Childress in Charge

First-year head coach is trying to change the Vikings' attitude on and off the field, and their schemes on offense and defense. It's a lot of change for a franchise in need of much of it.

Coach Brad Childress received some quality training in dealing with team turmoil last season in Philadelphia. The Eagles' offensive coordinator, Childress lived through what seemed like a daily soap opera involving Terrell Owens.

As aggravating as that experience might have been for the no-nonsense Childress, there is no doubt it served as an invaluable primer for his next assignment. Childress is entering his first season as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and already he has jettisoned the guy expected to be his No. 1 receiver, Koren Robinson, and had safety Dwight Smith ticketed for indecent conduct.

Welcome, Brad, to the land of 10,000 lakes and seemingly the same number of mistakes by various Vikings. (Remember, the Love Boat incident hasn't even marked its first anniversary.)

The Vikings had entered training camp intent on installing a new offense (West Coast) and defense (Tampa-2) and keeping a low profile. The fact owner Zygi Wilf felt Childress could keep his players in line is one reason he was hired.

It worked — for a while.

Things began to get rocky when free-agent safety Tank Williams and first-round linebacker Chad Greenway were lost for the season because of a broken kneecap and torn anterior cruciate ligament, respectively. Injuries are unavoidable and happen to everyone. What doesn't happen to every franchise is for its top-flight receiver to get into a high-speed chase with police.

That's what occurred with Robinson, who seemed to have turned his life around and put his alcohol troubles behind him last season after joining the Vikings. The team rewarded him with a three-year, $12.7 million contract in March.

But Robinson likely won't see much of that money. He was arrested in mid-August and charged with felony fleeing, two counts of fourth-degree drunken driving and three other misdemeanor charges. A "Stage 3" member of the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Robinson could be facing a yearlong suspension.

He won't be serving it as a Viking. The team severed ties with Robinson and appear willing to take its chances if he files a grievance.

The ticket Smith received after being found in the stairwell of a downtown Minneapolis nightclub engaging in indecent conduct with a Wisconsin woman seemed minor by comparison. But, nonetheless, it was the type of embarrassment Childress has vowed to avoid.

"When you change a culture, just because you are here for six or eight months, that culture does not change immediately," he said. "But that is certainly the goal, and we are not going to stop trying to get that right."

Changing the off-the-field habits of his players is one thing — keep in mind the Vikings re-signed Robinson and signed Smith as a free agent under Childress' watch — but getting victories will be another.

The Vikings were big spenders in free agency, paying significant money to players such as left guard Steve Hutchinson, running back Chester Taylor, kicker Ryan Longwell and linebacker Ben Leber. That, however, doesn't automatically mean things will improve for a team that finished 9-7 last season under Mike Tice.

Among the major concerns will be keeping veteran quarterback Brad Johnson healthy. Johnson turns 38 years old two days after the Vikings open the regular season Sept. 11 at Washington. If Johnson gets hurt, any hope the Vikings have to make a run this season likely will be lost.

Mike McMahon, who played for Childress last season in Philadelphia, has been a training-camp bust. Second-round quarterback Tarvaris Jackson impressed in the preseason but that's a long way from stepping into a regular-season situation.

While tackle Bryant McKinnie and Hutchinson are expected to give the Vikings a very strong left side of the offensive line, concerns have developed about right tackle Marcus Johnson and right guard Artis Hicks. Johnson is entering only his second season and Hicks, acquired from the Eagles, is making the difficult transition from the left side to the right.

Keep in mind Taylor also has never started before in his five-year career, serving as Jamal Lewis' backup the past four seasons in Baltimore. All of this has raised preseason questions about the run game and just how good it will be come Sept. 11.

"It's still a work in progress," Childress said of the run game. "I would say this: Chester made some pretty good 1- and 2-yard runs, because we weren't always covering people up in there."

And then there is the issue of Robinson's departure and the Vikings not appearing to have a true No. 1 receiver.

On defense, Childress has put his faith in 34-year-old coordinator Mike Tomlin. Tomlin left the Buccaneers after five seasons as the defensive backs coach to bring the Tampa-2 scheme to Minnesota. NFC North rivals Chicago and Detroit also now employ this style.

The Vikings are confident weak-side linebacker E.J. Henderson can play the Derrick Brooks role in the defense, but there have been questions about middle linebacker Napoleon Harris and how he will do.

The defensive line and secondary both appear to be strong, but if the linebackers struggle to adjust to their roles of helping in pass coverage it could prove a huge blow to what Tomlin is trying to accomplish.

Tomlin, meanwhile, admits patience isn't his strong point.

"I'm never satisfied," he said. "That is one of my shortcomings by nature, but the guys are working extremely hard. You see progress and you are encouraged by that. We tell the guys every day to come out here with the attitude that you are going to get some new problems. We have to get rid of the old problems and find new ones. They have taken that approach and because of that the quality of play has gone up."

COACHING: Brad Childress, 1st year, 1st year with Vikings

REMEMBERING: 2005 record: 9-7 (2nd in NFC North)


  • The Vikings closed the preseason with a game at Dallas on Aug. 31. The first-ever game the Vikings played also was against the Cowboys on Aug. 5, 1961. The Cowboys won that preseason contest 38-13 in Sioux Falls, S.D.

  • Vikings coach Brad Childress declined the invitation for his team to screen the Disney movie, "Invincible," about former Eagles receiver Vince Papale. Papale was a Philadelphia bartender who received an open tryout with the team and ended up spending three seasons with the Eagles.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 4 — Numbers of Vikings assistant coaches who played in the NFL (Eric Bieniemy, Karl Dunbar, Jimmie Johnson and Fred Pagac)

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Together we eat. Rushing (and) coverage works together. At times we get coverage sacks, at times we get pressure interceptions. It's what it's about. That's part of being a member of the unit. They recognize the grunge work that maybe doesn't get recognized a lot of the times. So together we eat." — Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin on how the unit must play together.

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