NOTEBOOK: Kluwe Possibilities

The Vikings are hoping punter Chris Kluwe will be healthy enough to play, but if they need to make a short-term replacement call, we've got a list of punters who could fit the bill. Plus, we look at more shuffling on the offensive line, Brad Johnson's continuous ascent, a receiver left out in the cold, and more.

When punter Chris Kluwe fell to the Ford Field FieldTurf following a hit by the Lions' Vernon Fox, the injury did not look good.

Fox's body pinned Kluwe's ankle against the turf and Kluwe proceeded to writhe in pain on the ground.

"He was out there yelling, whistling and every thing. He could have had a concert out there with all the noise he was making, but I don't think it's as bad as we first thought. So, that's good," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "He could be back next week, if anything we would of course bring back our guy from last year. We'll see how that goes. I might be jumping the gun a little bit."

Kluwe's injury is listed as a sprained ankle, but further tests are expected. For his part, Kluwe said that since it was his plant leg, he might be able to play on Sunday.

If the Vikings have to bring in a punter, there are several experienced possibilities.

"Our guy from last year" is Darren Bennett, who averaged 39.3 yards last year with the Vikings.

Toby Gowin, cut by Atlanta in late August, has averaged 41.2 yards in his career and has 63 kickoffs for touchbacks. He has spent four seasons with Dallas, three with New Orleans and last year with the New York Jets. However, after averaging more than 40 yards per punt in his first six seasons, his averages fell to 39.0 yards in 2003 and 38.2 yards last year.

The Eagles have also harbored a few possibilities this season, as sixth-round draft pick Reggie Hodges was cut a few weeks ago. Hodges was drafted by the Rams this year, but he averaged under 38 yards in action with the Eagles.

The Eagles replaced him with Nick Murphy, who has been in camp with the Vikings in years past. He averaged 39.3 yards on seven punts last week for Philly but was cut loose.

Other veteran possibilities include Leo Araguz, who also played for the Vikings in 2003 and averaged 38.7 yards per punt and who inexplicably beat out Kluwe for the Seahawks job in the 2005 preseason; Micah Knorr, who has averaged 41.4 yards in his four seasons with Denver and Dallas; Chris Mohr, who has averaged 40.4 yards in his career, which dates back to 1989; and Ken Walter, who has averaged 39.7 yards in nine seasons with Carolina, New England and Seattle.

Kluwe was averaging 45.3 yards per punt entering Sunday and having a tremendous rookie season.

MORE O-LINE CHANGES

Shaun Rogers isn't an easy specimen to block, and when second-year guard Anthony Herrera had some trouble early with him, the Vikings called on former starter Chris Liwienski to play left guard during the second quarter. But, when Liwienski and Bryant McKinnie had even more trouble handling Rogers during both run and pass protection, the Vikings went back to Herrera in the second half. The Vikings scored a touchdown on their first drive of the second half, and Rogers wasn't a disruptive force.

"There was a lot of ass kicking going on up front. Unfortunately, we were on the tail end of some of it. I don't want to say most of it," Tice said. "We knew they (Rogers and Dan Wilkinson) were two really Pro Bowl-type players. We knew they had a really pissed off look today. We knew they were going to be an angry football team. We knew we were going to step into a hornet's nest. We knew all that, so when you come out you really have to play down the middle of guys. We'll have to look at that. That's probably one thing that I'm disappointed about."

When Herrera made his first start last week, he became the final offensive lineman on the roster to start a game for the Vikings this season, further proof of the Vikings' protection problems this season.

Rookie Marcus Johnson started his second consecutive game at right tackle. He started last week against Cleveland but was flagged for three penalties on the first drive and two more critical mistakes later in that game. He was replaced by Mike Rosenthal for a spell last week but re-inserted again.

This week, Johnson started at right tackle again. Overall, he had a much more even performance.

JOHNSON'S BEST
Quarterback Brad Johnson continues to get a little bit better in each of his starts if passing yardage is any indication.

Johnson said last week that every week he starts to feel a little more comfortable with his receivers, and Johnson already had plenty of experience playing in the Vikings offense, having played here from 1992-98.

His game-management style has led the Vikings to five straight wins, each one gaining more yards. In his first start of the season against Detroit on Nov. 6, Johnson threw for 136 yards. That increased eight yards the following week against a tough New York Giants defense. At Green Bay on Nov. 21, he had 196 yards passing before following that up with 207 yards against Cleveland last week. Sunday, he improved to 256 yards in Detroit.

Passes of 80 yards for a touchdown and 45 yards to Koren Robinson made that possible.

"We've been throwing it down field quite a bit this year," Johnson said. "I've been talking about it, and when I looked at Cleveland last week those safeties were 25 yards deep, so it paid big dividends for us and we're going to keep taking shots."

In five starts, Johnson has thrown eight touchdown passes and two interceptions.

WHERE'S WIGGINS?

One receiver who has been hot and cold with Johnson at the helm is tight end Jermaine Wiggins.

He is still easily the team's leading receiver at 54 receptions, 16 more than second-place Travis Taylor, but Wiggins has struggled against the Lions. In his first meeting with Detroit this year, Wiggins was limited to one catch for 11 yards. His previous worst this year was three catches in a game on three different occasions.

But Sunday, for the first time this season, Wiggins was held without a reception in Detroit.

NUMBERS GAME

Tice talked often last week about his game-day personnel decisions. Most that was in the context of deactivating first-round draft pick Troy Williamson, and Tice explained how activating one player meant the deactivation of another in a game-day numbers decision.

On the other sideline, Detroit had to make the same decisions and entered the game with only two halfbacks active when they decided to deactivate Kevin Jones because of an injury. That left Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner. When Bryson temporarily left the game with an injury in the first half, it looked like a risky decision by an interim head coach.

Ironically, the Vikings were in a similar, although not as dire situation. Since Moe Williams has been on injured reserve, the Vikings promoted Adimchinobe Echemandu to the 53-man roster, giving them flexibility on Sunday in their deactivations. When Mewelde Moore left the game with an ankle injury, it left Michael Bennett and Ciatrick Fason to carry the ball. Bennett came through with 79 yards on 22 carries.

The numbers game also left one Detroit's three first-round wide receivers, Charles Rogers, inactive for Sunday.

"Well, because we had four (wide receivers) up, counting Eddie (Drummond), and in order to fill out our special teams groups and to be able to play the game at the level we needed to play it in the kicking game, we needed that linebacker up, we needed that defensive back up," Lions interim coach Dick Jauron said. "What we told them all week was that the guys who earn the right through practice will be on the active roster, but it will come down to special teams for those fourth and fifth wide receiver positions or the ninth defensive back or the sixth linebacker or seventh linebacker; it will come down to that and it will be determined by that. We can't carry guys that watch the game on Sunday and think we are going to have a chance to win."

THE GOOD MR. ROGERS

The Lions had two players with the last name of Rogers that had very different effects on the game. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers dominated; Charles Rogers, a long-time frustration for the Lions, was inactive.

As the 30th overall pick of the 2001 draft, Shaun Rogers has been a horse for the Lions. He has averaged 64 tackles per season for the last four years and made his presence felt against the Vikings. He had one of the Lions' two sacks of Brad Johnson and was a consistent disruption to running back Michael Bennett. Shaun Rogers had only four tackles, but he was in one many of Bennett's negative runs and was much of the reasons for the Vikings' shuffling offensive line.

DEACTIVATIONS

The Vikings deactivated QB T.J. O'Sullivan, WR Troy Williamson, CB Fred Smoot, RB Adimchinobe Echemandu, LB Napoleon Harris, TE Jeff Dugan, TE Richard Angulo and DT Kevin Williams.

Minnesota's deactivations of Harris and Williamson meant that both remaining parts from the Randy Moss trade were of no contribution on game day.

The Lions deactivated QB Dan Orlovsky, WR Troy Edwards, FB Paul Smith, RB Kevin Jones, S Terrence Holt, LB Donte Curry. WR Charles Rogers and DE Bill Swancutt.


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