Tice Becoming More Coach Than Player

As Mike Tice pushes the concept of using the most productive players on the field, now, more than ever, he seems to be more of a coach than a former player.

Coach Mike Tice didn't stand up to Randy Moss a month ago when Moss demanded he play in two games despite a strained right hamstring. But on Sunday, Tice pulled two of the biggest power moves of his young coaching career when he deactivated defensive tackle Chris Hovan and yanked perfectly healthy running back Michael Bennett out of the offense for all but two plays.

A double standard, you ask?

Yes, but there's a reason for it. Moss is one of the most productive players in NFL history. Bennett and Hovan haven't produced squat this season, or for the last two seasons, for that matter.

Tice's moves not only helped the Vikings beat Jacksonville 27-16, they also signaled a turning point in Tice's coaching career. Slowly but surely, he is making the transition from former 14-year player to head coach, without the benefit of having ever been a head coach or even a coordinator before getting his current job.

"It's tough on me," Tice said of dealing with unproductive players who used to produce. "I don't like to do it.

"But guys who make the most plays have got to be on the field. Guys who don't make the most plays have to be sitting next to me on the sidelines."

Hovan's case is particularly delicate. Tice gave his starting job to undrafted rookie free agent two weeks ago. Last week, Hovan stood on the sideline with his hooded sweatshirt pulled tightly over his head, looking too ashamed to even show his face.

Tice has tried everything to jumpstart Hovan's dormant career. Finally, he couldn't tolerate continuing to de-activate Johnson while waiting for Hovan to make a play.

"Spencer Johnson is a playmaker," Tice said. "He gets off blocks better than any defensive lineman we have."

That's saying something, considering the Vikings have three first-round draft picks invested there. Hovan is one of them (2000), but he is the worst of the defensive linemen when it comes to getting off blocks. He has only 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks this season.

It's ironic that Hovan was inactive on the same week that Packers QB Brett Favre was honored on Monday Night Football during his 200th consecutive regular season start. A couple of years ago, Hovan made a name for himself nationally when he sparked a war of words with Favre.

Hovan has proved to be nothing but talk. He might not play another game for the Vikings. He is a free agent at the end of the season and has already put his house on the market.

Bennett still might have a future with the team, but he doesn't figure to play much the rest of this season. When Bennett had only 154 all-purpose yards in six games while rotating with Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore, the Vikings couldn't wait for his big-play potential to arrive.

So Tice named Smith his featured back and gave him 20 of the 21 carries by running backs in the Jaguars game. Bennett caught one pass for 5 yards.

As early as three weeks ago, the Vikings were still hopeful that the speedy Bennett would become their featured back. But he didn't produce. The final straw came at the end of the Lions game three weeks ago. Bennett had a hole and a shot to turn on his speed. He hesitated and was dropped for a minimal gain.

Smith runs hard and gets the tough yards that Bennett doesn't. That's important now because the offensive line is patched together because of injuries.

Tice made his decision based on what was best for the team, not whether it would make Bennett pout (which it has). Decisions like that one and the one on Hovan are good signs for a coach who basically has had to learn on the job the last three seasons.




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