Tice puts onus on Robbins

Updated: October 15, 2003, 9:06 PM ET

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Most Minnesota fans could easily come up with one of the two longest-tenured members of the Vikings' defense.

That's Chris Hovan, the flame-haired, motor-mouthed tackle who's becoming one of the top pass rushers in the league and also appears in a television commercial for a popular national pizza chain.

But what about the other one?

It's Fred Robbins, the man who plays next to Hovan on the line. Though he was drafted in 2000 (one round behind Hovan) and has started 32 of a possible 37 games since the 2001 season began, Robbins remains one of the most anonymous players on the team.

A run-stopper who isn't asked to provide much of a pass rush, Robbins has shown steady improvement in the last two years. Sunday might be his biggest test yet.

"Fred Robbins needs to have a great game for us to be successful," coach Mike Tice said Wednesday. "We pointed that out in the team meeting."

The Vikings play the Denver Broncos, who have one of the best offensive lines in the league. Clinton Portis rushed for more than 1,500 yards as a rookie last year, and he ranks fourth in the AFC with 479 yards rushing on just 84 carries -- an average of 5.7 yards per carry.

Denver's line is undersized, especially compared to Minnesota's. Tackle Ephraim Salaam, guard Ben Hamilton (a former Gophers standout), center Tom Nalen, guard Dan Neil and tackle Matt Lepsis are listed at 295 pounds, 283, 286, 285 and 290.

The total is 1,439 pounds -- 185 less than the Vikings' starting five. That's an average of 37 pounds per player.

But the Broncos use an almost-strictly zone blocking scheme, which means the linemen are responsible for blocking an area rather than a specific opponent. They rely on a lot of cut blocking, which is what Robbins will have to watch out for at nose tackle.

"It is a great scheme," Tice said.

After Tice's comments, there were a throng of TV cameras surrounding Robbins at his cubicle in the locker room -- a familiar sight when Hovan is talking, but not for Robbins.

"I've just got to go out there and continue to play hard," he said. "It's always easy to get the blood flowing with a challenge like that. I look forward to it."

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^INJURY REPORT:@ Daunte Culpepper is back as the No. 1 quarterback this week, even though he's still listed on the injury report as probable. The bye week also helped linebacker Chris Claiborne heal. He's listed as probable with a sore shoulder.

Defensive tackle Billy Lyon, who was limited in practice Wednesday and didn't wear pads, is still bothered by a calf injury and is questionable for Sunday.

Tice said he was most concerned about wide receiver D'Wayne Bates (questionable, foot) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (probable, shoulder). Henderson will play Sunday, Tice said, but Bates is probably still a week away. Bates, however, participated in all of Wednesday's practice and made progress, said trainer Chuck Barta.

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^NICK'S BACK:@ Wide receiver Nick Davis completed a grueling, four-month rehabilitation from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Davis, currently on the physically unable to perform list, was back at practice on Wednesday.

"I'm ready to go," he said.

Running back Michael Bennett, also on the PUP list, is "moving along wonderfully," Tice said. The target date for his return is Nov. 2 against Green Bay.

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