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Sunday, August 25
Updated: August 29, 11:58 AM ET
Moss embraces new leadership role

By John Clayton

A year ago, Randy Moss accepted a $75 million contract to be the Vikings franchise player, but he knew he wasn't the franchise leader. He accepted an occasional sideline rant from Cris Carter and listened to criticism that he didn't exhaust himself on every down.

It wasn't his team. Carter and safety Robert Griffith held the leadership roles. That appeared to be the way that coach Dennis Green wanted it. Moss was supposed to be the immature superstar who led with his hands, speed and jumping skills. Unfortunately for him, when Moss spoke out, he got himself in trouble.

However, the environment has changed. Green is gone. Carter is retired. Griffith is on the Cleveland Browns. And most importantly, new coach Mike Tice made an effort to let Moss live up to his immense talents and salary. Tice structured the offense to feature the Randy Ratio, trying to get at least 40 percent of the passes into Moss' hands every game. He also talked to Moss about taking an active leadership role.

"I think if they put the leadership role on me my rookie year, the Vikings would have a ring by now," Moss said. "But there was so much jealously by the end about me being a rookie and being able to do what I do. It didn't look good for a team leader to be a young guy. That's why the Vikings don't have no rings right now."

Randy Moss
Moss is undoubtedly the focal point on offense.
Sure, there will be doubters. Moss, a leader? Wasn't this the guy who infuriated long-time NFL players by saying, "I play when I want to play." Say what you want, but Moss wants to play this year and he's showing it not only on the practice field, but in the weight room and the locker room.

"Now, it's going on my fifth year, and now that they labeled me one of the leaders on this team, I guess you've got to pay your dues," Moss said.

Asked who held back his ability to lead, Moss said, "I don't know, maybe Denny (Green) didn't let it go. But I think you have to earn it. I've earned it since my rookie year. The past couple of years, they gave the ball to me every so often. I wasn't getting it. In the NFC championship game, they still couldn't do anything with it. Now, we got a team that is young and very upbeat, and we will see what can do."

Basically, Moss is repeating his statements of the past. Put the offense on his shoulders and follow. So far, the young Vikings offense is responding. Younger players appreciated how Moss showed up at workouts at 8 a.m. during the offseason and accepted his instruction and inspiration.

Moss even made new Vikings feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

"I didn't know what to expect coming here," said receiver D'Wayne Bates, who knew Moss from competing against the Vikings while with the Chicago Bears. "You heard the statements he made, but you can see how hard he worked. He stayed with it the whole offseason. He's definitely a leader. He's the most experienced receiver now. To think that he's a marquee guy like that, it's nice to see he's definitely showing leadership. Plus, he's been a good friend. He's been showing me around town. He's even taken me in his limo."

Moss has been Michael Jordan-like in his performances during the summer. Against the Chiefs in a two-day scrimmage earlier in training camp, he wowed Kansas City defenders with his array of one-handed, leaping catches against double-coverage. In practices, Moss made two or three stunning plays a day.

Tice directed receivers coach Charlie Baggett to research the passing offense of last season. Baggett found that when the Vikings threw 40 percent of their passing attempts to Moss, the team went 4-1. When they didn't, they were 1-10.

To make sure that the Randy Ratio is maintained during the regular season, an assistant coach will be on the sidelines charting plays to make sure that the 40-percent minimum is maintained.

"Randy sees it's the right time to take over," Tice said. "It's time for a new group of guys to take over and Randy saw that. He's been outstanding. You can say that he has matured this offseason. He's matured as a man. He's matured as a football player. I don't think anybody who has been around him -- including the media -- can believe in the transformation. He's done very, very well."

I think if they put the leadership role on me my rookie year, the Vikings would have a ring by now. But there was so much jealously by the end about me being a rookie and being able to do what I do. It didn't look good for a team leader to be a young guy. That's why the Vikings don't have no rings right now.
WR Randy Moss

Skeptics abound. Stories about the Randy Ratio have been out the entire offseason. At a charity function in St. Louis this offseason, an auction item featured signed Moss and Daunte Culpepper jerseys along with signed framed pictures of the duo that might set new NFL passing standards this offseason. Bidders virtually ignored the Vikings duo and bid up not only Rams jerseys, but one of retired 49ers quarterback Steve Young. Once the season starts, it will be impossible to ignore Moss.

Though Tice's offense should stress more running this season, the Vikings threw 555 passes last season. If the Randy Ratio is based on last year's statistics of a 5-11 team, Moss would have to get 222 thrown in his direction. The NFL reception record is 123 by Herman Moore of the Lions in 1995. Former teammate Cris Carter twice caught 122 passes in a season.

The Vikings charted the throws in their three exhibition games. In the time Moss was on the field, the Randy Ratio from Game One to Game Three was 32, 42 and 47 percent. In the exhibition games that the percentage was 40 or above, the Vikings won. The 32-percent game was a loss.

Regardless of the final numbers during the regular season, Moss could be on the verge of historic season.

"I don't think I want to get too much caught up in trying to break records," Moss said. "But I think records are meant to be broken. I think as long as I keep playing, they are going to fall eventually. You know what I'm saying. Having a quarterback like Daunte, getting the ball and having the offensive line we have, we could have a good year."

The Vikings installed five to 10 more routes for Moss than he's worked during his first four seasons. He's caught between 60 and 82 passes a season and between 1,233 and 1,413 yards. He's scored 53 touchdowns in four seasons.

It can be argued that he's the game's most talented player. At the very least, it's safe to say he can be the most exciting because of his amazing body control and grace in getting downfield to make catches.

"We want to get the ball in Randy's hands as much as possible, but we have to have the other guys make plays, so they can't key on Randy," Culpepper said.

The Vikings know that few cornerbacks can match up on Moss one on one, so they will use zone schemes and float a safety to Moss' side of the field. To adjust, Moss will run plays in which he will run to the middle of the field -- often where the middle linebacker sets up. Once Moss catches the ball, he will be free to use his speed and elusiveness to make a big play.

"Randy is real talented, no doubt about that," Vikings receiver Sean Dawkins said. "He's smart, fast, tall and he runs good routes. It's hard to find a speed guy who has good hands and runs good routes. He's the best I've been involved with. I think he's ready to be a leader.

"When I was signed and I came in, I was sitting in a chair and I heard him from the parking lot, yelling, 'I'm in house, I'm in the house.' I'm wondering who was that. It turns out to be him. He's an interesting guy. He's very confident. He's ready to take over the team as a leader."

Maybe the NFL isn't ready to accept it, but they have no choice.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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