Vikings' defense needs work

BY DON SEEHOLZER
Pioneer Press
His defense had just held the reigning Super Bowl champions to three points in the final 55-plus minutes while registering two takeaways, but Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin was far from satisfied.

"It's a work in progress," he said of his unit after Saturday night's 17-10 exhibition win at Pittsburgh. "There's things to be excited about, but we've got a ways to go."

Tomlin wasn't simply nitpicking.

As well as the Vikings played after the first five minutes, the offense and defense began the game slowly, and Tomlin's starters allowed a 55-yard scoring drive capped by Ben Roethlisberger's 16-yard touchdown pass to Cedrick Wilson on Pittsburgh's opening possession.

For an exhibition game, the Steelers went unusually deep into their playbook on that drive — coming out in a no-huddle offense and running an end around on the first play — but Tomlin just chuckled when asked if that violated some sort of unwritten coaches' agreement.

"There's no honor among thieves," he said. "I'm glad they did it, really. We need to continue to go through this process. With adversity, you learn a little bit about yourselves. We had some adversity, but guys bounced back and got into a groove and got hot. That's what it's all about."

Coach Brad Childress attributed his team's slow start in part to the inclement weather that forced a 15-minute delay of the opening kickoff, while making it clear that he considered that an unacceptable excuse.

"You can't start slow," he said. "You've got to come with your motor running — offense, defense — to start the game. I didn't think we did that, but I felt we did get into it."

With Roethlisberger out of the game, the Vikings' defense dominated the rest of the way, limiting the Steelers to a third-quarter field goal set up by an interception. It forced two Charlie Batch turnovers: an interception by safety Darren Sharper and a fumble recovery by defensive end Darrion Scott after a sack by blitzing cornerback Ronyell Whitaker.

"As we continue to play, we're getting better and better," Sharper said. "When we first came out, we got a little bit of a shock with the no-huddle, but we settled down and started playing better. The more we played, the better we were."

Tomlin said that there was a lesson in Saturday's game for the regular season.

"It's not going to be 16 Sundays where you bust the door down and come out red hot," he said. "You'd like to think you will, but reality is that you won't. So what are you going to do from there? Sometimes you've got to put the things that happened the first five or six snaps out of your mind and go play."

In the meantime, he will prepare his players to expect the unexpected Friday, when the Baltimore Ravens come to the Metrodome.

Anyone ready for a Fumblerooskie or Statue of Liberty play?

The way these first two exhibition games have gone, nothing would surprise Tomlin.

"The first game we come out and we have a turnover (after fumbling the opening kickoff), so we have to start off on a short field," he said. "This game we come out and we've got to look at no-huddle. I can't wait to see what happens next game."


Wrist injury won't keep Offord sidelined long

BY DON SEEHOLZER
Pioneer Press
The Vikings got some good news Sunday on backup safety Willie Offord, who injured his right wrist on the opening kickoff of Saturday night's 17-10 exhibition win at Pittsburgh and did not return.

Tests revealed Offord suffered a severely sprained wrist but no fracture.

The fifth-year veteran is expected to miss some practice time this week but will not be sidelined for an extended period.

A more serious injury could have had dire implications for the Vikings, who lost starting safety Tank Williams to a season-ending knee injury early in training camp and already were short on experienced depth at the position.

Rookie Greg Blue took Offord's place with the second-team defense against the Steelers and had a big sideline hit on wide receiver Lee Mays in the final seconds.

Humble pie: Through two games, rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has been the feel-good story of the exhibition season, but Vikings fans don't need to worry about success going to his head.

After completing 9 of 11 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, the second-round draft choice from Alabama State was modest, offering up such tame postgame quotes as, "I felt a lot more comfortable this week," and, "I just want to show the coaches I can play and run this offense."

Jackson's teammates were more expansive in their praise of the player who has gone from rookie project to frontrunner for the No. 2 quarterback job.

"He's definitely making progress," linebacker Napoleon Harris said. "He's a young quarterback, and it's a process to learn. He's going to be a great quarterback in this league."

Practice makes perfect: It's no coincidence that Jackson's one touchdown pass of the night went to rookie wide receiver Jason Carter, considering all the time they have put in on the practice field.

"Jason Carter and I work together a lot," Jackson said. "I've probably thrown the ball to him more than anybody."

Briefly: Sunday was a day off for the players, who will be back at Winter Park today for the first post-training camp practice of the summer.