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Vikings Lose Preseason Opener To Titans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 9:49 pm

The Vikings dropped a 14-3 decision to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday Night at LP Field in Nashville. The game represented each club’s preseason opener and each club surely came away knowing there is still plenty of work to be done before the regular season begins on September 11.

Both teams gave their starters the quick hook, so as to minimize their exposure to injury. That combined with the fact that offenses are even more behind pace than usual because of the lockout – which cancelled all offseason work – didn’t give fans a good look at what their club will look like in 2011.

Both the Vikings and Titans are featuring new, veteran starting QBs and both guys didn’t see much action. For the Vikings, Donovan McNabb went 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs or INTs. He actually looked fairly sharp, converting a couple of 1st downs and using his athleticism to evade the pass rush a couple of times. One 1st-down completion was to WR Percy Harvin, a connection Vikings fans are itching to see more of once the season begins.

Matt Hasselbeck is the Titans new passer and he wasn’t any more sensational in his debut performance. Hasselbeck was 5 of 6 on the night for 55 yards with no TDs or INTs. Actually, the Titans relied on their running game for the most part in the first half. RB Jamie Harper had 8 carries for 27 yards and even found the endzone once.

Both of Tennessee’s TDs came in the 2nd quarter. Rookie QB Jake Locker entered the game once Hasselbeck left and he connected with Yamon Figurs for a 45-yard scoring toss on what turned out to be a near-botched play. Locker fumbled the snap, chased the ball down, picked it up and connected with Figurs, who had run behind the Vikings secondary when CB Chris Cook hesitated at the sight of the fumble. Tennessee’s second TD came on Harper’s two-yard run just moments later.

The Vikings finally got on the board in the 3rd quarter when Ryan Longwell was true on a 37-yard FG that capped an 11-play, 59-yard drive led by Joe Webb. Speaking of Webb, he came in once Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier decided to pull McNabb. Webb, who was quick to pull the ball down and vacate the pocket, was 4 of 8 for 45 yards with no TDs and 1 INT. But he did look good when running with the ball and he finished the night with 33 rushing yards on 5 carries.

Ponder was the third Vikings QB to enter and he flashed plenty of potential. While he wasn’t able to lead the offense to any points, the Vikings did go for it twice on 4th down when they were in FG range. Also, Ponder had two completions of 10 yards – including his first throw of the night, which was to fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph – and he also had another 16-yard completion. It was encouraging to see Ponder running around and making plays, especially with some of the plays coming downfield.

Defensively, it was new starting outside LB Erin Henderson who led the way. He had 10 tackles, which was far and away the team high. His older brother, E.J. Henderson, was tied with three others for second on the team in tackles with 3. E.J. Henderson also had a forced fumble.

There’s much more to go over from Saturday night’s game, including: a solid performance overall by the Vikings special teams group, RB Lorenzo Booker showing up in the box score, Jaymar Johnson taking a step forward and a couple of rookies showing up to make plays.

We’ll cover all of that and more right here on the vikings.com over the next 24 hours, so stay tuned.


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Mr. Hippe’s Weather Report

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 5:40 pm

It’s a long-standing tradition here on vikings.com to check in with Vikings Director of Operations-Team Travel Luther Hippe for a quick weather forecast right before kickoff. It’s only the first preseason game, but Mr. Hippe is already in mid-season form.

Tonight’s game-time forecast for Vikings @ Titans: 86 degrees and pleasant, with a 40% chance of rain.

Thanks go out to Mr. Hippe not only for his weather report but for his and his crew’s (Chad Lundeen and Paul Martin) efforts in getting us in and out of every city for every game safely.


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Join Us For Tonight’s Live Chat

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 5:11 pm

As we have for the last few seasons, we’ll be hosting a live game-day chat for each Vikings game. The first chat of the year will be tonight, beginning around 7:00 p.m. CT as the Vikings and Titans square off for their 2011 preseason openers.

Remember, the live chat won’t start until right around kickoff.

To join the chat at kickoff, click here to go to the Vikings Game Day page.

 


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 1:15 pm

The Vikings preseason opener is tonight in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Here are five things to watch tonight when the Vikings and Titans clash in Nashville…

5. Mental mistakes, procedural penalties
No one on the field has a lack of competitive desire, but the truth of the matter is that the preseason is not about wins and losses. With the exception of guys at the bottom of the roster trying to bite, scratch and crawl for a spot, it’s about looking good, knocking the rust off and progressing every day. Coaches are more concerned about seeing zero missed assignments than they are about seeing 31 offensive points on the board. What we don’t want to see tonight are blitzers running free at Vikings QBs, running backs from the Titans bursting through the line of scrimmage without a hand on them and Vikings WRs cutting one way and the QB tossing a pass the other way. We also don’t want to see botched QB-center exchanges, false starts and illegal formation penalties.

4. The QB eye test
We’re going to have to go easy on crafting a water-tight judgment of Vikings QBs after this game. Remember, three of them are new Vikings (Rhett Bomar, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder) and the other (Joe Webb) may as well be new to the team because he’s learning a brand-new offense. With the lockout cancelling all offseason practices, offenses across the League have only just begun to install their strategies. So we’ll see a very vanilla style from the Vikings offense tonight, but I still want to see any Vikings QB who trots out there pass the eye test and at least look comfortable in all situations, whether it be a snap on first-and-ten or a pressure moment late in the half with time winding down and the defense dialing up a blitz.

3. Vikings pass rush
Jared Allen and Everson Griffen had great camps, but I’d like confirmation that they’re playing well tonight. Confirmation will come in the form of a few disruptive plays against the Titans. This might be a bit tougher to see from Allen because head coach Leslie Frazier may want to limit his reps to reduce exposure to injury, but I think Griffen will get plenty of reps tonight and I expect him to play well.

2. Kick and punt returners
The Vikings have a deep group of players competing for kick and punt return duties. This is an important role on the team not only because it helps the team win the field position battle, but also because anyone who can contribute on special teams will increase their chances of making the roster. If a WR can be relied upon to return kicks and cover kicks as well as run the correct routes on offense, he has a better chance to make the roster. If a RB can do the same while also showing good pass protection ability and a burst with the ball in his hands, then he has a better shot to make the roster. The same can be said for a CB trying to win the return job. RB Lorenzo Booker, WRs Stephen Burton, Percy Harvin and Jaymar Johnson and even a few members of the secondary are examples of players who can increase their value to the team by giving a good accounting of themselves in the return game.

1. Reserve offensive linemen
There are six offensive linemen you can count on (barring injury) being around once the regular season begins – LT Charlie Johnson, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RGs Anthony Herrera and Chris DeGeare and RT Phil Loadholt. But who will fill in as reserves? The process of determining that begins tonight and, specifically, begins about midway through the first quarter when the starters will exit the game. Draft picks C Brandon Fusco and OT DeMarcus Love have had nice camps. The versatile Ryan Cook was brought back and could fill in anywhere. Veteran Scott Kooistra is a big body that can play both LT and RT. What about Seth Olsen, who filled in for Hutchinson at LG during camp a few times? There are several more names in the mix for reserve offensive linemen jobs and it’ll be interesting to see who plays well tonight.


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Final Position-By-Position Breakdowns: QBs, FBs and RBs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 7:50 am

This week on the vikings.com Blog, we’re breaking down the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – tonight in Tennessee – approaches. We’ve already looked at the offensive line, defensive line, tight ends, defensive backs and wide receivers and linebackers. Up next: quarterbacks, fullbacks and running backs.

The Vikings decision to trade for Donovan McNabb just before the beginning of training camp gave the team something it hadn’t had in two years: the comfort of knowing the identity of the starting QB heading into camp. This was a big deal for the Vikings, especially considering the lockout had significantly derailed first-round pick Christian Ponder and second-year player Joe Webb’s chances of learning the offense thoroughly. With McNabb, the Vikings have a 13-year, playoff-tested QB to lead the new offense. McNabb gives the Vikings a chance to win games immediately and he takes pressure off of Ponder and Webb to be thrust into action too early; this will the long-term development of both youngsters.

Barring some unforeseen circumstances (knock on wood), McNabb will be the team’s starter this season. Behind McNabb the Vikings have Ponder, Webb and Rhett Bomar. It’s common for teams to bring four QBs to camp and once you’re in camp you have a chance to earn a spot, but as expected it was Ponder and Webb battling for position on the depth chart. When you select a QB with the 12th overall pick, obviously the eventual plan is for him to play. But Webb has proven himself a capable QB to date. He entered camp as the #2 QB and he’s done nothing to lose that standing. Webb will run the second-team offense tonight in Tennessee and it will be fun to see how he plays.

We should certainly not write-off Ponder, though. The fact that Webb has remained the #2 QB behind McNabb is not an indictment on Ponder, rather, it’s a credit to Webb. Ponder has looked the part of a first-round QB so far. He carries himself professionally, is respected by his teammates, does not look overwhelmed on the field and has given every indication that he has the stuff to be a starting NFL QB. It’s just going to take some time for him to learn this offense and become comfortable in the system. Remember, most rookie QBs have several weeks in their new offense with their new teammates before training camp. Ponder had zero time with his new team before camp and was literally given a trial by fire over the last 13 days.

We move on to the FBs and there were really on two of them in training camp. Second-year player Ryan D’Imperio was atop the depth chart, to no surprise. The Vikings selected D’Imperio with their seventh-round choice in the 2010 NFL Draft and they actually converted him from a college LB to an NFL FB. D’Imperio spent the 2010 season on the Vikings practice squad and perhaps the Vikings decision to not re-sign starting FB Fahu Tahi is an indication that they want to give D’Imperio a look. Helping D’Imperio’s cause to make the team is the fact that he’s been running with the first-team in a lot of special teams phases.

The second-team FB is a guy that I’ve actually enjoyed watching in camp and has impressed. His name is Matt Asiata and he’s an undrafted rookie free agent out of Utah. This kid is athletic, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he’s got some wiggle to him when he’s carrying the football. Ironically, the only part of his game that I would question right now is his lead blocking ability. Obviously that’s a FB’s main job – lead blocking – so Asiata has something to prove throughout the preseason and the rest of training camp at Winter Park, but I’ll continue to keep my eye on him.

It should come as no surprise to you, but the Vikings are going to be fine at RB this year. Adrian Peterson, despite being in a contract year, showed up on time for training camp and he’s performed well. I took some criticism for saying it, but he had one of the best practices I have ever seen a couple of Thursdays ago. He started off looking great in pass protection during a blitz drill, picking up E.J. Henderson and allowing McNabb to find Michael Jenkins for a long completion on one play. Then he looked outstanding in 9-on-7, knifing through the line of scrimmage two times in three plays for a long gain; remember, the 9-on-7 drill is designed to create contact and collision, but Peterson went untouched twice. Later toward the end of practice, Peterson made three catches that were far from routine, one where he was sprinting down the right sideline, had to slow down, turn around and leap toward his outside shoulder to haul in the pass. Anyway, I digress…

Toby Gerhart has looked solid as the #2 RB. I know a lot of people like to think of him as a FB, but he is a pure RB and he’s a good one, too. He’s more of a between-the-tackles runner than Peterson, even though Peterson has a bigger build. Gerhart is a no-nonsense, north-south, down-hill runner who tends to break the first tackle and will rarely be stopped for no gain or less. He’s also going to be a great asset for the offense in the four-minute situation, where the Vikings hold a lead and are trying to run out the clock. After trying to stop Peterson all game, defenses are going to have to adjust to trying to stop Gerhart, who will have fresh legs, with the game on the line and the clock working against them.

The #3 RB is a guy who surprised me a bit with how good he looked in camp – Lorenzo Booker. You’ll probably remember Booker as the guy who came to the Vikings late last year and looked good on a few kickoff returns. This year, I think you’ll remember him as the team’s outstanding kickoff returner who was also a nice change-of-pace RB. Booker has some ability in the pass-receiving game and he’s got some wiggle to him as well. He’s hard to bring down on the first try and I think he’s going to be a factor on offense this year. Booker also has a legitimate chance to be the team’s primary kickoff returner, especially if the coaching staff decides to use Percy Harvin only sparingly in that role to preserve him for offensive use.

After those three guys, the Vikings have a pair of youngsters in the RB stable - Tristan Davis and Alexander Robinson. Davis has not come out and flashed a bunch, but he’s also not been a waste. I’m not sure how long he’ll stick around this roster, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see a team show interest in him and give him a shot. Alexander, on the other hand, has impressed me. He appears to have great quickness and good speed and we know he knows how to play the position because he was Iowa State’s fourth all-time leading rusher. Alexander is also a native of Minneapolis, so it’d be a fun story to have him stick around either on the 53-man roster if the Vikings decide to keep four RBs or even on the practice squad to see if he can develop.


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