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Stadium Authority Formed, Design Process Begins

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 19, 2012 – 6:39 am

Ribbons weren’t cut and shovels didn’t enter the ground, but progress continues to be made in the quest to build a new football stadium in Minnesota.

The most recent step forward is a significant one and came last Thursday, as Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak appointed a five-person stadium authority. The new governmental body will be called the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), and it will oversee the construction and operation of the new stadium in Downtown East Minneapolis.

Comprised of three appointees by Governor Dayton and two selections by Mayor Rybak, the following five individuals will lead the largest public project in state history:

Governor Dayton’s Appointees
Chair – Michele Kelm-Helgen – Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Governor Dayton’s Office
John Griffith – Executive Vice President of Property Development, Target Corporation
Duane Benson – Former State Senator, business executive and NFL linebacker

Mayor Rybak’s Appointees
Dr. Barbara Butts Williams – Dean, Capella University
Bill McCarthy – President, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

The five-person Authority will immediately begin to meet with all stakeholders to ensure the new stadium is built to fit the needs of the State of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis and the Vikings. The next step in the process is to establish a design and construction group made up of representatives of the MSFA and the team.


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Henderson Grows In Role As Playmaker And Leader

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 18, 2012 – 9:25 am

Erin Henderson was a standout performer during the Vikings 10 Organized Team Activities (OTAs) the past three weeks, seemingly always around the ball and never one to shy away from competition. He’s been a fun player to watch evolve after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and then growing into a starting role last year.

While he’s established himself as a starter on the Vikings defense, Henderson hasn’t fallen into complacency. His background as an undrafted free agent who’s earned a spot on the Vikings roster and the competitive nature he possesses won’t allow him to do that. Henderson’s progression isn’t exclusively on-field improvement, either. Those who observe practice, from media to coaches, have noticed Henderson growing into his role not only as a playmaker, but as a leader as well.

“That’s a good observation because he has become more vocal,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said last week. “I don’t know if it’s because E.J. is not here, but some of it is the inexperience we have also at the linebacker position without Chad (Greenway) being here. But he has become more vocal.”

Greenway was absent for some of the Vikings OTAs recently as he tends to a family matter. But in a few seasons as Henderson’s teammate and more importantly in the time he’s spent with Henderson this offseason, Greenway has also noticed his teammate growing into a more significant role and discussed it with Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen on his weekday 9-noon show on KFAN.

“With Erin looking to be that nickel MIKE (middle linebacker), just because of his experience last year, he has got unbelievable range and his wingspan is ridiculously big,” Greenway said. “He’s got great hips in coverage, he’s proven that last year on film. I’m so excited for his future at that position.”

Whether Henderson plays strong-side or weak-side. Or whether he’s the nickel MIKE or not, Henderson has an important place on this team, and he’s stepping up his performance appropriately.

“He understands he’s in a role now where we need him to step up and speak up and really help the young guys that are on our defense,” Frazier said. “He’s growing. He’s growing as a player and a person, which is good for us.”


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Minicamp Schedule For This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 18, 2012 – 6:38 am

The Vikings will conclude their nine-week offseason program this week by holding a mandatory three-day minicamp at Winter Park that will begin on Tuesday and finish on Thursday. Coaches and players will be available twice per day, so you’ll hear quite a bit about the Vikings over the next three days or so.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Vikings will have a morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice. On Thursday the Vikings will forgo the walk-thru and instead hold practice in the morning.

We’ll of course have wall-to-wall coverage of this week’s minicamp right here on vikings.com. That coverage will be in addition to our normal weekly features such as the Monday Morning Mailbag, the Wobcast, Pick 6, and more. In case you missed it, check out last week’s practice highlight video by clicking here.

Also last week, we went one-on-one with 1st-round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, so be sure to check those out while you’re waiting for more Vikings action this week.


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Vikings Looking For “A Right Mix” At Linebacker

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 14, 2012 – 6:34 am

We’ve mentioned several times over the course of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that now is not the time to try and track which players are running with the starters and which players are running with the second-team. The time to figure out depth charts and position battles will come at training camp and the preseason.

Now is the time when teams experiment with different combinations to try and find the right mix. And nowhere is that more true for the Vikings than at linebacker. In 2012 the Vikings will have a new middle LB in both their base defense and in nickel, and the team will also feature plenty of new faces providing depth at the position.

The process of identifying the contributors for the coming season is a work in progress, and so far it’s been a fluid situation. Jasper Brinkley and Solomon Elimimian have both missed time recently with what Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier described as precautionary measures, and Chad Greenway has been absent for much of OTAs as he tends to a family matter. None of those three issues are cause for alarm as the Vikings prepare for the 2012 season, but they do illustrate the point that the Vikings are in the process of figuring out their situation at linebacker.

“I’m hoping that we’ll find a right mix there,” Frazier told reporters on Tuesday. “Chad (Greenway) is, of course, solid. We’d like to have Jasper practicing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case right now. We’d like for him to be getting these reps, but hopefully we’ll have him next week. We want Erin (Henderson) to make it clear that he’s the choice at the WILL (weak-side LB) position, but we’d like to see Marvin (Mitchell) come along and some of the other backups because you really need six guys that you can dress on Sunday to really be effective both on defense and special teams.”

That the Vikings don’t yet have every answer at linebacker is not a concern at this point. Every team has questions up and down their roster at this point in the offseason. The good news for the Vikings is that they have the bodies currently on the roster to eventually answer every question. There are 10 linebackers on the Vikings 90-man roster currently, a group that includes a good mix of returning veterans (5), rookies (3) and free agent additions (2).

“We’re trying to find that mix, that quality depth,” Frazier said. “It’s an area where we’re still not quite there yet in my mind, so we’ll see how it pans out over the next couple of practices we have and when we get to training camp. It’s one of those areas where myself and Rick (Spielman), we’ve talked about and it’s an area we have to keep an eye on.”


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Golfing For Charity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 13, 2012 – 10:18 am

Any reason to find your way onto a golf course is a good reason, as far as I’m concerned. But the Vikings organization actually has a legitimate reason to hit the links on Wednesday.

The Minnesota Vikings 2012 Golf Tournament, presented by Miller Lite, will be held on Wednesday at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, MN. The sold-out tournament is not open to the public and will feature over 30 Vikings players, including QB Christian Ponder, RB Toby Gerhart and TE Kyle Rudolph. Also, several Vikings Alumni will be on-hand, including Randall McDaniel and Scott Studwell. Joining the action will be the entire 2012 Vikings coaching staff, Vikings executives, Viktor the Viking and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders.

Proceeds of the event will benefit the Vikings Children’s Fund.

“Good chance for us to go out and do something in the community and raise some funds for some kids and people who are less fortunate than we are,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said.

The tournament is scheduled for an early afternoon shotgun start and will be followed by an awards ceremony with comments from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Frazier. KFAN Radio will broadcast from the tournament from noon to 6:30 p.m.

Since its inception in 1978, the Vikings Children’s Fund has raised nearly $10 million, with over $5 million supporting research at the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics.


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Harrison Smith Gets Fired Up; Other Thoughts At Safety

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 13, 2012 – 5:14 am

Harrison Smith is a mild-mannered guy around Winter Park and in the locker room. Since arriving in Minnesota, the 1st-round safety has been gracious with his time in doing interviews and participating in community events.

But on Tuesday at Organized Team Activity #8, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier saw a different side of Smith, even if for a brief moment. And he liked it.

“I don’t know if it’s surprising, but it made me feel pretty good,” Frazier said when asked if he’s seen anything that’s surprised him about Smith. “I saw a play today where he really got angry. He got pretty fired up and you kind of need that out of your defensive backs. You need them to have a little something about them. It was good to see.”

Frazier is a good judge on temperament. He’s a mild-mannered and soft-spoken individual as well, but when he was on the field as a standout NFL defensive back for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, Frazier had a fierce attitude as well.

While meeting with reporters at Winter Park following Tuesday’s OTA, Frazier was also asked about a couple other safeties on the team’s roster competing for playing time – Robert Blanton and Jamarca Sanford.

Frazier, who called Sanford “one of the best special teams players in the League,” said that consistent open-field tackling will be key for Sanford as will displaying adequate range in pass coverage.

“Probably for Jamarca, just when we get the pads on, that’s when it’ll show up, where his fit will be, whether he’s going to be a starter for us or what role he’ll play,” Frazier said. “That will be the key for him, and being able to show the range in pass defense that we need and if he can get that accomplished in his second year as a potential starter, it’d be good for our defense, but putting the pads on will determine what happens with him down the road.”

As for Blanton, another rookie safety on the roster from Notre Dame, the key is transitioning from playing CB in college to safety in the NFL.

“There are some things you look at and you just know will take a little bit of time, just getting accustomed to being out in space. That’s different for him,” Frazier explained. “When you have the sideline as a twelfth man at times, you don’t have that safety. There’s a lot more space and the angles are a lot different and that takes time, but he’s getting it and we have to continue to expose him to more situations and we’re doing that. I think he’ll get it, but it’s just a matter of how fast it’ll be.”

While going through a position change in your first year in the NFL is certainly a tall task, Frazier refused to write the 2012 season off as just a developmental year for Blanton. He expects Blanton will challenge for serious playing time.

“I don’t look at it as a developmental season,” Frazier said. “This period that we’re in right now is more developmental because it’s not something he’s done very much of, but we’re hoping that he’ll challenge for a starting job and that’s why we drafted him when we did. We want him to challenge for a starting job at safety but it’s just a matter of how fast he’ll come along.”

 And don’t forget about Raymond. Frazier wasn’t asked about Raymond on Tuesday, but the 2nd-year safety on Tuesday had one of his best practices to date during OTAs. I saw him get his hands on a few passes and even haul in a couple of INTs. Raymond is in the mix to earn a starting spot as well.

Raymond and Sanford have taken snaps with the first team, but Smith got into that rotation as well this week. It’s too early yet to get a gauge on who has a hold on starting spots at this point because the team is still early in their preparations for the 2012 season and they’re more interested in experimenting with different combinations at this point than they are on deciding on a starting duo.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Frazier said. “We started yesterday, we began to rotate guys and mix and match a little bit, just to see how they would gel together and we’ll continue to do it. We have quite a bit of time now before we get to that first game but we want to get a mix and see how guys work together to develop some chemistry in that secondary and that was a part of what happened today.”


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Greenway’s Gridiron Gallop 5K Fun Run/Walk To Be Held Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 12, 2012 – 1:42 pm

Chad and Jenni Greenway, along with teammates John Sullivan, Robert Blanton,  Rhett Ellison, Tyrone McKenzie and Harrison Smith, will sponsor the 6th annual Greenway’s Gridiron Gallop 5K fun run/walk at Lake Nokomis this Sunday – Father’s Day.

Joining the Greenways and other Vikings players will be Vikings cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking. Funds raised by the event will go toward Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board youth athletic programming.

Race Day check-in and registration will take place at the Lake Nokomis Bath House (located at 4955 West Lake Nokomis Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55417) from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The event will begin at 9:00 a.m.

Players, along with cheerleaders, will be signing autographs for all participants. The event is $30 in advance and $35 the day of the event. The cost is $10 for a child (10 and under) in advance, $15 the day of, to participate in the 8:30 a.m. Kids Fun Run.  All pre-registered participants are guaranteed a free t-shirt.

To register, go to www.minneapolisparks.org and click on “activities and programs” and then click on “community special events,” or register in-person the morning of the event.


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Submit Your Pick 6 Questions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 12, 2012 – 8:18 am

Our brand-new Pick 6 (video mailbag) segment, which appears mid-week on vikings.com, is off and running. We’ll be back later today with another edition, but we still need a couple more questions to add.

You can submit a question by emailing me (wobschallm@vikings.nfl.net) or leaving the question in the comments section below this entry. Remember to list your name and town with all questions.

If you haven’t yet done so, check out previous installments of Pick 6. Last week’s edition was a WR exclusive version, with Vikings WRs coach George Stewart joining to help answer questions.


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Special Teams Sets Tone For Practice; OTA #7 Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2012 – 2:51 pm

The Vikings opened up their final week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at Winter Park on Monday under partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures and a brisk wind. After near-perfect weather a week ago, the windy conditions for OTA #7 added a challenging element for many phases of practice.

The first phase to deal with the wind was the Vikings special teams group, specifically the punt returners. Catching punts is difficult enough, but add in winds that gusted from 15-20 mph and the task becomes increasingly difficult. It didn’t faze the Vikings returners, though, as CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright fielded kicks gracefully.

The special teams’ performance in the first period of practice was an indication of what was to come, as the Vikings conducted a crisp and clean approximately 90-minute practice. The special teams setting a positive example for the rest of practice is something in which Mike Priefer, entering his second season as the Vikings special teams coordinator, takes pride.

“I’m very fortunate to work for a head coach like Coach Frazier,” Priefer told Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen and yours truly during last week’s episode of Vikings Tonight on the Vikings Radio Network. “He gives me meeting time, he gives me practice time, he gives me individual time with guys. I like the fact that we start practice with special teams because, to me, we set the tone for the rest of the practice. We’re a high energy, high motor type period. We get a lot done in a fifteen- or twenty-minute period of time that we have. The fact that we get to start practice and get to set the tone for the rest of the day is exciting for me.”

A few other observations from OTA #7…

Who can, not who can’t
There have been no shortage of punt returners during OTAs. The four who caught punts on Monday are listed above, but several others have also been in the mix over the past two weeks. While fans are curious to know who will win the job after the position battle, Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White are still figuring out who will be in that position battle.

“We have eight or nine guys catching punts right now and you have to pull them out of a hat,” Priefer said on last week’s Vikings Tonight. “But the great thing is we have a lot of competition there. I’ve been at places where we have one guy, maybe two, that can even catch a punt. Here we have seven or eight guys who can catch punts.”

Sherels stands out
It was a good day of practice for CB Marcus Sherels, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher who made last year’s Vikings squad as an undrafted free agent. If Sherels has more days like he had on Monday, he’ll once again be on the Vikings roster and in position to make an impact.

Sherels tallied a pair of pass breakups (PBUs) against what’s been one of the best QB-WR combinations during OTAs – Christian Ponder and Jerome Simpson. The first PBU came during a team offense vs. team defense period when Sherels jumped in front of Simpson on a short curl route, and the second PBU came during a 7-on-7 period of practice on a deep pass down the left sideline. On each play, Ponder placed the ball well and Simpson ran a good route, but Sherels was just able to make a great play on the ball.

Living on the edge
Ponder and fellow QB Joe Webb put their athleticism on display during a team offense vs. defense period. Both plays were similar in that the QBs were sprinting right to avoid a pursuing defender. DE Brian Robison was chasing Ponder, and the QB was able to buy just enough time to find WR Stephen Burton along the right sideline for a tip-toe completion before falling out of bounds. Moments later, Webb executed a similar play, sprinting right to avoid DE Eric Lattimore and completing a pass to TE Kyle Rudolph. The pass was thrown slightly behind Rudolph, but the second-year TE was able to reach back and make the catch before turning upfield to complete the play.

Good hands Griffen
Defensive linemen such as Everson Griffen spend much of their time rushing the passer. On Monday, though, Griffen showed off his pass-catching skills, grabbing a tipped pass to tally an INT.


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John Sullivan: Kalil “Willing To Put The Work In”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2012 – 8:18 am

Vikings C John Sullivan knows what it’s like to work hard to make it in the NFL. He entered the League as a 6th-round pick of the Vikings in 2008 and was a backup on the offensive line who also grinded away as a special teams player.

But through hard work and studying, Sullivan ascended to the top of the depth chart at center and snapped to future Hall of Famer Brett Favre in 2009. Sullivan is now one of the best centers in the NFL, and was rewarded as such last season when the Vikings signed him to a contract extension.

So when it comes to identifying players who are willing to work hard and who have the potential to be quality performers along the offensive line, Sullivan has a keen eye. Sullivan is also not one to spew meaningless hyperbole just to fill space or capture attention. That’s why what he said about Vikings 1st-round LT Matt Kalil last week on Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen’s 9-noon radio show is notable.

“He’s a guy that cares, he comes from a great football family, and he’s the fourth overall pick,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of pressure there, there is a lot of money involved as well. That’s a big investment for a team, and nobody with any pride wants to let people that have invested in them like that down. It’s the same way I felt when I got my new contract. It puts new pressure on you, added pressure on you to be there. But that’s alright, that’s why we play the game. We want to be successful, so you’ve got to be willing to put the work in. And he’s a guy that’s willing to put the work in.”

Sullivan has a pretty good body of work from which to judge because the team has completed 6 of their 10 Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and has now advanced to the eighth week of their nine-week offseason program. While practices so far have been non-contact, Sullivan has been able to observe two important elements to offensive line play, especially at left tackle – movement skills and technique.

“All you have to do is go watch how he moves,” Sullivan explained. “He’s a freak, an absolute freak. I’m just talking about movement skills. He is so fast for how big he is. It’s unbelievable.

“I’m talking great technique. I’m talking cutting off a linebacker from the back side…He moves incredibly well. I can’t say he’s a road-grader yet because obviously we don’t have pads on, but I’d be shocked if he weren’t. He’s a monster.”

Again, it’s important to stress that we’re only in the offseason program. It’s not like Sullivan, or anyone else, has the benefit of NFL game tape to make a water-tight judgment on Kalil or any other player on the roster. After all, Kalil will be going against Jared Allen day-in and day-out once the team gets to training camp, which will make it tougher for Kalil to impress. But Sullivan is not one to shower someone with blanket praise when it’s not deserving, and, as a late-round pick who is now the leader of his position group, he’s also one who expects his teammates to earn respect rather than to be given it based on draft status.

That’s why Sullivan’s praise for Kalil to this point is such good news for the Vikings.


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