MINNEAPOLIS — Slowly, it's all coming back together.
It's been a year since the various components of Air Coryell were all there. Because of assorted injuries and acquisitions, the Charger offense has been fragmented. But, within a week or two, it now appears, all the principals will be ready, and no defense will be safe.
Tight end Kellen Winslow returns today after a severe knee injury forced him to miss a year. He was activated Friday and will be in uniform against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.
Also rejoining the lineup, in all probability, will be wide receiver Wes Chandler, who missed last week's game because of a deep cut in his ankle.
With their top two receivers on the field for the first time in 12 months, the Chargers will have more targets for quarterback Mark Herrmann, who is likely to remain the starter for this week, at least. Dan Fouts, nearly recovered from a knee injury, threw some in practice this week and may participate today, but the decision likely won't be made until after pregame warmups.
Herrmann has done a more-than-adequate job, completing 73% of his passes since Fouts went down against Cleveland three games back.
It isn't known how much Winslow or Chandler will play, and the Chargers obviously won't take any needless chances with either. Al Saunders, the receiver coach, said Winslow appears to be running and catching nearly as well as ever, but still must adapt to the idea of 275-pound defensive linemen taking dead aim at his reconstructed knee.
Winslow, who was hurt last year in a collision with Raider linebacker Jeff Barnes, will see a lot of new faces in the huddle, including Herrmann, Gary Anderson and Tim Spencer, not to mention offensive tackle Jim Lachey. Although Lachey missed a few days of practice this week with a sore shoulder, he is expected to be in the staring lineup.
It was at the Metrodome a year ago that Winslow announced his temporary retirement in order to put pressure on the Chargers to award him a new contract. The wisdom of that strategy was demonstrated when he got the security he sought in the the form of a guaranteed multi-year contract only a few weeks before suffering the career-threatening injury against the Raiders.
If the Chargers are a significantly different team than when Winslow last suited up, so, too, are the Vikings. Gone is the Marine-influenced coaching philosophy of Les Steckel. Restored is the common sense of Bud Grant, whose retirement didn't last a whole lot longer than Winslow's.
"I never second-guessed myself for stepping down (after the 1983 season)," Grant said. "If they'd won a couple more games last year, I'd still be out in North Dakota hunting . . . something I enjoy very much.
"I've never second-guessed myself on coaching or real-life decisions. Coaching was never a burden to me. I'm in the business because I'm competitive, and I always will be."
Grant doesn't claim to know everything about the game, and critics have questioned some of his fourth-quarter strategy in recent weeks, but his approach to his job remains as constant as ever.
"It's a struggle every week," he said. "You never get this game figured out. If you do, you'd better be careful. The 49ers thought they had, and they're right where the Chargers and the Vikings are (at 3-3).
"Anytime you think you know this game, somebody is going to come along and knock your block off."
Like the traditionalist he is, Grant made a stab at downplaying the abilities of his team, saying, "We don't have any exceptional people at all, no one who can win a game all by himself."
The Vikings do have some able performers, including quarterback Tommy Kramer (114 for 204, 10 touchdowns), running back Darrin Nelson (308 yards, 4.1 average) and rookie receiver Anthony Carter (10 catches, 185 yards).
Carter, along with Trumaine Johnson of the Chargers, once reigned as the most feared receivers in the United States Football League.
The Vikings will test a San Diego defense that has been significantly more effective in the two games since Dave Adolph replaced Tom Bass as defensive coordinator.
The defense has made nine sacks in the last two games compared to seven in the preceding four. Lee Williams, the team's best pass rusher since Fred Dean, leads the Chargers with six sacks. Opponents have been successful on third-down plays 21% of the time in the last two weeks. Before that, it was 46%.