Defensive Changes Remain Priority

An improving defense, a rushing attack second to none, and with some perseverance from the coaching staff, the Minnesota Vikings are headed on the right path.

The story of the 2002 Minnesota Vikings was two-fold. Once understanding and buying into new head coach Mike Tice's program, the team began to play with confidence, which led the team to consistency as the season wound down.

Granted, the Vikings are a 6-10 team, but realistically that record does not do any justice as to exactly what transpired during and throughout the 2002 season. Placed in a weakened NFC North Division, the Vikings' rise to respectability was refreshing.

A new coach, a no-nonsense approach, and an attitude of, "if you don't want to play here, then we don't need you." The passing game was inconsistent throughout the season, but improved as the season wore down. The rushing attack exceeded all expectations led by Michael Bennett, and a receiving corps led by Randy Moss improved throughout the year, but a receiver to compliment Moss is critical for the development of the offense.

There will be a new look in Minnesota in 2003. Recently promoted to defensive coordinator, George O'Leary is already putting a plan in place to improve a weak defense. A switch to a 3-4 defense is not out of the question, O'Leary is fond of the change, along with the personnel that the Vikings have on the roster.

Minnesota has numerous options in changing to the 3-4 defense. One option to watch with keen interest is moving defensive tackle Chris Hovan to defensive end. With Lance Johnstone a free agent, the change may finally occur. Additionally, the Vikings are looking to improve the overall play and depth along the defensive line. A nose tackle will be a critical addition if the team indeed changes its defensive philosophy.

Defensively, the Vikings are a challenged group. The secondary is a weakness on the team that has been a focal point for the organization since the season concluded and will be immediately addressed. Free agency and the NFL draft will be utilized to improve this area of youth and inconsistency. A bright spot during the 2002 season was the play of defensive back Corey Chavous. Chavous started the season at cornerback but was moved to strong safety in mid-stream, and he excelled at the new position. Teaming with Jack Brewer at free safety, the Vikings' much-maligned pass defense showed a marked improvement over the second half of the season. Brian Williams, another young player, proved to be a capable cornerback, but the Vikings will show an interest in free agency to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris McAllister if he is not stuck with the franchise label. McAllister is a shutdown cornerback that could immensely help the Vikings.

From the information that we have gathered, early indications are that the Vikings intend on being an active participant in free agency to supplement their talent pool. Defensive secondary personnel, speed and depth at linebacker, and a pass-rushing defensive end and nose tackle/defensive tackle, are priorities for this team. Further indications are that the organization will again attempt to sign or draft a wide receiver to improve the depth complimenting Moss.

This off-season will be an exciting one for the Vikings and their fans. The team has the ability to be a major player in free agency and their draft position (seventh) will only enhance their ability to procure additional talent.

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