Vikings-Bucs Personnel Preview

The Vikings may be starting five new players on defense and be unsure of their running back situation, but the Bucs are expected to start a number of rookies.


One day after shedding little light on how he planned to distribute the workload among his banged-up running backs in Sunday's season opener against Tampa Bay, Vikings coach Mike Tice expressed frustration with what he felt was the media's attempt to create a controversy where none exists.

"I don't even want to talk about the running backs," Tice said during his Thursday news conference. "Every time I say something about the running backs you guys try to create a controversy amongst my players. There is no running back controversy."

This stemmed from Tice's comments that he was "a fantasy football player's nightmare," because he did not know how the carries would be distributed among Michael Bennett (sprained neck), Mewelde Moore (sprained ankle), Ciatrick Fason (sprained ankle) and healthy veteran Moe Williams.

Bennett, Moore and Fason have been practicing and will be ready to go Sunday, but Bennett and Moore did not play in the preseason finale at Seattle. Tice admitted Wednesday neither is ready to carry the ball 20 to 25 times. "The closest one would be Ciatrick," Tice said, referring to who could handle a heavy load.

Bennett, who has been declared the starter, was asked about a possible rotation of backs soon after Tice's initial comments.

"It looks like (Tice) wants to move in that direction this first week, and that's fine," Bennett said, referring to a rotation of backs. "You play until you get tired, and then you tap out and the next guy comes in. I'm not going to have a problem with that for now."

It was obvious Tice didn't like the media attempting to make an issue of playing time, when he feels injuries have forced him into this situation.

"I think if you thought it through you would think of it the same way I would," he said. "I have two running backs who haven't played in three weeks. They're not in great game condition, they are a little bit off in their reads. I have one running back, my oldest running back (Williams), who has made every practice.

"I really don't want to talk about how the playing time is (going to be) because every time I say any damn thing about the playing time of the running backs I look up and you guys are trying to get my players to say something about my decision. So screw it.

"You guys aren't getting anything else about the running backs the rest of the season. You guys figure out where the hell I'm playing the running backs on your own. That's it, no more running back questions. I'm done with it, period, end of story, for the rest of the year."


  • CB Fred Smoot continues to practice after missing three of four preseason games because of a knee injury. Smoot will start Sunday but the Vikings will keep a close eye on him and insert Brian Williams at corner if Smoot shows signs of tiring. "I'm just making sure that he doesn't get rubber-legged and something unfortunate happens to us," coach Mike Tice said.

  • TE Jim Kleinsasser (groin) remained listed as probable on the injury report Thursday and the Vikings likely will be cautious with him. Kleinsasser was brought along slowly in camp as he returned from an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee suffered in the season opener a year ago against Dallas.

  • Rookie WR Troy Williamson has had a few packages drawn up for him that will put him in with the first-team offense. The Vikings also have told Williamson that he will return one kickoff in Sunday's game. Backup WR Keenan Howry will be the primary return man.

  • WR Koren Robinson, who probably won't play until Week 3 against New Orleans, said he plans to join an after-care program in the Twin Cities. Robinson recently completed a 28-day alcohol treatment program.

  • LB E.J. Henderson will be the starter on the weak side Sunday after struggling much of last season playing in the middle. Tice has been pleased with how quickly Henderson has taken to playing the new spot. "There will be some instances where we have to substitute our War Eagle package and make sure D.T. (Dontarrious Thomas) is on the field, he brings some more speed," Tice said.

  • LB Dontarrious Thomas isn't a starter in the base defense but he will be on the field with Napoleon Harris in the nickel package Sunday and has impressed coach Mike Tice. "D.T. runs as fast as our safeties and he's gaining confidence," Tice said. "D.T.'s biggest thing is shaking off the bad play. When he makes a bad play, just shake it off."

  • Tice called backup LB Raonall Smith the Vikings best special teams player.

  • Tice was asked if he had much interest in Thursday night's season-opening game between the Patriots and Raiders. That game, of course, features former Vikings receiver/headache Randy Moss making his debut in Oakland. "We'll be at the (Vikings) gala tonight so I probably won't get a chance to watch much of it," he said. "Two AFC teams, I could give a crap."


    The Bucs could start as many as five rookies or players with two years or less experience on offense Sunday at Minnesota.

    That list includes left tackle Anthony Davis and rookie left guard Dan Buenning. Right guard Sean Mahan is entering his third season, but first as a starter.

    That does not include running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams and tight end Alex Smith, who also could start depending on the formation.

    How are the rookies handling preparations for the first game?

    "I think they're doing pretty good," coach Jon Gruden said. "I think they're obviously excited. Maybe deep down there are some nerves there, who knows? I think they're handling it pretty well. We're trying to put them in some tough situations with the crowd noise every day. We're trying to give them the best picture we can of what we can expect to see. I think they're doing quite well."

    According to Gruden, the speed of the game will be the biggest factor for rookie players.

    "Well, the rookie season, really, is an experience in itself," Gruden said. "You're playing against a completely different level of competition. The speed of the game ... every first down ... what I've discovered is the speed of the game is so much faster. You make a first down in college, you get to take a lunch break. They move those stakes and the coach gets to come out on the field, tell the guy what the next series is going to be. Not in this league, man.

    "Especially with some of these referees, the experienced guys. They set the ball in a hurry. You run down the field, you get tackled, there are three or four guys on top of you, you've got to get back up because there are 26 seconds to go. And it's loud as hell and the schemes are so much more complex. It's hard to describe the difference, in my opinion."


  • G Matt Stinchcomb was downgraded to questionable with a lower back strain that plagued him in the preseason. Stinchcomb is currently backing up rookie Dan Buenning at left guard.

  • G Jeb Terry figures to serve as the backup to one or both guard positions if Matt Stinchcomb (back) is unable to play.

  • WR Joey Galloway or Ike Hilliard will serve as the Bucs' punt retuner in Sunday's game at Minnesota.

  • CB Ronde Barber needs two sacks to become the first cornerback with 20 career sacks and 20 career INTs.

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