Newman Sets Aside Hard Feelings, Produces

Linebacker Keith Newman didn't feel too wanted by the Vikings this offseason, but he is mature enough to take any bitterness and direct it toward the football field on Sundays. So far, he is putting himself in a position for a nice contract in 2006 if his high level of production continues in 2005.

By all accounts, Keith Newman was the odd man out. After a decent season with the Vikings where he started 14 games and registered 71 tackles and 3½ sacks, Newman had a hunch Minnesota officials were leaning a different direction.

Newman was solid but not spectacular in 2004, his first season with the Vikings. The Vikings had traded Randy Moss for a first-round draft pick and — more importantly to Newman — linebacker Napoleon Harris. As a middle-of-the-road free agent, he entertained offers from a handful of teams, and the Vikings weren't beating down his door begging for him to come back.

All signs were pointing to Newman's quiet exodus from Winter Park.

Then came conversations with defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. And talks with head coach Mike Tice. And while the Vikings offered Newman the veteran's minimum of $540,000, it was the insistence that he played into the team's defensive design that kept him in Minnesota.

"Before I re-signed here, I talked to (Cottrell) and Coach Tice," Newman said. "I just wanted to make sure if I did decide to come back here that I wasn't wasting time. Knowing that Napoleon would have to be on the field somehow, some way, I knew it could be tough."

So far the Vikings' plans agree with Newman. While he doesn't start on the strong side, where Harris resides, Newman is on the field for several defensive sets, including a 3-4 designed especially for him.

"We had a package similar to this last year where we didn't run it much, but we ran it some and now we're running it more this year where it gives me the opportunity to make plays," Newman said. "As long as we keep being successful with it I'm sure we're going to use it."

Newman is listed at 248 pounds in the media guide, but he confesses to spending the season near the 255 mark.

"We always joke he's a Diet Coke away from being a defensive lineman, but he's a damn good pass rusher," linebacker coach Pete Bercich said. "He definitely brings an attitude and toughness to the group."

Ask Newman about his weight and he smiles ear to ear.

"They kid me. Personally I wouldn't call myself a small linebacker," Newman said. "My weight fluctuates between 252 and 256 so I guess, yeah, considering the way the league is today with small defensive ends, I'm a meal away from being a defensive end. But I make my weight each week and I don't think it's affected my play on Sundays."

It hasn't so far. While the addition of five starters on defense has been well chronicled, Newman's play in the first month of the season has been just as valuable.

"Keith plays special teams, he plays linebacker, he plays rush defensive end," head coach Mike Tice said. "We have a 3-4 package that we named after him. He can rush the passer, he is doing a real good job playing coverage."

Naturally, Newman would have preferred to re-sign with the Vikings for more than the veteran's minimum. During negotiations he admittedly was frustrated.

"I didn't know they wanted me back when they didn't make a solid offer," Newman said. "It doesn't make you feel wanted, but it's a business. They made moves that they thought would better the team. You can be pissed off, but you have to look at it from a business aspect. Every team is making moves from a business aspect to better their team.

"Maybe I wasn't part of their plan at first, but I can't worry about whether they wanted me back or how they felt about me in the offseason. I'm here now and I'm helping this team be the best it can be."

That the Vikings didn't sign Newman to a lengthy contract could be beneficial. If he continues to play like he has so far this season, there will be plenty of suitors bidding for his services in 2006. Newman might be able to parlay this year's success into a better contract than he was initially hoping for this year.

"It could," said Newman, who played in 12 games with the Atlanta Falcons in 2003. "But in this business you can't look back or look way ahead. You have to focus on the future and the future for me is the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday. I'm just looking forward to getting ready for the Atlanta Falcons."

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