[size=18px]Camp Starts with Changes Prevalent [/size]

By: Scout.com
Date: Apr 8, 2006

The Vikings’ coaches and players started the process of getting to know each other with their first minicamp sessions Friday.

Three months and one day after being named coach, Brad Childress saw his team on the field for the first time as the Minnesota Vikings opened a three-day mini-camp at their Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie.

“It feels great,” Childress said after the first morning session on Friday. “Just like I told those coordinators that are used to hustling around when the horn blows to their position, it is always different when you are walking around and you’re responsible for everything and not responsible for just running down with the quarterbacks or wide receivers. You’re got to find your niche there.”

Childress’ coaching staff includes two first-time coordinators in Darrell Bevell (offense) and Mike Tomlin (defense). The Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator for the past seven seasons, Childress’ initial focus will remain on that side of the ball as the Vikings make the switch to a version of the West Coast offense.

That leaves the 33-year-old Tomlin in charge of the switch to the Cover-2 scheme on defense. Tomlin learned the system, known as the Tampa-2, working as the defensive backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tomlin’s enthusiasm was one of the things that stood out in the first mini-camp. Constantly encouraging and prodding his players, defenders were encouraged to pick up any loose footballs and head for the end zone.

The biggest question mark for the defense coming out of the camp is at linebacker. With veteran Sam Cowart having departed for Houston, Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris both saw time with the first team at middle linebacker. Thomas was used in passing situations last season and Harris, obtained in the Randy Moss trade from Oakland, was a non-factor for much of the year.

The Vikings want to give both a chance because of their speed but it’s arguable whether either one is ready to hold down a starting spot, much less playing in the middle.

Some had thought E.J. Henderson might get a chance in the middle, a spot he played in 2004 before being shifted outside last season, but he remained outside. Ben Leber, a free-agent pickup from San Diego, has moved into the other starting spot.

The Vikings will be relying on the draft to acquire more help at linebacker. Until then, Childress wants the opportunity to see what he has at linebacker and who can play where.

“Position flexibility is really important for guys to be able to play over the tight end, be able to play out in the air,” he said. “Part of our evaluation process is not only looking at them on tape last year and not trying to have any preconceived notions, but it’s also watching them practice, watching them learn and then watching them with your own eyes out here and coaching the stuff that is part of your system. We’re having all of those guys be flexible.”

NOTES ;

Receiver Marcus Robinson was not present at the Vikings’ Winter Park facility for the opening of the team’s off-season training program but was in attendance for the mini-camp. Robinson elected to spend more time with his family in Chicago but has worked with a personal trainer.

The Vikings plan to have punter Chris Kluwe serve as the holder for new kicker Ryan Longwell this season. Brad Johnson served in that role last season, but with the veteran now starting at quarterback the coaches feel Longwell and Kluwe have a better chance of getting a rhythm together.

Three players have switched numbers. Cornerback Fred Smoot went from 27 to 21, taking the number that had been worn by Corey Chavous. New left guard Steve Hutchinson will wear 76; backup guard Chris Liwienski has switched to 67. Receiver Troy Williamson will return to wearing 82, which he had in college at South Carolina. Williamson, the seventh overall pick in the draft a year ago, wore No. 19 as a rookie. Former Viking Keenan Howry had No. 82 last season before being released.

Anthony Herrera played right guard with the first-team offense but coach Brad Childress indicated that not much should be made of that.

“We are rolling a number of guys through there and we’re asking them to be position flexible,” he said. “We’re asking guys to play tackle that normally play guard and see if they have an aptitude that way. We’re rolling a number of guys through there. I wouldn’t make too much of him being the starter.”

Matt Birk was back at center for the first time after missing all of last season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. Birk has spent hours at the Vikings’ facility getting ready for his return. “He did everything that we asked him to do,” coach Brad Childress said.

Fran Foley, the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel, is scheduled to meet this week with vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski, coach Brad Childress and director of college scouting Scott Studwell to meet about their draft philosophy.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Other than looking through a purple facemask, the transition was smooth.” — New Viking and former longtime Packers kicker Ryan Longwell after his first mini-camp in Minnesota.

Camp Starts with Changes Prevalent