Notebook: Vikings All Shook Up

The Vikings' personnel will be significantly different in their season finale compared to their first game of the season. See how drastic the change has been and what to look for on Sunday.

The Vikings on Dec. 31 won't look much like the Vikings on Sept. 11.

When Brad Childress' charges took the field in Washington, the offensive starters included wide receiver Troy Williamson, tackle Marcus Johnson, quarterback Brad Johnson and fullback Tony Richardson. The only one of those that has a chance to start Sunday in the season finale is Williamson, and there is a possibility the Vikings will just opt to see what their younger receivers, like undrafted rookies Jason Carter and Martin Nance, can do in regular-season action.

The depth chart that the Vikings release is hardly an accurate reflection of who will start each game – Jeff Dugan continues to be listed as a fourth-string tight end rather than the starting fullback he is since Tony Richardson was lost to injury in November – but there was one position that received an overhaul last week.

Marcus Robinson was listed as a starting wide receiver before the Packers game, with Williamson at second string. After the release of Robinson, this week's depth chart lists Billy McMullen as the starter at that spot with Williamson still at second string and Nance behind him.

The other wide receiver spot continues to list, in order, Travis Taylor, Bethel Johnson and Carter.

It's possible Williamson could be benched this week after having a long bomb that might have resulted in a touchdown bounce off his shoulder pads in the Vikings' last game against the Packers. Carter and possibly Nance could have a larger role this week after the release of Robinson and the one-catch, one-yard performance from Williamson in Lambeau Field.

"Obviously (Carter) has return ability," head coach Brad Childress said. "He's a smart guy, he's a competitive guy. Those are the things I like the best about him. Getting him out there again when you are playing one of those 16 regular season games, it would be great to be able to see him.

As an undrafted rookie, Carter was elevated to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on Nov. 14.

Nance just got promoted to the active roster before the Green Bay game on Dec. 21. He spent training camp with the Buffalo Bills before the Vikings signed him to their practice squad following preseason cuts.

As a sophomore at Miami of Ohio, Nance set school records with 90 catches for 1,498 yards. His 107-yard average per game was fourth in the nation for receiving average as the primary target of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"He's been around the football; (Miami of Ohio has) thrown it a bunch. He's bigger in stature. I would tell you he was probably a little bit green when he got here as we put him on the practice squad, but he's improved, improved, improved, improved, and you watch him play against our defense and he's done a great job here in the weeks that he has been here."

DEFENDING THE DEFENSE

The Vikings may have the top-rated run defense in the league, but they also have the last-ranked pass defense.

Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin preaches accountability to his defenders, and he doesn't try to gloss over problems very often.

"I'm not going to try to paint a rosy picture in regards to our pass defense. It is what it is," Tomlin said. "We don't make any excuses about anything, but people that know what they are taking about understand that we are not the worst pass defense team in football. We defend more passes than anyone else. We are first in the league in red zone defense, we are fourth in the league in touchdown passes given up, we are seventh in the league in yards per attempt or completion, etc., etc., etc.

"People throw more passes against us than anybody else. The quarterback comes out and throws 25 passes and throws for 220, or he comes out and throws 51 like he throws against us for 280. You be the judge. Our tape stands on its own. We stand behind our tape. Do we need to get better? Heck yes, because we want to be number one in every statistical category because it's going to help our team win."

RAMS' TAKE

Rams coach Scott Linehan spent three years (2002-04) as the Vikings offensive coordinator before working a year in the same capacity with the Miami Dolphins, then moving on take the head-coaching job in St. Louis.

Another Vikings connection on the Rams is linebacker Raonall Smith, a former second-round draft choice of Minnesota.

"It's a good fit for him because one of his strengths is being able to be a big, powerful linebacker that has pass rush ability, that can play linebacker and drop," Linehan said of Smith. "That's been his role, and he's embraced that role and done a good job of it."

Linehan on the Vikings' top-ranked run defense, which will set the modern day record if it holds the Rams to fewer than 152 yards rushing: "Their personnel is really good, first of all. I think they're very well-coached. They believe in their system. It's real similar to the things that were used in Tampa Bay in their heyday with the great defensive front. I think it starts with their defensive front and their linebackers. They commit to stopping it. It's one of those things where it's easy to get talked out of running the ball against them pretty early. Some teams have basically gone strictly to throwing the ball to move the ball, and it's worked sometimes, and it hasn't worked sometimes. The biggest challenge we have is sticking with the run when you get a number of those zero gains or loss yardage plays; it's easy to get talked out of it."

Linehan on Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson: "He's a big, strong athlete, got a really, really live arm. Pretty accurate. It's hard to get a feel for that from his college film, but he played very well in college. He's got very good feet. A willing pocket passer. He's not a guy that's going to bail out of there. He's got very good athleticism. He's got that dual-threat kind of combination at quarterback because he's a guy that can stand in there and throw it, has a strong arm, but if you don't contain him, he can really hurt you with his legs. Those kinds of guys are tough to prepare for."

Former Vikings and current Rams safety Corey Chavous, a draft junkie, on Jackson: "He was a guy that played all the way back at Arkansas before he ended up transferring, but actually I had a chance to watch tape of him at Alabama State and I also had a chance to watch him in the East-West Shrine practices and the East-West Shrine game. He had a pretty impressive game in the East-West Shrine, and I think that gave people a chance to see him play in a game against better competition and still be effective in that game, particularly early on in that game. He showed right away throwing the ball on a seam to the tight end and doing things like that that he would be able to make all the throws that they had seen from him all year long."

Chavous on being motivated to play against his former team: "I think by the time you're with your third team you can get motivated against a couple of different teams. It's not different than playing against Arizona. I have a lot of friends there still and I have a lot of respect for many of the people in the building. In terms of extra motivation, I think it will be more of a memory thing for me than anything. Getting a chance to go back there kind of brings back memories of the good times that I had there. There's not motivation in terms of a negative since. The only motivation I have is to try to win and get to the playoffs."

Rams WR Isaac Bruce on Vikings CB Antoine Winfield: "Winfield is a good player in my book. I've watched him from the time he's been in Buffalo. He's a smaller guy, but he's a guy who could probably end up at safety before his career is over. He'll cover a guy and make a lot of tackles. As far as tackling is concerned he kind of reminds me of Todd Lyght, who was a guy that prided himself in tackling anybody with the football. In this day and time most cornerbacks don't want to tackle, but he definitely tackles and does a good job."

NOTES

  • Former Vikings WR Randy Moss was ruled out by Oakland coach Art Shell, ending his season.

  • Former Vikings RB Michael Bennett, the backup to Larry Johnson in Kansas City, remains questionable for Sunday's Jacksonville game with an ankle injury. Bennett also missed last week's win in Oakland and had no carries the previous week in San Diego, meaning Johnson had to do almost all the running work himself. Third-team RB Dee Brown has had five carries in the two games in which Bennett did not play.



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