New Vikings coach Mike Tice has a plan to get the most out of enigmatic Randy Moss
In their first year with a team, head coaches are allowed to hold an extra minicamp and 14 developmental sessions during the off-season so they can install their systems. Veterans aren't required to attend, but most usually do. When new Vikings coach Mike Tice recently told wideout Randy Moss—hardly the definition of a team player during his first four years in the league—that he wanted him at both, Tice recalls Moss saying, "I'm down with you, dog. I'll be there."
Is there a new Moss in the house? We'll see. The season doesn't kick off for five more months, but Tice has made all the right moves with the enigmatic wide receiver, showing him who's boss while empowering him to feel like he's a major part of the rebuilding of an offense that plummeted to 24th in the league in scoring last season after ranking fifth the previous year.
Tice has instituted a few new rules, including at least one designed to get Moss's attention: no cellphones in the locker room or the trainers' room. Moss, observers says, was on his cell frequently in both places during the last couple of years. Now, Tice hopes, he'll converse with teammates instead. Tice has told Moss he wants him to be more of a leader. Leaders are good locker room guys, and good in meetings, too. Without being asked, Moss sat in on a pair of three-hour sessions with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Leaders also play hard, but Moss has led the league in dogging it the last two years. For example, in a game against the Titans last Dec. 9, by SI's count, Moss either jogged or walked off the line on 21 of the 54 plays he was on the field. That's not the kind of effort Vikings owner Red McCombs was looking for when he handed Moss an NFL-record $18 million signing bonus last July.
"Randy and I have met three times since the end of the season," Tice said last week at the NFL owners' meetings in Orlando. "He's with the program. Look, is he going to take a couple of plays off in a game? Sure. All receivers do. But he knows if it happens too much, I'll yank him. Then the s—- is going to fly between me and him, believe me.
"But when we met, Randy made a good point. In a lot of games last year he might get three balls thrown his way in the first quarter, one in the second, then none till the fourth. He needs to be the primary read more often. There were only five games last year when we threw the ball to Randy on 40 percent of our throws, and we were 4-1 in those games. This year, our offense will be built around Randy Moss."
Last season Moss caught a career-high 82 passes. Now, with fellow wideout Cris Carter gone, Moss should have his first 100-catch season, provided he stays healthy and plays hard. "From the film I watched," says Linehan, the offensive coordinator at Louisville last year, "Randy's been an outside receiver who ran mostly deep go routes and deep comebacks. This year, you'll see him line up wide, in the slot, in the backfield, and he'll be in motion a lot. We'll make it harder for a defense to find Randy."
Moss's career got off to a fast start: 308 catches and 53 touchdown receptions in four seasons. He has the talent to be in Jerry Rice's league—Rice averaged 98 catches a year in his fifth through 12th seasons—but only if he works as hard as Rice does. Time will tell if Tice can make Moss the complete player that his predecessor, Dennis Green, never could.
Drew Bledsoe's Future
Bills Have Cap Room, Need QB
"Last year at this time," Buffalo coach Gregg Williams said last week, "we had 38 players signed and were $19 million over the [salary] cap. This year, we've got 56 players under contract, and we're about $5 million under." Coincidentally, Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who lost his job to upstart Tom Brady after suffering a sheared blood vessel in his chest last year, is due to make $5 million in 2002. He'd be a nice fit for Buffalo, which has only Alex Van Pelt, mainly a backup in his seven seasons, in the picture. All parties—the Patriots, the Bills, Bledsoe and agent David Dunn—were mum on the subject last week, but it looks as though Buffalo and Cincinnati will be the only teams to make serious pitches for Bledsoe before the April 20-21 draft.