Randy Moss didn't waste any time creating an uproar this preseason. His admission that he has used marijuana during his NFL career created the bad press that always seems to find him. When the news broke, the Minnesota Vikings' brass must have enjoyed a laugh. That public relations crisis was the Oakland Raiders' problem thousands of miles away.
It's now the post-Randy Moss, post-distraction era in Minnesota, and this team might be better without one of the game's best wide receivers. The Vikings committed this offseason to upgrading their woeful defense, bringing in five new starters. The vastly improved unit should be a big part of Minnesota's quest for its first division title since 2000.
Headlining the list of newcomers is former Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot, the only player to lead the Washington Redskins in interceptions for three consecutive seasons (2001-2003). He joins a defense that ranked worst in the NFC against the pass last season. Smoot and cornerback Antoine Winfield form the division's best cornerback duo.
"I want to show the NFL my worth," Smoot told reporters last month. "I'm now with a team that I can do that."
Joining Smoot in the revamped secondary is former Green Bay Packers safety Darren Sharper, who has more interceptions (31) than any player since 2000. Napoleon Harris (Moss trade) and Sam Cowart (trade with New York Jets) should provide veteran leadership for a linebacking corps that lacked it last season. Defensive tackle Pat Williams, at 317 pounds, will team with Pro Bowl selection Kevin Williams on the interior line.
How the Vikings' offense adjusts to Moss's departure is one of the biggest story lines in the NFL entering the season. New offensive coordinator Steve Loney still has weapons to work with. The most effective is quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who set the NFL record in 2004 for most combined passing and rushing yards in a season (5,123).
Wide receiver Nate Burleson is out to prove that he's a solid number one pass catcher. He racked up 1,006 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2004. Speedy rookie Troy Williamson (South Carolina) will have a chance to prove he was worth drafting ahead of Mike Williams.
The running back situation is a bit more complicated. Onterrio Smith's season-long suspension for substance abuse (remember the Whizzinator?) leaves Michael Bennett as the starter. He rushed for 1,296 yards in 2002 but needs to avoid the injuries that have plagued him the last two seasons. His season started inauspiciously in that regard when he suffered a minor neck injury in the preseason and missed some time.