Vikings banking on better showing

6-10 season a thing of the past, they say

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Chris Claiborne, a linebacker Minnesota signed to shore up a defense that's lagged near the league's bottom for several seasons, was asked why he chose the Vikings.

"Offense," said Claiborne, who left division rival Detroit. "They've got a great offense. It's going to mean something when you make plays, get interceptions, get sacks."


It seems fitting that a free agent the Vikings brought in to play defense would be more attracted by what they had on the other side of the ball.

With quarterback Daunte Culpepper, explosive wide receiver Randy Moss and a grandiose offensive line, Minnesota again shouldn't have problems scoring points.

For the Vikings to improve on recent records of 5-11 and 6-10, however, it's up to the guys who play with their backs to the goal line.

"I think the defense has to get to a point where you can't count on your offense every week to go out and score 35 points a game," said cornerback Denard Walker, who came over from Denver in the offseason.

Fusing Claiborne, Walker and rookie end Kevin Williams into a unit that includes rising star Chris Hovan at tackle, dependable veteran Greg Biekert at middle linebacker and smart Corey Chavous at strong safety, Minnesota believes it has done enough to make its defense respectable.

The Vikings were 26th in yards allowed last year, 29th against the pass.

"There should be vast improvements," Hovan said.

Mike Tice's first year as coach was rough, including an 0-4 start, a traffic violation that got Moss arrested, a league-high 32 turnovers by Culpepper, blown fourth-quarter leads in four losses and the usual local and national ridicule of the defense.


"I'm a better coach, because we've got better players," Tice said. "That's the way it works in this business."

There are still plenty of concerns, though, and not all are on defense.

• Kicker; Aaron Elling and punter Eddie Johnson have never appeared in a regular-season game.

• Michael; Bennett, who rushed for 1,296 yards in 2002, is out until at least late October, if not the year, with a stress fracture in his foot.

The Vikings should learn a lot about themselves in Sunday's opener at Green Bay.

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