Hovan's Return Creates Interesting Storylines

Defensive tackle Chris Hovan will be back in Minnesota on Sunday, but he wasn't interested in reviewing his inner-most feelings about his time with the Vikings. He is in a new role with the Bucs, and a couple of current Vikings commented on Hovan's past and present. Plus, get notes on Koren Robinson, Troy Williamson and more.

Chris Hovan's descent in Minnesota may have been slower than perceived, but last year his decline in production and favor with the coaching staff was pronounced.

Hovan is now in Tampa Bay and preparing to face the Vikings on Sunday in the regular-season opener. The Vikings, however, are being mindful of angering the sometimes-volatile defensive lineman.

After being a first-round draft choice in 2000, Hovan put up 54 tackles and two sacks in his rookie season. In 2001 and 2002, he appeared to be on the brink of a breakout season, registering 55 and 73 tackles, and six and 5.5 sacks, respectively.

"He was a good guy up here for a number of years, but now he's in a Tampa uniform and we've got to block him just like anybody else," guard Chris Liwienski said. "I think it helps some knowing his style, but nowadays you can pretty much study anybody on film. I guess the thing we've got to be concerned with is what he knows about us. It's probably a little bit too much in terms of our calls."

In the two years before Hovan went south to Tampa, his statistics were already flowing that way in Minnesota.

He had only 38 tackles and two sacks in 2003. In 2004, he started the first nine games before being inactive for five of the next nine games, including the Vikings' two playoff games.

"To tell you the truth, I don't look back on that at all," Hovan said. "I'm looking forward to the hand that is dealt to me right now. You have to be a man and move on."

But Hovan's role has changed dramatically with Tampa Bay. In Minnesota, he was originally counted on as a pass-rushing presence in the middle of the line. In Tampa, in a move that seems to go against Hovan's best asset, his quickness, he is being used as a nose tackle.

"He's primarily the run-down nose there. I think up here he was a little more of an all-down guy," Liwienski said. "They're so deep down there with guys who rush the passer that I think he's kind of a second-tier guy in terms of pass rushing. That doesn't take away from his ability. I know what he's completely capable of, but they just got such a talented pool of D-linemen.

"Everybody's system is different. Tampa wants a quicker, get-in-the-gap guy. I think he fits well into that system. Up here, we've got bigger guys that are going to get in front of you and then read and get off blocks and make plays."

The Vikings last year replaced Hovan with undrafted rookie Spencer Johnson. This year, Johnson is a backup inside and at left end, and the Vikings tapped the talents of former Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams to be a bigger presence next to Kevin Williams.

In Pat Williams' last seven years of productivity in Buffalo, his lowest tackle total was last season, when he had 51. He has averaged 67 tackles per season, while Hovan averaged 44 tackles in the five seasons he played in every game with the Vikings.

Now Hovan's in Tampa, praising the coaching he is getting there and thankful for the opportunity. It may be hard to believe, but he said he doesn't look back on his time in Minnesota.

"A lot of people move on in life in what they do," Hovan said. "Minnesota decided to go another way and I respect the decision. It is something you can't enjoy all the time, but when a door closes another one opens. It is your choice if you want to walk through that door. I decided that, hey, this door opened down in Tampa why not walk through it?"

In fact, Hovan could be in for a rebound year. The Bucs still possess a solid defensive line to take the heat away from him, notably Anthony McFarland and Simeon Rice.

"They've got an excellent defensive front," Liwienski said. "They move around real well, have a solid linebacking corps and they rush the passer real well. And then they're going to stunt – they're going to be constantly shifting and moving. We've got to be sharp with our steps and good with our fundamentals and get on guys and get them out of the way."

At left defensive tackle, Hovan will be one of the objects in the way for guys like center Cory Withrow and rookie right guard Marcus Johnson, but so far the Vikings aren't acting like they are missing Hovan.

"Clearly, we drafted Hovan for one thing and I think the team just kind of evolved without him up here," Liwienski said.

Said Culpepper, when asked about talking to Hovan before or after he left Minnesota: "Chris and I weren't the closest of teammates when he was here. The thing is, we know in competition that guys are going to go out and do the best that they can do. I'm expecting that and I'm hoping he's expecting that out of me."

NOTES

  • Moe Williams, Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore were taking turns in the offensive backfield in Wednesday's open portion of practice.

    When asked if any of the running backs were in condition to carry the ball 20-25 times, Tice said: "I don't think anybody is. The closest one would be Ciatrick (Fason), I think. I can't imagine anything right now. I'm a fantasy football player's nightmare right now. Then I could be the New York Nightmare instead of the Nigerian Nightmare."

  • Besides Chris Hovan, Tice is also very familiar with Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Kiffin was an assistant with the Vikings from 1986-89 and from 1991-94. Tice was a tight end in Minnesota from 1992-93 and again in 1995.

    "Monte Kiffin is a dear, dear friend and one of the best defensive minds in football," Tice said. "He is an innovator who I have had the pleasure to compete against in the coaching ranks a number of times. We used to go against each other twice a year when I was line coach here. I really love going against Monte Kiffin. It makes for a great cerebral challenge and it brings excitement to the coaching profession."

  • Wide receiver Troy Williamson is getting reps with the first-team offense in certain packages and continues to be an option on the kick return team.

    "Pretty much they plan on giving me one (kick return) a game until I get used to returning kicks," Williamson said.

  • Newly signed wide receiver Koren Robinson is being tried already as a punt and kick returner, but he isn't expected to make a contribution on Sunday, and maybe not even in Week 2 against Cincinnati.

    "I know it won't be this game," Tice said when asked about Robinson's timeline. "I personally think Cincinnati would be an outside reach too. … I'm not going to rush him because I have some pretty good receivers ahead of him right now who are really coming on quite strong. Travis (Taylor) is playing excellent football, Marcus (Robinson) made a couple of big plays in the game the other day, Troy (Williamson) is right on schedule and Keenan (Howry) is our number one punt returner. We don't have to rush."

    Koren Robinson is wearing jersey number 18.

  • Recently acquired center Melvin Fowler is already getting reps with the second-team offensive line behind Cory Withrow. Fowler is wearing number 67, Anthony Herrera's old number, and Herrera has switched to 64.


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