Posted on Sun, Sep. 24, 2006

[size=13pt]Childress still testing his players[/size]

After a testy but comical critique from her ex-stepbrother in the 1995 movie "Clueless," Cher Horowitz, played by actress Alicia Silverstone, dismissively quipped, "Freshman psych rears its ugly head."

Over the past nine months, psychology has been inconspicuously omnipresent at Winter Park.

Since his arrival, Vikings coach Brad Childress appears to have tapped into his bachelor's degree in psychology from Eastern Illinois.

Determined to craft a roster loaded with mentally tough, competitively inspired, team-oriented players, Childress encouraged players to attend the "voluntary" offseason sessions, and he imposed a weight limit for every player.

Fiercely private about his "in-house" affairs, Childress seems to have engaged three starters in his psychological tests: quarterback Daunte Culpepper, receiver Koren Robinson and defensive tackle Pat Williams.

Showing up a few pounds over his limit, Williams was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp. But the veteran accepted responsibility for not meeting the weight goal.

As Childress pushed the players in training camp with demanding practices and barely any time off, Robinson missed curfew at least once, and he missed a few practices with a minor knee injury.

Culpepper refused to participate in the offseason workouts, and he insisted only on talking to team officials about a new contract.

Receiver Billy McMullen said Childress was testing his players during training camp.

"He wanted to see what kind of guys he inherited here," said McMullen, who played three seasons under Childress in Philadelphia. "I believe he found out that we had a tough team. He pushed us hard in camp, and even in the games. He wanted to see what guys bring to the table, even when things aren't on the line.

"He wanted to see us compete."

There appear to be recent examples of Childress putting his players to the mental test.

Carolina all-pro defensive end Julius Peppers schooled Marcus Johnson on Sunday. Former coach Mike Tice might have responded in one of two ways: berating Johnson or benching him.

But Childress did neither, perhaps gauging the heart of his young tackle.

Would Johnson quit or keep fighting?

After a lull in his play during a portion of the third quarter, Johnson rebounded in the fourth quarter, left tackle Bryant McKinnie said.

"It showed that he was a fighter, and he wasn't just going to pack it in and say, 'Well, he's just better than me,' " McKinnie said. "He kept fighting and tried to play him a little better."

In meetings and practices, Childress sometimes strays from the game plan to make a point, or measure how his players react in unusual situations.

Early in training camp, during two-minute drills, Childress would call for the field-goal unit, even though they were not included in the practice script.

"He threw us out there a bunch from 48, 49 yards, right out of the box," said kicker Ryan Longwell, noting his unit was not scheduled to kick until the next phase of practice. "That's paid off."

But veteran safety Darren Sharper said Childress delicately balances prodding and pushing too much.

"He knows how to push the proper buttons, and he's always tinkering with things and doing things a little different," Sharper said. "That's why people have tried to get him as a head coach the last three years."

The coach had another surprise in store for his players Monday.

After playing on Monday night, the Vikings endured a shortened week before facing Carolina. Yet in spite of a 2-0 start, Childress ignored the always-popular Victory Monday and scheduled a full day of meetings.

"The thing is, if we want to be what we say we want to be, we need to be here on Monday," Vikings safety Dwight Smith said. "Once we get later in the season, yeah, maybe we'll get a day off."