Zygi Excited to Defend Division Championship

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 6:12 pm

Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have been in Mankato the past couple of days to watch their team open training camp, the 4th camp under their stewardship and the 1st time they’ve opened a season as the reigning division champions. Zygi took several minutes today to interupt his practice watching to speak with local reporters, and was there to listen in on what the Vikings owner had to say.

The conversation began when Wilf was asked about his reaction to how the Brett Favre situation ended. Wilf reiterated the message Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress conveyed earlier in the week, saying they had no regrets looking at a Hall of Famer and that they were very happy with the current players on the roster.

“It’s very exciting being out here, to be coming back this season as division champs,” Wilf said. “The talent out there is great and the competition is going to be great. We look forward to a great season this year; there are a lot of things to look forward to.”

From Wilf to Childress to any player that has been asked about camp so far, the theme has been competition and how much of it will exist at this year’s camp. In addition to the intra-squad competition for 53 roster spots, the Vikings are also excited to compete with those outside of their club. Most notably, they are exited to be able to defend a division title in 2009.

“I have great expectations,” Wilf explained. “Again, we fought hard last year, came back many times when people doubted us and we did it with different combinations with different guys injured. To have those guys come back healthy for the most part and be able to start off the season as division champs, we look forward to holding onto that and doing better things.”

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Getting Even More Defensive? Greenway and Winfield Think So

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 2:14 pm

The Vikings defense ranked 6th in the NFL last year, including a league-best effort against the run that yielded just 76.9 yards per game. With DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams anchoring that rushing defense, the Vikings became the 1st team since the merger to lead the league in rushing for 3 consecutive seasons.

While those are sparkling credentials, they aren’t enough to allow the Vikings defense to be happy with how things finished last year and hope for a similar outcome in 2009.

Speaking after the Vikings 1st training cam practice on Friday, CB Antoine Winfield and LB Chad Greenway both stressed that the Vikings defense has several areas where they’d like to make improvements. Winfield said they gave up “too many big plays” last year and Greenway added that the unit would like to improve on 3rd downs.

Generally speaking, the most noticable area the Vikings defense will try to improve is pass defense. The Vikings took a big step forward in improving in that category last year (moving up to 18th from 31 and 32 in 2006 and 2008, respectively), but you can be sure that each member of the Vikings defense is looking to continue that improvement. With Leslie Frazier’s defense already about as good as it gets against the run, teams will likely continue to lean on the pass when they play the Vikings.

“We want teams to throw the ball 40 or 50 times and when they do that, we need to shut them down,” Greenway said. “I think our sack totals could go up…we can become better blitzers. There are a lot of things we can improve on.”

A Vikings defense that improves upon last season’s effort will be one that opposing teams just won’t want to face.

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Rosenfels: “This is a marathon”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 1:48 pm

Because of the high-profile nature of the Vikings current QB situation, many will rush the judgment of whether Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels should be the Vikings starter come Week 1 of the regular season. But the truth is, that ultimate judgment won’t be rushed at all and will, in fact, take some time to be determined.

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress conveyed that message during his press conference following practice on Friday and Rosenfels echoed a similar sentiment.

“It’s the first day,” Rosenfels said. “This is a marathon out here, not just training camp but the whole season. It’s a start and we installed some of the basics of our offense. Every day is a learning experience.”

With just 1 practice so far at training camp, there isn’t nearly enough information to begin breaking down the battle between Jackson and Rosenfels. In fact, it’s difficult to even determine how it was decided who would take the 1st team reps to open practice.

“I’m not sure how they did that last night, I would have to go in and check on that,” Childress said. “You guys are more in tune to that. We are just trying to get them all different reps.”

While even Childress acknowledged on Thursday that it would be ideal to have an established player under center heading into camp, the reality is that the Vikings don’t sit in that position. As a result, and as is the case with many other positions on the team this year, there will be a genuine competition for the starting job. And in determining the identity of the starter, Jackson and Rosenfels will have to split reps with the 1st team.

“It’s not the premier situation you’d like to have,” Rosenfels said on Friday. “You’d like to be throwing with Bobby (Wade) and Bernard (Berrian) and (Visanthe) Shiancoe and all those guys on every throw. But that’s not what we’re going to do and the best way for us to compete is to split those reps and make the most of them.”

The magnitude of the Jackson/Rosenfels decision will be a key to the Vikings prospects for success in 2009. And while Childress doesn’t know who his starting QB will be for Week 1, at least he knows that both men competing for job have the proper attitude.

“I’m just coming here to compete, just like I would do if I was named the starter,” Jackson said after practice on Friday. “I wouldn’t work any different. I work hard anyway and I just take it as I’m trying to prove myself anyway. I am competing against [Rosenfels] but I’m also competing against myself. Just trying to get better.”

Said Rosenfels: “I have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing. I feel like I know this game really, really well. I feel like I’m prepared. I’ll never go into a practice or game unprepared and I think that’s the key to success for a quarterback.”

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Vikings Conclude Practice No. 1

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 12:31 pm

The 1st practice of 2009 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is officially in the books. All 79 players who’ve reported to camp were on the field in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts for the 120-minute practice. To begin camp, the offensive players are wearing white jerseys and the defensive players are in purple jerseys.

 With temperatures in the mid-70s, minimal wind and plenty of sunshine, conditions were near ideal for players and fans alike. Vikings fans filled both sets of tall bleachers located adjacent to the practice fields and on several occasions were stirred to cheers by a long completion or impressive interception.

“We always enjoy coming here to watch training camp,” said Dan, a citizen of Mankato who enjoys bringing his 2 kids to camp every year. “These are the guys we watch on TV all year long, so to get an up-close look at them like we can here is really fun.”

After speaking with the media on both Wednesday and Thursday, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress didn’t have much to say following today’s morning practice. He did meet with the media several minutes after practice, however, and seemed even-tempered about his team’s work during the 1st practice.

“First day, not a lot to report,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said immediately after practice. “It’s good to get those guys out there and getting used to their pads. It’s always interesting for me to go and look at the tape and see how guys move around and how they’re carrying their pads, particularly interested to look at some of those rookies to see how they did. We’ve got a lot to work on but we’ve got a little time to do it.”

The Vikings will get back to work this afternoon, as they have a 2nd practice scheduled for today at 3:00 p.m. In between the morning practice and afternoon session, the players will grab lunch, head to meetings and replenish their bodies. Following today’s afternoon practice the entire team will be introduced to fans at Blakeslee Stadium. The event is scheduled to begin around 5:00.

Several other players spoke after practice today, including both Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels. We’ll have updates of what they had to say posted here on the Blog in a little while.

A few highlights from today’s practice included:

– CB Karl Paymah playing tough press coverage against WR Nick Moore. Paymah brought Moore to the ground during 1-on-1 drills this morning, but then Moore got back up and hauled in a reception against Paymah on the next snap.

– LB Heath Farwell surged through the offensive line to make what would’ve been a huge hit on the RB during the 9-7 inside running drill.

– Rookie LB Jasper Brinkley also found a way to break through the line to make what would’ve been a jolting stop on rookie RB Ian Johnson.

– I didn’t see, but the crowd broke out in ovation after CB Derrick Roberson made an interception during 1-on-1 drills.

– CB Cedric Griffin made an outstanding play during 7-on-7 drills when he dove and deflected a pass from Sage Rosenfels to Bernard Berrian.

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Vikings Team Introduction Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 8:28 am

Following this afternoon’s practice (approximately 5:00) the entire Vikings roster will be introduced to fans at Blakeslee Stadium. The Vikings marketing staff does a great job with this event each year. In the past, one player from the offense, defense and special teams has introduced his teammates from those units. Also, players have their hands full of merchandise and throw it to the crowd after being introduced.

A few other notes (courtesy of Vikings public relations pro Tom West) as we get Day 1 of practices under way…

– Happy 25th birthday to WR Glenn Holt. The Vikings signed Holt, who had been with the Bengals for 3 seasons, to a free agent contract this offseason. Holt has the 2nd longest kickoff return TD in Bengals history (100 yards), topped only by the 102-yard TD return that was registered by current Vikings RB coach Eric Bieniemy in 1997. Also, Holt’s cousin, Alan Holt, was a QB for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 1980s.

– Did you know that Vikings TE Jim Kleinsasser is entering his 11th season with the Vikings? This makes him the longest tenured professional athlete in the Twin Cities market.

– This year marks the 44th year the Vikings have held training camp in Mankato. The team held camp in Bemidji on the campus of Bemidji State University prior to Mankato.

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Don’t Forget to Follow Us On Twitter

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 7:44 am

The Vikings have settled into Mankato and now the team is set to begin practices, with the 1st session ready to begin at 9:00 a.m. today. We hope you can be here to watch as many practices as possible.

For the times when you can’t come to Mankato to actually see the practices in person (which we know is most of the time), we hope you utilize to stay on top of all the latest Vikings news. But there’s also another medium you can use to keep up with all the action – Twitter.

Follow the Vikings on the team’s official Twitter page – @VikingsFootball

I’ll be tweeting from practice (when appropriate), before practice, after practice and whenever something notable occurs.

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Analyzing Position Battles – Backup LB

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2009 – 8:59 pm

We set out to analyze a few position battles right here on the blog before training camp began. The good news is that we’ve already done the RTWRs, nickel back and backup DT positions. The bad news is we still have the backup LBs and starting QB to finish. And the 1st training camp practice is roughly 2 hours from the time of this post.

So we’ll compromise. The backup LB spot will be broken down right here and then we’ll analyze the battle between Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels after Day 1 of practices.

When evaluating the importance of the backup LB spot on the Vikings roster, the same theory that applied to the importance of the backup DT position applies here: given how important the position is to the Vikings defense, it’s important for the Vikings to have solid backup options in the event of injury.

Right now it looks as if the Vikings will have a good opportunity to fill their depth chart with quality backup LBs. There are currently 9 LBs on the Vikings roster, and we know that Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber will comprise the starting group (barring injury). That leaves the squad with 2 returnees from last year, 1 guy coming back from injury and a trio of new faces.

The 2 LBs returning from last year are Erin Henderson and David Herron. Herron is more of an inside linebacker while Henderson is more of a versatile player who can play in the middle or slide outside. The main thing for these 2 players is their ability to contribute on special teams as well. If they can fend off other young players and cement roles on special teams, they will be more likely to be relied upon as reserve linebackers as well.

Speaking of special teams, the Vikings best special teams player over the past few seasons also happens to be a LB. Heath Farwell was lost for the 2008 season during the Vikings 1st preseason game, and both the depth of the LBs and the Vikings kick coverage units suffered as a result. Farwell has battled back from his knee injury and seems poised to re-insert himself in both of his former roles.

The 3 new faces in the LB corps are Jasper Brinkley, Robert Francois and Kenny Onatolu. Brinkley, a 5th round draft choice this year, is the one to watch in this group. He was a star at South Carolina after his freshman season, but then a knee injury sidelined him and hurt his draft stock. The Vikings selected him in the 5th round, and if he can fulfill his potential the Vikings may have found a real steal in the draft. Brinkley’s upside is good enough that he could be a key contributor on special teams this year and somewhere down the line become a starting LB for the Vikings.

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A Few More Notes From Childress’ Press Conference

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2009 – 5:36 pm

– Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Thursday during his pre-camp press conference that 79 players reported to camp and also noted that he doesn’t expect anyone to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He said the team appears to be in decent condition with “pretty good weights,” but also said he would re-evaluate those scenarios once the team was 5 practices into camp (which will be on Sunday afternoon).

– The roster limit for NFL teams during training camp is 80, and the reason the Vikings have 79 players in camp rather than 80 is because 1st round pick WR Percy Harvin has yet to sign a contract. It’s by no means unusual to have a 1st round pick report late to camp. More than half of this year’s 1st round picks remained unsigned, and Adrian Peterson missed a few days of camp back in 2007.

“I don’t anticipate him being in, at least right this second,” Childress said. “But I know Rob (Brzezinski) is working hard with (Harvin’s agent) Joel Segal to try to get that deal done.”

– Childress took a moment to reflect on DE Kenechi Udeze, who decided earlier this week to retire from football instead of continue his attempt at a comeback.

“He’s so worried about being a quitter,” Childress said. “He’s overcome already in his young life, to be alive and thriving, it took him a while to come to grips with that. As I mentioned to you before, his Leukemia he always referenced to me as ‘nothing more than a common cold.’ Great positive attitude; as we say, nobody died. He’s alive and living and thriving. I just wish him well.”

Udeze had participated in Vikings offseason workouts and was preparing to join his teammates for training camp. But after meeting and chatting with Childress a number of times before the start of camp, Udeze decided to go a different direction.

On the release of CB Charles Gordon: “He just was not able to overcome that ankle fracture,” Childress explained. “He’s worked as hard as anybody to try to get back, and he’ll continue to work. Not sure what the future holds for him, but I had a good meeting with him last week as well and he’s been in there every day since that surgery to find a way to fight back to the field.”

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Childress Stresses Compeition In Opening Presser

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2009 – 5:05 pm

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress held his pre-camp press conference on Thursday among a larger-than-usual contingent of media members. The pre-camp press conference typically draws the largest media crowd of camp, but this year the opening press conference was more heavily-attended because of the scope of the Vikings current QB situation.

Brett Favre’s decision to stay retired and not join the Vikings at training camp put an end to the NFL’s highest profile offseason story, but it doesn’t mean the spotlight on the Vikings QB competition will dim. With Favre out of the picture, the same 2 QBs who took reps during OTAs and mincamps this offseason – Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels – will battle for the starting job.

“You want to know a standard of performance,” Childress responded when asked what he’s looking to find in the QB competition. “You want to know what you can expect each and every time you go on the football field. I think that’s the biggest thing you look for at every position.”

Competition among the Vikings 3 QBs will gain the most traction in newspaper headlines and at the water cooler, but Childress also stressed that there will be plenty of competition up and down the Vikings roster.

“We’re going to have competition at a bunch of positions, whether it be competition for the starting position or competition to be on this 53-man roster,” Childress explained. “We’re going to let some very good football players go here before it’s over.

“I was struck by one of the quotes and I shared it with the guys. ‘These guys are competing for one of the most impermanent jobs in our society.’ It’s true. It’s very difficult to be a professional football player and let alone to be one for very long. Guys like Antoine Winfield, guys like Pat Williams that have done it for ten-odd years, are the exception rather than the rule.”

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Childress Remembers Former Colleague Johnson

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2009 – 11:58 am

Training camps all across the NFL are either in full gear or just about to get that way, so it’s an exciting time for everyone across the league. But as NFL coaches and players anxiously continue their preparations for the 2009 season, they’ll do so with heavy hearts because of the passing of former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who has lost his battle with cancer.

The subject of Johnson’s passing was broached yesterday in Mankato because of the connection between Johnson and Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress. They coached together in Philadelphia from 1999-2005, when Johnson coached the defense and Childress served as QBs coach and offensive coordinator.

“My thoughts go out to Vicky (Johnson) and the kids,” Childress said on Wednesday. “Jim was a great guy to be around. A sage guy who had seen it all and he had a great way about him. (He had a) gruff way about him, but was easy to laugh with.”

It was probably fitting in Childress’ mind that the Vikings and Eagles faced one another in last year’s Wild Card round. The Eagles won and moved on, but that game represented the last time Johnson and Childress were on the field coaching in a game situation.

“I can close my eyes and see him standing across the field in the last game,” Childress said. “He was standing there across the field from us in the playoff game. I think he went to the press box and had to take a seat after that. Just a great human being and football lost a great person and the Eagles lost a great person. My heart goes out to Vicky and the kids.”

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