Offensive Line Still Not Settled

The starters will remain the same on Sunday, but the Vikings won't hesitate to pull any of them if they struggle, the same procedure they have been following all season long.

Thirteen weeks into the season, the offensive line remains the one place where things are unsettled.

The latest upheaval occurred Sunday at Detroit when Anthony Herrera, making his second start at left guard, was benched for a portion of the first half. Right guard Adam Goldberg, who had the highest grade among Vikings linemen on Nov. 27 against Cleveland, was taken out for part of the second half.

Chris Liwienski, the starter at left guard for the first nine games, substituted for both Herrera and Goldberg. Afterward, coach Mike Tice expressed his displeasure with the line and suggested that some type of rotation might be the only answer.

A day later, Tice toned down his comments and said he had made no decision about a rotation. He also admitted that a player such as Detroit standout tackle Shaun Rogers simply might be better than the Vikings inside players. At this point, Tice is right on that count.

Especially discouraging to the coaching staff Sunday was the fact Detroit had eight tackles for losses. Quarterback Brad Johnson only was sacked twice.

Staying out of the doghouse was right tackle Marcus Johnson, who was making his second start. The rookie was lifted on a couple of occasions the previous game against Cleveland as he committed five penalties, but he missed only one play against the Lions.

All indications are despite the problems, the Vikings will start the same five linemen for the third consecutive game on Sunday against St. Louis. That will feature Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Herrera at left guard, Melvin Fowler at center, Goldberg at right guard and Johnson at right tackle. Only McKinnie has started every game in 2005.

A key change will come on special teams, where veteran Darren Bennett has been re-signed. Bennett, 40, who was cut after averaging 38.2 yards on 14 punts in the preseason, replaces rookie Chris Kluwe for at least one week. Kluwe will miss Sunday's game because of a strained right knee, and it hasn't been determined when he will return.

The loss is a big one. Kluwe, signed by the Vikings just before the season after being let go by Seattle, is second in the NFC and fifth in the NFL with a 45.3-yard gross punting average. Bennett averaged 39.3 yards last season to rank 30th in the NFL.

Bennett, however, beat out punters Leo Araguz and Nick Murphy during a tryout on Tuesday at the Metrodome.

NOTES

  • RB Mewelde Moore aggravated his sprained right ankle against Detroit on a punt return but should be able to play Sunday. Don't be surprised if WR Nate Burleson handles return chores on punts.

  • RB Michael Bennett tweaked his ankle when he slipped on ice early this week but practiced Wednesday and should be fine.

  • WR Troy Williamson, inactive the past two weeks as the Vikings dressed four receivers, will be in uniform against St. Louis, according to coach Mike Tice.

  • LB Napoleon Harris, obtained from Oakland in the Randy Moss deal, along with the seventh overall pick that was used on WR Troy Williamson, will be in uniform Sunday after being inactive at Detroit. Harris has lost his job in the nickel defense but is needed because of injuries to special-teamers Heath Farwell and Laroni Gallishaw.

  • DT Kevin Williams did some on-field work Tuesday but still is expected to miss a second consecutive game Sunday because of a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. The Vikings hope Williams can return Dec. 18 against Pittsburgh. In the meantime, sixth-round pick C.J. Mosley will continue to start in his place. Mosley has 10 tackles and three sacks since Williams went out.

  • DL Spencer Johnson returned to play Sunday after missing six of seven games because of a knee injury. The coaching staff was comfortable enough with Johnson's performance that Eric Taylor was released from the active roster and re-signed to the practice squad. Taylor had been promoted last week and saw limited action at Detroit.

  • CB Fred Smoot has missed four games because of a fractured right collarbone. However, he has been doing some work in practice the last few weeks and might be able to play against the Rams. When Smoot does come back, don't be surprised if it's in a nickel role. Brian Williams has been playing well as the starter, and being the nickel back stands to reduce the amount of physical contact Smoot will have.

  • LB Heath Farwell is listed as questionable on the injury report because of a sprained left knee suffered at Detroit. Farwell, a special teams ace, has told coach Mike Tice he wants to play against St. Louis.

  • CB Laroni Gallishaw is out because of a sprained right ankle.

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