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Cornerback Chris Cook (31) started five games as a rookie in 2010, which tied for most on the team.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

VIKINGS AT THE NFL COMBINE • WEDNESDAY-TUESDAY • INDIANAPOLIS

Search begins now for rookies who can step in

  • Article by: JUDD ZULGAD
  • Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2011 - 12:58 AM

Vikings officials faced few pressing questions at the NFL scouting combine last February. Brett Favre hadn't decided whether to return, but the assumption was that he would be back and all the starters from a team that had made the NFC Championship Game would remain on the roster.

A year later, that stability is long gone.

The Vikings brass arrived in Indianapolis this week not knowing when the NFL season might start -- a work stoppage will occur March 3 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place -- but fully aware that many issues will need to be addressed before that happens.

And that goes well beyond the quarterback position, which has remained a main topic of conversation since the team completed a 6-10 season Jan. 2 with a loss at Detroit.

"We're going to be a younger team for sure going into next season," vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said. "Rookies are going to get forced into action. They are going to have to step up and play. I also have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and their history of developing young guys and getting them ready to play."

Even if the Vikings were coming off a successful season, change would have been inevitable. The Vikings began 2010 with the third-oldest roster in the league with an average age of 27.38 years, and there are 20 players who are set to become unrestricted or restricted free agents.

Spielman and new coach Leslie Frazier, who took over on an interim basis in November when Brad Childress was fired and was named to the full-time position one day after the season ended, come to the combine knowing this draft might have to produce some players who can step in quickly.

A potential NFL lockout next week would wipe out the start of free agency and it's anyone's guess as to when that period might begin. If that's the case, the only thing that will be assured will be that the league will hold its draft April 28-30 in New York City.

In addition to quarterback, the Vikings' potential areas of need include the offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker and the secondary. In fact, more than one mock draft has the Vikings' using the 12th-overall pick in the first round to take a defensive end to replace Ray Edwards, who could depart as a free agent depending on what happens with the CBA.

"Last year's draft was done because we had everybody back," Spielman said. "It was done for ... I wouldn't say depth, it was done for the future. Some of those guys -- when you had as much depth as we had, you had the veteran roster we had -- those guys were going to be role players for you. ... They didn't have as many opportunities as some of the veterans we had in front of them. Those guys we are relying on next year to take that step, plus what's coming in in this year's draft class."

The Vikings' eight draft picks last season started a total of 13 games. Cornerback Chris Cook, taken in the second round, and guard Chris DeGeare, a fifth-rounder, led with five starts apiece. By comparison, the Vikings' five picks in 2009 started a combined 28 regular-season games. Right tackle Phil Loadholt made 15 of those.

The Vikings have seven picks in the seven-round draft, including an extra selection in the fifth round that was obtained in the trade that sent quarterback Sage Rosenfels and running back Darius Reynaud to the Giants last summer. The Vikings shipped their third-round pick to New England in the trade for wide receiver Randy Moss, but Spielman made it clear he's hoping to deal for a third-rounder.

The Vikings college scouts arrived at Winter Park on Feb. 13 to start preparing their draft board and get ready for the combine. Spielman and Co. already talked to all of the top seniors at the Senior Bowl in late January, except for one player, who according to Spielman, "blew us off."

The combine, however, will give the Vikings a chance to get another session with those players, as well as interview the prospects who decided to leave school early.

"This year you're going to have to bring in new players and younger talent," Spielman said. "It's exciting, it's a challenge. I know it's something the coaches and our scouts and [director of college scouting Scott] Studwell's down there with our college guys, we're sitting there hacking away at all these guys. With so many guys potentially not being here next year, these [rookies] are going to have to step up and fill in and play for you."

Staff writer Chip Scoggins contributed to this report.

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