Patrick Reusse: Udeze believes he must prove himself again

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2007 - 1:50 PM

The defensive end with a strong work ethic aims to make an impact after his season-ending injury in 2005 and his sack slump in '06.

MANKATO — The Southern Cal offense was a magnificent machine in its 28-14 victory over Michigan in the 2004 Rose Bowl.

Matt Leinart threw for 327 yards and was voted the game's MVP. Keary Colbert and Mike Williams combined for 14 receptions for 237 yards. The Trojans also had their choice of Reggie Bush and LenDale White as running backs.

For all this firepower, a case could be made that the best USC player on the field was defensive end Kenechi Udeze. He had three sacks, another tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Udeze entered the NFL draft after that junior season and was taken at No. 20 by the Vikings. Witnesses to that Rose Bowl performance offered congratulations to Scott Studwell, Mike Tice and the rest of the Vikings' decisionmakers for the Udeze selection.

Udeze started 15 games as a rookie and had an acceptable five sacks. Included was a forced fumble against Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich that led to a 77-yard touchdown rumble by Kevin Williams.

The Vikings had no reason for regrets after that first year. Udeze has had one sack and one major knee surgery in the two seasons since.

He was having a strong third game of the 2005 season against New Orleans when he injured the left knee. He missed the final 13 games and had surgery.

Udeze came back to start 15 games in 2006 for rookie coach Brad Childress. He led the team with 13 tackles for loss. He also tied for last with zero sacks.

"He was this close," Childress said Friday, when asked about Udeze's absence of a sack. " ... He's a good football player."

This was the coach's media session after the first practice of training camp, and "this close" was demonstrated by Childress holding an index finger and a thumb an inch apart.

Udeze was credited with 41 quarterback hurries. That's a subjective statistic kept by teams and not the NFL. But to hurry the quarterback 41 times and not stumble into a sack sounds as preposterous as Joe Mauer batting .331 with runners in scoring position in 2005 and totaling 55 RBI.

Nose tackle Pat Williams, in an interview with the Star Tribune's Mark Craig at minicamp time, said of Udeze's sack slump: "I think he let it bother him too much."

The Vikings' new regime decided not to resign Lance Johnstone after the 2005 season. He was the right-side pass rusher and led the '05 Vikings with 7½ sacks.

The plan was for Erasmus James to fill Johnstone's role. James suffered a knee injury in the second game, and Udeze became a right-side fixture.

That's the blind side for most quarterbacks. That's where the sacks are supposed to come from. So, yes, getting none, for a player with Udeze's proud USC pedigree ... it had to bother him.

"I can't describe what was going on [with no sacks]," he said. "All I can say is that will never happen again."

Udeze's original contract has two seasons left. Yet, once the bonus money is paid, all power in the NFL goes to management. There's a sense around the Vikings that Udeze must make an impact in 2007 or he could be down the road.

Big year, sir?

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