averaged 3.5 yards on six carries.

FLAGGY BEGINNINGS

Having officials at the Vikings' Tuesday night scrimmage must not have sunk in at the beginning of Friday night's game. The Vikings went for the trifecta in the first quarter, committing penalties on offense, defense and special teams.

Their offensive and defensive penalties came on their first plays on the field. On the opening drive, Marcus Robinson whiffed on his attempted block on a wide receiver screen and was flagged for an obvious leg whip.

On San Diego's opening offensive play, nose tackle Pat Williams jump offsides, enabling the Chargers to run three straight times – for gains of 1, 3 and 3 yards – for a first down.

After the Chargers scored a touchdown on that drive, the special teams got involved. On the ensuing kickoff return, Brian Williams and Willie Offord were both flagged for holding, positioning the Vikings at their own 9-yard line to start the next drive.

"In the first four minutes it looked like we were going to have another repeat of the penalty deal, but we ended up with five penalties, so we played smarter," Tice said.

The Vikings did finish with five penalties for 39 yards while the Chargers were flagged 13 times for 122 yards, the same distance the Vikings were penalized last Friday in New York.

THE APPRENTICE

Darren Bennett spent a year tutoring San Diego punter Mike Scifres, but Bennett was quick to say that Scifres has earned his place on his own.

Scifres was impressive against the Vikings. He had incredible height on most of his five punts and averaged 43.6 yards gross. The testament to his hang time came in his 42.6-yard net average.

"To me, the guy who is remarkable is Mike Scifres," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I am pleased with (kicker) Nate Kaeding's kick location and hang time, but Mike Scifres is something else."

Bennett did not attempt a punt against his former team, as Travis Dorsch punted three times for 106 yards with a 32.3-yard net for the Vikings.



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