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McNabb Cautiously Optimistic On Offense’s Progress

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 11:34 am

Some fans were quick to panic about the Vikings offense following a brief appearance by some of the first-teamers on Saturday night produced no points and little sign of explosion. But count the point man of the offense – QB Donovan McNabb – as one who is cautiously optimistic about the group’s progress.

“Yeah, we’re very excited where we’re at right now,” McNabb said. “But yet it’s still a work in progress. We made some big plays out here, running as well as throwing the ball. Communication-wise, I think the chemistry is flowing where we need it to be. But again, it’s just the beginning and we want to continue to get better each day.”

McNabb’s approach to the current status of the offense is professional, which shouldn’t be surprising considering this is his 13th season in the NFL. And he does have a point. Considering the starting QB just arrived fewer than three weeks ago and considering coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t have the luxury of an offseason program, minicamps or Organized Team Activities (OTAs) to install his offense, the first-team offense didn’t look bad at all last Saturday night.

For the 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 last Saturday night. He was 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs and no INTs. He completed his first three passes and four of his first five attempts. On McNabb’s first offensive series, the Vikings converted two third-down passes and drove 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.

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.

An area to watch this weekend is the offensive line. There’s a new starter at LT, starting C John Sullivan is coming back from injury and there’s a good battle underneath Anthony Herrera at RG.

“The chemistry and the communication [are] definitely there,” McNabb said. “Myself and Sully, as well as Hutch and Herrera, just in the interior have really been communicating and seeing things the same. And obviously when you do that, your communication expands outside to the tackles and we’ll all be on the same page. I’m excited about what we’ve been able to do since everybody’s been able to practice, the way that we’ve continued to improve.

“Obviously this is Week-2-and-a-half for me, so I’m excited to see the progression that we’ve made and excited about what we’ve been able to do on the outside with the receivers and our running game. Again, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to clear up, but yet and still just looking at it, we’ve done some good things.”


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CB Cedric Griffin May Get A Look On Saturday; Harvin Update

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 6:17 am

The Vikings had a “good, spirited” practice on Wednesday at Winter Park, according to Head Coach Leslie Frazier. The team worked out in full pads and under ideal conditions as they continue preparations for this Saturday’s preseason game in Seattle.

Frazier pointed out that Wednesday’s practice included periods where the team worked in backed-up, two-minute, goal line and short-yardage situations.

But right now the main issues for the Vikings revolve around some minor injuries and how playing time for the second preseason game will be distributed. Several players have missed a practice or two this week coming off of last weekend’s preseason opener, but the good news is the team isn’t dealing with any major injuries.

“The further you get along,” Frazier said of training camp, “you’re going to have some bumps and bruises and fortunately for us, we haven’t had any major issues. There’s nothing more than muscle pulls or strains and you’ll get through those in time.”

The highest-profile player to miss time so far has been WR Percy Harvin, who has a mild rib injury and has missed most of practice over the past two days. Frazier indicated that Harvin is fine but that the team is being careful. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Harvin was held out of Saturday’s game to ensure that he fully heals. His role on the team is pretty well-defined, so it might actually be more beneficial to have him sit than to have him play, largely so the coaching staff can get a look at other players behind Harvin on the depth chart.

A guy who has looked great in training camp but who didn’t make it onto the field last weekend is CB Cedric Griffin. He’s coming back from a knee injury that ended his 2010 season early and it sounds like he might get on the field for a few minutes on Saturday night in Seattle.

“At least a series,” Frazier said when asked how much Griffin might play on Saturday. “That’s where we’re thinking right now. We’ll see how he does tomorrow (Thursday) in practice, how he finishes and if he finishes fine we may try to get him a series.”

As questionable as the secondary looked last weekend, keep in mind that the team’s two best CBs (Griffin and Antoine Winfield) didn’t play. It seems only fair that Griffin and Winfield be allowed on the field before an iron-clad judgment can be cast on the progress of the secondary from the end of last season to the beginning of this season.

Speaking of the Vikings secondary, there’s another guy who didn’t get on the field last weekend but who has been having a superb camp. It’s rookie S Mistral Raymond, and he was held out last weekend because he tweaked his hamstring on the final play of the Mankato version of training camp.

Raymond is an impressive-looking athlete at the safety position. He has good size (6-1, 194 pounds) but also has the agility, quickness and speed you look for in a starting NFL DB. Raymond actually played some CB in college, so it’ll be interesting to see if he has the combination of aggressiveness and coverage ability you look for in an NFL safety.

“He’s a guy we’re anxious to take a look at in a game situation but we feel pretty good about his athleticism and how well he’s picked up things on defense,” Frazier said of Raymond. “Now it’s a matter of how he plays against other opponents but we’re looking forward to watching him play.”

Vikings fans should be, too. With questionable play at times over the last couple of seasons at safety, Raymond is one of a few players with an eye on a starting job in the Vikings secondary. The competition at safety, specifically, is thick and I think it will yield positive results for the Vikings defense.


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Broadcast Info For Saturday’s Game In Seattle

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on August 17, 2011 – 6:00 am

Watching Vikings preseason games is usually very easy for fans based in Minnesota, but can prove to be a challenge for fans living elsewhere.

This week though, in addition to the game airing live at 9 p.m. CST on Saturday on KARE 11 in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, NFL Network will also air the game live starting at 10 p.m. CST (we’re not sure if they are picking up coverage or starting from the opening kick, but we’re assuming the latter), which should make it a lot easier for Vikings fans around the nation to watch the team’s second preseason game of 2011.

Fans can watch all NFL presesaon games live or on-demand via NFL.com’s Preseason Live product, which is $14.99 for the rest of the preseason as of today.

This will also be the first Vikings game to air on the new FM version of KFAN, 100.3, in the Twin Cities.  The pregame shows gets started at 7 p.m. CST.

Finally, for those that wish to listen to the game online, NFL rules prohibit KFAN.com from streaming the game like they do their normal shows, but NFL.com’s Audio Pass product is available.

For full info on live airings and replay options of all Vikings preseason games, click here.


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Punt Return Job Looks Wide Open; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 4:11 pm

In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I made the case for Lorenzo Booker to take care of kickoff return duties for the Vikings this season. The punt return job, however, is not quite as simple to delegate at this point.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s practice officially began, I watched 8 Vikings take turns fielding punts. They were: CBs Asher Allen, Cord Parks, Marcus Sherels and Devon Torrence; WRs Stephen Burton, Greg Camarillo and Jaymar Johnson; and RB Lorenzo Booker.

Camarillo was the primary punt returner last season, fielding 39 of the team’s 42 punt returns. He hasn’t done anything to lose the responsibility and is in fact one of the surest-handed returners in the group, but there’s nothing wrong with opening up the job for competition. Through one preseason game, Johnson has the best results (1 return for 40 yards) and Sherels has returned a pair of punts for 4 yards.

There are higher-profile position battles on the Vikings roster this year, such as backup QB and starting safety, but the importance of the punt return position battle should not be understated. The candidates for the job come from a variety of different positions, which means the punt return job has an impact on several areas of the team when it comes time for coaches and scouts to pick the 53-man rosters.

We’ll continue to monitor this position battle for you on vikings.com throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason. Here are a few notes from Tuesday afternoon’s practice…

– The team worked in full pads for just short of 2.5 hours under partly cloudy skies. The temperature was fairly warm, but there was a persistent wind that cooled the air and made life a bit more difficult for P Chris Kluwe and K Ryan Longwell.

– Longwell, though, was solid during the special teams period and connected on a high percentage of his FG tries.

– RG Anthony Herrera practice for the second straight day and continues to ease back into the swing of things. He worked with the first-team offense. Also working with the first-team offense again on Tuesday was Scott Kooistra.

– Tyrell Johnson was a safety on the first-team defense and Chris Cook worked with the first-team nickel defense.

– The Vikings coaching staff gave the one-on-one drill between WRs and CBs/safeties a different twist. Ordinarily the drill pits just one WR against one CB, but on Tuesday the Vikings worked on route combinations. There were three DBs on the field for the drill (one safety, two CBs) and two WRs. The drill not only had the offensive players working on route combinations and the defensive players working on defensive schemes, but it also forced the defense to communicate and it forced the QB to make a decision on which receiver to target.

– There is usually a “special category” period of practice, which is commonly referred to as “special cats.” Tuesday’s “special cats” period had the offense working in the no-huddle against a 40-second play clock. A few interesting things to note about this period of practice: QB Donovan McNabb ran the no-huddle for the first-team offense flawlessly and without error; Camarillo saw a lot of extra time with the first-team as a slot WR with Harvin sitting out (more on that below); and rookie Brandon Burton grabbed an INT during the period off of Christian Ponder on an impressive play where he tipped the pass and was able to concentrate in traffic to haul in the pick.

– Guys who sat out of practice on Tuesday: S Simeon Castiille, LBs Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu, DE D’Aundre Reed and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. WR Percy Harvin took part in the early portions of practice but then sat out for most of the workout. It looked like a precautionary move more than anything because he stuck around outside for the entire practice and was interacting with his teammates. Harvin was bothered by a rib injury near the end of the Mankato portion of training camp. Also, LB Jonathan Gilmore left practice early; no indication on his injury.

– I’m not sure how much it’s worth tracking which players are playing with the first-team, second-team and third-team, mostly because coaches are still experimenting with different combinations as they try to shape their position groups. So at the risk of jumping to conclusions, or causing you to jump to conclusions, here’s how a few positions appear to be shaking out: Adrian Awasom (LDE) and Everson Griffen (RDE) are consistently with the second-team; Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are second-team DTs; rookie LB Ross Homan and veteran LB Mark Washington have been primarily with the second-team defense the past two days; Asher Allen and Chris Cook are the second-team CBs, but Sherels is rotated into the mix on occasion; Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are the second-team safeties and both have taken turns with the first-team; the second-team nickel features Burton and Devon Torrence at outside CB, Marcus Sherels in the slot, Jasper Brinkley and Ross Homan at LB and a rotation at safety among Chris Adingupu, Raymond and Sanford.

– Rookie DeMarcus Love, a 4-year starter at the University of Arkansas in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference (SEC), seems to have established himself as the second-team LT.


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Roster Full Of Options At Fullback

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 7:21 am

There are a lot of position battles going on within the Vikings roster and many of them have captured the attention of the media and fans. But one of the most competitive and unsettled position battles to date on the Vikings roster is one that hasn’t generated much conversation.

It’s the fullback (FB) position and the Vikings have a healthy competition for that spot on the roster. While in some respects the FB is a dying position on NFL rosters, the Vikings plan to carry a FB, or at least carry a player who can fulfill the role of a FB.

“The fullback position in our league has almost been eliminated,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained on Monday after practice. “There are some teams that don’t even carry a fullback anymore. But there’s a place for a fullback in our offense and we just have to identify the right guy.”

So who is the right guy? There are two FBs listed on the roster – Matt Asiata and Ryan D’Imperio. Asiata is an undrafted rookie free agent and he’s been a standout during camp, largely because he’s a nimble athlete who can make defenders miss and he’s also a more-than-capable receiver out of the backfield. D’Imperio was a seventh-round draft choice in 2010 whom the Vikings transitioned from college LB to NFL FB. He made the practice squad last year and is now looking to make the next step in his career and nail down a spot on the 53-man roster.

But Asiata and D’Imperio aren’t the only guys the Vikings are looking at to play FB.

“It’ll be more of a traditional role,” Frazier said of the Vikings FB position. “A guy who can run the lead play for us and help us with the power play and some things we’re doing. But we’d like to be able to utilize tight ends at time in that fullback role and we’ve got to identify the right guys for that. We know Jimmy Kleinsasser can do it; he’s done it before.”

Also in line for that type of role are TEs Jeff Dugan and Ed Barham. Dugan has been a constant on the Vikings roster since 2004 and has the kind of skill set and work ethic to be an NFL FB. Barham is another undrafted rookie free agent, but so far he’s proven to be more of a pass-catching threat in the offense. The same can be said, of course, for second-rounder Kyle Rudolph and another undrafted rookie free agent TE, Allen Reisner.

As you can see, the competition is thick at this position. The Vikings are looking for a player who can lead block and be physical, but also a player who is versatile and can be relied upon to line up in various spots in various formations. I’m guessing we’ll learn a little more about the Vikings search for the right FB onTuesday afternoon because offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will meet with reporters after practice.


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Competition On Offensive Line Remains Thick; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2011 – 3:05 pm

The Vikings returned to the practice fields on Monday afternoon after playing in their first preseason game of 2011 on Saturday night in Tennessee. Training camp has shifted from the University of Minnesota, Mankato to Winter Park’s outdoor practice fields at the Vikings home facility.

“It was nice to be able to have a practice here at Winter Park on our field,” Frazier said after practice. “The first time we’ve actually worked with our players on this field. It’s hard to believe…it’s what, August 15 and this is our first time standing on this field together as a team. It was good work for us, good for our coaches to be around our players in this environment and it feels good to be back at Winter Park.”

Aside from being back “home” again for practice, it was also nice to see RG Anthony Herrera back in the action. Herrera didn’t participate in the Mankato portion of training camp and he didn’t play in Saturday night’s preseason opener because of injuries, but on Monday Herrera was back in the action and he was working with the first-team offense.

Herrera wasn’t the only one working with the first-team at RG, though. In fact, I noticed quite a bit of rotation at first-team RG and at second-team RT. Herrera and Scott Kooistra spent time with the first-team at RG, while Chris DeGeare, who started at RG on Saturday night, was actually playing RT with the second-team. Also playing with the first-team at RG was Ryan Cook.

It was a bit of a surprise to see Kooistra at RG because he’s played primarily OT during training camp. He does have experience playing guard, though, so it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him make the move inside. For now, Frazier indicated Kooistra will concentrate mainly on OT.

At this point Herrera appears to be the team’s choice at RG, but there is uncertainty with whether he’ll be able to play by Week 1. With that being the case, both DeGeare and Cook are also in the mix for the starting position.

“You don’t want to eliminate Ryan Cook,” Frazier explained. “Cook still has an opportunity to compete for that position and it’s competition right now because we’re not certain where Anthony is going to be. We just have to see how he progresses.”

Expect to see the Vikings continue to experiment with different combinations along the first- and second-team offensive lines; that’s why we have training camp and the preseason. The goal is to get the best five guys playing along the first-team offensive line and then a group of reserves who have position flexibility.

Let’s get to a few practice notes…

– The Vikings worked for about an hour and 10 minutes under mostly cloudy skies, warm temperatures and a slight breeze. Frazier had his players working in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts and the team worked in front of part of the Vikings ownership group.

– After a quick warm-up and individual position drills, there was a special teams period. It was interesting to watch RB Adrian Peterson working on the side with RBs coach James Saxon during the special teams period. Obviously Peterson doesn’t play on special teams, but it was good to see him and coach Saxon work on some footwork-related issues during the time off.

– Of the seven players who were held out of Saturday’s preseason game, only LB Kenny Onatolu and TE Visanthe Shiancoe didn’t practice on Monday. Onatolu continues to be sidelined by a foot injury and Shiancoe tweaked his hamstring late in the Mankato portion of training camp. Frazier said the goal is to get Onatolu back for the Dallas preseason game on August 27. Shiancoe remains day-to-day.

– S Mistral Raymond, who had a terrific training camp in Mankato but who also tweaked his hamstring on the final play of the final practice in Mankato, did not play on Saturday night. But he was back at practice on Monday and Frazier said the rookie felt no residual effects of his injury during Monday’s work.

– Also sitting out practice on Monday were: LB Heath Farwell (hamstring), DE D’Aundre Reed (calf) and OL Thomas Welch (glute). Frazier described Reed as day-to-day and he also said Welch is expected to be able to practice on Tuesday.

– FB Ryan D’Imperio made a nice one-handed grab on the first play of 7-on-7 drills. He was circling out to the right flats and McNabb led him a touch too much. But D’Imperio stuck his left hand out and was able to haul in the pass. Another one-handed catch was made in 7-on-7 and it was a familiar face doing it. TE Kyle Rudolph, who had another one-handed grab earlier in training camp, was running down the left seam and McNabb led him perfectly. LB Mark Washington was in coverage and actually was shadowing Rudolph perfectly. But Rudolph went full extension to the ground and came up with the one-handed grab.

– Speaking of LB Mark Washington, he got his hands on an INT during 7-on-7.

– WR Bernard Berrian made an impressive catch in the middle of the field. Rookie CB Brandon Burton was in on the coverage and was draped all over Berrian, but McNabb forced the pass into Berrian’s area and #87 came up with the grab. Another impressive play was turned in toward the end of practice and it was rookie QB Christian Ponder who did it. He lasered in a pass to Juaquin Iglesias on a deep out route down the right sideline. The pass was perfectly placed, right past the out-stretched arms of the defender but close enough to the field so that Iglesias could make the catch and get both feet in bounds.


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Vikings Special Teams Give Strong Showing

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2011 – 7:11 am

It’s generally not something you find football fans talking about, but it’s a vital part of every team and it’s an important factor in every game. We’re talking about special teams. And this preseason for the Vikings, it’s an especially important group to watch because there’s a new special teams coordinator in town with Mike Priefer aboard.

After one preseason game, it’s so far, so good for Priefer’s special teams groups. In what was mostly an uninspiring performance from the Vikings on Saturday night in Tennessee, the special teams groups looked strong. Let’s take a moment to point out a few of the strongpoints…

– P Chris Kluwe had a nice night, booming five punts and generating an average of 41.6 yards per punt and 39.4 net yards per punt; a net average of 39.4 yards would’ve ranked Kluwe 4th among all punters last year. Also, Kluwe put two of his five punts inside the 20-yardline and only three of his punts were returned.

– The Vikings punt coverage unit performed well in unison with Kluwe, allowing just 3.7 yards per return on three attempts.

– On kickoff returns, the Vikings averaged 26.0 yards per try, which would’ve ranked them 2nd in the NFL last year. In kickoff return coverage, the Vikings allowed just 19.0 yards per return, which also would’ve ranked them 2nd best in the NFL last year.

– Give credit to the group of Kluwe, K Ryan Longwell and long snapper Cullen Loeffler because they didn’t have a botched snap, hold or kick all night. Longwell was true from 37 yards out to give the Vikings their only points.

– WR Jaymar Johnson, who is trying to earn a spot on the WR depth chart, certainly helped his cause by performing on special teams. He returned a punt 40 yards in the second half, displaying a quick burst and then excellent top-end speed on the play. Another WR – Devin Aromashodu – who is also trying to win a spot on the WR depth chart helped himself on special teams as well by notching a tackle.

– Others who chipped in with special teams tackles were LB Larry Dean, S Eric Frampton and LB Heath Farwell.


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Submit Your Monday Morning Mailbag Questions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2011 – 2:01 pm

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.

To submit a comment or question, send an email to me at wobschallm@vikings.nfl.net. 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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Trend Or Mirage?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2011 – 10:52 am

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.


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QB Roundup After Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2011 – 8:19 am

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.”


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