Posted on Thu, Sep. 21, 2006

[size=10pt]No one guy can replace James[/size]

Trio will try to fill defensive end's shoes

BY MARCUS R. FULLER
Pioneer Press


Erasmus James was expected to have a huge impact this year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday in the fourth quarter of the Vikings' 16-13 overtime victory against the Carolina Panthers.

"My second year, everything was feeling good," said James, a 6-foot-4, 266-pound defensive end. "It is very disappointing. But there's nothing you can do about it. You just kind of tell those guys to step it up. I'm just happy we got guys in back of me that can do the job well."

The Vikings will miss James, but they expect defensive ends Kenechi Udeze, Darrion Scott and Ray Edwards to fill the void.

As of Wednesday, Udeze moved to the right side to replace James. Scott, usually the first defensive end off the bench, moved into Udeze's old spot on the left side. That leaves Edwards with a new role as the primary backup.

"I think that we have a great group, but we will still miss Erasmus a great deal," Edwards said. "Kenechi has some speed, and I think he will do well where he is now. Darrion has a lot of talent, and I think he can do some good things as a starter. I'm still just focusing on going in there and making plays and helping out when I have an opportunity."

Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said it would be a mistake to underestimate the Vikings' defense even after losing James.

"I think any time you lose a good player like that, it has to hurt you," Smith said. "Minnesota has not only good talent with their starters, but they have a lot of good depth. And I'm sure it won't be much of a drop-off."

Bad memories: Bears quarterback Rex Grossman never will forget his last trip to the Metrodome in 2004. It resulted in a 27-22 loss to the Vikings and a season-ending knee injury.

He passed for 248 yards and finished with a then-career-high passer rating of 91.9. But it was spoiled after he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament while diving into the end zone on his first career touchdown run.

"That was a tough injury to go through just because I felt like that was my year to get established in this league," he said. "It took a while for me to get back from that."

Grossman missed the first 13 games of the 2005 season after breaking his ankle in an exhibition game, but he currently ranks as the NFL's top-rated passer (128.7), throwing for 551 yards and five touchdowns in two games this year.

"Now that I'm coming back," Grossman said, "I'm excited to play the Vikings and conquer the hurdle."

Mum's the word: Defensive tackle Pat Williams has called a cease-fire in his year-old war of words with Bears center Olin Kreutz.

Williams called Kreutz "a big joke" after the Vikings' 28-3 loss at Soldier Field last October, and Kreutz fired back before the teams' New Year's Day meeting, calling the talkative Minnesota tackle "a fat slob" and adding, "I must have made him mad. I stole his cheeseburger or something."

Those remarks came after Williams' agent, Angelo Wright, accused Kreutz of leading a player boycott to keep his client off the NFC Pro Bowl team, but Williams said he wouldn't be adding any more fuel to the fire this week.

"I've got nothing to say," he said. "You'll have to see me on the field on Sunday."

Injury report: Vikings coach Brad Childress announced that wide receivers Troy Williamson (shoulder) and Marcus Robinson (hamstring), and guard Artis Hicks (shoulder) are questionable for Sunday's game.

Williamson, who joined Robinson and Hicks at practice Wednesday, said he plans on playing against the Bears. But Williamson doesn't know if he will return kicks.

"We'll have to see how that goes, and the coaches will make a decision on what they want to do," he said.

Briefly: The Bears returned 300 tickets for Sunday's game in the Metrodome. They are available through Ticketmaster.

• Several former Vikings linebackers were busy Tuesday. Rod Davis had a tryout for the Carolina Panthers, and Sam Cowart visited with the Panthers. Former Vikings quarterback Todd Bouman had tryouts with the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots.

• The Vikings worked out three receivers Tuesday: Troy Bergeron (no college), Rasheed Marshall (West Virginia) and Brad Pyatt (Northern Colorado). Pyatt and Marshall have returned punts and kickoffs in the NFL.

Sean Jensen and Don Seeholzer contributed to this report. Marcus R. Fuller can be reached at [email protected]