The Buy-In Factor

At the end of the season, Vikings coaches and players were left to figure out what went wrong. For some outside the team, the explanation was that players didn't buy into the new schemes and new way of doing things. See what a few players had to say about that.

One of the key questions as the 2006 season developed was how much players were buying into the new systems in place.

On defense, that wasn't much of an issue, as coordinator Mike Tomlin took over a unit that ranked 21st in the NFL in 2005 and turned it into the eighth-ranked defense in 2006.

But when it came to having a new head coach calling plays for an offense that struggled, there were areas that came under scrutiny.

"It's always kind of difficult to get used to change. Most of the guys were here with (former coach Mike) Tice, then coach (Brad Childress) comes in this year totally -- different personality, everything, so we had a year with him. I think the relationship will just grow with time," said cornerback Antoine Winfield.

Safety Dwight Smith, who was signed as a free agent in July, indicated that winning more could be the cure for all questions about players buying into a new system or new way of operating.

"It's a year in, and I don't know if everybody fully bought in. So time is still ticking right now," Smith said. "When you're not winning, guys want to find every reason not to believe what the coaches or other guys are doing is right. They don't want to put the blame on themselves. So it's easy to point the finger at the system and not buy in."

Some took the criticisms of the offense to mean that the players don't like the coaches, but linebacker Ben Leber refuted that assertion.

"I don't think there's anything to that. It's a tough season. It's a tough league, a tough business, and just because things go wrong it's not like we're questioning the trust on the offense, the defense and the system as a whole," Leber said. "I think we have the ultimate trust in these coaches and we just didn't execute. We just didn't get things done and that's sometimes how this league is."

While it seemed like plenty of disappointed reactions as the players packed up to leave, most of the players pointed to next year with hope that more time spent in the system and a few changes would turn a losing record around.

"There's always hope for next year. There always is," said safety Darren Sharper. "Everyone knows what kind of talent this team has. We just need to be structurally better. We just need to organize and be more consistent as a team and we'll be fine."

Said Winfield: "We all have to figure out a way to get better – players, coaches, personnel upstairs making the right decisions. It will all work. We'll definitely be a lot better next year."

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