Comments And Conjecture

News, notes and quotes on Raonall Smith, Nick Rogers, the tight ends and former Vikings seen in a Browns uniform last weekend.

‘Reaching' his potential
After the draft in April, called the Vikings' selection of Raonall Smith a "reach" in the second round. Now, head coach Mike Tice is calling Smith a starter.

As a rookie, Vikings linebacker Smith has quickly climbed the defensive ladder. Just two weeks ago, linebackers coach Brian Baker was berating the Vikings' second-round draft pick for not finishing a play during practice.

After his preseason debut against the Browns, Smith was promoted to the starting lineup for the team's second exhibition game at Buffalo. The Vikings moved Smith up as the starting weakside linebacker. Veteran Lemanski Hall, who was the starter, will move over to the strongside "Sam" spot, where he will back up Patrick Chukwurah.

The Vikings were hoping to see big strides from Smith from the first preseason game to the second.

"We don't want to see a little small increment," Tice said. "We want to see a big marked improvement, a big hunk of improvement."

Defensive at heart
It was a solid preseason debut for rookie linebacker Nick Rogers, who led the Vikings defense with six tackles, five solos and one sack in the first preseason game of the year.

Rogers was a running back in high school and didn't switch to linebacker until he played at Georgia Tech, where then head coach George O'Leary moved him to the other side of the line of scrimmage.

"I probably should be a defensive player," Rogers said. "I like contact. I'm aggressive. I should have been playing defense all my life."

Tight (end) race
The Vikings will play more double tight end sets this season, and that's why there are so many tight ends in camp: Byron Chamberlain, Jim Kleinsasser, Hunter Goodwin, O.J. Santiago, Matt Cercone, Jeff Kostrewa and Brody Liddiard.

But when the Vikings only have one tight end on the field, it's not a lock that Chamberlain will always be that player. Chamberlain is by far the group's best receiver. But as a blocker, Chamberlain is average. In some formations, Kleinsasser has been seeing more time as the offense's single tight end.

"We love what Jimmy's doing," Tice said. "In fact I talked to (tight ends coach) John (Tice) about making sure that when we're in one tight end, it's not just Byron out there. That should probably tell you what I think of his performance."

Formerly purple
The Cleveland Browns, who beat Minnesota at the Metrodome in the teams' first preseason game, may have more returning Vikings defensive starters than the Vikings have.

Cornerback Corey Fuller, linebacker Dwayne Rudd and safety Robert Griffith all used to be starters on the Vikings defense. Not to mention former Vikings defensive coordinator Foge Fazio is on the Browns coaching staff.

It's too early to tell, but under one scenario defensive tackle Chris Hovan and cornerback Eric Kelly could be the only returning starters from the 2001 Vikings defense. That would mean the Vikings would have two returning defensive starters, and the Browns would have three former Vikings defensive starters.

Griffith, whom the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent in 1994 under the advice of special teams coach Gary Zauner (who coached Griffith at San Diego State), built himself into a Pro Bowl player at Minnesota. This past offseason, he signed with the Browns.

"The adjustment has been good," Griffith said. "I was familiar with Foge (Fazio), Rudd, Corey. … I've played with a lot of these guys and against a lot of these guys. I don't think it was a big transition."

It didn't take long for Griffith to fit in.

"I don't think he needed a playbook the day he got here," Rudd said. "He knows what he's capable of doing. He's one of those guys who is always consistent. I know we needed him and he could raise the level of our defense."

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