EDEN PRAIRIE (AP) -- Minnesota's defense continues to look less and less like it did the last few seasons.
Former starting cornerback Robert Tate was released Tuesday, leaving just 14 of 32 defensive players currently on the roster who were Vikings a year ago. Only seven were on the team in 2000 and just two -- Tyrone Carter and Talance Sawyer -- played for Minnesota as recently as 1999.
But the Vikings' defense has ranked near the NFL's bottom for the last few seasons, including 27th last year, so changes are going to have to be more than cosmetic.
Tate aggravated an old shoulder injury last season that made it difficult to jam opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage and essentially lost his job to rookie Eric Kelly.
With Kelly and free agent signee Corey Chavous set to start, Tyrone Carter having made a successful switch from safety and the coaching staff high on rookie Brian Williams, Tate was buried on the depth chart.
As with early in-camp cuts tight end Johnny McWilliams, cornerback Kenny Wright and quarterback Spergon Wynn, the Vikings believe they're doing Tate a favor by releasing him a week before the deadline for teams to reduce their rosters to 65 players.
"There were a whole lot of different reasons why," coach Mike Tice said. "He was not going to crack the top eight (defensive backs) if we kept eight, and he was even going to have a hard time cracking the top nine.
"I think it's more fair to him to let him go now, before there are all kinds of guys on the street (next) Tuesday. He'll get picked up right away probably."
Tate, 28, was drafted as a wide receiver out of Cincinnati in the sixth round in 1997 and used mostly as a kick returner until switching permanently to cornerback midway through the '99 season to help out a struggling defense.
He started the last three games, including two in the playoffs, that year and played the entire 2000 season, leading the team in passes defended (13) and tying for the team lead in interceptions (2).
Tate was well-liked by his teammates, and he was a favorite of Tice's 15-year-old daughter, Adrienne.
"Anytime you cut a kid you really admire, it's tough," Tice said. "You don't sleep well the night before knowing you're going to do it, and you have a bad day."
But football's a business.
"I've coached a lot of guys who I'm not coaching anymore who are still in the league," said defensive coordinator Willie Shaw. "Sometimes coaches leave, sometimes players leave, but there's always that transition. We've got a lot of good young defensive corners who've made a lot of progress."
Like Kelly, for one. He's not happy to see Tate go, but he realizes the decision means the team has faith in his ability.
"They did what they had to do," Kelly said. "It's the way this game goes, I guess. We've all had friends get cut before. It's not like I'm never going to talk to him again. I'm sure I'll still keep in touch."
Notes: ESPN Classic was at Winter Park Tuesday to do interviews for a "Sports Century" feature on Randy Moss. ... The Vikings essentially went into regular-season mode Tuesday, holding a brief late morning walkthrough before a full practice in the afternoon. They play the Tennessee Titans Friday night at the Metrodome, their third preseason game. ... Absent from practice were RB Doug Chapman (toe), WR Kenny Clark (back), DT Winfield Garnett (hamstring), LB Isaac Keys (ankle) and TE O.J. Santiago (knee). LBs Raonall Smith (shoulder) and Lemanski Hall (eye) watched but didn't participate in drills. DL Willie Howard had an upset stomach, and OT Lewis Kelly sustained a contusion to his left lower leg. ... Clark will see a doctor Wednesday. ... Chapman's recovery has been slow. He won't play Friday. ... Releasing Tate brought the Vikings' roster down to 81, including holdout offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.