When the Vikings face the Lions in Detroit on Sunday, they are unaware what they will see. Steve Mariucci was fired as head coach earlier this week and replaced by interim head coach Dick Jauron. The Lions also made an on-field change Wednesday when it was announced Jeff Garcia will replace Joey Harrington as the starting quarterback.
The Vikings have enjoyed success against Harrington. In fact, they've never lost to him. Harrington threw for 263 yards in a loss to the Vikings Nov. 6, but it took him 48 attempts that included a pair of interceptions.
"It doesn't matter to us who's in there," rookie defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. "Our job's the same."
From a player's standpoint that's true. But the coaches feel differently.
"We don't know what to expect offensively," Tice said. "We are going to have to think outside the box some this week defensively, and I believe our coaches have accepted that and are working in that way, thinking outside the box.
"We have to prepare for what we've seen to this point and we have to prepare for what we think we might see. So that puts us in a little bit of a bind. It makes for a tough week for the players and the coaches. We have to do a lot of extra studying and a lot of extra fantasizing, too, because we have to show some things they might do – and they might not do any of it. Then you waste all those practice reps getting ready for something they might not do. It puts everybody in a bind."
Garcia, 35, left San Francisco in the offseason and signed as a free agent with Detroit. He has thrown one touchdown pass and two interceptions in three games this season. Garcia has been nagged by leg and ankle injuries.
"Garcia can run a little bit better and they'll probably add a lot more bootleg with Garcia," linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "But I think they're going to run their offense and they're going to try to run the ball first."
An in-season coaching change can be chaotic. Tice remembers four years ago when he was named interim coach after Dennis Green resigned days before the team's season finale at Baltimore.
"I recall chaos," Tice said. "I recall a lot of anger in the building. That is what I recall, but it is a different situation (in Detroit). There are going to be factions in the building. There are guys that want Mooch to be there and there are guys that might be happy he is gone.
"For the most-part, those in-season changes don't work, but that first work week is like that quarterback change. You hate to play against a team the week they change quarterbacks. It really stinks that we have had some of those games before. We'll see how it goes."
Besides the quarterback change and head coaching switch, the Lions also restructured their offensive coaching chain of command this week. Ted Tollner, who called the offensive plays for the Lions, is now a co-coordinator with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, who will handle the play-calling duties.
"We can't change the structure of our offense, but we can change what you pick from inside of it — when you run it, and how you run it," Jauron said. "We'll see where it goes and as the game progresses, hopefully something will be going well and we'll lean more towards that than other things."
RETURN OF WILLIAMSON
After being deactivated last week against Cleveland, it appears first-round pick Troy Williamson will be back on the field for the Vikings Sunday in Detroit.
Williamson had a sore shoulder and missed some practice time late last week in what has been described as a miscommunication. Tice and trainer Chuck Barta both said Williamson pulled himself out of a practice. Tice said he "shut him down" in practice after that and made him inactive against the Browns.
"He was hurt last week. He was hurt — read the injury report," Tice said. "He hurt his shoulder and checked out Wednesday. I was looking for a roster spot and that made it easy on me. He'll be up this week."
Tice has slightly changed his tune on Williamson. At his Monday press conference, Tice hinted Williamson might be inactive again this week.
"So what does Troy have to do?" Tice asked in response to a question Monday. "I probably would stick with the four (receivers) I have right now unless I take it from the (offensive) line and go back to seven or take it from the linebacker situation and go with the six. Other than that, Troy will be standing next to me."
Williamson wasn't speaking to reporters Wednesday. In 10 games so far during his rookie season, Williamson has made 20 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Even though the Vikings are riding a four-game winning streak Tice said there are several areas where the team needs to improve. He listed the 2-minute defense and the lack of quarterback sacks as defensive deficiencies, and an inconsistent running game and an inefficient third-down, red zone offense as concerns for the offense.
"My football team is getting a lot of smoke blown up their rear end and might start to feel good about itself when, quite frankly, we don't deserve to feel that good about ourselves," Tice said. "We are battling our way back from a horrible start and we have had a good month, but a good month does not make a good season."
"It's just a little sore," Edinger said. "I've been kicking with it for a couple of weeks. It's not a big deal. It's one of those end-of-the-year things where there's always something."
Tice plans on holding Edinger out of practice Friday. "He has a little foot thing going on," Tice said. "I'm going to give him a little rest on Friday. It is nothing other than a little bit of pain, but I am going to pull off of him on Friday and not allow him to kick."