Culpepper back behind center this week for Vikings

Updated: October 15, 2003, 8:11 PM ET

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Daunte Culpepper is done being a cheerleader. It's time to go back to work.

The Minnesota Vikings have emerged from a mini-vacation, looking forward to putting their perfect record on the line against one of the NFL's best teams -- and even more excited about Culpepper's return as starting quarterback.

"I feel great," said Culpepper, who hasn't played since the second quarter of on Sept. 21 against Detroit. That's when he broke three small bones, partially fracturing a fourth, in his lower back on a hit in the end zone.

Culpepper will start Sunday against Denver, with Gus Frerotte returning to his backup role.

"It doesn't bother me," said Frerotte, who filled in quite capably: 690 yards passing, seven touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2{ games.

Long hours in the training room at Winter Park helped accelerate the healing process, and although Culpepper still isn't 100 percent, he has secured the confidence of coach Mike Tice and his staff.

"He will be a little sore out there," Tice said. "But ... he is healthy enough."

The obvious question for Culpepper this week regards his -- and the Vikings' -- concern about sustaining another hit to the damaged area. Culpepper has had some contact in practice, however, and he insisted Wednesday that reinjuring his back isn't a worry.

"No, I feel good," Culpepper said. "I have an extra pad back there. I look at it as part of the game. I know I am going to get hit a few times."

His offensive line will be under plenty of pressure as it is, because the Broncos (5-1) bring one of the league's best defenses. They're led by a strong linebacking corps, though Pro Bowler Ian Gold is out for the season with a knee injury. Denver is second in the NFL in yards allowed (259 per game) and tied for third in sacks (17).

"They don't make mistakes, and they rally to the ball," Tice said.

After a forgettable 2002 season in which his 32 turnovers led the league, Culpepper started so strong in September that he was selected NFC Player of the Month despite only playing 2{ games. He threw for five touchdowns without an interception and completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 514 yards.

The Vikings are anticipating a transition just as smooth as when Frerotte took over.

"Very excited," said running back Onterrio Smith. "Not to take anything away from Gus. Gus came in, filled in real well for him, but to have Daunte back, that's big for us."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index