- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

MANKATO, Minn. Daunte Culpepper could draw stares simply by riding around Minnesota's training camp at Minnesota State-Mankato on a bright orange bike that looks too small for his 6-foot-4, 266-pound frame.
Culpepper obviously doesn't mind being noticed. That's good because probably no NFL player will be under closer scrutiny this year.
Coach Dennis Green's Vikings have made the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons with six different quarterbacks, but five of those six Rich Gannon, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Jeff George had extensive previous starting experience and the other Brad Johnson had been in Minnesota's system for five years.
Culpepper, Minnesota's top pick in the 1999 draft out of Central Florida, hasn't thrown a single NFL pass. But that didn't stop Green from entrusting him with the high-powered offense and opting not to re-sign 1999 star George. The Vikings also cut 1998 All-Pro Cunningham, who had led them to a 15-1 record and a league-record 556 points that season.
"Drafting Daunte No. 1 sent a message that we wanted to have a quarterback who was going to be here for a long time," Green said. "I tell Daunte that he doesn't have to design the car or fix the car. He just has to drive it and the system will do the rest."
Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Todd Steussie didn't disagree with Green's decision to elevate Culpepper and jettison the veterans.
"The way I looked at it was if Daunte's going to be the future, let the future be now," Steussie said.
That future got under way in Saturday's preseason opener at the Metrodome as Culpepper completed 8-of-14 passes for 140 yards, a touchdown and an interception and ran three times for 29 yards over five series while staking Minnesota to a 14-7 lead over New Orleans. Although Pro Bowl wideouts Cris Carter and Randy Moss were on hand, five of Culpepper's eight completions in the solid showing were to backs or tight ends and none of his throws were for more than 15 yards.
"There was a lot of pressure on Daunte," said Vikings offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis. "It was his first game as the starter, there was a full house and the Saints came after him. But he handled everything well. He didn't get rattled. He was very alert finding his hot reads [through audibles]. Daunte passed the first test. He's picking up things a lot quicker than I thought he would. We're being conservative right now because we're trying to get him off to a good start, trying to take as much pressure off him as we can. We just want Daunte to stay in the system and ride along."
The 23-year-old Culpepper agreed … at first.
"I have a lot of faith in the system," said Culpepper, who completed an NCAA record 73.6 percent of his passes as a Central Florida senior while becoming just the third quarterback to record 10,000 career passing yards and 1,000 career rushing yards. "As long as I'm successful, it doesn't matter to me whether people say it was because of the system. But I'm going to do my part to make sure that I'm successful. I'm looking for efficiency and consistency. If those two words are with my name, the statistics [Vikings quarterbacks completed 60 percent of their passes for 8,810 yards, 73 touchdowns and 37 interceptions the past two years] will take care of themselves and we'll have a winning season."
But Culpepper, who wound up at Central Florida when the major powers backed off because of his shaky grades as a high school junior in Ocala, Fla., quickly made it plain that he's no aw-shucks type.
"I want to be the best to ever lace up the cleats," said Culpepper, the fourth passer taken [11th overall] in the quarterback-rich 1999 draft. "You've got to prepare to be the best and that's what I'm doing. I know the system backwards and forwards. I know where everybody's supposed to be on every play. I had to do that before I got into a game. I also had to make sure that I came to camp in very good shape. I'll go the extra mile to be the best I can be and to make my team the best. I'm a winner. I can throw deep, intermediate and short. I can run if I need to. The time is going to come when those teams who passed on me in the draft will be sorry that they did. I have a lot of faith in Denny and he has a lot of faith in me. I'm going to show everybody that he made the right decision."

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