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Still room to improve

Tice disappointed in second team's performance after lossto Seattle

Knight Ridder Newspapers

SEATTLE -- With final preseason cuts looming this weekend, Vikings coach Mike Tice certainly gave himself an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate his reserves Thursday night.

No wide receiver Randy Moss. No cornerback Antoine Winfield. No defensive tackle Kevin Williams. And that's just a sampling of some of the Vikings' marquee players who didn't set foot onto Qwest Field's playing surface in Minnesota's 23-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the exhibition finale in front of 50,198.

Josh Brown drilled a 28-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the game to lift Seattle, which finished the preseason 3-1.

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Tice didn't like what he saw in many of his second-team defensive players, especially the defensive backs.

"We left too many plays on the field," said Tice, whose team finished the preseason with a 2-2 record. "I was (ticked) that we had opportunities for interceptions and we had opportunities for sacks, and we just outright didn't play as sharp with our second unit as we should have."

Running back Larry Ned sparked the Vikings' reserves by rushing 15 times for a game-high 55 yards and catching three passes for 30 yards. He had both a rushing and receiving touchdown in the Vikings' final tune-up before their Sept. 12 opener against Dallas at the Metrodome.

Among the few key players to see action for Minnesota, Daunte Culpepper played for all of 5 minutes, 41 seconds. That's how long it took the Pro Bowl quar 5/8erback to orchestrate an 88-yard drive that ended in a 22-yard TD pass to tight end Jermaine Wiggins for the game's first score with 5:57 remaining in the opening quarter.

Sparing many of his key players the possibility of injury so close to the opener, Tice afforded himself a close look at some positions where the depth has concerned him.

One of those is the secondary, and some of the reserve defensive backs did little to put Tice at ease. And they didn't have to contend with starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and top wide receivers Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson, all of whom sat out to avoid the possibility of an injury.

Instead, Trent Dilfer started at quarterback, and the veteran completed 17 of 20 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. And he did that in just two quarters before giving way to third-stringer Seneca Wallace in the second half.

Dilfer did most of his damage against backup defensive backs Deandre Eiland, Rhett Nelson, Willie Offord, Rushen Jones and Oliver Celestin, among others. Free safety Brian Russell was the only first-team defensive back to start for the Vikings.

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Tice had been looking for some of his younger defensive backs to step up with starting cornerback Brian Williams and backup safety Tyrone Carter sidelined in recent weeks with knee injuries. But some of those players did themselves no favors as the Vikings have to trim their roster to 53 on Sunday.

Dilfer particularly exposed Minnesota's secondary when he drove his team on a three-play, 84-yard scoring drive in just 25 seconds late in the second quarter.

The drive culminated in a 7-yard TD pass to fourth-string receiver Antoine Burns with 1:19 left. Burns, a former Gophers standout, caught the ball while he was wide open on the left side of the field.

But the big strike came a play earlier, when Dilfer and Burns connected on a 72-yard pass. As Eiland and Nelson converged to cover Burns, Minnesota's defensive backs collided and tumbled to the turf. That allowed Burns to sprint wide open across the middle, and Dilfer connected with Burns, who was tracked down by Celestin at the 7-yard line.

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