Though the Minnesota Vikings running game never got going as hoped in Monday's preseason game, center Matt Birk said that the offensive line needed a starting point to begin the process of building a cohesive unit.
"I felt like we did some things well, and there were things we didn't do well," Birk said. "But it was the first game, and now we know where we need to improve."
The starting offensive line, expected to be one of the team's strengths, played three series in the first quarter Monday, and the team gained 57 yards, 25 of which came on the ground. The second series accounted for most of the yards as the Vikings used an eight-play, 56-yard drive to score a touchdown on Tony Richardson's 3-yard run.
With guards Steve Hutchinson and Artis Hicks new to the line, Birk returning from a year off because of injury, and tackle Marcus Johnson in only his second professional season, chemistry is expected to be a work in progress.
"We weren't out there long enough to get a rhythm," tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "We're coming along. I think we'll get better the more time we get to play with each other."
The defensive line, which returns all four starters, had a much better debut against Oakland, limiting the Raiders to only 15 yards of offense, with minus-7 passing yards. Erasmus James had a sack, and there were a couple other plays in which the line harassed quarterback Aaron Brooks.
"Three three-and-outs is a good start to build on," end Kenechi Udeze said. "You can always do better."
The Vikings went through their final morning practice of training camp on Thursday and will hold a short afternoon workout today before breaking camp Friday morning and flying to Pittsburgh for Saturday's preseason game.
There have been notable injuries to safety Tank Williams and linebacker Chad Greenway, who were placed on injured reserve (Greenway on Thursday), and there was the Tuesday night arrest of receiver Koren Robinson, who was not at practice Thursday.
Despite those distractions, quarterback Brad Johnson said the team has learned new systems and built a foundation for the season.
"It's been a great camp," Johnson said.
The Vikings released punter John Torp on Thursday, leaving incumbent
Chris Kluwe as the lone punter on the roster.
"Hopefully, it shows that the coaches have confidence in what I do," Kluwe said. "Now I have to prove them right."
Kluwe said that he still feels pressure, knowing that at any time the team could bring in another punter. Kluwe spent last season's training camp with Seattle and didn't sign here until the week of the season opener, when the Vikings released Darren Bennett.
Kluwe, who had offseason knee surgery, said that he feels strong enough to handle all of the punting duties in practice.
"No worries there," he said.
Running back Mewelde Moore (knee), receiver Kevin Kasper (ankle), cornerback Charles Gordon (knee) and linebacker Marcus Lawrence (knee) all missed practice Thursday. The Vikings signed linebacker Jason Glenn to bolster that position after the team lost Greenway on Monday.
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