One position that has really impressed Vikings coaches during the various offseason workouts is safety, where there is likely to be more competition than any other this training camp.

"That's the tightest position, with Madieu Williams, Terrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford all playing well," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.

The defensive backfield as a whole has impressed Childress, who also likes what he has seen at cornerback.

"I've seen Asher Allen take a jump here in his second year at the corner position, and he and Lito Sheppard and Benny Sapp got a pretty good competition going on. ... All of those guys that I just mentioned have the ability to play corner and nickel, so I like that group."

On the defensive line, Childress said Letroy Guion, starting his third year, has made a pretty good jump.

Ryan Cook, who at this point has lived up to expectations after being drafted in the second round in 2006, continues to play guard and also back up John Sullivan at center. Childress said he likes some of the things he has seen Cook do this offseason.

"He's a big guy that's not getting to get pulled and pushed around in there, and of course we like his athleticism in there," Childress said. "... You always reserve judgment, and you can't make these decisions going around in shorts and T-shirts and helmets, but you always want to see what happens when the big boys show up and start knocking it around and what their stamina is like. And it's like Bud Grant told me, you're greatest ability is durability."

One of the surprises to date has been tackle Bill Noethlich, a rookie free agent out of Southwest Minnesota State.

"You know, he's got some guys in front of him. I don't think we'll get to see the true side of him, really, until the pads come on and watch him thump people, because he is a bigger guy," Childress said. "Obviously he's training in the special teams area right now, but those are full-speed collisions that happen, we don't require a lot of those right now."

The Vikings are also looking at some former Gophers players. On wide receiver Logan Payne, who has previously played for the Seahawks, Childress said: "He's been through a couple of camps before and Seattle's system is very similar to this one, so it's pretty seamless for him to come in here. He gave us a good week of practice this past week. He should be a decent special teams guy because that's where he was always going to make the team at Seattle."

Childress said ex-Gophers cornerback Marcus Sherels "is doing some great things back there. I know he didn't stay healthy for the Gophers last year, but he's really got good quickness and he's got some return capability as well."

Asked about the chances of linebacker E.J. Henderson playing early in the season after breaking his leg last December, Childress said: "I can't say enough good things about E.J. He's above the curve in terms of that injury and he has been out there stretching with us. He has been running indoors on the treadmill. He's back to strength training, so that [leg] has mended, and now it's a matter of having the strength back on top of that. So he's come a long, long way in a short period of time, and yet still has a ways to go."


Brian Lawton, the former North Stars player recently fired as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, believes that if the Wild is interested in signing some free agents with local ties that two great players are available this NHL offseason in Paul Martin, the former Gophers defenseman from Elk River who is regarded as the Devils' top blueliner, as well as Matt Cullen, the former St. Cloud State standout from Virginia, Minn., who ended the season with the Senators after getting traded from the Hurricanes in February. Between Carolina and Ottawa, Cullen had 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 points this season. ... Lawton wants to stay in hockey and he no doubt could help some club. Lawton revealed that after Jacques Lemaire left the Wild last year, he tried bring Lemaire to Tampa Bay, but Lemaire chose to return to New Jersey instead.

Wild officials were in Toronto last week to watch the top 100 prospects for the upcoming 2010 NHL draft perform at the NHL scouting combine. The Wild staff had the opportunity to meet and interview prospects, as well as see them tested in an off-ice setting. The Wild reported that Blaine's Nick Bjugstad, ranked by NHL Scouting as the No. 13 North American skater available, had an impressive combine, coming up near the top on several strength tests, including the second-highest pull strength score at 307 pounds. Also at the combine, Cretin-Derham Hall's Mark Alt recorded the top score with a vertical jump of 31.8 inches.

Tom Dasovich is leaving Henry Sibley to become the new Minnetonka boys' basketball coach. Henry Sibley team lost in the semifinals of the Class 4A state tournament last year to Hopkins and the year before to Minnetonka.

The first Twins outdoor fireworks show since 1981 will take place following the July 2 game against Tampa Bay, with another display on Aug. 13 against Oakland. ... Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, fifth-place finisher Scott Dixon and NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya will throw out ceremonial first pitches at the Twins-Rockies game June 16. All three have Target as sponsors under car owner Chip Ganassi. Dixon and Montoya are both former Indy 500 winners. ... The 50 greatest Twins will be honored during the 50th anniversary weekend at Target Field September 3-5.

John-Blair Bickerstaff is the only Timberwolves assistant coach whose contract expired after last season, but the former Gophers naturally is hoping to stay with the team. Several other Wolves executives also are on the last year of their contracts, including Jim Stack, Rob Babcock, Zarko Durisic and Jerry Sichting. They will no doubt be employed until the draft later this month. But it will be interesting to see how many of them retain their jobs after that.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. •