End Game

Ray Edwards has been praised for his work during this weekend's minicamp, where he has been running at first-team defensive end. But, with questions about Erasmus James' availability, Kenechi Udeze's sack inability and Darrion Scott's dissatisfaction with his pay and his role, who plays around Pat and Kevin Williams is far from certain.

For a defensive line that includes two Pro Bowl tackles, there sure seem to be a lot of questions heading into training camp. Topping the list is who is going to be a starter and who isn't.

There are legitimate questions at both end spots. Erasmus James is still rehabbing a knee he injured in the second game of last season and his spot is being manned by Ray Edwards during minicamp. Kenechi Udeze, who played all 16 games last year but didn't record a sack, has been told he will stay at left end this year after playing right DE most of last season. His move has pushed Darrion Scott out of the starting position he held down most of the 2006 season.

So where do the DEs stand? If the Vikings know, they're not saying – other than letting the players taking first-team reps suffice as the short-term answer. Will Edwards hold down the starting right end job? Can rookie Brian Robison challenge for playing time? What happens if James returns to pre-injury form and wants his job back? Can the defense stay with Udeze as a starter when he tied for sacks in 2006 with Brad Childress and Rick Spielman? Will Scott, who doesn't like his 2007 contract or his 2007 projected role on the defense, stay happy or be a malcontent who wants out of town if his situation doesn't change?

None of those questions will be answered during minicamp, but each of the four players – if James is healthy – that will be the DE Fab Four when training camp opens can make a legitimate claim that he believes he has earned a starting spot. Only two will get them. Having depth is great, but so is having players willing to play a role and be time-share teammates. With injuries last year, it was never a huge issue. But both Scott and Edwards made a bid to compete for starting jobs. Udeze and James have essentially lived up to their pre-draft red flags as injured college players who could end up being oft-injured pro players.

In a perfect world, the four will all be healthy and 100 percent and co-exist perfectly. However, we rarely see the term "perfect world" used in context with NFL teams. The Vikings hope they can get everyone on the same page or this is going to be the unattended pot of chili that has started bubbling. It isn't a mess yet, but unless someone pays attention and makes sure the heat is distributed equally, it could turn out to be a messy situation.

* Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said that kicker Ryan Longwell, who has worked hard in his off-season workout regimen, has been getting consistently deeper kickoffs during the minicamp and OTA workouts.
* The right side of the offensive line during minicamp has paired Artis Hicks and Ryan Cook as first-team guard and tackle. Both said they feel more comfortable in their respective spots this time around as opposed to last year. Prior to being acquired during the 2006 draft weekend, Hicks played left tackle. With Steve Hutchinson at that position, Hicks was forced to change to the right side. Cook spent his entire college career playing center, so the move to right tackle also required a lot of changes. Both are expecting to have much improved 2007 seasons over the inconsistency that marked their 2006 campaigns.
* A pair of rookies – CB Marcus McCauley and DE Brian Robison – took quite a few snaps with the first team defense in nickel package situations.
* Chad Greenway has participated in all four practice sessions and completed all four practices with no visible ill-effects to his surgically repaired knee.
* Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier really talked up free agent defensive tackle Howard Green Saturday, saying he was a strong candidate to serve in a rotation with Kevin and Pat Williams.
* Wide receiver Maurice Mann missed his third straight practice session by sitting out both of Saturday's practices with a left hamstring injury he sustained during the Friday morning practice session.
* Mike Doss sat out the afternoon practice for the second straight day after taking part in the morning session. Doss and fellow safety Tank Williams have been alternating practices during the two-a-day sessions, with Williams sitting out the morning practices.
* Center Matt Birk said he isn't concerned that efforts to get a long-term contract extension during the offseason have made no progress and that he's willing to play under his current contract without complaint.
* Gophers head football coach Tim Brewster was a visitor to Saturday's afternoon practice.

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