Irvin A Likely Replacement

If Darren Sharper isn't able to play on Sunday, the Vikings would likely turn to 11-year veteran Ken Irvin, who just this year is making the transition to safety.

The Vikings suddenly find themselves thin at the safety position.

Backup strong safety Willie Offord, who started in place of Darren Sharper in Sunday's 33-16 victory over New Orleans, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the fourth quarter. An MRI on Monday morning revealed the extent of the injury, which will end his season.

Sharper, meanwhile, tested his sprained left knee by doing some running Monday, and didn't seem overly optimistic about the result.

Coach Mike Tice said Sharper likely will be listed as probable when the first injury report is issued Wednesday, but the veteran could elect to hold himself out for another week. That would give Sharper three weeks, including the Vikings' bye on Oct. 9, to rest the injury.

Sharper said Monday he will probably attempt to practice Thursday to test the knee.

If Sharper doesn't go, the Vikings will have to make a decision about who starts along with Corey Chavous at safety. Chavous moved from strong to free safety against the Saints, with Offord playing strong safety.

The Vikings could give the starting assignment to Ken Irvin, but there might be some concern about his experience at the position. Irvin, an 11-year veteran, had been used exclusively at cornerback during his career until training camp.

"Whatever situation I'm called upon to be in then that's fine, "said Irvin, who is expected to be at free safety with the first team for Wednesday's practice." We have a lot of depth on this team. I know every position in the back end, and that's the role I'm playing right now. I'm certainly capable of going in there and playing free safety."

It appears likely that first-year player Will Hunter will be promoted from the practice squad to help add some depth. A third option is for the Vikings to look outside the organization for help.

The loss of Offord also is a blow because he serves as the captain for the special teams. The Vikings have shown significant improvement in that area this season.

"He is an emotional leader on special teams," coach Mike Tice said. "He is tough, calls guys out, makes them meet on Fridays after practice when guys want to go home. He is in there meeting with them. The leadership that we are going to lose is significant. He is playing really well on special teams; that is significant. Not to (mention) the fact that he has played really well on defense. It is a big loss, big loss."


  • Cornerback Fred Smoot on the different defensive looks the Vikings have given teams in the first three weeks of the season: "It's an evolving situation. I don't think people really look at the true thing about it. We've got a new style of defense we're playing here so for the old guys they are learning a new style and for the new guys we are learning a new defense, period. We're going to take time for us to grow, it's just not going to happen overnight. I don't know why people think that."

  • Wide receiver Travis Taylor, a former first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, caught his first two touchdown passes in the Vikings' victory over the Saints. "I played with some good quarterbacks in Baltimore but we just couldn't get it done," he said. "Playing with No. 11, he brings a different dimension to the table. I think Daunte is if not the best quarterback; one of the top two quarterbacks in the league."

  • WLB E.J. Henderson sat out the New Orleans game because of a high ankle sprain and likely will be listed as questionable on the week's first injury report for Sunday's game in Atlanta. Henderson said he will practice Wednesday.

  • DE Lance Johnstone, who suffered a strained muscle in his chest against New Orleans, was awaiting results of an MRI on Monday.

  • WR Nate Burleson continues to rehabilitate from the sprained posterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his left knee in Week 2. He likely won't play Sunday at Atlanta, enabling him to rest the injury through the Vikings' bye week on Oct. 9.

  • RG Marcus Johnson could find himself in a rotation after starting and being benched in every game this season. Johnson, Adam Goldberg and Adam Herrera all could see time against Atlanta.

  • C Melvin Fowler could also see action against Atlanta, sharing time with Cory Withrow. Coach Mike Tice hasn't been happy with the play of the interior line. Fowler was obtained in a trade with Cleveland just before the regular season started.

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