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Birk Fitting In Well With Ravens

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 5:46 pm

For 11 seasons, Matt Birk and Brett Favre battled one another as team leaders of the Vikings and Packers, respectively. Had Birk not left this past offseason as a free agent to join the Baltimore Ravens, the one-time border rivals would’ve been teammates, a seemingly unthinkable proposition even 3 years ago.

Now that’s he’s full-throttle in his 1st season with Baltimore and he’s preparing to face his former team for the 1st time, it’d be easy to look back at his decision to leave home and question it. Instead, Birk says he doesn’t regret choosing a change of scenery, and in listening to his head coach speak, it’s clear the Ravens certainly don’t regret it, either.

“Matt has really been great for our offense and for our team,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We have a young offensive line and a young quarterback and Matt’s maturity, his experience, just the kind of guy he is ties the whole thing for us. He obviously has had a tremendous career at Minnesota. The kind of person he is and the character family man that he is has been very good for our team. It really is necessary for our team. He has been really valuable for us.”

Birk met with Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday and indicated his decision to leave the Vikings was not a squabble over money. Rather, it was a decision he made with his family and one that was based primarily on the desire to embrace a new challenge.

“I’ve said before it wasn’t a money thing,” Birk explained. “The offers were very similar. It was a decision that I thought in my heart and in my gut and talking it over with my wife that we wanted a change, a new challenge, a new experience, and a new adventure and that’s why we’re here in Maryland.”

Birk also told reporters that he doesn’t keep regular contact with any old teammates, but that he does check scores around the league, including the Vikings score each week.

The biggest change for the Birks now that they live in Maryland, a time zone away from their home state of Minnesota? Dealing with being away from the support of friends and family.

“We have a new appreciation for those people that you are close to in your life, the people that really care about you and that you really love,” Birk said. “That is kind of a bad thing but obviously a great thing too. It kind of reminds you of who and what is really important.”


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Harvin (shoulder) On Wednesday Injury Report

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 4:02 pm

The Vikings and Ravens have each released their initial injury reports for the week and several starters for each team are dealing with ailments that are affecting their practice time.

For the Vikings, WR Percy Harvin (shoulder) was a non-participant in practice today. Limited participants for the Vikings were DE Ray Edwards (hamstring), G Steve Hutchinson (back), T Phil Loadholt (ankle), WR Darius Reynaud (hamstring) and FB Fahu Tahi (ankle). CB Cedric Griffin (hand) was a full participant.

For the Ravens, T Jared Gaither (neck), LB Jarret Johnson and DT Haloti Ngata (back) did not participate while TE Edgar Jones (hamstring) was limited.


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Childress Says Birk Is Playing Well

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 3:22 pm

Last year Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress watched plenty of Matt Birk film because he had to grade the veteran’s performance on game days and in practice. This year, even though Birk left Minnesota last offseason to sign a free agent contract with the Ravens, Childress has still been watching film of Birk – in preparation for the Vikings game against Birk’s Ravens team this Sunday.

During his Wednesday press conference, Childress was asked how Birk has been playing so far this year and the Vikings head coach had a positive review of the 6-time Pro Bowler.

“He’s playing well,” Childress said. “It looks like he’s directing. I got to see him in the summer time. It looks like he’s in great shape. I thought he looked like he re-arranged his body a little differently, positively. It looks like he’s playing at a high level. It looks like he has a good relationship with the quarterback and he’s directing the line.”

Childress has said in the past a number of times that Vikings C John Sullivan’s development has been aided because he goes up against DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams every day in practice. A similar situation has unfolded for Birk in Baltimore, where his assimilation into the Ravens offense and into life as an AFC center (where you see more 3-4 defensive schemes) has been aided because of the presence of Haloti Ngata, a dominant 6-4, 345-pound NT who makes a habit out of surging past centers and into the offensive backfield.

“He’s got his hands full when he lines up every day (in practice) against Haloti Ngata,” Childress said. “He gets good work; he’s not playing against imposters. The people in that division, the nose tackles, (Casey) Hampton (from Pittsburgh) is not too shabby.”


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Childress Doesn’t Rule Out Bringing QB Booty Back

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 2:43 pm

The Vikings on Wednesday terminated the practice squad contract of QB John David Booty and used the free spot on T Clint Oldenburg, a 6-5, 305-pound linemen out of Colorado State who was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2007 and was most recently with the Denver Broncos.

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said Booty wasn’t getting many reps during practice, but he also said he would not rule out the possibility of bringing the 2008 5th round pick back at some point.

“The fact is we needed another offensive lineman to practice and wanted to take a look at Clint,” Childress said Wednesday. “He had (practice squad) eligibility. I’m not going to rule out bringing him (Booty) back, but we do what we need to do to make it through week-by-week.”


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Sullivan Took Lessons From Birk On, Off The Field

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 1:00 pm

The NFL is often described as a “copy cat” league, where teams often share similar methods of operation, from specific play-calls to the way a travel itinerary is developed.

But with an influx of young talent entering the league every year, and a contingent of crafty veterans on rosters, it often behooves the younger players to engage in the copy-cat philosophy on an individual level. One Vikings player, C John Sullivan, seems to have done that. And the man from whom he learned most last year, Matt Birk, will be visiting Mall of America Field at the HHH Metrodome this week with the Baltimore Ravens.

Sullivan was drafted in the 6th round of last year’s draft and immediately joined a roster that contained Birk, a 6-time Pro Bowler and a staple in the Vikings offensive line since 2000. The presence of Birk meant Sullivan would spend his rookie season developing, but the 1st-year player from Notre Dame knew he was in a good environment to learn, with a good teacher ahead of him on the depth chart.
 
“Whenever I had a question, I tried to pick his brain,” Sullivan said. “It’s on the younger guy to go and ask; the older guy doesn’t just offer up the information. You’ve got to go and seek that out. He was always very helpful. I’ve picked up a lot of stuff from him and I’ve tried to incorporate it into my own game, both on and off the field.”

Birk’s play on the field is something every team would like to see from their center. But Sullivan said he also learned a lot from Birk in meeting rooms, such as how to learn on opposing team’s scheme and how to pick up tells from individual players.

Aside from being a great player on the field for the Vikings, Birk was also an All-Pro off the field. He was named Vikings Man of the Year in 7 consecutive seasons and was also a generous participant in his teammates’ charitable endeavors.

Sullivan says he also learned a lot from Birk in terms of handling himself off the field.

“We talked about life lessons, especially last year as a rookie,” Sullivan explained. “You go from being in college and dealing with class and football, to being an adult as a 23-year old and dealing with handling different stuff off the field, whether it’s relationships or handling your money. Matt and I would talk often.”


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Today’s (and tomorrow’s) Schedule

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 11:16 am

Today we really begin to preview and prepare for the Vikings game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The Vikings come in riding a 5-game winning streak and with a 5-0 record, while the Ravens enter with a 3-2 mark and off of 2 consecutive close losses.

Both Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and QB Brett Favre will have their weekly press conferences today and you can watch them live right here on vikings.com by clicking this link. Also, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and Ravens C Matt Birk are meeting with Twin Cities reporters via conference call, so we’ll look into what those 2 members of the Ravens have to say about the game via a series of blog entries.

DE Jared Allen was voted as the Week 5 vikings.com Player of the Week, so look for an interview with him later today or tomorrow.

Also tomorrow we’ll provide updates from press conferences that include assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, as well as RB Adrian Peterson.

And lastly, we’ll have another edition of Coaches Corner this week as well.


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Vikings Tweak Practice Squad Roster

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 8:57 am

The Vikings made a tweak to their practice squad roster on Wednesday.

QB John David Booty has been dropped from the practice squad and T Clint Oldenburg was added.

Oldenburg played collegiately at Colorado State and was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2007. He’s also played for the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, but was most recently on the Denver Broncos roster.


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Setting The Table For Baltimore

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2009 – 7:51 am

The Vikings return home this week to host the Baltimore Ravens in what will be a marquee NFL matchup in Week 6. The Vikings come in undefeated, of course, while the Ravens – who advanced to last year’s AFC Championship Game – enter angry after 2 close losses to New England in Week 4 and Cincinnati at home last week.

The Vikings and Ravens have both fielded some of the league’s nastiest defenses over the past several seasons. No 2 teams have been better against the run than the Vikings and Ravens recently, and there’s no questioning the punishing force with which these teams’ defenders bring on to opposing ball-carriers. But what makes this matchup even more intriguing is that both of these teams also boast efficient and productive offenses, which will make for an even better game on Sunday at Mall of America Field at the HHH Metrodome.

These aren’t your 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That team won the Super Bowl thanks to the NFL’s #1 defense and in spite of the absence of an explosive offense. This team is different. The 2009 Ravens rank 5th in total offense with 382.2 yards per game and 5th in scoring offense at 27.6 points per game. The rushing attack features veteran Willis McGahee, who is tied with Adrian Peterson for the league lead in TDs with 7, and youngster Ray Rice, who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

The passing game is also a factor for Baltimore and it’s because of the pocket-poised Joe Flacco, a 2nd-year player who is proving last year’s outstanding rookie performance wasn’t a fluke. He’s completing 64.3% of his passes this year and has a passer rating of 90.2.

Defensively, the Ravens have not lost their edge. While they don’t rank quite as high overall as the Vikings statistically, Baltimore is allowing fewer rushing yards per game than Minnesota and they are also 10th in total defense and 12th in scoring defense. LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed are still the leaders of this unit, and those 2 will have their defensive teammates pumped up and ready to go on Sunday.

Lastly, here are a few important statistics to think about as we continue to prepare for this game. The defensive parallels in this matchup are obvious, but again, what makes this matchup even more interesting this year is the offensive similarities as well. Consider…

– The Vikings are tied for 1st in the NFL with 17 TD drives, while Baltimore is ranked 3rd with 16.
— The Vikings have scored 55 points off of turnovers (2nd in the NFL) and the Ravens have scored 45 (3rd in the NFL).
— On 3rd downs, the Vikings offense converts 48.6% of the time (3rd in the NFL) while the Ravens offense converts 46.9% of the time (5th in the NFL). Defensively on 3rd downs, the Vikings hold opponents to a 32.8% conversion rate (7th in the NFL) and the Ravens hold opponents to a 34.4% conversion rate (8th in the NFL).
— In opponents red zone TD efficiency, the Vikings rank 1st in the NFL (30.8%) and the Ravens rank 2nd (33.3%).
— In offensive red zone scoring, the Vikings and Ravens both rank 2nd in the NFL with 93 points.


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