New-Look Hovan Eager to Prove

Chris Hovan has been well-conditioned since his rookie year, but this summer he is looking stronger than ever and sounds excited to execute with a different defensive philosophy.

Vikings defensive tackle Chris Hovan is a looking bigger these days, but you won't find much body fat under the tight-fitting number 99 jersey. Hovan has always been in shape, but with longer hair, World Wrestling Entertainment gestures mastered and a new method of diet and workout, Hovan has a new look this year.

The third-year pro, who has three years left on his current contract, says he's only put on 10 or 15 pounds, but his body type looks nearly perfect for his role on the team, which is generally to create controlled havoc.

Hovan correctly points out that he has always been a strong player. That was evident from his days at Boston College and carried over into the first two years of his Vikings career.

"Even from the time I was drafted, I've always been strong," Hovan said. "The reason I look different is because of my diet … I really watch what I eat. Actually, there is no junk food in the house. I have water, juice, proteins, so I really do watch what I eat, because what you do put into your body is what you get out."

But people are taking more notice. The fans. The media who covered the Vikings' developmental camps. Even the coaches.

"Chris Hovan was born in shape," head coach Mike Tice said last month when asked about Hovan's new look.

But there have also been modifications to Hovan's routine. He is now executing his off-season workouts at the Vikings' Winter Park practice facility instead of lifting weights and running on his own.

"I've always been a free-weight person. I've lifted free weights in high school all through college," Hovan said. "[Strength and conditioning coach Steve] Wetzel has implemented a free-weight program, which is why I'm lifting here now. The guys who will bust their ass in the weight room and the guys who will come out here and run 110s and really get something out of it, it's really going to show. I took two weeks off after the regular season, I got in the weight room focused and determined to, number one, get to the Super Bowl and, number two, to be one of the elite defensive tackles in the league."

Hovan doesn't want to talk specifics about how much he lifts for each exercise because he doesn't believe that "maxing out," lifting as much as he can one time, is good for a body and he doesn't want to appear to be bragging about his strength.

From weight room to the practice fields, he is enjoying the new attitude in practices, where players got into occasional skirmishes during the Vikings' June camps. The coaches were focused on getting the details right, and the players were, too, although they were having fun while doing it.

"Guys come out here and talk [crap] and really have fun, and that's what you need," Hovan said. "That really gets everybody competitive. When you're competitive, you don't think about practice. You just think about going out there and proving yourself and really having a good time going to battle with your teammates each day. It's a great attitude we've got going out here."

It's a new attitude with Tice at helm of the team, and the Vikings also have a slightly revised scheme under defensive coordinator Willie Shaw. They certainly have a new-look roster covered with free-agent additions — the defensive line included — and draft picks.

"If you look at our defensive end position, we not only kept our guys but we added two more quality guys in [Kenny] Mixon and [Lorenzo] Bromell," Hovan said. "I still think Lance Johnstone is going to be a great right end for us, he's got the motor and the pass rush we need off that right end. … With myself and Fred [Robbins] developing in the middle, I think we'll be better this year."

The new philosophy for the defensive line could help, too, according to Hovan.

"We were holding up blocks last year for our linebackers," he said. "I think Coach Shaw is giving the defensive line a chance to shoot gaps and make plays, which is a benefit to us because we are a very quick front that can make plays.

"If everybody stays in their gaps we'll be all right."

Hovan admits that there was a discipline problem with players carrying out their assignments on defense at times last year, but he's optimistic 2002 will be better.

"What discipline comes down to is missed tackles, as evidenced," he said. "It's all about discipline, as you said. If you stay in your gap, you should make the tackle. If you do that, you're going to be a really good defense."

And he'll look good with his new style, his new moves and his improved body.

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