Tackling The Issues

Chris Hovan is one of the few holdovers from last year's starting defense, and that means the Vikings finally diligently addressed a sore spot that has been festering for years.

Alan Page. Carl Eller. Jim Marshall. Chris Doleman. Keith Millard. Henry Thomas. John Randle. This list of ex-Vikings shows strength at the defensive line positions, a Vikings tradition for many years. The best Vikings teams of the past were built around these players. That tradition stopped under Denny Green, as the offense dominated, while the defense tried not to be embarrassed each week.

Try these names – Robert Harris, Fernando Smith, Derrick Alexander, Duane Clemons, James Manley, Dimitrius Underwood, Fred Robbins, Micheal Boireau. All were drafted in the first or second round since the '92 season. Only Chris Hovan and possibly Robbins can be counted as good picks (Alexander wasn't bad, but the Vikes passed on Warren Sapp to take him). There were others that were marginal players found in later rounds. Tony Williams, and Roy Barker for example. But even the average players left as free agents, as the Vikings decided to focus on the offensive side of the ball. The strategy of paying big bucks to the stars on offense and allowing the defense to fall apart caught up to the Vikes in the playoffs under Denny Green, and the whole team fell apart last year.

This defense has not been very good since it led the league in 1993; even the '98 defense that was part of a 15-1 season was only average. With the offense scoring virtually at will, it forced other teams to play catch-up. This formula worked until the NFC championship game, when the defense couldn't hold a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter (injuries did play a part in that as John Randle was banged up and Ed McDaniel and others got hurt in that game).

The past failure on defense is one reason that the Vikings tried to draft Ryan Sims in the first round. This would have solidified the defensive line, placing Sims next to Chris Hovan, along with the two free agent pick-ups, Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell at ends. They'll have to sign a free agent tackle if they hope to solve their problems against the run, unless Fred Robbins, Shawn Worthen or someone else steps up to fill the void. Willie Howard was emerging as that player last year when he was hurt with five-plus games to go, and his effectiveness when he is scheduled to return in September is anyone's guess.

Somehow, someway, the Vikings need to put a competitive defense on the field if they want to get back to the playoffs. Mike Tice knows that line play is the heart and soul of football and is attempting to correct the problems. Longtime Vikings fans hope for the return of a great defense to cheer, just like those present in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

I hear and read a lot of experts predicting a terrible season for the Vikes. Isn't it a little early for that? The rosters aren't even set yet. The Vikings have plenty of cap room to play with, what should be an improved defense, and a potentially explosive passing game with Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss and Byron Chamberlain still on board. I am not at all concerned about the lack of a starting wide receiver opposite Moss. Projected backup Sean Dawkins caught more 60 passes for Seattle just two years ago. If they improve the running game with Michael Bennett and get better on defense, this team could surprise.

Compensation suggestion
There are still some rumblings about the Vikings receiving some compensation for the mis-handling of the draft procedure in the Dallas-Kansas City trade. I suggest that the Vikings receive one of the extra picks (a second- and a third-round pick) that Dallas got from KC as compensation. This may seem like an overreaction by the league, but think about it — who caused the problem? Dallas, by taking too long to act when it was their turn to draft and not telling the league that they had traded their pick. Kansas City can also be faulted for jumping in and picking when it wasn't their turn. The NFL is also at fault for not properly supervising and enforcing the draft process; but awarding the Vikes an extra pick somewhere in the draft somewhat devalues all the picks after it. I say make Dallas pay for not following procedure by giving up one of the extra picks they received.

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