Leber, who played four seasons with the San Diego Chargers after being drafted out of Kansas State, is one of many new players to join the Vikings, who are set to begin their first season under head coach Brad Childress. The excitement of a new regime in Minnesota was a factor in his final decision, the linebacker noted.
"I'm excited to go into a team that has kind of a fresh start," he said. "When I came in with San Diego, they had a new coaching staff and fresh start. It was exciting to be around young coaches and an enthusiastic coach. That's the situation I'm in with Minnesota � young coaching staff, everybody's relatively new with some of their roles and positions on the team. It's going to be a learning experience for everybody. That's just a great situation to be in, especially being new to the organization."
Seattle and Tennessee were among the leading suitors for the veteran Leber, who has started 52 games at outside linebacker during his career. The chance to play closer to his roots in South Dakota was not a deciding factor, but an added bonus.
"It had a little bit to do with the decision," Leber said. "Football and everything that surrounded football was my number one priority. The fact that Minnesota is close to home, that was just kind of an added bonus. I would have gone to any team, regardless of location, if they presented the best package. Minnesota, with the new coaching staff, the enthusiasm and the energy, just beat out everybody else, hands down."
The Vikings are excited about having Leber as he is about joining the team.
"Ben is really a solid football player. We got a chance to play the Chargers this year and he was an anchor as an outside linebacker," Childress said in a press release. "He has the flexibility to play outside linebacker on either side both off the line of scrimmage and on it. His best football is still ahead of him." Vikings Vice President of Personnel Fran Foley, who worked with Leber when Foley was in the Chargers organization, was happy to see the linebacker come to Minnesota.
"We're very excited to have Ben, a player I've previously known from San Diego," he said in the press release. "He's a versatile athlete who can play many positions. He's had success in both the 3-4 and the 4-3 and will fit our style."
Leber experienced the ups and downs of professional football during his time in San Diego. The Chargers went 4-12 in 2003 and 12-4 in 2004, Leber's first two full seasons in the starting lineup. Both experiences taught him plenty, Leber noted.
"I got to see the best of football and the worst of football. In both situations, you take away a lot of good life lessons," he said. "One year we were 4-12, and I saw the worst that football can bring out in the fans and what they can bring out in an organization when you're losing and everybody's down. We turned it around and went 12-4 and saw the other side of football. "I feel like in the short time that I've been in the NFL, I've experienced a lot of things that encompass what is the NFL. Hopefully I'll take all those lessons, all those experiences, and take them up to Minnesota."
Individually, he earned a starting position early in his rookie season of 2002 and recorded five sacks on the way to All-Rookie honors. In his third full season of starting, after ranking among the team leaders the previous two seasons, Leber saw his starting job and season go by the wayside due to a broken foot.
"It was a difficult decision to get the surgery," he said of the operation to repair his foot, which ended his season last November. "For the first time in my life, high school, college, professional, I had to sit out because I was not able to play. It was a very hard thing for me to sit there and watch."
The toughest part of being sidelined came on Sundays.
"Game day is our special day as a player," he said. "It just makes it harder when you are sitting on the sidelines and knowing that you can't contribute, you can't go out there, you can't be with the guys. The whole reason a lot of us play the game is the relationships you build on and off the field. Having that taken away from you by being injured is a hard thing to swallow."
Leber feels he is approaching full strength and should be ready to go come preseason.
"We've taken a very conservative approach on my recovery because it's something I've battled with for almost two years now. They definitely want to make sure the bone does heal and everything is up to speed," he said. "I'm not quite at 100 percent, but definitely I would say we're 90 to 95 percent there." While Leber has individual goals for his first season with the Vikings, they all feed into a team goal.
"What I want to accomplish is to go into Minnesota, become a starter, make a lot of plays and put our defense and our team in a position to be in the playoffs and make a playoff run," he said. "I think, year in and year out, that's what your attitude has got to be. I think we have all the tools to do that.
"We're definitely going to be an exciting football team to watch."
Leber and the Vikings will make their 2006 debut Aug. 14 with a preseason game at home against Oakland. The Vikings will open the regular season against Washington in the first Monday Night Football game on ESPN, set for Sept. 11.