Defense Has ‘More Wrinkles'

The Vikings surprised nearly everyone when they employed more than just their typical 4-3 alignment against Tampa Bay, but they are likely to use multiple alignments throughout the season.

After playing a vanilla defense throughout the preseason, Vikings defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell surprised Tampa Bay in Week 1 by mixing in a 3-4 and a 3-3-5 defensive look that put linebacker Keith Newman on the field.

Cottrell acknowledged there are a "few more wrinkles" in the scheme that he elected to hold back against the Buccaneers. The 3-4 look, which Cincinnati is sure to see Sunday, enabled the energetic Newman to get on the field. In one situation, he pressured quarterback Brian Griese into making a poor throw that was picked off by cornerback Fred Smoot.

Bengals second-year starting quarterback Carson Palmer will have the advantage of being able to study some of the Vikings' tendencies in the scheme.

While starting corners Smoot and Antoine Winfield played well, it will be worth noting whether the Vikings use Brian Williams or Ralph Brown in the nickel package. Williams, a starter last season, was demoted from that role in Week 1 after a poor first half.

In the first quarter, Williams was beaten by receiver Joey Galloway for a 30-yard reception on third-and-9. The Buccaneers scored on that drive to tie it at 7. In the second quarter, Williams failed to wrap up receiver Michael Clayton on another third-and-9 pass play. That drive ended with another Buccaneers score.

Vikings coach Mike Tice said this week that Williams is still the starter in the nickel but it's obvious the coaches will keep a close eye on the situation and won't hesitate to switch to Brown.

Veteran Sam Cowart looked good in his debut as the Vikings middle linebacker but his status for the Cincinnati game is uncertain. Cowart strained his left calf muscle late in the first game and will be evaluated this week. If he can't play, Rod Davis likely would get the start.

The Vikings also could move E.J. Henderson from the weak side back to his natural spot in the middle, but Tice is hesitant to shift Henderson around.

On offense, rookie right guard Marcus Johnson was benched in favor of Adam Goldberg in the fourth quarter of the opener. Tice, though, indicated Johnson would get another shot this week.

That might come out of necessity, as Goldberg could be needed to start at left tackle. Veteran Bryant McKinnie sprained his left foot in Week 1 and had an immobilized boot on the injured area for two days. He did not practice Wednesday. Tice is hopeful McKinnie can play but said Goldberg said he would practice at left tackle Wednesday.

Johnson wasn't the only offensive lineman to struggle against the Buccaneers, as the Vikings managed only 26 yards on the ground. Center Cory Withrow also had a poor afternoon and recent acquisition Melvin Fowler was expected to get some reps with the first team in practice. Withrow, however, will remain the starter.

The Vikings are expected to start Michael Bennett at running back after having veteran Moe Williams on the field for their first play from scrimmage last Sunday. Coming off a performance where he rushed for a career-low minus-1 yard, Bennett could use a good day to boost his confidence.

Look for Williams to be used as the third-down back and Mewelde Moore also is likely to get some work if his sore left ankle is all right. Moore did not touch the ball on offense in the first week.


  • WR Koren Robinson was back at practice Thursday after missing Wednesday so he could attend a court hearing in Kirkland (Wash.) Municipal Court. Robinson was ordered to perform 50 hours of community service because of two probation violations, but the service time can be performed anywhere in the United States. His appearance stemmed from a drunken driving charge on May 6, while he was still a member of the Seattle Seahawks. Robinson is unsure whether he will play Sunday at Cincinnati.

  • C Matt Birk, already on the season-ending injured reserve list, underwent surgery on his left hip Tuesday. His recovery period will be 10-to-12 weeks.

  • OL Anthony Herrera, who spent a week in the hospital during training camp because of an infection in his leg, took part in all periods of practice Wednesday except for one.

  • RB Mewelde Moore said his left ankle is fine and that he will be ready to go Sunday at Cincinnati. Moore sprained the ankle during the preseason and then was leg whipped in the area during Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay. He is expected to see some carries in Cincinnati.

  • DE Erasmus James, who was inactive for the opener, hadn't been feeling well for two weeks and was told by doctors he had "mono-like" symptoms. James said Wednesday he is feeling much better. However, that doesn't mean he will be active against the Bengals. With the 3-4 and 3-3-5 packages the Vikings used on defense, James also got caught up in a numbers game and could again in Cincinnati.

  • James was one of five first-round picks to be inactive for Week 1. The list also included cornerback Adam Jones of Tennessee (No. 6); offensive tackle Alex Barron of St. Louis (No. 19); quarterback Jason Campbell of Washington (No. 25); and cornerback Marlin Jackson of Indianapolis (No. 29).

  • The last meeting between the teams in Cincinnati came in the final game of the 1995 season, when the Bengals beat Minnesota 27-24. That also marked the last game of Mike Tice's playing career.

  • The Vikings went into that 1995 game needing a victory, plus losses by Atlanta and Chicago to gain a wild-card berth. They didn't get any of the three and missed the postseason for the first time under coach Dennis Green. Green would miss the playoffs only twice in his tenure as the Vikings coach from 1992 until he was fired before the last game of the 2001 season. That 2001 team was the only other non-playoff team for Green.

  • Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-7 victory at Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992, marking the best day for a Vikings quarterback against the Bengals. Safety Todd Scott had three interceptions for the Vikings in that game.

  • One of the most memorable moments in the Vikings-Bengals series came on Nov. 13, 1977, when quarterback Fran Tarkenton broke his leg as he was sacked by the Bengals' Gary Burley. The Vikings won that game 42-10. Tarkenton was replaced by Bob Lee and rookie first-round pick Tommy Kramer.

    BY THE NUMBERS: The Vikings coaching staff has a combined 66 years of NFL playing experience. That number is the highest of any NFC team and tied for third in the NFL, trailing only Pittsburgh and Denver's coaching staffs.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the only one on a week-to-week basis around here is me." - Coach Mike Tice when asked if a strong showing in the Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay would give rookie punter Chris Kluwe some job security.

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