Vikings deep at running back

8/10/2004 - Minnesota Vikings

MANKATO, Minn. -- Five observations on the Minnesota Vikings, based on practices and scrimmages.

1. There may be some growing pains for the defense, but there shouldn't be any on offense. All the parts are in place for a great season. It's hard to do better than being the No. 1 offense, but the Vikings are going to try. Randy Moss should be even more dangerous now that cornerbacks won't be able to clutch and grab him after five yards. Strategically, the plan is to put more big-play ability in the backfield and on the other side of the field at wide receiver. Marcus Robinson was signed to give Daunte Culpepper a big target with speed on the other side of Moss. The healthy return of Michael Bennett to the backfield should also cause problems. "Marcus is a big-play guy and he's needed," Culpepper said. "I saw one time a defense tried to double pressure Moss at the line of scrimmage like he was on a punt team. Two guys were pressing him and another guy was waiting for him over the top. Obviously, I threw the ball to the other side. But if Robinson can draw attention because he's big and fast, it gets some one-on-one situations for Randy." Bennett's assignment is to scare defenses with his speed. He's fast enough to be able to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the 100 meter and 200 meter, but he stayed in the offseason program focusing on football. "We can open up a lot of things on the offense because any of us can go deep," Bennett said. "Whenever they try to bring the safety up to stop the running game, we are going to hit them with some intermediate or long passes to Randy or Marcus. If they load up on them, we can gash them with the run."

2. The Vikings are almost too deep at running back. Michael Bennett has regained all of his explosiveness from his Pro Bowl season of two years ago. Onterrio Smith looks more defined in his running decisions. His style is like Emmitt Smith. Fourth-round choice Mewelde Moore is quick and explosive. Moe Williams is a solid veteran backup who is invaluable to winning teams. Larry Ned may be the fifth back, but he'd be a good backup on some team.

3. Antoine Winfield is the real deal at cornerback. The knock on him is that he doesn't make many interceptions, but he sure makes plays. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell calls him the best tackler he's been around. He's a tough, physical coverage cornerback, and just the other day he had two picks. Brian Williams also seems to be growing with confidence on the other side of the field.

4. Going back to the receivers, the Marcus Robinson experiment needs to get going soon or Nate Burleson will get the No. 2 receiver job. Robinson has been slowed by hamstring problems and is getting no timing work done with quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Randy Moss is bigger, stronger and more dangerous on the other side. The Vikings want big-play ability to take some double and triple coverage away from Moss. Robinson needs to start showing it.

5. In a little over a year, the Vikings have gone from one of the slowest linebacking corps to one of the fastest. Chris Claiborne, who used to play in the 270-pound range, is down to 253 and looks quick. Looking even quicker are middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and outside linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. Thomas, a second-round choice, is a freak. He's up to 250 pounds and he runs a 4.4 40. The Vikings have the ability to chase down anyone.

Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com.