Torn Team: Concern Tempered With Optimism

Vikings players know there are plenty of mistakes to be corrected, sprains to be healed and schemes to be ironed out. And if those negatives are improved, they could return to contender status.

The Vikings know exactly where they stand: They have a talented group of individuals looking to play much, much better as a team.

In the week following their third loss of the season, players were searching for answers while realizing that all is not lost.

"When I first came into the league, we went 0-5 to start the season," said former Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot. "Marty Schottenheimer was my coach in Washington, and when you start to lose, everybody starts to get agitated, everybody is pulling back and forth. I'm somewhat used to this. What you can't do is let the outside people pull you down."

The Vikings have done a good job of taking responsibility for their play. They haven't let outsiders pull them down, but they haven't been delusional about their analysis either. They know they need to play better.

"This is the NFL and we're all out to win ballgames, but when you take thorough beatings on the road twice, that draws concern," linebacker Sam Cowart said.

Missed alignments, assignments and maybe too many defensive plays being brought into games are some of the reasons cited for the problems on defense. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line needs to improve – and guard Adam Golberg is expected to get inserted into the starting lineup – while Daunte Culpepper needs to plug up the turnover brigade.

Yet there are reasons for optimism, too.

While the team is 1-3, they are only a half game out of first place in the NFC North entering Sunday's contests, and a win in Chicago next Sunday would move them into a first-place tie in the weak division.

"When people speak about our division, they kind of call us the dog as far as being the worst division in the league," said former Packers safety Darren Sharper. "I think if you win one game, you're tied for first. It's nothing you've probably seen in years past. … The competitive level of our division doesn't seem that high, but I think we'll change that once we come back from our bye."

The bye provides two positives for the Vikings – they had a chance to evaluate their offense and defense again and hired former coordinators to help with that process.

"I think it's a smart move just to get outside input and other people that know football," Smoot said Foge Fazio reviewing the defense and Jerry Rhome essentially becoming the offensive coordinator.

And the players will have time to heal.

The timing couldn't be better, according to Smoot.

"It's perfect," he said. "We really needed this to refuel. Hopefully we can get some people healthy. Darren Sharper I know needed this week off and a couple more people, like Lance Johnstone, who will have a bigger role now that Kenechi (Udeze) is down."

Sharper said he'd rest his recovering knee last week, but gave a "100 percent guarantee" that he'll play in Chicago.

Defensive end Lance Johnstone also returns from a strained pectoral muscle, wide receiver Nate Burleson is expected back after a knee sprain that sidelined him for three weeks and running back Moe Williams will return to duty after sitting out against Atlanta.

The first quarter of the season has been a disappointment for the Vikings for sure, but the off week provides them with the opportunity to heal up physically, emotionally and schematically – all three areas of major concern last week.



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