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Even with no picks, Sharper still clicks

MINNEAPOLIS -- Darren Sharper is in unfamiliar territory. The NFL's active leader in career interceptions, with 53, has yet to add to that total in the first six games.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Darren Sharper is in unfamiliar territory. The NFL's active leader in career interceptions, with 53, has yet to add to that total in the first six games.

Just how unusual is it for the Minnesota Vikings' safety not to have an interception at this point? The last time he didn't have one by the sixth game was in his second year (1998), when he had no regular-season interceptions.

"I would be upset if I would have had more opportunities, and I haven't made them, but I would say I've had one opportunity and that was a tough one," said Sharper, who has 55 interceptions, if you count two in the postseason, in his 12-year career. "That's the nature of the game."

Change of plans

The nature of opponent's game plans, according to the Vikings, has been to stay away from Sharper and go at rookie safety Tyrell Johnson.


This wasn't how the Vikings envisioned things would work this offseason. Veteran safety Madieu Williams was signed to a six-year, $33 million free-agent contract in large part because of his coverage ability. Sharper and Williams were expected to complement each other and maybe even free up Sharper.

But Williams suffered a neck injury early in training camp and has yet to play. Johnson, a second-round pick out of Arkansas State, has earned mostly high marks for his play, but there is little doubt teams have decided to test him.

"Do I feel like teams are throwing away from me?" Sharper said. "Yes, I do. Actually, I've talked to quarterbacks before the game and they've told me they're not throwing my way. . . . You would like to get tested a little bit, but if they are not testing me, that means it's hurting their game plan because they can't see the whole field. So that's helping us out as a defense."

Sharper's best chance for an interception came in the Vikings' 30-17 loss at Tennessee in Week 4 when he went up for a ball thrown by Titans quarterback Kerry Collins in the fourth quarter but collided with two teammates.

Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thought Sharper might get some opportunities in Week 5 against Drew Brees, but Frazier said even the Saints' standout quarterback "really didn't throw his way."

"Everything was kind of underneath or down the middle of the field," said Frazier, whose defense is tied with Cincinnati for 19th in the NFL with only four picks. "People are aware of (Sharper), aware of what he's done. Some of that is that you have a rookie lining up opposite of him."

Sharper has two pass breakups, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and 24 tackles this season. That includes a big hit he put on the Lions' Calvin Johnson that knocked the receiver out (literally) of the Vikings' 12-10 victory Sunday.

The play forced a controversial fumble and turnover -- replays seemed to indicate the receiver was down before he lost the ball -- on a play in which Johnson caught a 32-yard pass before being leveled by Sharper at the Vikings' 30-yard line with the Lions leading 10-9.


Sharper's future

While Sharper isn't complaining about his lack of interceptions, he certainly can't be dismissing it as meaningless. Sharper will turn 33 on Nov. 3 and is in the final season of a four-year deal he signed in 2005 after being released by Green Bay.

Sharper tied his career-high with nine picks in his first season with the Vikings but had a combined eight during the past two seasons. He was picked to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his career last season.

Sharper wants to continue playing beyond this season. However, it's not certain if that will be in Minnesota. He has not been approached about a new contract, and said he is "not going to think about it now because the season is going on."

But Sharper makes it clear he feels he is playing at a high level with or without an interception. "I'm moving better than I've moved as far as running with speed," he said. "I know I'm in better shape than I've been. I'm tackling well. Things are going well. The thing about interceptions is you just have to be patient and they will come. That's the attitude I'm going to have."

As for any concern he might have about what prospective employers think about his low interception total, Sharper expressed no worries. "Not at all, because I have 55 other reasons why they know I can get interceptions," he said smiling. "So, I don't worry about that."

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