Who’s The Man In The Middle For Thursday?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2010 – 2:39 pm

Starting C John Sullivan was sidelined for much of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury, leaving his status for Week 1 in question and prompting the Vikings to take a look at alternatives at the position. That’s the not-so-great news.

But the better news is that Sullivan has returned to practice over the last couple of days; he was listed as a limited participant for both Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices. Making the news even a little better is what both Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had to say about their starting C this week.

“He seems like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Childress said while meeting with reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “I think that probably he’s going through some of the soreness that you get, maybe not to the same extent as camp, just when you come out here and practice and get pushed around and your muscles talk to you a little bit. I think he’s going through some of that. He’s just working hard to get some of that stamina back.”

Bevell also acknowledged this week that Sullivan seems to be improving, but he also noted that looking good on the practice field and then performing in a regular season game are different monsters.

“He’s looked good,” Bevell said on Monday. “His conditioning has looked good. He’s done things on the side, whether it’s in the pool, whether it’s with [athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman, to keep his conditioning up. But it’s a matter of loading it up and making sure that it will hold up under 65 or 70 plays a game, all the way up to 90 plays.”

The Vikings have done a nice job developing alternatives at the position should Sullivan be unavailable on Thursday night or at another point in the season. Starting RG Anthony Herrera has taken both practice reps and preseason game reps at C, and regular backup Jon Cooper has also taken turns with the 1st-team offense.

“We like what we saw from Anthony,” Bevell said. “We like what we’ve seen from Cooper. It gives us the flexibility to say who we would put in there. We’re not going to put that out there. Both guys have done a nice job. I think both guys are capable of it, and we want to make sure that when we put those guys out there that we’re going to have the five best guys that are going to help us win.”

The line is at its best with Sullivan at C, but the possibility exists that he won’t be able to go on Thursday night in New Orleans. If that’s the case, either Cooper or Herrera will fill in. My sense is that Cooper would get the call at this point, which is the simplest change for the Vikings to make.

But Childress and Bevell could also decide to put Herrera in at C, which would keep Cooper as the 1st reserve and would then slide rookie Chris DeGeare in at RG. Herrera has performed well while playing C this preseason, but the issue with this alignment is it takes away from the team’s depth at G because the 1st reserve at the position – DeGeare – would be forced into the starting lineup with Herrera moving over from RG.

Any way it shakes out, the Vikings offensive line will be prepared for Thursday night’s game.

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Berrian Will Get A Look At Punt Returns

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2010 – 1:01 pm

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy have been asked several times this week about who will assume the role of punt returner. Darius Reynaud had previously held the duty but he was included in a trade with the NY Giants last week.

No clear-cut candidate has been revealed to assume the responsibility on an exclusive basis, so expect multiple players to take their turn setting under punts. Childress did disclose, however, that WR Bernard Berrian will get the 1st turn when the Vikings open the regular season on Thursday evening in New Orleans.

“Bernard will start back there,” Childress said on Tuesday. “Greg (Camarillo) has the ability to do that, as does Percy (Harvin). I can see us rotating a few guys through. Asher Allen has done it for us as well and if Marcus Sherels was up he could do it as well.”

Of the players Childress named, Berrian and Allen have the most NFL experience returning punts. Allen was in the preseason rotation and averaged 4.0 yards per return on 4 attempts. Berrian has quite a bit more experience having returned 12 punts in 3 years while with the Chicago Bears and then displaying his game-changing speed in the punt return role with the Viking in 2008.

Berrian has returned 9 punts as a Viking with a 14.1-yard average. Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 (2008), Berrian returned a punt 82 yards for a score in what wound up being a Vikings rout. That’s the kind of game-breaking and game-changing ability that can make a difference in the punt return role.

“What I like most about him is he’s undervalued as a guy that usually catches the football pretty well,” Childress said of Berrian in the punt return role. “He did a good job early in his career in Chicago and then he’s got the ability to make a guy miss and the speed to be able to take it all the way. And when you’re looking at those guys, you don’t want guys that get ten yards through a ten-yard hole. If it happens to break, he’s got the ability to hurt you with his speed.”

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Peterson Continues To Improve In Pass Protection

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2010 – 6:51 am

The Vikings took a look at several RBs over the offseason, training camp and preseason to come up with a plan to replace Chester Taylor, who left the team via free agency. Toby Gerhart, a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft, and Albert Young, a 2nd-year player who has worked his way up from the practice squad, will be relied upon to fulfill the role vacated by Taylor.

The primary role vacated by Taylor is that of the 3rd down back. Taylor was an excellent 3rd down back for the Vikings primarily because of his ability to pass protect and also because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

But while Gerhart and Young will be relied upon to fulfill some of those duties, it sounds as if Peterson himself has also honed in on those important 3rd down skills.

“Each year I always find things to improve on,” Peterson said on Monday, “and with the absence of Chester Taylor, the great third-down back we had, I really overemphasized in the offseason doing those things. Running routes, protection, things like that. Really just focus on things, and as a team work on things that I’ve been working on. I just have improved.”

Since he entered the NFL as the 7th overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Peterson has been a game-changer. He set the single-game rushing record as a rookie in ’07, led the NFL in rushing in 2008 and led the NFL in TDs in 2009. But great players always find things to work on and there’s no questioning the fact that Peterson and the Vikings have worked hard to improve the young superstar’s ability to contribute in the passing game and on 3rd down, specifically his ability to pick up pass rushers in the backfield to give the QB time to find an open receiver and pick up a crucial 3rd down.

“He’s come a long way, and I’d say he’s come a long way even in these last two weeks,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s been outstanding, in terms of going back to that San Francisco pickup, where he didn’t quite step in there with as much confidence and conviction, to the last game against [Seattle] where you could see him do it, where he was able to step up in there and you could see him hold his ground (against a blitzing pass rusher).

“I’ve seen him going to the right spot, where he’s supposed to be. I’ve seen him stand in there with conviction and pick it up. And then I’ve seen him do a good job of reading, ‘Is that guy really blitzing or is he rushing to cover me and I need to get out?’ He’s come a long way.”

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