Great philosophers have pondered the question for ages: What came first, the chicken or the egg? Wednesday, observers at Winter Park were left with a similar cosmic quandary.
What came first for Chris Hovan, the injury or a sudden shift to the Vikings' second-team defense -- a move that caused Hovan to confront coach Mike Tice after practice?
Hovan suffered a bruised knee during a full-pads practice Monday, and he is listed as questionable on the injury report. Hovan, however, appeared unencumbered by the bruise and did not miss a drill.
Yet during the 40 minutes of practice open to the media, nose tackle Steve Martin worked with the first team. Hovan replaced Martin in the nickel packages.
Hovan declined comment, and Tice attributed the change mostly to the condition of Hovan's knee. But it appears the injury has given the Vikings an opportunity to demote Hovan -- or at least send him a message -- without calling it a benching.
Hovan could "recover" in time to start Sunday against Houston. Tice, however, has made consistency and accountability a personal crusade this season, and he acknowledged Wednesday that he has told the entire team to "produce or you're not going to play."
Hovan, who has started the Vikings' past 47 games, already has received a tongue-lashing from coaches this season for unproductive and undisciplined play. Through three games, he has been credited with two solo tackles, three assisted tackles, four quarterback hurries and no sacks.
"Looking at the team [during the bye week], I've come up with a few thoughts and a few decisions as far as play time and positions go," Tice said, speaking generally. "We've created some competitions in a lot of areas. ... Some of those areas need to be competitive. Because the production of some of those players has not been when I think it should be, or it hasn't been good.
"I can't sit here and say that players win games, and then play players that don't make plays. Then I'm a hypocrite. If they can't make plays, then they can't help us win. And if they don't make plays, they shouldn't play. That's the way it goes. Regardless of who it is."
Indeed, the Vikings have opened up competitions for the top reserve offensive lineman between Adam Goldberg and Adam Haayer. Cornerbacks Ralph Brown and Rushen Jones are competing for the dime back job, while Darrion Scott and Chuck Wiley are fighting for a chance to split time with defensive end Kenechi Udeze.
Hovan is by far the most notable player affected. The team's No. 1 draft pick in 2000, Hovan's play reached a near Pro-Bowl level in 2002. Coaches and personnel evaluators considered him a fundamental part of their rebuilding program, but he regressed in 2003 and has not been a factor this season.
Tice and defensive line coach Brian Baker heavily criticized him after the season opener against Dallas, a condemnation Hovan apparently took hard. In the last season of a five-year contract, he turned down numerous interview requests.
Hovan's frustration surfaced after practice Wednesday, when he approached Tice after most players had left the field. The two spoke for about five minutes.
According to Tice, Hovan was upset that Martin had been given some of his practice time. Tice reminded Hovan about the knee bruise, but Hovan discounted the injury as a sufficient explanation.
"He got kicked behind his knee, and he's kind of limping around a little bit," Tice said. "So he didn't take as many plays as he wanted to. He was not pleased with that. We tried to teach him the intelligence of not doing as much work when you're limping around on one and a half legs. Let the other guys get some work in there. And when you're in there, get quality work. He didn't want to buy into that. He wanted to buy into taking as much work as he normally takes.
"He took his share of reps, and I tried to tell him that. I stood back there and watched. He got plenty of work. It's not like he took two plays. He took a bunch of work."
During a three-day team study during the bye week, Tice tabulated the "Play Ratio" of each defensive lineman: The ratio of playing time to the number of "plays" such as sacks, forced fumbles and tackles for losses. He then met with every defensive lineman except Kenny Mixon and Lance Johnstone.
In different ways, Tice gave each player an elevated set of expectations. Martin, for one, stands to be a beneficiary of that approach: He could start Sunday against his former team.
"All you need is a chance," Martin said. "You only need one big play, and someone will remember you forever. It's a great opportunity for me, especially going back to Houston. I don't need any motivation this week."
:cheers: :cheers: :cheers: :cheers: :cheers:
Maybe we'll start getting some sack production