Notebook: Udeze still overcoming obstacles

Kenechi Udeze (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)

Defensive end Kenechi Udeze talked about his comeback, his struggles and the remaining obstacle left to overcome. Plus, more notes and quotes from minicamp.

Kenechi Udeze lined up for the Vikings' organized team activities last week for the first time since he put a February 2008 leukemia diagnosis in remission, but Friday was the first time Udeze talked about his comeback since taking the practice field.

"It feels really good to be back out here. I still have a couple things I need to work out with my own body, but for the most part I'm doing good," he said after his first minicamp practice.

Udeze appeared to take part fully in the generally non-contact practices at the mandatory minicamp and said he never doubted he would get to this point, despite chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

"I guess that's just the way I've been born and raised. I've had great coaches all throughout my life and they instilled everything in me that I needed to get through this. Besides that, coming from a great family. My mom has always been the provider and force behind our family. And then my older brother (Thomas Barnes), who you guys already know so much about, I think I've been training for this my whole life. I'm doing good. I'm really feeling great about everything. It's great to be back out here with the fellas."

"The fellas" felt the same way about seeing him out there.

"I mean this word as much as I can, but it is inspirational," said linebacker Ben Leber, who is the lead player for Vikings' visits to children's hospitals. "I think every person has been affected by cancer in some way or another. To see what somebody has to go through, it really truly is an inspiration to have him back out here. It's a great testament to his character. I can't wait to see him back at 100 percent."

"It's awesome. It's just an inspiration to everybody," said fellow defensive end Jared Allen. "Anytime anybody can survive that, let alone still play ball, is awesome."

But the road to Udeze's recovery was a long one, filled with challenges to overcome with a persistent soul.

Still, he said there was never a point when he wondered if he would be back on the practice field.

"I'd be lying to you if I said it was easy. There was never an easy point. The first time I went back to USC and started working out with the fellas, I fell – took two steps and I fell," Udeze said. "That's the only thing I'm really suffering from right now. That's why I really can't complain. I took small steps at first. Where I am now, I can't complain."

When he first was released from the hospital, the professional athlete was taking four to five naps a day, which he was told was normal. Now, he rarely needs a nap and said his sleeping patterns are back to normal.

"My weight and strength (now is) a little heavier than what it was before. It's a lot because of the neuropathy (defined as any disease of the nervous system). Neuropathy will pretty much slow you down with anything. When it sets in, your feet start getting really numb, really sensitive. It's hard to keep up with the level we're at out here. For the most part, I can't complain. I saw where I came from day one and where I am now, so I know it will get better with time. There is no structural damage. It's just neuropathy. It goes away in due time."

According to a certified athletic trainer not associated with the team, the neuropathy usual occurs in the feet and could go away in time if nerve endings weren't damaged from chemotherapy.

Udeze has no doubt that he'll be ready for training camp.

"There's only one more thing for me to do and that's to keep going. I can't take a day off, I can't take a second off. I'm still miles away from where I was before," he said. "Compared to other guys out here – Ray (Edwards), Jayme (Mitchell) and Jared (Allen) – I'm not in the same (category) right now, but that's what I'm working through. Until the first game, that's what I'm getting to."

Udeze returned to USC after he completed chemotherapy and started taking classes to complete his degree at the "very prestigious and well-balanced school." Even that was a challenge for him after five years away from the academia.

"It was tough, and going back into a normal lifestyle, I was told not to do anything for the first year and I just felt like that wasn't in my makeup. Whatever is thrown in front of me, I have to beat it and keep going," he said.

"Five years removed and you're doing stats and crunching numbers, it's not for everybody. It's not. Especially when you've been five years removed from college and you realize I haven't used much of anything I did in college. But it was great pursuing my academic degree, but it's good to be back out here."

"It's going to be tough, but I'm going to get through it."

BACKING T-JACK

Vikings coach Brad Childress made it a point to address Pat Williams' comments from last weekend. While appearing on Sirius NFL Radio, Williams said he tells Tarvaris Jackson all the time that he needs to work harder.

Childress defended Jackson's work ethic.

"Tarvaris Jackson is one of the hardest-working guys you're going to find in this 80-man roster, 85-man roster, just in terms of the time he spends here, the time he spends in the books, with the wide receivers, in the weight room, strength and conditioning. There (are) very few people that work as hard as he does in the offseason," Childress said. "I think that if you know Pat, you guys that cover him on a frequent basis, I've listened to Pat to talk Tarvaris about that since Tarvaris has been here. I'm not sure that his comments cast his criticism. He might say the same thing to me. So it takes on a little bit of different tone for me. I understand everybody wants opinions about everything. Sometimes are opinions are your own."

Childress said there was no need for him to talk to Williams on the subject because the defensive tackle was proactive.

"Pat came up to see me about it. He felt poorly about it," Childress said.

NOTES

  • Aundrae Allison took the first punt return during the special teams portion of practice, followed by Jaymar Johnson, Percy Harvin and Nick Moore. Harvin appeared to misjudge the first punt that came his way, which went out of bounds, but on an ensuing punt he flashed his speed, beat the contain to the sideline and turned it up field.

  • Vikings owner Zygi Wilf attended practice.

  • Albert Young, who spent last year on the practice squad, currently appears to be ahead of this year's undrafted rookie running back, Ian Johnson, for the third spot in the backfield.

  • Rookie linebacker Jasper Brinkley isn't getting much time with even the second-team defense, but was being used there in a four-linebacker set.

  • Second-year quarterback John David Booty had a couple of nice throws. First, he connected with Darius Reynaud on a seam route about 20 yards down the field. Then he laid out a perfect pass for Percy Harvin about 45 yards down the right sideline. The ball appeared to be a bit overthrown, but Harvin's speed allowed him to get under it.

  • Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe picked up where he left off last year, showing soft hands on a number of occasions, a big improvement from his struggles during his first season with the Vikings.

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