Despite No Security, Tice Focused on Future

Vikings fans will get their most extended look at some players they have probably never heard of because Mike Tice is still working on the future of the organization despite his own future being in doubt. Plus, find out how Bears center Olin Kreutz fired back at Pat Williams.

Sure, most Vikings fans know all about first-round rookie receiver Troy Williamson and fourth-round rookie running back Ciatrick Fason.

But even the hardcore fans may not know much about other youngsters who are going to get more playing time Sunday.

Why? Because head coach Mike Tice continues to look out for the future of the organization despite his own future being very much in doubt.

Tice said that players who have been buried on the depth chart are likely to see much more action Sunday than they have at any point in their young professional careers. In many cases, it could be the players' first action on offense.

That's the case with running back Adimchinobe Echemandu and nearly the case for tight end Richard Angulo, who caught his first pass of the season Sunday in Baltimore. It was Angulo's first game of the season after spending the first nine weeks on the practice squad and the next five being inactive on game days.

"Richard Angulo is a player that has been kicking butt on the practice squad all season. He probably could've gotten practice player of the week every single week this year. We want to see what he can do. So we go in and he makes a key first down on the first drive (in Baltimore)," Tice said. "So now he has carried over what he has done on the practice field to the game field."

Angulo's performance could bode well for "Joe" Echemandu.

"He has been look special teams player of the week a bunch of times and showed a lot of energy in practice," Tice said of Echemandu.

Echemandu made three tackles on special teams and forced a fumble on a kickoff return that was recovered by the Vikings and set them up for the first points of the third quarter.

It's unclear if Echemandu has earned enough trust in his first activation to garner some carries on Sunday, but it wouldn't be surprising to see that. Similar to Angulo, Echemandu was on the practice squad for the first seven games of the season and inactive for the next seven. Sunday was his first foray into an NFL regular-season game with the Vikings. He played in four games last year with Cleveland.

He did prove to have some ability in the preseason, when he led the Vikings with 25 rushes, averaging 3.1 yards per carry.

"Why do you play these young guys? Well, when we are not in the playoffs – these young guys are playing already, all the guys I've mentioned are playing – I would just like to see a little more increased role with them to see if some of these young players can actually carry us to victory against a team with a winning record because they are the future of the organization whether I'm standing here at the podium next year or somebody else is," Tice said. "They are the future of the program. Those are the guys we are in love with. Those are the guys with speed and big-play capability, and we need to get them on the field more."

Others in line for more playing time are cornerback Dovonte Edwards, who will probably play dime back in place of Ralph Brown, and linebacker Rod Davis. Edwards replaced Brown after the veteran gave up touchdown passes to Mark Clayton and tight end Todd Heap, but Edwards, an undrafted rookie, was then beaten deep by receiver Derrick Mason.

Like Echemandu, Davis had three tackles on special teams Sunday. He also briefly replaced nickel linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. Davis could be auditioning for a larger role in 2006 if the Vikings are unable to re-sign middle linebacker Sam Cowart or another free agent linebacker. Davis could play middle or outside linebacker, as can E.J. Henderson, who would like an opportunity to move back to the middle.

THE ETERNAL OPTIMIST

Despite his job being on the line and not making the playoffs for the third time in four years as a head coach, Tice found a silver lining in Sunday's upcoming game.

"With a victory on Sunday we can go 5-1 in the division. With a victory on Sunday when things were bleak and we were 2-5 the team rallied together and finished 7-2. With a victory on Sunday we can finish 6-2 at home, in front of our home fans. It is so hard to get in the playoffs. You just don't realize every year how hard it is to get in the playoffs."

Only Seattle returns to the NFC playoffs from last year's entrants.

Tice also credited his players for not quitting on him when the team was 2-5 and the season looked lost. They followed up that horrid start by going on a six-game winning streak and putting the team in playoff and division contention heading into NFL Week 16.

"The biggest thing that I told the team for me as a head coach, the biggest tribute the team paid me and my staff this year – let's put it quite honestly, we are lame duck coaches; I am the biggest duck you've ever seen, 6-foot-8, 280, but we are lame duck coaches – so for them, at 2-5, for them to not quit on me and the coaches, for them to stick together and bounce back and hopefully finish this thing 9-7, is a compliment to me," Tice said. "I told the players that I appreciate that as a man, I appreciate that very much and I respect them for that. We talked a couple of weeks ago that this is my favorite team and that is part of the reason why this is my favorite team."

Tice said he won't get too nostalgic at the Metrodome on Sunday. He said we won't be focusing on his career and wondering if it will continue in Minnesota or with another team.

"No, because there is a difference between a fine focus on what you are doing at the time and a space focus. A space focus for me on Sunday would be that I'm out there taking in the atmosphere and thinking about what is going to happen Monday in the team meeting," Tice said. "A fine focus is, do I throw the flag and try to hit the official with it or should we go for it on fourth down. I can't – and the players and the coaches can't – let ourselves stray from the fine focus, which is we want to beat Chicago. They are a rival. That in and by itself should be enough to motivate everybody to want to win the game."

After that, Tice said, he can judge what kind of a season it has been. He has been about as honest as a head coach can be, and he's hoping to learn early next week whether he can continue in that role in Minnesota next season or whether he has to move on.

Since the offseason evaluations of players, coaches, staff and potential draftees starts right after the season commences, Tice wants to know as soon as possible where his contract situation stands.

"We have to evaluate the roster. We have to evaluate the coaching staff. We have to give the coaches some time and we have to get ready to go to the Senior Bowl," Tice said. "So the train doesn't stop and hopefully there will be some type of indication of our status sooner than later. Earlier in the week would certainly be a lot better than late in the week. So we'll see."

KREUTZ FIRES BACK

Chicago Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz fired back at comments made by Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams a few weeks ago. Williams called Kreutz a joke when talking about offensive linemen he faces.

Then Williams' agent, Angelo Wright, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he thought Kreutz and the Bears talked bad about Williams to others around the league in an effort to keep Williams out of the Pro Bowl.

Kreutz's response to Williams' and Wright's comments?

"When (Williams) talks nonsense about me like that, I can respond in so many ways," Kreutz told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I can attack him. I can call him a fat slob. I can tell him he has never made the Pro Bowl. I can say all of this stuff. Then his stupid agent comes out and says I am manipulating Pro Bowl votes. Like I actually know that many people.

"Obviously, if everyone likes you, you're probably doing something wrong. I'm glad there is someone out there that hates my guts. It makes me feel good about myself."

If nothing else, the byplay could give some intrigue to the Vikings' final game against the Bears this Sunday at the Metrodome, if Kreutz plays. The center sprained an ankle Sunday against Green Bay and the Bears have already clinched their position in the NFC playoffs.


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