Run Game, Run Defense Both Showing Good Signs

Neither Fred Robbins nor Michael Bennett had breakout years in 2001, but both players' careers are looking up if the first minicamp of 2002 is any indication.

Vikings coach Mike Tice was asked after the morning session of Saturday's workout if he was looking for improvement from the defense every day with potentially nine new starters. "Every practice" was Tice's response, and since the Vikings have been in two-a-day mode since Friday, improvement should be seen everywhere.

It has in many ways. And in many ways, there is a long, long way to go.

Things that looked good? The running game and the run defense each showed flashes of greatness. It may sound strange, but it all depended on the personnel and the plays called.

When Michael Bennett got the call, he often found a seam to expose, something he and running backs coach Dean Dalton have been working on since the end of the season. Bennett appears more comfortable and more decisive in his reads and cuts. The new emphasis on using two tights may also be helping to open the lanes for Bennett. And, like Tice told VU weeks ago, Bennett isn't always trying to use his speed to beat the defense to the corner when the correct read is to cut up-field.

The defensive line also had some good work. Fred Robbins appears ready to really make a run at dependable duty at nose tackle. Even after a long, hard two-practice workout on Friday, Robbins showed some instincts Saturday morning and some pop off the snap. He got to the quarterback a couple times and pushed the pile a few more times.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the defense, largely comprised of new players to the system, still looked like they are learning the defense. And that's what the camps are for. Between the two official minicamps and a series of developmental camps in the coming two months, the Vikings are hoping the revised systems and new personnel will mesh into an improved product by the time they hit training camp on July 26.

If they do, the changes in coaching, players, system and attitude could make for a 2002 season filled with possibilities.

* Wide receiver Derrick Alexander passed his physical with the Vikings Saturday morning, so he will be a potential pickup for the team after his expected release in early June from the Kansas City Chiefs.
* Mike Tice's coaching style has remained much more interactive with the players. He has called the offense back into the huddle when he didn't like the intensity or the alignment and he has given high-fives at the conclusion of good plays.
* One player who is helping bring back the intensity to the workout is tight end Hunter Goodwin. Goodwin has always been a tough blocker and scrappy player, and that part of his game didn't wane in the time he was in Miami.
* Cory Withrow's long snapping has been fairly consistent in practices, meaning Gary Anderson's ability to stick with the Vikings is improving. If Withrow, a certainty to make the team as a backup offensive lineman, can become the starting long snapper, it would give the Vikings one more roster spot for a kickoff specialist since neither Anderson nor punter Kyle Richardson are adept at that.
* The leaders of the team, at least those leading stretches before every workout, are wide receivers Chris Walsh and Randy Moss, quarterback Daunte Culpepper and fullback Harold Morrow.
* A group of players from St. Thomas, the home of the Tice Brothers Football Camp, attended Saturday morning's workout.
* KSTP's "Thursday's Child" also made an appearance on the practice field Saturday, shaking hands and talking with Tice and some of the top players as they watched behind the huddle.

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