EDEN PRAIRIE (AP) -- Daunte Culpepper, whose next NFL pass will be his first, didn't back down from the appraisal.
"Yeah, I am cocky," the Minnesota Vikings' new quarterback said after sauntering to the sideline. "But I think if you were in my shoes, you'd be cocky, too."
That's because Culpepper, who took just six snaps last season, inherits a high-octane offense that features the NFL's best receiving tandem in Cris Carter and Randy Moss.
"I'm going to show people that Denny Green did the right thing drafting me ahead of Jevon Kearse." Daunte Culpepper, Vikings quarterback
Perhaps even more important is the man lining up behind him. Tailback Robert Smith has averaged nearly five yards a carry since 1997, best in the NFL, and is playing with big free agent bucks on the horizon.
"Those guys take a big load off me," Culpepper said.
Culpepper's well-qualified when it comes to the issue of weight.
Packing an incredible 266 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, Culpepper might just be the biggest quarterback in NFL history. He's definitely bigger than any of the Purple People Eaters, the Vikings' famed defensive lines of the 1960s and '70s.
"But I'm fast!" protested Culpepper, who's drawn comparisons to a young Randall Cunningham.
He had better be nimble, because Pro Bowl offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel are now in Tampa Bay, replaced by first-time starter Matt Birk and journeyman Corbin Lacina.
Culpepper, who threw for 11,412 yards at Central Florida, emerged from Minnesota's offseason of musical chairs as the starting quarterback after Dan Marino, Jeff George and Cunningham all rejected cut-rate offers.
The second-year pro is the eighth starting quarterback in coach Dennis Green's nine-year tenure.
"We're not asking Daunte to carry this team; all we're asking him is to do his part," Green said. "We've all got to do our parts."
Culpepper is the final member of last year's heralded quarterback class to take over an offense. Unlike Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Cade McNown, Akili Smith and Shawn King, Culpepper has a mandate to win without delay.
So, he spent his summer in Florida, training with Carter and Moss to get down their rhythm and timing.
"Daunte Culpepper is going to be a great quarterback," Carter declared. "It's just a matter of when."
Carter, who has hinted this might be his last season, is hoping it's now.
Amen, said Culpepper.
"I'm going to show people that Denny Green did the right thing drafting me ahead of Jevon Kearse," he insisted.
Also helping Culpepper are promising third receiver Matthew Hatchette and big fullback Jim Kleinsasser, who is 6-3, 280.
"I think that Jimmy is really ready to take the next step," Green said. "He is going to be used as a receiver, pass-blocker, run-blocker and also as a guy who can run the football. He is making a real strong case to be our short-yardage and goal-line runner, too."
Smith, who needs just 583 yards to pass Chuck Foreman as the Vikings' career rushing leader, is thrilled at the chance to follow Kleinsasser.
"Linebackers' eyes will get big when they see a fullback this big," Smith said.
But the Vikings' fortunes this year will more than likely hinge on their defense, which ranked 27th in 1999.
Although they used their top draft pick on defensive lineman Chris Hovan, the Vikings must replace ends Chris Doleman and Duane Clemons, and John Randle remains basically a one-man wrecking crew.
Green signed 13-year veteran Cris Dishman to start at left cornerback alongside converted wide receiver Robert Tate, pushing second-year man Kenny Wright into the nickel role.
And the Vikings upgraded at linebacker with a simple shuffle. Kailee Wong moved from the strong side to the middle, where he can use his size and smarts to decipher plays and shed lead blockers.
Dwayne Rudd shifted from the weak side to the strong side, where his quickness and athletic ability allows him to cover the tight end and free up the defensive backs. And Eddie McDaniel has gone back to the weak side, where he amassed a league-best 32 1/2 tackles for loss in 1994-95.
"It's a serious weapon for us, to be able to take advantage of everybody's strengths like this," Wong said. "This is going to allow us to really make some plays this year. And that's good. We're sick and tired of people seeing the Minnesota Vikings as just an offensive powerhouse."
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