3 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

August 31, 1997

The trash talking from the secondary comes early in a game, and
often. "Ain't happenin'! You're gettin' nothin' today!" is among
the nicer things a receiver might hear from a Minnesota
defensive back at the end of a play, according to Packers
wideout Antonio Freeman. And it degenerates, with the defensive
backs raising various issues related to their opponents' manhood.

"That secondary," says Freeman, "is more concerned with talking
than being good football players. They're a young group, and
they're pretty good, but their ability is hidden by the fact
that they're such showboats and talkers."

To be fair, left cornerback Corey Fuller and free safety Orlando
Thomas do most of the talking. Right corner Dewayne Washington
can woof a bit, but compared with their teammates, he and strong
safety Robert Griffith are novices in the trash-talking league.

The Vikings' secondary will need every weapon it can find this
season when it faces, once each, the aerial attacks of the
Patriots' Drew Bledsoe and the 49ers' Steve Young and, twice
each, those of the Packers' Brett Favre and the Lions' Scott
Mitchell. Further, because the Vikings lack depth in the
secondary (Thomas is rebounding from January knee surgery, and
there are no experienced backups), there will be added pressure
on this group to perform.

That's a tough assignment for a quartet of players who are all
26 or younger. "The secondary is really the big key for us,"
says defensive coordinator Foge Fazio, who doesn't mind the
macho talk the players engage in. "Especially Orlando, because
he's become such a leader and a ball hawk." Thomas, a
second-round draft pick out of Southwestern Louisiana in 1995,
had more interceptions (14) over the past two seasons than any
other player in the NFL, including a league-high nine as a
rookie. He says he's back to 100% and is faster than he was when
he entered the NFL because of the intensity of his
rehabilitation and off-season conditioning. "Don't worry about
me," Thomas says, as if anybody would. "I'm going to be a better
player than ever."

Thomas and Fuller, a second-round draft choice out of Florida
State in '95, formed a tight bond quickly. Both started early in
their rookie year, and in their fourth NFL game Thomas
retaliated after he saw a Steelers lineman punch Fuller away
from the play. Instinctively, Thomas ran over and slugged the
opponent in the groin. "Boom!" Fuller says, in recalling the
incident. "With one punch the guy went down, and I looked around
and saw Orlando standing there. You get the vibe, don't you?
From that day on Orlando was going to cover my back, and I was
going to cover his."

Fuller, however, has been known to cross the line. Last season
he was fined $30,000 for poking Green Bay center Frank Winters
in the eye. Clearly he believes part of his game is
intimidation. And talking, he says, is just part of Minnesota's
style of play. "It makes the game fun," he says. "Like against
the Packers, where the fans are so into it, that's like
Florida-Florida State every time we play. It's like Super
Sunday, and you just get so excited out there."

He's not proud of all the lip, though. "When I go home at
night," Fuller says, "I pray to God to forgive me for some of
the things I said that day."

The Vikings can live with the lip if the secondary performs as
it did last year. It was ninth in the league in pass defense,
tied for fourth in interceptions (22) and maybe last in respect.
Not even Thomas got a sniff in Pro Bowl voting, and the quartet
says the slight is what drives them entering the '97 season.
"Just watch us this year. Watch us in the big games," Fuller
says. "We'll be there."

In five seasons under coach Dennis Green, the Vikings have won
the NFC Central title twice and have been to the playoffs two
other times. But if Minnesota expects to get back to the
postseason this year--and win its first playoff game under
Green--Fuller & Co. will have to play as good a game as they
talk.

--P.K.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS A cocky young secondary, led by Fuller (27), thrives on trash talk and intimidation, and will get a chance to prove it's among the NFL's best. [Corey Fuller]

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