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Green proves his critics wrong

By Compiled by ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 9, 2000


Minnesota coach Denny Green could not be prodded into gloating, but deep inside he has to feel good about proving all the naysayers wrong.

They all said the off-season personnel changes made by Green were certain to lead to a rebuilding year for the Vikings. Quarterback Jeff George departed in free agency and backup Randall Cunningham was released to clear salary-cap room. Pro Bowl offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel signed with Tampa Bay and Jimmy Hitchcock, the team's best cornerback, signed with Carolina.

Another bone of contention with critics: Green's decision to pick UCF quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the 1999 draft instead of fortifying the pass rush with Florida defensive end Jevon Kearse. Green opted to draft defensive end Demetrius Underwood later in the first round, but he never played for the Vikings after going AWOL on the first day of training camp.

In another somewhat surprising move, Green brought in new coordinators: Emmitt Thomas for the defense and Sherm Lewis for the offense, even though neither had been overwhelmingly successful at Green Bay last season.

The departures, coaching changes and bad draft picks had just about everyone thinking Minnesota would be an also-ran in the NFC Central. Everybody but Green, who ignored the critics that blasted him as "The Nutty Professor" and went about guiding the Vikings to a 4-0 start.

"I never worry about that," Green said. "First off, everybody has to write their opinion. This is what I do for a living. This is how I raise my family, this is how I provide for my family, and so I don't worry too much about opinions. I rely on what we think we know about the business, and we think we know the business well. "I don't think everybody understands free agency. It's a very new system, it's only been around for seven years. Most people don't understand the very tough decisions that coaches have to make and the players have to make."

Green said he drew comfort from the fact 15 starters from the '98 team, which went 15-1 in the regular season, were back. He also felt good about the players who were pegged to fill voids on the line and in the secondary. "You have to always have some guys ready to step in," Green said. "You can't predict it as a coach, but you know that you're going to lose players. It's your job to always have players ready to step in."

CORNERING CONCERNS: Cornerback was suppose to be one of the team's biggest weaknesses, but the Vikings picked up Cris Dishman before the start of the regular season. The 35-year-old veteran has helped young corners Kenny Wright and Robert Tate, a converted receiver. The passing defense is ranked a respectable 16th.

"Cris has helped us a a lot," Green said. "He gives us a chance to play bump-and-run if we want to do it, to blitz if we want to do it. Robert Tate is developing. He's learning very quickly. He's very quick, has good hips and can play. Kenny Wright played a lot of football for us last year."

It also helps that safeties Robert Griffith and Orlando Thomas are playing well. Each had an outstanding game Oct. 1 at Detroit. Thomas, who had a key fourth-quarter interception, got the defensive game ball. Griffith had a game-high 12 tackles, including seven solo tackles.

MR. SMITH: Much has been made of their passing game, but the Vikings have quietly gone about becoming the NFL's top rushing team. Robert Smith, who had a 65-yard touchdown run against Detroit, has rushed for 406 yards and has 5.3 a carry. Culpepper has 198 on 40 carries.

QUOTE: Green on Monday Night Football commentator Dennis Miller: "Every guy has a right to make a living."

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