Childress Unsure of Culpepper's Recovery

When head coach Brad Childress wouldn't characterize a conversation he had with quarterback Daunte Culpepper late last week as good or bad, it set off a wave of speculation about Culpepper's future. See nearly every word Childress had to say on the matter before judging for yourself.

When Vikings coach Brad Childress spoke with quarterback Daunte Culpepper on the phone for 45 minutes last Friday and said he "probably wouldn't characterize it any way, good or bad – it was just a conversation," it became speculative material for those who believe there is a deteriorating relationship between Culpepper and the organization.

Who knows? There might be, but for now Culpepper isn't talking and Childress wants there to be one voice for the Vikings – his.

Childress' voice on the matter didn't seem to be leaning one way or another on how much faith he had in Culpepper's ability to come back and be ready at the beginning of the 2006 season despite three torn ligaments suffered in an Oct. 30, 2005 game.

"That's a one-year injury. With that said, all guys are different," Childress said. "Even though a guy feels great, that doesn't mean structurally he can do what he thinks he feels like he can do. I think we'll make sure we take care of that, and then when you get toward the back end of that thing – nine months, 10 months, 11 months – maybe you're going to try and get a feel for all those football-type things. I've been told he's got a chance to maybe be capable of doing some footwork-type things in some of the minicamps.

"I think you just have to take it as a one-day-at-a-time thing. You may move ahead or he may have a setback. It's hard to know without a crystal ball. Different guys heal differently."

Culpepper had reportedly lost weight in the months following his injury, but there also seems to be the sentiment that he hasn't been in the most communicative of moods since suffering the serious knee injury. Childress said his conversation with the quarterback was simply an exchange of information.

Viking Update asked Childress if it was realistic to expect Culpepper to be ready to start the start the season if he isn't able to practice for most of the offseason or even into training camp.

"Usually the elite-caliber athletes have the ability to innovate and adjust," he said. "There is a certain amount of athleticism that has got to go into it and obviously a certain amount of knowledge. With that said, nothing is going to hold him back book-wise. He didn't have a brain injury; he had a knee injury, so he should be right up to speed with it. The other part of that is getting the book on the field after you have to do it full speed."

The rehabilitation process could be as hard on Culpepper emotionally as it is physically. It will take time, and the Vikings are just hoping to see progress at each major step along the way, from the offseason program to the summer developmental camps to training camp.

"The first thing is whether he's going to be able to protect himself based on the way he plays. Those are doctor's decisions. Is he physically up to snuff enough with strength and stabilization and things like that?" Childress said. "The football part is, where is he cardio-wise, where is he football-conditioning wise? OK, you say he's stabile enough. Now let's go out and do some things that you do football-wise and now the leg is fatigued, the training camp-type of things – you have to see how that thing operates when it's tired. Those are all checkmarks that you go through as you go through training camp to be able to take that first hit and realize, hey, that thing's stabile. You have to get by those fears, where you're not thinking about the leg. It's hard enough to think about the opposing defenses as opposed to thinking about, do you have all your faculties."

Even with all the questions surrounding Culpepper's emotional state and if and when he'll be able to fully recover from the injury, Childress knows how good Culpepper can be. Childress said Culpepper was the Eagles' second-ranked quarterback in the 1999 NFL draft, right behind Donovan McNabb, whom the Eagles selected with the second overall pick in that draft. Culpepper, drafted 11th overall, was the fourth QB taken in 1999, behind Tim Couch (first), McNabb and Akili Smith (third). Cade McNown was selected with the 12th pick.

"I did a book on him that first year when we were trying to learn what those guys do. … You can look at tape and see the very good years he's had, but it's so hard until you see him in person doing your stuff. That's the kind of vision you have to have when you draft somebody," Childress said.

With a $6 million signing bonus due in March that the Vikings have said they'll pay and rumors about the Raiders being interested in acquiring Culpepper, all bets are off on Culpepper's future, at least until the team sees what he can do and if he shows up for the offseason conditioning program, which Childress said will start on March 20. At that point, Childress said he's sure Culpepper will want "to put his best foot forward."

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