Saturday, August 16, 2003

Matured Moss becoming leader after dismal season

Catches, stats no longer are important

By Dave Campbell
The Associated Press

MANKATO, Minn. - The Randy Ratio didn't quite add up for Minnesota.

Coach Mike Tice's cleverly titled plan to make Randy Moss feel wanted, a goal of throwing 40 percent of the team's passes to his superstar wide receiver, was shelved midway through a trying 6-10 season.

With the Vikings already going south in the standings, Moss was arrested for bumping a traffic cop with his car in late September.

Without Cris Carter or any other consistent pass-catching threat around to alleviate the double coverage, Moss had to transform himself into a possession receiver as well as a deep threat. He finished with a career-low seven touchdowns despite 106 receptions and struggled to find a rhythm with quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who led the league with 32 turnovers.

What's more, Moss wasn't all that interested in the plan anyway.

"I didn't really care much about the Randy Ratio when it was brought up," Moss said. "I just wanted to win."

Moss has made as many headlines as anyone since he entered the NFL in 1998. He's as well-known for comments about playing hard when he feels like it and off-the-field ordeals as he is for an amazing ability to separate from the secondary and haul in a 65-yard touchdown pass and leap high above the defense to make a tough catch in traffic.

Something is different this season, though. The Randy Ratio is in the Vikings' rearview mirror, and so are - it seems - the other distractions that have accompanied Moss' never-dull first five years in the league.

Instead, everyone's talking about who's going to run the ball while Michael Bennett is injured and whether the defense will be decent enough to keep Minnesota competitive.

"I can see the determination in everybody's eyes, starting with the veterans all the way down to the rookies," Moss said. "We even have our owner fired up."

Yes, Moss is flying under the radar, which is the way the intensely private receiver would like it. He has spoken to the media only once, on the first day of camp, but he sported a smile, not a scowl, as he walked around the Minnesota State campus where the Vikings train.

A 7-year-old girl from South Dakota, Kassi Spier, whom Moss befriended as a rookie, followed him to lunch just about every day - with her tiny hand tucked inside his.

"Even last year when I met him, I thought he was very mature," said receiver D'Wayne Bates. "This year he's definitely showed a lot of maturity. I think he's been a lot more quiet. Most of the stuff he does is on the field. Off the field, he kind of does his own thing. No one really sees him until practice and meetings."

Moss made a big impression by faithfully attending the Vikings' offseason strength and conditioning program, adding about five pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and setting an example along the way as a legitimate leader.

"That just shows he is growing up," Culpepper said. "Moss, he's just realizing he's a leader and he has to do it day in and day out. He leads by example, and he's understanding that more and more every day, and I'm glad to be playing with him."

Moss? Mature?

"There are a lot of veterans and a lot of guys you'll see on other teams who don't stick around to help the other players," said receiver Kelly Campbell. "But he's not like that. He does a good job with the younger players. Anything I need help on or have questions on, I'll go to Randy and he'll tell me what to do. I look at Moss as a big brother."

Tice admitted he shouldn't have advertised the Vikings' offensive strategy last season, but that wasn't his intention.

"It was a motivational tool that I was using for the player to try to have him understand, 'You need to be the guy,' " Tice said. "The complaint from him, when I met with him privately, was that this team didn't think he was the guy. That was my way of trying to motivate him and say he was the guy.

"It was two more balls a game. It wasn't like it was a dozen more throws. So it kind of got blown out of proportion."

Randy Moss' career statistics

1998Minnesota Vikings161169131319.0611714
1999Minnesota Vikings161680141317.767118
2000Minnesota Vikings161677143718.778158
2001Minnesota Vikings161682123315.073104
2002Minnesota Vikings1616106134712.76076

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