2 Minnesota Vikings The lack of a breakaway back could make it hard for Daunte Culpepper to stay out of harm's way

August 31, 2003

He can still hear the sickening crack, followed by the dull thud
of his quarterback hitting the ground, knocked senseless. In 2001
Doug Chapman was a young running back for the Vikings, playing in
his first series in the NFL, at Chicago's Soldier Field. On the
third play he spotted a Bears blitz and knew he had to help block
a linebacker before rotating to an onrushing cornerback. He
chipped the linebacker, then hurried into his pass route,
neglecting to take care of the blitzing corner. After two steps
came the audible reminders of his blown assignment. "I'll never
forget watching Daunte [Culpepper] lying there," says Chapman,
wincing. "If you want to play running back in this league, stuff
like that can't happen."

Ironically, "stuff like that" led coach Mike Tice to choose
Chapman to replace injured Pro Bowl running back Michael Bennett,
who--after a brilliant 1,296-yard sophomore season--landed
awkwardly on a treadmill last March and suffered a stress
fracture of his left foot. The injury has been slow to heal,
prompting Bennett to undergo an experimental procedure that the
team hopes will speed the recovery and allow him to return later
this season.

If he cannot, it'll be quite a blow. Bennett helped soften
defenses that regularly swarmed the Vikings' patchwork line and
made Culpepper miserable. Though Minnesota finished with the
NFC's top-ranked offense, the numbers were deceiving. Too often
Culpepper was forced to freelance, sometimes with disastrous
results: He was sacked 47 times, threw 23 interceptions and lost
nine fumbles. With no Bennett to keep defenses honest, it falls
to Chapman to at least help keep Culpepper in one piece.

"If Daunte has to run for his life, we're not going anywhere,"
says Tice. "When you see how many times Daunte never saw a hit
coming, well...." Tice's voice trails off before he adds, "It was
painful."

Chapman's competition for the role of Bennett's replacement was
rookie Onterrio Smith, who looked like a steal as a fourth-round
pick. A serviceable runner, Chapman proved in training camp that
he was a superior blocker, earning him the nod over Smith, who
will start the first couple of games while Chapman rehabs his
sprained ankle. "I know Coach Tice had a tough decision, but I
believe everything comes full circle," Chapman says. "I've been
preparing for this my whole career. This is my time."

"Doug's a fun guy to block for," says Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.
"He's quick, he's a bit of a slasher, and he's been around for a
while. Now it's up to the O-line to get things started." That'll
be easier than it was a year ago, when rookie left tackle Bryant
McKinnie missed training camp and the first eight weeks of the
season in a contract dispute. McKinnie's absence forced his
linemates to play out of position, and when he finally reported,
the team had to slog through practices in full pads so McKinnie
could catch up. "Bryant's a different player this year," Tice
says. "He's much quicker now."

Stopping things, meanwhile, falls to a defense that was
overhauled after a dreadful season in which it surrendered 361
yards and 27.6 points per game and forced a paltry 41 turnovers,
second worst in the NFC. The addition of free-agent linebacker
Chris Claiborne, formerly of the Lions, should help, as will the
signing of ex-Broncos cornerback Denard Walker, an upgrade for
the NFL's fourth-worst pass defense.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Minnesota is that all-world
wideout Randy Moss made nary a peep in the off-season and looked
every bit his old, game-breaking self during the preseason.
Though he caught a career-high 106 passes last year, Moss had
only seven touchdown receptions. If the Vikings are to challenge
Green Bay for the division title, Moss and Culpepper, who signed
a 10-year, $100 million extension in May, must play like the
franchise players they're paid to be.

For that to happen, Culpepper must remain steady ... and upright
long enough to find Moss. And that means Chapman can't cut any
more corners. He'll just have to block them. --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB LEVERONE/TSN/ICON SMI AIRBORNE DISASTER Poor protection, small hands and some bad reads made Culpepper accident-prone last season. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS CLAIBORNE COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

The Vikes struggled to get to the quarterback last year--just
27 sacks while giving up 256 passing yards a game. CHRIS HOVAN, a
fourth-year tackle with a quick first step and a squat,
tough-to-block 294-pound frame, was second on the team with 5 1/2
sacks last season--a number he'll have to top if the secondary is
to avoid being shredded again.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"They will miss [running back] Michael Bennett. He might've been
the league's fastest player last year, so defenses had to honor
him when the Vikings spread the field.... Daunte Culpepper had an
up-and-down year for several reasons. One, his line was in flux
because of Bryant McKinnie's holdout. Two, he missed [wide
receiver] Cris Carter. And three, his small hands--when he's hit
from behind, that ball's coming out. He's still not a great
reader of defenses, but he's becoming a better pocket passer, and
he's still a load if he runs.... The offensive line is just O.K.
Matt Birk's a very good center, but David Dixon looks done, and
Mike Rosenthal is average at best.... Chris Hovan has as fast a
first step as any D-lineman in the league; he's great at shooting
gaps.... If Chris Claiborne stays trim, he'll be a
difference-maker at linebacker.... Linebacker Greg Biekert is
smart, but he can't run, and he struggles in coverage.... The
secondary's going to give Mike Tice fits.... Randy Moss is still
the league's best receiver when he's got it going, so if the line
keeps Culpepper healthy, they could get 10 wins. But with that
defense, 8-8 is more likely."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Green Bay
14 CHICAGO
21 at Detroit
28 SAN FRANCISCO

Oct. 5 at Atlanta
12 Open date
19 DENVER
26 N.Y. GIANTS

Nov. 2 GREEN BAY
9 at San Diego
16 at Oakland
23 DETROIT
30 at St. Louis

Dec. 7 SEATTLE
14 at Chicago
20 KANSAS CITY (Sat.)
28 at Arizona

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 24
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .479
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 6-10

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 1/9/2
DEFENSE 10/29/26

COACH: Mike Tice; third season with Minnesota (6-11 in NFL)

DOUG CHAPMAN

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 93 12 89 7.4

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
0 0 -- 0

DAUNTE CULPEPPER

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 37 549 333 60.7

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
3,853 18 23 75.3

JIM KLEINSASSER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 186 6 17 2.8

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
37 393 10.6 1

RANDY MOSS

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 21 106 1,347 7

BYRON CHAMBERLAIN

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 217 34 389 0

BRYANT MCKINNIE

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
OT 6'8" 343 lbs. 8 7

CHRIS LIWIENSKI

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'5" 321 lbs. 16 16

MATT BIRK

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'4" 308 lbs. 16 16

DAVID DIXON

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 359 lbs. 15 15

MIKE ROSENTHAL[1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'7" 315 lbs. 16 16

D'WAYNE BATES

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 156 50 689 4

DEFENSE

RE KENNY MIXON 71 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RT FRED ROBBINS 61 tackles 7 sacks
LT CHRIS HOVAN 52 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
LE KEVIN WILLIAMS (R)[1] 61 tackles 7 sacks
OLB CHRIS CLAIBORNE[1] 101 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
MLB GREG BIEKERT 101 tackles 4 int.
OLB HENRI CROCKETT 61 tackles 1 sack
CB BRIAN WILLIAMS 37 tackles 1 int.
CB COREY CHAVOUS 83 tackles 3 int.
SS BRIAN RUSSELL 14 tackles 1 int.
CB DENARD WALKER[1] 64 tackles 1 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K HAYDEN EPSTEIN 251 13/13 XPS 5/9 FGS 28 PTS.
PR KEENAN HOWRY (R)[1] 405 32 RET. 14.3 AVG. 2 TDS
KR JOHN AVERY*[1] 372 26 RET. 25.4 AVG. 0 TDS
P EDDIE JOHNSON (R)[1] 51 PUNTS 46.0 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)
*CFL stats

"Hovan has as fast a first step as any D-lineman; he's great at
shooting gaps."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)