Day Two Sleeper

Summer football camps are the time for sleepers to start proving themselves in the NFL, and one is becoming a favorite of head coach Mike Tice.

About two months before the Vikings' late April minicamp, James Wofford picked up the telephone at his residence in Las Vegas and found out he'd be spending some more time in Minnesota. Selling cars in Vegas got put on the backburner and his workouts at the University of Las Vegas-Nevada took on new importance.

Being in Vikings purple during camps isn't anything new for Wofford. He received a lot of attention during last summer's camps for a rookie free agent running back, but when it came time to piece together the 53-man roster Wofford was on the outside looking in.

He moved back to Vegas to be with his girlfriend and continued to work out. So far, head coach Mike Tice likes what he sees of Wofford in 2002.

"I saw some young players come out and make some plays today," Tice said Wednesday after practice.

One of those Tice has been keeping a close eye on — and with his approval — is Wofford.

"Running back is very deep. I think the addition of Moe Williams adds a different look back there, and I'm really liking what I'm seeing out of 44 (Wofford)," Tice said. "I really think he's a very good player."

Wofford showed it a few times during practice, just minutes after Tice had pointed out Wofford's skills to VU publisher Bob Lurtsema. Wofford is showing big potential with his quickness, but he is attempting to put together the whole running back package.

He'd like to eventually be a player the Vikings can count on every down, but he admits he may need to work on being a third-down back this year. Not bad versatility for a 195-pound fullback in his final two seasons at UNLV blocking for a 230-pound running back.

"I'd like to say I can do everything, but I'm pretty sure there are a few things I can work on," Wofford said with a smile. "… As my body matures and I put on a little more weight I'll be able to endure a full 16-game season, but right now I'll probably be more of a third-down back."

Currently listed at 6 feet and 188 pounds, Wofford says that new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has put some new wrinkles in the offense "to get particular people the ball," but his blocking assignments as a running back haven't changed much since his camp days last summer.

He says he's already making progress over his 2001 camps. For one thing, he knows some of the players from last year. And he didn't have to go to NFL Europe this spring and can pick up more of the play book in the months before training camp starts on July 26.

"At first I thought I was going to NFL Europe, and then they told me to come straight in," Wofford said. "So I felt like that was better than going over there and maybe getting banged up, and then having to go from one play book to another."

It's a slow transition from a rookie free agent who gets cut in 2001 to reaching his NFL aspirations, but it's looking better every time Tice mentions "44," and the head coach has been doing that more lately.

"One day hopefully I'll be an every-down back," Wofford said. "But I'm just trying to make the team, contribute in some games. Then maybe one day down the line somewhere I'll find a starting position."

* For this week, the Vikings are working without pads or helmets. That will change Monday, when they are allowed to wear helmets in practice. They will also start twice-daily practices for their official minicamp June 7-9.
* An NFL official was in attendance today to check certain compliance procedures for the practices.
* When it came to full-team practice, offense vs. defense, things got more spirited today and the razzing on both sides of the ball started. "I like the wolfing. I like the talking," Tice said. "I think you need a certain amount of that. I think it keeps the guys focused and I think it keeps guys competitive."
* Special teams coach Jay Hayes was working out the quicker players in special drills designed to get them in the backfield faster and in position to block punts. "We're going to block some kicks this year," Tice said. "I'm a big advocate of making sure the kickers aren't comfortable back there. I don't want anyone to take anything that we do against them for granted. We will rush some kicks."
* Strong safety Willie Offord is starting to get some reps with the first team. Offord and second-round pick Raonall Smith will be getting more time as they get up to speed on the defense, Tice said.
* Wednesday it looked like more of the offense and defense was in place, and some of the players looked more comfortable with their reads and assignments than they did even yesterday. The offense included more motion — and not just from Randy Moss, who was back practicing at full speed after a mild ankle sprain in yesterday's workouts.
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