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Injury gives Edinger leg up in Vikings kicker competition

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Vikings may have found their
kicker.

Locked in a dead-even battle with Aaron Elling, Paul Edinger
kicked four field goals, including a 50-yarder to lead the Vikings
to a 19-16 exhibition victory over the San Diego Chargers on Friday
night.

Edinger, signed as a free agent after a disappointing season
with Chicago, got his chance after Elling hurt his leg during
warmups.

The biggest story for the Chargers was first-round pick Shawne
Merriman's sprained left knee in the first quarter. Merriman, the
12th overall choice in the draft, is listed as day-to-day and said
after the game that he didn't think the injury was that serious.

Daunte Culpepper continued his stellar preseason, going
12-for-14 for 197 yards, but failed to lead the Vikings to a
touchdown in just over 1½ quarters.

Edinger provided most of the scoring. His 50-yarder in the
second quarter easily sailed through the uprights, and he added
field goals of 25, 30 and 20 yards.

The Vikings signed Edinger away from the Bears in the offseason
to compete with Elling. He showcased impressive leg strength with
the long field goal and kickoffs that consistently reached the end
zone.

Chargers rookie Darren Sproles negated two of those strong
kickoffs with nifty returns. The speedy fourth-round pick zigzagged
his way to a 32-yard return in the first quarter, then ripped off a
42-yarder in the second quarter after spinning out of a tackle to
gain 10 more yards.

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer played his starters
sparingly in the team's second game in six days.

Quarterback Drew Brees played one series, going 4-for-6 for 64
yards, including a 16-yard pass to Keenan McCardell for a 7-0
Chargers lead.

LaDainian Tomlinson did not play and neither did All-Pro tight
end Antonio Gates, who sat out the first of a three-game suspension
that includes the season-opener against Dallas for missing a
team-imposed deadline to report to training camp on time.

Brees' backup, Philip Rivers, was unimpressive, completing 4 of
his 15 passes for 15 yards. Third-stringer Cleo Lemon was 14-of-19
for 136 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown to Carl Morris in the
fourth period.

Vikings coach Mike Tice got his first look at a revamped
offensive line, and it showed mixed results.

Four-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said Thursday he will have
surgery on his injured left hip, which likely will keep him out for
the season. Birk said he was willing to try and play with the pain
if the Vikings would guarantee his nearly $4 million salary in
2006, but the Vikings declined. That moved backup Cory Withrow to
starter at center, and Tice moved starting right guard Adam
Goldberg to the primary backup at center and both guard spots,
Chris Liwienski from right guard to left guard and inserted rookie
Marcus Johnson as the starter at right guard.

The new-look line yielded only one sack, but also opened up few
holes in the running game for Mewelde Moore, who started in place
of the injured Michael Bennett. Moore had six carries for 21 yards
before leaving in the second quarter with a sprained ankle.

Adimchinobe Echemandu scored the Vikings' only touchdown of the
game, a 1-yard plunge at the end of the second quarter.