BY SEAN JENSEN Pioneer Press Article Last Updated: 06/03/2007 10:14:05 PM CDT
After the final practice of the mandatory minicamp, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield insisted he would continue to be more absent than present at Winter Park this offseason.
Winfield has been mum about what perturbs him, but he shed some light on at least two concerns: the lack of moves to address the offense this offseason and the inexperience of skill-position players.
"Pretty much, I'm going to do this thing on my own," Winfield said. "I don't feel like I really need to be around here. I pretty much know the defense now. I know what I need to work on when I'm away from here.
"I don't think anything is going to change," added Winfield, who made clear he will not attend this week's organized team activities. "They're not going to bring in Peyton Manning or anything like that."
Winfield doesn't expect dramatic changes to the lineup before players are expected to report to training camp, which he reiterated he will attend.
"The team is not going to change," he said.
After the Manning mention, Winfield made clear that he believes in quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
"I always did," Winfield said. "I thought he has the skills to play at this level. He has a great arm. He's definitely picking up on his offense a lot better, getting the ball out of his hands fast, going through his reads. I definitely have a lot of confidence in him."
But Winfield expressed concern about Jackson's inexperience, as well as that of many other key offensive players.
While he didn't specifically name any of them, Winfield doesn't really have to: Ryan Cook, a college center, will continue his acclimation to right tackle as a second-year player; the most experienced receiver, Bobby Wade, has just 18 starts and two career touchdowns; the team's new tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe, has 23 NFL starts and three career touchdowns; and the team's newest offensive weapon, Adrian Peterson, is a rookie.
"We still have a long way to go. I know they have two weeks of OTAs, another month before training camp starts," Winfield said. "They're taking strides. They're a young group on offense - the receivers, Tarvaris. It's all about experience, getting out there, getting a chance to see things."
Winfield has seen plenty in his eight NFL seasons, the first five with the offense-deprived Buffalo Bills. In 2003, he signed with the Vikings because they offered him a six-year, $35 million contract that included a $10.8 million bonus, and because they offered him a chance to play opposite a dynamic offense, featuring quarterback Daunte Culpepper and receiver Randy Moss.
Those veterans are gone, taking with them one of the league's most explosive offenses. Last season, the Vikings offense ranked 23rd, and the team was 26th in points scored.
Winfield turns 30 in a few weeks.
Although the possibility of landing Manning is farfetched, was Winfield disappointed that the Vikings didn't bolster their offense - or team - with big-name free agents?
The Vikings had more salary-cap room than nearly every team heading into this offseason, and now they have a league high in space after acquiring younger, unproven players such as Shiancoe and Wade, instead of available veterans such as tight ends Daniel Graham or Randy McMichael and receivers Drew Bennett, Donte Stallworth, Joe Horn or even Ashley Lelie (the Vikings did try hard to sign Kevin Curtis, who ended up with the Philadelphia Eagles).
The Vikings also never mounted a serious push to address another glaring need - a speedy pass rusher - by passing on Patrick Kerney.
Asked if personnel was the issue, Winfield said, "I'm not going to go into that.
"I'll leave that one alone."
Vikings coach Brad Childress said he didn't have a meeting scheduled with Winfield. But Childress said players appeared to have moved on from the disappointment of last season's 6-10 record.
"I think time has a way of doing that," he said. "If you don't remember, though, you're condemned to repeat, so they can't have complete amnesia. We have to move forward, but we have to remember some of the reasons we won six games."
Childress said his job is to create a "competitive environment."
One of the positives of the minicamp was Winfield's chance to get to better acquaint himself with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. He applauded Frazier's personality and communication skills.
As for Frazier, he said Saturday that he does not hold Winfield's absence against him.
"You can't take it personally," Frazier said. "It's not a mandatory deal, so it's a guy's prerogative, and you have to live with it. That's the rules."
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