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Vikes change, yet stay same

By Compiled by ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000

A lot has been made about the off-season departures endured by the Vikings, but the Vikings lost more than quarterbacks Randall Cunningham and Jeff George and offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel.

Minnesota coach Dennis Green also restructured his coaching staff, bringing in seven new assistants, including new offensive and defensive coordinators. It was a move termed courageous by owner Red McCombs. Green said it was just a necessary step in creating the chemistry he needed for a championship team.

No one is quibbling with the results. Minnesota is the league's last unbeaten team at 7-0, and players and coaches are pleased with the staff renovation.

"He's fair and even-handed. The coaches sense that," said new wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett. "The coaches sense that. The players sense that. He makes a good working environment.

"He gives you autonomy. He lets you coach. You know he's not the kind of guy that would ever strip you of any measure of dignity."

The general sense is this staff works better together than last year's staff, and also is more responsive to suggestions from players.

Green has been particularly pleased with the job done by the new coordinators: Sherm Lewis on the offense and Emmitt Thomas on the defense. The duo was among the casualties when Green Bay coach Ray Rhodes was unceremoniously fired at the end of last season.

But Lewis is credited with giving the Vikings true balance between run and pass, and Thomas' decision to reshuffle Minnesota's three starting linebackers -- Ed McDaniel, Kailee Wong and Dwayne Rudd -- is one reason the Vikes defense has kept the team in games despite a dearth of talent at certain positions.

"Emmitt Thomas is one of the few guys who has coached offense and defense in this league, just a fantastic coach," Green said. "Both of those guys have a lot of experience. Now they also bring continuity of the National Football Conference. A lot of years in the National Football Conference.

"I think it also helps us that they come directly, although it was only one year for Emmitt, out of the NFC Central. That was part of it, too, getting guys that had a strong familiarity with the (division) and that we played against."

STAY THE COURSE: Although the Vikings staff and roster has gone through changes, Lewis and Thomas had to buy into Green's offensive and defensive precepts.

Receiver Cris Carter said Green has used the same approach in gathering players.

"He's gotten players that he could plug into the system instead of just trying to arbitrarily say, "We want to be a running team; we want to be a passing team.' Teams like that don't have an identity. I think that's one thing he's established here," Carter said.

"He said, "We're going to be a high-scoring offense, we're going to have explosive players on the outside and we're going to be able to outscore teams,' and that's been our identity the whole time. This year, we're far more balanced than we have been in the past, but we still feel we're going to make more plays than the other team is going to make."

SAFETIES FIRST: Much like when the Bucs faced New England and safety Lawyer Milloy in the season-opener, today's game features two of the league's best safeties in John Lynch and Robert Griffith.

"Now they've got these words I hate like cover corner," Fox analyst John Madden said. "When you say cover corner, it usually means a guy who can't tackle, won't hit. It used to be a guy could tackle and hit and still be a corner. I guess the model for that guy is Deion Sanders. Kids in high school see that and it becomes a glamorous position.

"Colleges are throwing more, high schools are throwing more and there's not a hell of a lot of John Lynches out there. I think they would rather be Deion Sanders than John Lynch or Robert Griffith. But those are two guys who play the game the way it's suppose to be played."

NO NICKNAME NEEDED: Unlike his fellow starting receiver, Carter isn't much for alter egos. So, while Randy Moss calls himself the "Super Freak," Carter, 11 years Moss' senior, doesn't have any nicknames for himself.

"It's not really necessary," Carter said.

Does Moss refer to himself as "Super Freak" when talking to his mentor? Evidently not.

"He knows I'm a little beyond that," Carter said.

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