This summer the NFL is continuing its legacy of visiting U.S. military troops overseas, and Vikings fans can follow along as Head Coach Brad Childress takes part in this year’s NFL-USO Coaches Tour. David Krichavsky, the NFL’s Director of Community Affiars, will be blogging during the tour and we’ll be sure to post those blogs on vikings.com.
Krichavsky’s 1st entry is already posted and you can read it by clicking here; there are also photos for you to view.
This year’s tour has already had some excitement and adversity, so be sure to click on that link and check it out.
Background Info On NFL-USO Coaches Tour
In 1966, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle conceived of the idea of sending NFL players on “goodwill” tours to visit US troops then fighting in Vietnam. Four future Hall of Fame players – Johnny Unitas, Willie Davis, Sam Huff, and Frank Gifford – participated on that first NFL-USO tour in 1966. In the years that followed, many NFL players including Bart Starr, Jack Kemp, Dick Butkus, Gene Upshaw, Archie Manning, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Jerome Bettis, Warrick Dunn, and Drew Brees have visited our fighting forces stationed in every corner of the globe. Commissioner Roger Goodell traveled on a USO tour to Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer of 2008, becoming the first pro sports commissioner to participate in a USO tour abroad.
Despite the NFL’s long and successful partnership with the USO, it was not until last summer that the two organizations came together for their first Coaches tour. As part of that inaugural NFL-USO Coaches tour, Bill Cowher, Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, and John Harbaugh traveled to Iraq over the July 4 holiday. The 5 coaches visited with thousands of troops in Iraq and significantly boosted morale. They signed autographs and took pictures with the troops – and created memories that will last a lifetime.
The coaches also came back changed. They had a new appreciation for the dedication and sacrifice of our troops, after seeing those qualities firsthand. The coaches discussed their USO tour experiences with their peers – other NFL coaches. It became inevitable that the first NFL-USO Coaches tour would not be the last. It just might become an annual tradition.
Forty-four years after the first trip, with more than 160 active and former players having traveled to more than 20 countries on USO tours, the NFL-USO partnership is continuing to break new ground. This current summer tour to Afghanistan represents the second time the NFL has brought a group of coaches overseas to visit the troops.
The NFL’s Director of Community Affairs David Krichavsky is accompanying 4 current NFL coaches – Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress, Carolina Panthers Head Coach John Fox, Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis and Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid – on a tour of U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf.
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#5 – CB Lito Sheppard
#4 – WR Bernard Berrian
We kicked off our “Gaining The Extra Edge” series on Tuesday by presenting CB Lito Sheppard as a player (not including obvious stars such as Jared Allen or Brett Favre) who holds the key to the Vikings gaining the extra edge in 2010. Today we introduce #4 on the list and he is WR Bernard Berrian.
With the emergence of WRs Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice last year, one might question the inclusion of Berrian on this list. I don’t doubt that Harvin and Rice will be pillars in the Vikings passing game again in 2010, but I also know that opposing teams will be zeroed in on them. And that’s where the 7th year pro out of Fresno State comes in.
Berrian was a 3rd round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2004, but the 6-1, 185-pound WR signed with the Vikings as a free agent prior to the 2008 season and then delivered on expectations. Coming off a 2006 season in which he helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl, Berrian followed up that effort by registering career highs in receptions (71) and receiving yards (951) in 2007, which made him the best free agent WR available prior to the 2008 season. In his 1st season with the Vikings, Berrian led the NFL with a 20.1 yards per catch average.
The speedy, big-play WR had the Vikings 5 longest receptions of the 2008 season and led the club in receiving yards 8 times. Berrian also had 4 of the Vikings longest 5 TD catches (99t, 86t, 54t, 49t) and he put up his 3 highest single-game receiving yardage days of his career – 131 vs. Detroit, 122 vs. Chicago and 110 at New Orleans. And no one will forget the 99-yard TD reception he had against the Bears in a significant Week 13 Sunday Night Football win – it was a play that personified the element #87 brings to every snap.
The 2009 season was not quite as grand for Berrian. I believe a preseason injury he suffered in Indianapolis prevented him from developing an early rapport with QB Brett Favre and the results lingered throughout the season. But now with a full season of Favre under his belt and because he was at Winter Park for much of the team’s offseason program, Berrian is poised to regain his 2008 form and add yet another lethal weapon to a Vikings offense that ranked 2nd in points per game in 2009.
With Berrian at his best, the Vikings pass offense improved from 28th in 2007 to 25th in 2008. With Favre at his best, the Vikings pass offense jumped from 25th in 2008 to 8th in 2009. And now with Berrian at his best and playing with Favre, the Vikings offense may very well make another leap forward and help the club gain that extra edge in 2010.
Tags: Bernard Berrian
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LB Chad Greenway and RB Adrian Peterson have been at the center of contract talk and speculation this offseason. Although both players have been at Winter Park during the team’s offseason program, both players also missed the team’s mandatory minicamp, prompting speculation that the absence was a result of displeasure with their current contracts.
Both players have downplayed the minicamp absence since that speculation first arose and there is no building tension between either player and the club regarding their contract.
Earlier this week there was more contract talk regarding the Vikings, but it didn’t involve Greenway or Peterson. According to this Pro Football Weekly report, TE Visanthe Shiancoe has been talking contract with the Vikings. Shiancoe, who signed a 5-year deal with the Vikings in 2007 and has since become one of the league’s most productive TEs, is now represented by the well-known Drew Rosenhaus.
The Pro Football Weekly report says nothing is imminent but that the sides have been talking and that Shiancoe would like to be paid among the top 5 TEs in the NFL.
Shiancoe finished the season tied for 4th in the NFL with 11 TD receptions on the year, setting a team record for the most TDs in a single season by a Vikings TE. He had 56 receptions for 566 yards in 2009 and now has 18 TDs over the last 2 seasons, which is 1st among all TEs during that time and tied for 3rd-most among all players.
Shiancoe has caught 14 TD passes in the last 20 regular season games, and with his 11 TDs this past season, he moved into 2nd place
among Vikings TEs with 19 career TDs.
Tags: Visanthe Shiancoe
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Last week’s entry introducing the “Gaining The Extra Edge” series generated 42 comments, an impressive number considering this is the slowest part of the NFL calendar. So before we get into Part 1 of the series, I wanted to thank everyone who submitted a comment and also encourage everyone to share comments and thoughts after each part of the series going forward.
I did briefly tally up your votes for who should be included in this series and the 2 top vote getters were RB Toby Gerhart and S Tyrell Johnson. You’ll have to check out the “Gaining The Extra Edge” series this week to see if either of those guys are included. Other top vote getters included DE Brian Robison, S Jamarca Sanford and S Madieu Williams.
Let’s get to it…#5 in our series of players who hold the key to the Vikings gaining the extra edge is CB Lito Sheppard. The Vikings acquired Sheppard the day before the 2010 NFL Draft via free agency and his addition to the roster immediately bolstered a CB corps that quite frankly needed some bolstering because of injuries.
Both starting CBs Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield enter the 2010 season coming off of significant injuries and it’s possible that Griffin may not be ready to go for Week 1. That’s where Sheppard comes in. A 9th year veteran who was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1st round of the 2002 draft, Sheppard clearly has the pedigree to step into the starting lineup if need be.
Sheppard, who stands at 5-10 and 194 pounds, is a 2-time Pro Bowler (2004, 2006) and was also an All-Pro selection in 2004. He has 284 tackles, 19 INTs and 2.0 sacks in 104 career games (70 starts). He’s also the 1st player in NFL history to register 2 INT returns of more than 100 yards, notching both returns against the Dallas Cowboys. That is very good production and numbers like that will help the Vikings pass defense improve again in 2010.
But there’s a reason a player with Sheppard’s skill set and past production was available this offseason. As you can see, 104 games in 8 complete seasons averages out to 13 games per year, indicating Sheppard has missed time due to injury. Sheppard has had 3 seasons cut short by injury and he’ll need to stay away from the injury bug to be a contributor for the Vikings in 2010.
In addition, Sheppard was traded by the Eagles to the NY Jets in February of 2009. After the Eagles signed free agent CB Asante Samuel in 2008, Sheppard saw his playing time reduced. Eventually he was shipped to the Jets for a 5th round pick in the 2009 draft and a conditional pick in the 2010 draft. The Jets released him following the 2009 season, which made him available to the Vikings.
All of that being said, it’s clear to me Sheppard’s union with the Vikings makes a ton of sense. He should be sufficiently motivated to play well and he joins a team with a need at CB. He also joins a team with a familiar coaching staff – both Head Coach Brad Childress and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier were with Sheppard in Philadelphia.
It all sets up nicely for Sheppard and the Vikings, which is why Lito is #5 on our list of players who will help the Vikings gain the extra edge in 2010.
Tags: Lito Sheppard
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The Vikings continue to tweak their roster as the offseason moves forward.
QB R.J. Archer has been waived, leaving the Vikings with 4 QBs on the roster.
The Vikings now have 81 players on the active roster.
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We noted earlier today that the Vikings parted ways with 2 undrafted rookie free agents. But the roster tweaking didn’t end there.
We’ve learned that the Vikings have claimed WR Marko Mitchell, who was waived by the Detroit Lions.
Mitchell has good size at 6-4, 218 pounds and is entering his 2nd NFL season out of the University of Nevada-Reno. He was selected by the Washington Redskins in the 7th round of the 2009 draft and then was waived by the club in May of 2010. Detroit claimed Mitchell 2 days later and then waived him on June 25.
The addition of Mitchell gives the Vikings 9 WRs.
Tags: Marko Mitchell
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The Vikings have waived 2 players from their roster; C Tommy Hernandez and DL Cedric McKinley.
Both players joined the Vikings as undrafted rookie free agents this spring, with Hernandez coming from UC-Davis and McKinley coming from the University of Minnesota. Hernandez stands at 6-2, 290 pounds and McKinley measures in at 6-6, 281 pounds.
The transactions leave the Vikings with Jon Cooper and John Sullivan as the listed centers and 12 others listed at DL.
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This week’s Monday Morning Mailbag is posted and you can read it by clicking here.
Do you have a comment/question for the mailbag? If so, submit it by sending an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to include your name and town with each email.
We can’t post every comment/question, but I’ll respond to every question.
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In a story posted on the Biloxi Sun Herald’s website, Vikings QB Brett Favre said that he’s still undecided about playing during the upcoming season, but also gave some words of encouragement for those who hope to see him back in a Vikings uniform come this fall for what would be his 20th season in the NFL.
‘‘I would love to go beat the Saints,” Favre told the paper. “I know I can still play at a high level. Last year was a great year, but it could have been better (winning NFC Championship).’’
The Vikings, of course, open the 2010 season where the 2009 one ended: in New Orleans against the Saints on Thursday, Sept. 9.
Favre also said that his surgically-repaired left ankle is healing on schedule.
The link above also noted that there will be a full interview with Favre in Friday’s print edition of the Sun Herald, and I’m sure the transcript of that will make its way online sooner than later.
UPDATE – Our friends over at the Star Tribune blog ‘Access Vikings’ have gotten a hold of the full interview. Here it is in its entirety.
By Al Jones
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. — Whether Brett Favre plays a 20th season in the NFL is still up in the air.
Following an early morning workout on Thursday that included an eight-mile bike ride near his Hattiesburg home with his wife, Deanna, the future Hall of Fame quarterback hinted that a return to Minnesota was possible.
But Favre wouldn’t commit with a direct answer about possible retirement either.
“I’m not saying that,” Favre said. “I just don’t know. I do not want to stir the pot. If it (comment) comes from me, it’s a big deal. At my age, all surgeries are major. The three I’ve had on the same ankle were considered minor, but major to me. It feels fine now. If my body was a wreck, the decision would be made. But that is not the case. I know they (Vikings) want to know.”
Favre added: “Hell, I want to know. But I am not going to press it. If I do not play, it does not cost the Vikings a dime. They keep the $13 million. I know they have confidence in the players they have. They had a chance to draft (Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy) Clausen in the first round, but they didn’t want one.
“I know I can still play at a high level. Last year was a great year, but it could have been better (losing NFC Championship). When (Vikings coach Brad) Childress came to my home a few weeks ago, he told me to take my time. But the team would need to know at some point.”
In his first season with Minnesota, Favre guided the Vikings to a 12-4 record. The Vikings lost to New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game in which Favre threw a costly last-minute interception.
Minnesota opens the season on Sept. 9 at the Superdome against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints.
“I would love to go beat the Saints,” Favre said. “I want to win every game that I play. People tell me all the time to go beat the Saints and redeem yourself.
“People said the same thing with Green Bay the year before. It was, ‘You have to go back and beat Green Bay.’ I don’t want to be in my 20th year and hear people say, ‘You have to redeem yourself.’ Like I said, I would love to go beat the Saints. But what if that doesn’t happen?”
The NFC title defeat was the downside for a year as Favre passed for 4,202 yards and seven interceptions. Against New Orleans, Favre suffered an ankle injury, which was surgically repaired last month by Dr. James Andrews.
“It was my best season,” he said. “I’ve had three MVPs and that was not one of them. I know I can still play at a high level. I know I still love to play the game.
“I do know when it’s over, it’s over. I can’t play forever. It’s not like being a dentist or playing golf, I can’t play football forever.”
Favre said his indecision has caused his reluctance to speak publicly on the matter.
“That is why I am staying quiet at this time,” Favre said. “I have people telling me all the time that the NFL is better when I play. That is a big compliment and it makes me feel good. I also have people telling me that when I retire, they are going to stop watching football. I know that’s B.S.”
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We know that stars such as DE Jared Allen, QB Brett Favre (if he returns) and RB Adrian Peterson ultimately hold the keys to the Vikings success each year. We also know that it takes every soul on a 53-man roster to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.
With that said, however, there are still a handful of players on a team each year whose performances provide an extra edge that helps get the team over the top. WR Sidney Rice was such a player for the Vikings in 2009. DE Ray Edwards is another example. Both Edwards and Rice produced at career-high levels and their production helped the Vikings separate from the rest of the league.
In order for the Vikings to get back to and surpass the level of success they achieved last year they’ll need similar performances from the supporting cast (for lack of a better term). So who will those players be?
Next week we’ll take a look at 5 candidates on the Vikings roster who might be relied upon to help the team gain that extra edge to win a 3rd consecutive division title, get back to the NFC Championship Game and ultimately reach the pinnacle of the NFL by winning a Super Bowl.
In the meantime, let us know who you think holds the key to gaining the extra edge? Is it a past star looking to regain his form? Is it a young player or rookie looking to make a name for himself? Let us know what you think by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below this entry.
Tags: Sidney Rice
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