Vikings Welcome Defending NCAA Men’s Hockey Champs To MOA Field On Thursday

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on August 31, 2011 – 1:11 pm

The Vikings are honored to welcome the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team to Mall of America Field tomorrow night for the team’s final preseason game of 2011 vs. the Houston Texans.  The Bulldogs captured their first ever NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey title last spring thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory over Michigan at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in the championship game of the Frozen Four.

Sophomore forward J.T. Brown, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four, is the son of former Vikings running back Ted Brown and will sound the Gjallarhorn prior to the game.’s Mike Wobschall recapped Brown’s freshman season that was capped off in grand fashion this past spring.  All returning members of the team, including a few players who have moved on but are still in the state of Minnesota, along with members of the UMD coaching staff will be in attendance.

Brown had 37 points in 42 games as a freshman and four of those points came in the Bulldogs’ four NCAA Tournament games.

The Bulldogs begin the 2011-12 season on Oct. 7 when they host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for a pair of games at Amsoil Arena before opening WCHA play the following weekend against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Duluth.

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Johnson, Sanford Continue Battle For Starting Safety Spot

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 30, 2011 – 3:18 pm

QBs Christian Ponder and Joe Webb have rotated starts and shared practice reps and playing time this preseason as the Vikings offensive coaching staff tries to make a determination about which guy will be the backup to veteran Donovan McNabb. The defensive coaching staff has employed a similar tactic in trying to determine who will start with Husain Abdullah at the safety position.

Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford are the two players vying for a starting role in Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac’s scheme and their competition hasn’t yielded an answer, yet. But from the sounds of it, Pagac and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff will be ready to make a decision after Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans.

“The guys have been fighting all of camp,” Pagac said. “I think both of them have done an excellent job. Obviously they’re going to continue to fight and we’re going to make a decision after this game. We’ll see how they do and I’ll tell you what, both of them have done a very good job so far.”

While Johnson or Sanford apparently haven’t been able to separate from the competition, it’s at least good news to know that both guys are competing and are playing well enough to remain in consideration for the starting job. Had either or both players been underperforming – and thus the coaching staff unable to name one of them the starter – then we would’ve seen other names emerge as possibilities, such as rookie Mistral Raymond or perhaps a player on the open market.

As it stands, expect both guys to see quite a bit of playing time on Thursday night against Houston. And also don’t be surprised if this is a competition that continues throughout the season, which will increase the level of performance from both players.

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Frazier Sounds Optimistic On Shiancoe, Kevin Williams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 3:05 pm

It’s the preseason so sometimes it’s not too alarming when regular starters aren’t in the lineup. The reality, though, is that once the regular season begins the availability of those regular starters is heavily scrutinized.

That’s where TE Visanthe Shiancoe and DT Kevin Williams enter the conversation. Both guys sat out of Saturday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys and Shiancoe has actually not played at all this preseason. Shiancoe is dealing with a pesky hamstring injury and Williams has a foot ailment. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier sounded optimistic that both guys will be ready for the regular season.

“Pretty optimistic that he’ll be ready,” Frazier said of Williams. “He moved around fairly well (Monday); much better than I anticipated. He was able to go through some of the drills and [I] wasn’t sure if he’d be able to do that. Hopefully tomorrow he can do a little more, but we’ve got some time before that first game, so I’m optimistic that he’ll be ready.”

As for Shiancoe, Frazier said he won’t play on Thursday against Houston in the preseason finale but they feel “pretty good that he’ll be ready for our opener.” Frazier also said that if it were the regular season right now, Shiancoe would probably be able to play.

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Ponder To Start Thursday; “Opportunities” Remain For Roster Spots

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 2:34 pm

After the build-up and importance we attach to the 3rd preseason game, it’s easy to write-off the 4th preseason game as meaningless. But in Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s eyes, the Vikings preseason finale will be anything but meaningless.

For starters, 1st-round draft pick Christian Ponder will get the start at QB. Ponder and Joe Webb have been alternating turns at QB for the entire training camp and preseason, and Thursday’s game will be a continuation of that rotation. But it sounds like the game will also be another opportunity for Ponder and Webb to create some separation in their competition for the backup job behind veteran Donovan McNabb.

“It’s a big game for not only for our quarterbacks, but for a lot of guys trying to make our roster,” Frazier said on Monday after practice. “But we definitely want to see both guys – Christian, along with Joe – create some separation for that number two (quarterback) spot. Maybe this game will be an indication of which guy will be number two.”

Frazier said the main thing he’ll be looking for from Ponder on Thursday night is continued improvement. Whom exactly Ponder – and Webb – will be playing with on Thursday night remains to be seen. Frazier didn’t indicate whether any first-team players would line up with Ponder early in Thursday’s game.

The focus on Thursday will not be exclusively on the QB position, however. Frazier indicated there are plenty of positions still open for competition, even in the starting lineup.

“We still have some competitive work to be done at certain positions,” Frazier said. “I think the guys know going into this final game there are still some opportunities for them to make our team and help our team improve at a number of different spots. So we do have certain spots where we know we have our starters in place, but we have some places up for [grabs] as well.”

Frazier didn’t get into specifics as to which positions are still open, but a few areas to watch include: FB/TE, WRs #4-6, reserve DL, LB and OL and starting safety opposite Husain Abdullah. There are likely also several special teams positions still up for grabs, including at punt returner.

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Vikings Getting Creative With Young D-Linemen Ballard, Griffen

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 2:12 pm

One of the themes new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave operates under is to tailor his system to fit the players on the Vikings roster. And it looks like that theme is one the Vikings defensive coaches are going to subscribe to as well.

On Monday at practice, 2nd-year DE Everson Griffen spent a few plays standing up and playing in the spot usually occupied by an outside LB. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was quite complementary of Griffen’s athletic ability during his post-practice press conference and he made it clear the team has every intention of tapping into Griffen’s potential.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Frazier said, also noting that Griffen weighs 270 pounds and can run a 4.5-4.6 forty-yard dash. “He’s just a tremendous athlete with good football intelligence and has some playmaking ability, so we want to utilize his athletic ability.”

The back and forth Frazier had with reporters after practice was more centered on having Griffen “stand up” on defense, rather than simply moving him to outside LB. Whether the idea actually involves a position change remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that the Vikings have a few things in mind to just get #97 on the field.

“We have some packages where we want him to stand up sometimes,” Frazier said, “and we thought that this (experimenting during practice) would give him an opportunity to get comfortable doing that [for] when we go to some of those packages during the year.

“We’re going to try to get him in there, depending on how he handles things this week that we’re throwing at him in these couple days that we got. But we’d like to take a look at him and just see how he does. But for sure, as the year goes on, we want to be able to stand him up sometimes in certain situations and let him be like a linebacker.”

Frazier was also clear that using Griffen in this manner is no indictment on the play of Erin Henderson or any of the other outside LBs currently on the roster. Rather, it’s actually based on confidence the Vikings defensive coaching staff has in another young DL on the roster.

“What it speaks to more is, some of the things we have in mind for Christian Ballard,” Frazier explained. “The fact that we think he can play inside, but also slide outside. We’ve seen some things with him that makes us believe he has some position flexibility. We’re going to try him a little bit in this game on Thursday night at (defensive) end and just see what he gives us in that area. If he can come around, it’ll help our football team.”

Who says the 4th preseason game is boring? It sounds like the Vikings defense has a lot of fun in store for the preseason finale.

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Emptying Out The Notebook Before Preparations For Texans Begin

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 11:24 am

The Vikings will hit the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park Monday afternoon to begin preparation for the preseason finale against the Houston Texans on Thursday night. But before we focus on the Texans and Leslie Frazier’s press conference later today, let’s empty out the notebook from Saturday night’s game…

– We’ll focus exclusively on the defensive side of the ball here and first mention DE Brian Robison, who played well in my opinion. Robison pressured Romo on the Cowboys first 3rd-down play, he made a nice play on Dallas’ second offensive series when he stayed home to snuff out an end-around by WR Kevin Ogletree and then put a great inside spin move on RT Tyron Smith – a 1st-round pick in last April’s draft – to pressure Romo on a 3rd-down play late in the 1st quarter that resulted in an incompletion and Dallas FG. There was also a play on 1st and 10 with about 9:20 to play in the 2nd quarter where RB Felix Jones ran wide right and Robison did a great job of stringing the play out while being blocked by Smith.

– LB E.J. Henderson has had a solid training camp and definitely passes the eye test this preseason. He appeared to be in mid-season form on Saturday night, too. Henderson knifed though the Cowboys offensive line on the fourth play of the game to stop a cutback by Jones. Then, he did it again against RB Tashard Choice on a 1st-and-20 with just over 3 minutes to play in the 1st half.

– CB Cedric Griffin saw his first extended action since coming back from a second torn ACL early last season. Dallas of course targeted Griffin early and often, but all things considered I thought Griffin help up very well. Romo went after Griffin on the first play of the game with a quick pass to WR Dez Bryant, but Griffin made a good play and was able to drop Bryant for a gain of just 1 yard. Also, Griffin was able to make a good open-field tackle on Jones early in the 2nd quarter, which was an impressive play because Jones is one of the shiftiest players in the League and Griffin took him down in wide open space.

– DE Jared Allen was flirting with pressuring Romo for most of the 1st half but was just never able to get home, until the first play after the 2-minute warning on 3rd down when he used his speed to get past the LT and force Romo to vacate the pocket. Rookie DT Christian Ballard was there to snag Romo as he tried to get away from Allen. While Allen hasn’t registered a bunch of sacks this preseason, he had one of the best training camps of any Vikings player and he looks explosive coming off the ball in games.

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After (Film) Review: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 6:19 am

We’re going to debut a weekly feature here on the Blog today called “Weekly Review.” The day after each Vikings game, I’ll watch film to focus on one aspect of the team and then provide a report here on the Blog. For the premier edition of After (Film) Review, we’ll focus on the offensive line.

With an off-day between Saturday’s game and the posting of this report, the Star Tribune’s Mark Craig beat me to the punch a little bit on analyzing the offensive line’s performance against the Cowboys. But it looks like we came to the same basic conclusion: the offensive line showed improvement. Specifically, the return of starting RG Anthony Herrera to the lineup was a big boost for the offensive line. While Craig was also complementary of LT Charlie Johnson, I was actually as impressed and maybe a touch more impressed with C John Sullivan.

For what it’s worth, we should temper somewhat the enthusiasm because this was just a preseason game and Dallas didn’t exactly come after the Vikings offense with a blitz-heavy attack. As 1500ESPN’s Tom Pelissero notes, Dallas “rushed more than four men three times in 18 dropback passes (16.7%) and rushed three on six occasions (33.3%), while the Vikings used at least one chip or extra protector eight times (44.4%), not including four bootleg plays.”

All in all, though, I thought the offensive line’s performance on Saturday was encouraging. This group has been much-maligned over the last 12 months, but I have a feeling that they will be much improved in 2011. Let’s get to a few specific examples of solid play from the first-team offensive line…

1st Offensive Series
– On the Vikings first 3rd-down play, Herrera pulled to take out LB Anthony Spencer and RT Phil Loadholt blocked to his inside and took out DE Igor Olshansky to open up a hole for Adrian Peterson to pickup 7 yards and the 1st down.
– On 3rd and 1 a few plays later, LT Charlie Johnson cleared out and sealed DE Kenyon Coleman and a pulling Steve Hutchinson finished off CB Orlando Scandrick to allow Peterson to pickup 5 yards and another 1st down.
– On the next play, McNabb went play-action fake to Peterson and was given a perfect pocket. This enabled WR Bernard Berrian time to make a double-move and run past the Dallas secondary. McNabb hit him in stride for a 49-yard TD.
– Totals for the drive: Peterson 5 carries, 29 yards; McNabb 2 for 2, 54 yards, TD)

2nd Offensive Series
– The Vikings picked up 13 yards on the first play of the series with a Percy Harvin reception, then on the second play of the series Peterson gained 9 yards on the ground. LT Charlie Johnson and TE Jeff Dugan double-teamed DE Jason Hatcher and FB Ryan D’Imperio and Harvin took care of Spencer, which gave Peterson room to dance around both James and Scandrick to gain 9 on the ground going wide left.
– On 2nd and 1, Sullivan handles NT Jay Ratliff long enough and Herrera seals off Olshansky so Peterson can cutback from the left to the right and pick up 5 yards and the 1st down.
– On 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 47-yardline, the Vikings featured a two-TE set. The line provided a solid pocket for McNabb, but the QB couldn’t find an open receiver, so he fled to the right and then found Berrian, who broke open and caught McNabb’s pass for a gain of 15 yards.
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 14 yards; McNabb 4 for 5, 37 yards)

3rd Offensive Series
On 2nd and 7 from the MN 17, McNabb changed the play at the line of scrimmage and the Vikings ran wide left with Peterson. TE Kyle Rudolph was just good enough to seal off LB Sean Lee and Sullivan got to the second level to block James from the play, which is ultimately why Peterson was able to dash forward for a 15-yard gain. Hutchinson pulled on the play to take out Elam.
– On 2nd and 10, Booker carried and went up the middle to gain 10 yards. Johnson sealed Spencer off immediately, Sullivan handled Ratliff, Hutchinson took care of Lee and Herrera came off his initial block to prevent James from making a stop early in the play.
– On 1st and 10 from the DAL 47, McNabb made his best throw of the night. McNabb was in the gun, with Booker and Kleinsasser in the backfield as protectors. McNabb rifled a pass into WR Michael Jenkins on a slant for a gain of 17. There was a nice pocket for McNabb and #5 got rid of the ball quickly. Preseason TV analyst Mike Mayock said: “For anyone who thinks that Donovan McNabb doesn’t have it (anymore), take a snapshot of this throw.”
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 18 yards; Booker 1 carry, 11 yards; McNabb 2 for 4, 25 yards, INT)

4th Offensive Series
– On the first play of the series, Peterson ran behind the LG for a 5-yard gain. Johnson and Kleinsasser combined for a kickout block on DE Sean Lissemore and Sullivan sealed NT Josh Brent out of the play.
– Peterson gained 3 yards on a pitch wide right. The play was actually blocked well, but OLB DeMarcus Ware chased the play down from the back end; he was intentionally left unblocked because the play was going to the opposite side. But that’s why Ware is a perennial Pro Bowler. However, this was the first time Ware was a factor in the game (5:00 to play in 1st half).
– Totals: Peterson 2 carries, 8 yards; McNabb 1 for 3, 6 yards.

5th Offensive Series
– McNabb hit Booker for a 12-yard gain on 1st down, but the Vikings went 3-and-out after that; gave up a sack on 2nd down.

End of 1st half: Vikings had 216 yards (157 for Dallas), 12 first downs (9 for Dallas) and 89 rushing yards (22 for Dallas).

6th Offensive Series
– On 3rd and 4 out of the gun formation, McNabb was protected great against a 4-man rush and he lofted a pass for Jenkins down the right side; Jenkins won the one-on-one matchup against CB Mario Butler to make the catch for a gain of 26 yards and the 1st down.
– Totals: Peterson 3 carries, 12 yards; McNabb 1 for 3, 26 yards

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Vikings Trim Roster, Waive 10

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 6:05 am

NFL teams were allowed to have 90 players on their training camp rosters, but must trim that number to 85 early this week.

In an effort to comply with the NFL’s roster requirements, the Vikings have waived the following players: DB Chris Adingupu, OL Conan Amituanai, TE Ed Barham, QB Rhett Bomar, DB Simeon Castille, LB Jonathan Gilmore, WR Andre Holmes, LB Kyle O’Donnell, K Nate Whitaker and DT Colby Whitlock.

The Vikings now have 80 players on the roster and the NFL requires teams to be at 53 players by September 4.

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Submit Your Monday Morning Mailbag Questions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 28, 2011 – 6:06 am

Preseason game #3 is in the books and we’re now one step closer to the regular season.

With all that’s happened from training camp through three-quarters of the preseason, you must have questions and I know you have opinions.

So let’s hash it all out in the Monday Morning Mailbag.

To submit a comment or question, send an email to me at You can also submit your comment or question in the comments section below this entry.

Remember to include your name and town on the comment/email. We can’t post every comment/question, but we’ll try to answer each question.

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Vikings Offense Takes Step Forward Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2011 – 10:28 pm

The Vikings ultimately didn’t win Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field, but the first-team offense took another step forward in their development under new coordinator Bill Musgrave.

QB Donovan McNabb was 12 of 18 for 156 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT on the night. He hit speedy WR Bernard Berrian over the top of Dallas’ defense for a 49-yard score in the 1st quarter and he found Percy Harvin four times for 29 yards in the 1st half. New WR Michael Jenkins also got in the mix during the 1st half with 2 receptions for 22 yards, including a 17-yard grab on the play right before McNabb’s interception; the interception came on a deflected pass.

While it was encouraging to see the passing game take flight against Dallas, there’s no question that the bread and butter of this offense will be the running game. Adrian Peterson took handoffs on five of the Vikings first six plays, which set up Berrian’s long TD score to cap the team’s opening drive. In total, Peterson gained 81 yards on 14 carries and looked explosive the entire night.

The performance by the Vikings first-team offensive line should not go unnoticed. The group welcomed back starting RG Anthony Herrera following his recovery from a serious knee injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. Herrera stepped in and the rest of the line displayed improvement, as Peterson burst past the first line of the Dallas defense on multiple occasions.

“We got into a good rhythm,” RT Phil Loadholt said after the game. “We were moving guys up front, got in a good rhythm and we were able to move the ball. As an offensive line, we love it when we hear that run call. The momentum, once you start putting drives together like that, you can see it in the defense that things are going well for us. It feels good once you get that momentum.”

The Vikings first-team offense strung together drives of 83, 51, 56 and 45 yards on Saturday night, largely thanks to the protection and run blocking provided by the line. In his postgame press conference, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he was impressed with the offensive line early in the game and he also said Herrera’s performance was encouraging. Asked if Herrera would be able to play in the regular season opener on September 11 in San Diego, Frazier said the feisty veteran had “a chance,” which is good news as Herrera comes back from that knee injury.

All in all, we’ll temper the enthusiasm because the Vikings lost the game and there were still productive drives that didn’t end with TDs. At the same time, it was encouraging to see the offensive take yet another step forward in their development. McNabb stretched the field vertically with Berrian and Jenkins, and then Harvin and Peterson did their work underneath.

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