The Vikings offense has undergone some fine-tuning this week as Brad Johnson takes over for the injured Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. But coach Mike Tice is spending much of his time this week overseeing a defense that is ranked 27th in the NFL.
Tice, known as an offense-first guy, told his players he would be more involved on the defensive side of the ball on Monday and he has followed through in practice.
Defensive end Darrion Scott said Tice has been more engaged this week than in the past.
"As far as walkthroughs he's real active, which he really hasn't been since I've been here," said Scott, in his second season. "He's really involved in everything we do and our checks and our alerts. ... He's just making sure that everybody is on the same page."
Tice's decision came after Carolina's 38-13 victory last Sunday. In that game, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme threw for 341 yards and receiver Steve Smith set a team record with 201 yards receiving.
Afterward, cornerback Antoine Winfield complained about the fact the Vikings had worked all week on double-teaming Smith in practice but then abandoned the plan in the game and had cornerback Fred Smoot play man coverage much of the time.
"I'm trying to get them to think a little bit more, think a little bit faster," Tice said. "I've tried to pick up the tempo in some of the things we've done and how we've practiced defensively more than anything. I got myself involved a little bit Monday with the game plan, so I was able to be there when it was put in. This way, I had the same type of familiarity I have with the offense.
"So when things are going on at practice, I could interject more to players. I did this week, probably for the first time, what I usually do offensively during the week in practice, where I stand by drills and interject and repeat things and maybe change a couple of things. Just trying to pick up the energy a little bit."
Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said one thing Tice has done in practices is thrown unexpected changes into the team drills, forcing the defense to adjust.
Among the defensive changes Sunday is an expected shift to more 4-3 alignments after three weeks of playing a 3-4 base. The Vikings haven't had a sack in two games and the coaching staff has realized that Kevin Williams is best used as a three-technique tackle and not at end. As a result, expect Spencer Johnson to return to the lineup and rookie first-round end Erasmus James to receive his most extensive playing time this season.
Jeff Garcia was too sore to practice. Joey Harrington is likely to get the starting assignment for the Lions in their game Sunday at Minnesota. And, once again, the Lions offense is in a state of uncertainty.
Garcia played just two games in his comeback from a broken left fibula and sprained left ankle, and there is speculation - considering his current condition - he might have been rushed back into duty prematurely.
"We talked about it before at length, believe me," said coach Steve Mariucci. "We tried to be relatively certain that he was capable of playing and not re-injuring his leg.
"As you know, he played and he played pretty darned well. He helped us win the (Cleveland) game and he made it through with no further damage. I think, well, the second game he got sore.
"I don't know if it was the culmination of a lot of work with practice and games, or getting hit on it a few times or his body getting hit or a different surface. I don't know. All we know is that he felt real good the first week and in the second week it got sore on him."
It is not a matter of suffering a new break or a rebreak of his leg, Mariucci said. It is simply a matter of major discomfort in the area around the break and sprain. Mariucci indicated he will probably rest Garcia the rest of the week and hope to get him back to good health next week.
In the meanwhile, Harrington - who has had good practices in the two weeks he was not the starter - will move back into the starting job, perhaps with a little less fear of making a mistake.
"That is exactly it," Harrington said. "I mean what are they going to do to me? Bench me? I have been through it all now."
Mariucci declined to comment on the long-term status of the quarterback position, whether Harrington could reclaim the job with a strong performance at Minnesota or whether the job now belongs to Garcia when he's ready to play again.