Preseason game #1 is in the books and training camp is roughly halfway complete. The Vikings have moved north from Mankato back to Eden Prairie and will complete training camp at Winter Park. With all that’s happened, you must have questions and I know you have opinions.
So let’s hash it all out in the Monday Morning Mailbag.
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Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 128 Comments »
Much of my attention so far in the aftermath of the Vikings preseason opener in Tennessee has been on the QBs. Much of the fans’ attention has been on criticizing the offensive line and secondary. So for a moment let’s focus on a few other topics from Saturday night’s game and discuss whether they are trends that we can anticipate continuing or mirages that were just a flash in the pan.
Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…
Lorenzo Booker flying all over the field
From an individual standpoint, RB Lorenzo Booker flashed on the field more than any other player for the Vikings. Many Vikings fans will remember Booker as “the guy who came on late last season and returned a few kicks.” But on Saturday night he had a different role. In the end, Booker finished with 9 carries for 47 yards (5.2 yards per carry), including a run of 20 yards. He also had 3 receptions for 32 yards and a kickoff return for 26 yards.
More than just the numbers, though, Booker displayed his above-average speed and his outstanding quickness. He has a wiggle to him when the ball is in his hands and rarely does the first defender bring him to the ground. In fairness, we must note that he did lose a fumble on Saturday night and that turnover led to a Tennessee TD. That cannot continue if Booker is going to remain a factor for the Vikings.
Trend or Mirage: I say this is a trend. Booker immediately bonded with QB Donovan McNabb (they were together in Philadelphia during the 2008 season) and I think he’s going to be a safety net for McNabb in the Vikings offense. Booker is a great change-of-pace RB, he’ll be valuable on 3rd downs and, perhaps most importantly, he could be the primary kickoff returner. If Booker can prove reliable as a kick returner, it will allow the Vikings to preserve Percy Harvin from that role and increase Harvin’s touches on offense.
Christian Ballard notches a QB sack
The Vikings selected DL Christian Ballard with their fourth-round pick in last April’s draft and they took him with the thought that he could bolster the defensive line’s depth because he can play both inside at DT and outside at DE. Ballard was productive at both spots while playing for the University of Iowa and I’ve seen nothing so far in training camp that indicates he can’t be productive at either spot in the NFL.
On Saturday night during the 2nd quarter, Ballard crashed the pocked and sacked QB Jake Locker on 3rd and 2, ending the Titans drive and forcing a punt. That’s the kind of disruption the Vikings hoped to see from Ballard.
Trend or Mirage: Looks like a trend to me. Although he hasn’t had an outstanding camp, he has played well enough so far, especially with the sack on Saturday night, to inspire confidence that he can be a member of the DL rotation this season.
Vikings secondary suspect again
It was only the first preseason game, so we don’t want to draw a water-tight conclusion yet. But unfortunately we saw more of the same from the Vikings secondary on Saturday night. Granted, Tennessee only scored 14 points for the game, but there were times when it felt like both Matt Hasselbeck and Locker had no problem finding holes in coverage. Also, the Vikings didn’t generate much of a pass rush all night – except for Ballard’s sack - and that doesn’t help the secondary cover anybody.
Both Asher Allen and Chris Cook will be criticized for the next week for their play in Saturday night’s game. Also, fans will be quite vocal about the need for an improvement at safety. Given how the secondary performed last year and also how Saturday night unfolded, this is a fair complaint. But as upset as you are fans, at how the secondary has played, I hope you are just as open to seeing improvement in the weeks ahead.
Trend or Mirage: I think it’s a mirage. My expectation is the Vikings pass rush will be better in 2011 than it was in 2010 and I also think the return of Cedric Griffin to the starting lineup (he didn’t play Saturday night) will make a huge difference in the secondary. I know head coach Leslie Frazier believes in Cook and if the second-round pick from last year can gain some confidence and play well, the Vikings can quickly turn what was once a major weakness into a serviceable to strong part of the team. Yes, we saw a few things we didn’t want to see on Saturday night, but we have three preseason games and a whole lot more training camp to go before the regular season begins on September 11 in San Diego.
Tags: Asher Allen, Cedric Griffin, Chris Cook, Christian Ballard, Lorenzo Booker
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Preseason game #1 is in the books and we’re now one step closer to the regular season. The natural tendency is to draw wide-sweeping conclusions after the first preseason game, but we must remember that Saturday night’s tilt against the Titans was just another small step in the process of preparing for the season.
With that said, let’s take a look at how the Vikings QBs fared on Saturday night…
Donovan McNabb – For your starting QB, the first preseason game is more about eliminating mental mistakes and perfecting fundamentals than it is about scoring points and accumulating statistics. To that end, McNabb was just fine on Saturday night. He was 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs and no INTs. McNabb completed his first three passes and four of his first five attempts. On his first offensive series, McNabb converted two third-down passes and drove the Vikings offense from their own 7-yardline out to the 40.
McNabb came out for a second series and immediately hit WR Bernard Berrian on a quick slant. Then he lofted a touch pass to WR Greg Camarillo on 3rd and 3 to keep the drive going. Eventually the drive stalled and the Vikings had to punt from their own 46.
In the end, I came away encouraged with what I saw from McNabb and the first-team offense. Two of McNabb’s incompletions could’ve been caught, none of his passes were near-INTs and he used his athleticism to get out of the pocket to buy time. These are all good signs in the first preseason game.
Joe Webb – The team’s backup QB entering training camp, Webb has done nothing to lose his status as the #2 in camp and he didn’t lose any ground on Saturday night, either. I would characterize McNabb’s night as a positive and Webb’s as a mixed bag. Too often Webb is quick to pull the ball down, escape the pocket and start running downfield. Now, this is a good tool for a QB to possess, but you also want your QB to be willing to stay in the pocket, find the open receiver and deliver the pass in the face of pressure. We haven’t seen Webb do that yet. On top of that, he did throw an INT on his second series.
In the end, Webb finished going
3 of 5 for 36 yards 4 of 8 for 45 yards with no TDs and the INT; he also had 5 carries for 33 yards. There is no questioning Webb’s athletic ability, arm strength and overall look at the QB position. But he does need to become more polished. At this point in his career and at this point in the season, though, that’s about what you expect. He has the potential to play QB at this level.
Christian Ponder – The longer Ponder stayed in the game, the better I thought he looked. As has been the case with Ponder since he was selected 12th overall by the Vikings last April, nothing seemed too big for him on Saturday night and he never showed signs of being overwhelmed. No, he didn’t lead the Vikings offense to points. But also keep in mind that the Vikings went for it on two separate 4th downs when they were deep in Titans territory.
Ponder entered the game midway through the 3rd quarter and hit fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph for a 10-yard completion on his first play. An incompletion, 5-yard run and sack in subsequent plays forced the Vikings to punt. On his next series, Ponder had another 10-yard completion, another sack, a 17-yard completion that was negated by penalty and then an incompletion, all leading to another punt.
Ponder’s third series was fun to watch. He hit TE Allen Reisner for 16 yards on 2nd and 8, then completed a 26-yard strike to WR Juaquin Iglesias that got the Vikings near the red zone. But Ponder and Co. couldn’t muster much after that and eventually they turned the ball over on downs on 4th and 2 from the Titans 14. On his final series, Ponder went 2 of 3 before taking a sack on 4th and 2 from the Tennessee 16.
In total, Ponder finished going 8 of 13 for 84 yards with no TDs, no INTs and 3 sacks.
Overall, I was encouraged by most of what I saw from the Vikings QBs on Saturday night. Yes, it would’ve been nice to see more points on the board. But given the wide spectrum of results you can see during a preseason game, what we saw on Saturday night was right about in the middle. And it looks to be going in the right direction.
I thought McNabb gave a pretty good assessment of his play during a sideline interview on Saturday night. As it turns out, McNabb’s comments were actually a good assessment of how all the QBs performed in preseason game #1. Here’s what he said…
“Well, obviously there are some things we’d like to have back. I think it was a good overall start. We had a lot of rhythm going on and our chemistry was definitely there. Obviously something we can feed off of going into game number two. But overall just kind of stepping back right now before watching film, you’ve got to be pleased by the enthusiasm of the guys, the execution of the plays, getting in and out of the huddle and then starting the tempo that we needed.”
Tags: Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Joe Webb
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 62 Comments »