Extreme Makeover? Offense Could Have New Look

Injuries and personnel changes could have the Vikings offense looking markedly different Sunday, even from a week ago.

Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is on injured reserve. Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss is in Oakland. There is nothing the Vikings can do about those two absences, but the offense could have a dramatically different look come Sunday against New Orleans.

Running backs Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett said this week that they don't know what their roles will be Sunday, but Moore has been getting increased practice time and Bennett said earlier this week that he was frustrated with his role last Sunday.

Bennett made his first start of the season. After fumbling in the first quarter, he was pulled in favor of Moore and then re-inserted into the lineup in the second quarter. Bennett fumbled again, and was summarily pulled for the rest of the game.

"I had one turnover and I had to come off the field for a whole quarter. When I get back in there, I kind of lose my rhythm at that point. I'm not making any excuses. I have to get better," Bennett said Monday.

"I never had that problem throughout my whole career in football. It's just two fluke plays that I wish I could take back but I can't. I got pulled, and yeah, I was frustrated, and anytime I need to get back in and make up for it I'm going to be frustrated.

"The first play, I was just trying to make things happen. It was a nice open hole and I saw the linebacker. I tried to set him one way and spin back out of the way of everything and the ball, he actually ended up hitting me on my elbow, which is a good shot and the ball just popped out. And then on the second one, it was a screen pass to me and I caught. When I went to tuck the ball, the guy just made a great play on me and hit the ball out of my hands. This week, my focus is to never, ever let that happen again. I'll be catching the ball and locking it high and tight as soon as I put my hands on it."

Or for as often as that might be.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who has thrown eight interceptions and lost two fumbles in two games but wasn't benched, can relate.

"I just told (Bennett) ‘keep fighting.' That's all you can do," Culpepper said. "Like I said earlier, we are trying to fight where we are. We can't fight from where we want to be. We want to be 2-0 but we are 0-2."

While it appears Moore is in line to start Sunday, it also looks like other moves could be made. Center Melvin Fowler, acquired in a trade with Cleveland before the start of the regular season, has seen practice time with the first-team offense this week as well. Cory Withrow likely will start, but indications are that Fowler will see some playing time, especially if the offensive line doesn't improve.

Injuries are also causing rotational changes in the wide receiver corps. With Nate Burleson expected to miss at least one game with a knee injury, Koren Robinson should be making his debut in purple.

"He is definitely up this week," Culpepper said of Robinson. "He is going to get a lot of work in the passing game and in the running game and to see how he feels. We are going to see how it goes. He is definitely somebody that we are looking forward to getting out there and making some plays because he is a great playmaker."

Robinson is looking forward to making amends in his football life after trying to clear up his personal life, which sent both aspects of his life sideways with alcohol problems. After spending 28 days in treatment earlier this summer, the Vikings are giving Robinson another chance.

He produced a 1,240-yard season for Seattle in 2002, his second year in the NFL, but his production slipped to 896 yards in 2003 and 495 yards in 2004 before the Seahawks released him.

He has seven 100-yard games in his four-year career and could also see some action returning kicks for the Vikings on Sunday.

Another change to the offense could be Culpepper's approach. He said a knee injury suffered in the season opener is feeling close to 100 percent, and his struggles with holding onto the ball too long and throwing interceptions have him thinking of using his legs more often on Sunday.

"Running around myself and making plays that way, with the ball in my hands, running the ball, it is very important that we keep defenses honest with the running game," he said. "That is one of the things that I probably could have ran with it more."

Changes are inevitable when an offense like the Vikings has scored only one touchdown in two games. The extent and effectiveness of all these changes should be visible Sunday.

NOT NATE

The Saints lost WR/KR Michael Lewis Monday night with a torn medial collateral ligament and posterior collateral ligament. To account for the depth they lost in Lewis, Saints coach Jim Haslett called on a receiver that will live in Vikings lore – Nate Poole. Poole was with the Saints in training camp.

"Nate had been a productive receiver in the league, especially when he was in Arizona when he made the catch against Minnesota to stop them from getting into the playoffs," Haslett said. "He is a big guy who runs really well. He is smart and knows all of the positions so it was kind of common sense to bring him back."

While a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Poole had a 28-yard touchdown reception from QB Josh McCown with no time left in the 2003 season finale that gave the Cardinals an 18-17 win over Minnesota and eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs. Poole, generally a secondary receiver in Arizona that year, had five catches for 86 yards against the Vikings on that Dec. 28 day.

NOTES

  • Kicker Aaron Elling, who was released from the Vikings before the regular season opener after an Elling injury gave Paul Edinger the upper hand in the kicking competition, had a tryout with the Baltimore Ravens.

  • Philadelphia signed kicker Todd France, who spent a training camp with the Vikings, to its practice squad.

  • Green Bay re-signed tight end Ben Steele, who also spent time with the Vikings in training camp in 2004.

  • Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius, who courted the Vikings this offseason, was placed on injured reserve.


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