Udeze Under Pressure … Or Not

The Vikings set a number of team records and one NFL record when it comes to play on their defensive line and defense in general, but the stats and players say they need to improve dramatically in other areas.

The Vikings just missed setting the NFL modern-day record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season, but they set the record for the lowest rushing average yielded in a 16-game season with their 2.8 yards per rush.

The defensive line also helped contribute to a franchise-record 79 tackles for losses, besting the old mark of 71 from the storied 1998 season.

Those are some of the good points in the Vikings defense, but if they truly want to be a dominating defense, as safety Darren Sharper contends they can be, then the pass rush will have to improve dramatically.

"We start every day in practice thinking it starts up front. You can say what you want to, but in any game, it always starts up front," said defensive end Kenechi Udeze. "You need edge pressure, you need guys stopping the run. You need that attribute in your defense. It always starts with the lines."

The edge pressure would seem to be the area most lacking with the defense. The Vikings finished with 30 sacks, an average of less than two per game. Only six teams in the league – the Redskins (19), Bucs and Colts (25), Titans (26), and Browns and Texans (28) – had fewer. The Chargers (61) and Ravens (60) dominated the league in that category.

Defensive end Darrion Scott led the Vikings with 5.5 sacks, and only Houston and Tampa Bay's leading sacker had fewer than Scott's tally for 2006.

Safety Darren Sharper said getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks was the "Alpha" objective of the Tampa-2 defense.

The Vikings started the season with high hopes for young former first-round draft picks Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James. When James was lost of the season with a knee injury and Udeze was amazingly shut out in sacks, it put a negative exclamation point on the sore spot of the defense.

Asked what he can do to become a better pass rusher, Udeze said, "There's a lot, but I can't beat myself up about it. It happened. It's going to drive me to work harder this offseason, and I plan on getting started in a month or so.

"I'm excited about next year because I have a lot to shoot for because I fell short in a few areas of my game this year. I know that I'm capable and I'm ready to do something. Hopefully I can get back here and work with Erasmus a little bit because I know he's going to be full strength in a couple of months. It's going to take a positive effort, and that's what I've been blessed with – a positive effort, just the ability to deal with different situations."

Udeze, the former USC Trojan, seemed conflicted on how to categorize his overall season. While he was shut out in sacks – the measure of most defensive ends – he had 45 tackles, a team-leading 13 for losses, and 41 quarterback hurries, second only to Pro Bowler Kevin Williams' 51 hurries.

"I don't look at my season as a disappointment," Udeze said. "I look at it as this is the most sound season I've ever had as far as playing the run. Even though I came up short a lot of times – hell, the whole season – I could take away a lot of good things from it for next year. It was a rough season, but when you had something as bad as that happen to me, I can only get better."

He said he had never been shut out of sacks in a season, not with the Trojans and not as a two-way lineman at Verbum Dei High in Los Angeles.

"This is like an omen. This is crazy. I've been a part of this, but, then again, my first two years I had one tackle-for-loss in my first two years. So there's a lot to look at, there's a lot that's positive," Udeze said. "I played sound football as far as technique. There's a lot more that I could have done, and I'm going to address that and I'm pretty sure that won't happen again."

Most likely it won't. In high school, he had 14 sacks as a junior and 13 as a senior. And when his game had been elevated to the highest levels of NCAA play, he tied for the NCAA lead with 16.5 sacks in 2003.

While Udeze is at a loss to explain the befuddling sackless season, he isn't willing to place the blame on his recovery from microfracture surgery that ended his 2005 season prematurely.

"There's no excuse. There's no way around it. I busted my ass getting back and I don't think that hindered me any bit. I never caught myself saying I can't do that. I went full speed into it and I don't think that should be an issue. My knee's fine," he said. "I went through the whole year and I didn't hurt and never had a problem, no swelling or anything, and I'm excited about that. Who's to say what's going to happen next year?"

GETTING WIDER

After signing fifth-year receiver Randy Hymes earlier in the week, the Vikings added first-year wide receiver Justin Surrency from Iowa State.

The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Surrency signed with the Seahawks in August.

Surrency was Northern Iowa's leading receiver in 2005, when he had 47 receptions for 663 yards and seven touchdowns. He finished his college career with 107 catches for 1,493 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Vikings will send Surrency, a St. Paul (Minn.) native, to NFL Europe.

Hymes, a 6-3, 211-pound wide receiver, played four season with the Baltimore Ravens, where he accumulated 578 yards on 48 receptions, including four touchdowns.

Hymes worked out for the Vikings in September and Surrency in October.

  • In other wide receiver news, the Seattle Seahawks signed former Vikings receiver Chris Jones to a reserve/future contract.

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