MANKATO -- Shawn Worthen thought he had set his expectations high, but his own first act will be a tough one to follow.
The Minnesota Vikings' fourth-round draft pick from Texas Christian not only started at nose tackle in his first professional game, he picked up two sacks in their 28-21 exhibition victory over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night.
"We had to beat it in his head today that it's the pre-season," Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone said Monday morning. "It didn't count."
Among those who matter to Worthen, it counted for plenty. The Vikings coaching staff seems set to stick with the 6-foot, 320-pound rookie, whose quick feet have helped him make a lasting impression in a hurry.
Randy Moss didn't even start in his first regular-season game, but Worthen might. When Minnesota plays host to Carolina on Sept. 8, Worthen could become the first Vikings rookie to start in a season opener since offensive tackle Todd Steussie and cornerback Dewayne Washington in 1995. He is certain to at least start again Thursday, when the Vikings play an exhibition game against Pittsburgh.
"We haven't started many rookies ... but we're going to start Shawn," coach Dennis Green said. "We think he can hold up at nose, and that gives us a chance with (Chris) Hovan at (the opposite) tackle. Hovan is very good under tackle because he likes to have a little bit of freedom of movement."
Green compares Worthen to ex-Viking Jerry Ball, another squatty-bodied nose tackle.
"When we drafted him, I said he's a center's nightmare," Green said.
The Vikings are hoping the unexpected combination of Worthen and Hovan will ease the loss of John Randle, who left as a free agent for the Seattle Seahawks. Fernando Smith, penciled in as a starting tackle, becomes a substitute for starting ends Lance Johnstone and Talance Sawyer.
The group combined for six of the team's seven sacks against the Saints, though they had little contact following Korey Stringer's death.
Worthen came to camp hoping just to eventually become part of the rotation.
"I saw this as being one of my goals," Worthen said. "I envisioned it happening, but maybe not this quick."
A two-sack debut, exhibition or not, had to be beyond Worthen's wildest imagination. Nose tackles usually tie up blockers while the ends and outside linebackers go get the sacks. Worthen had two sacks once in his 33 college starts, against Arizona to open the 1999 season, and just 7 1/2 during his career.
Worthen had to admit the Saints were single-teaming him when he got the sacks, showing him less respect than he received during most of his WAC career.
"When I get singled, it's like Christmas," Worthen said, who added that he isn't sure what should be expected from him as a Viking. "I'm still trying to figure this whole thing out as it goes. This was just my first game."
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