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Notes From Friday Walk-Thru And Practice; Solid Start For Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 5:19 pm

The first walk-thru and practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is in the books, as the Vikings conducted their one-hour walk-thru this morning and then worked for roughly two hours and 15 minutes in the afternoon. Coaches and players were available to reporters after both workouts, and Head Coach Leslie Frazier also met with reporters via press conference after the walk-thru.

There are a number of topics to touch on following Friday’s action, so let’s be brief with several topics rather than long-winded with just a few…

Peterson to Active/PUP; Burton, Shuler on NFI
Frazier announced during his press conference that RB Adrian Peterson will begin camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which simply means that he won’t take part in the walk-thrus or practices and will instead work on the side with the training and strength staffs. This is not an unexpected development. The Vikings can remove Peterson from the PUP list at any time. Two other players – WR Stephen Burton (toe) and TE Mickey Shuler (heel) – were both placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. Frazier both would be day-to-day because neither injury is considered serious.

Solid first practice for offense
The offense was slow-to-go in their first practice of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), but eventually hit their stride and showed great improvement. It was a much different start for the offense in training camp. For a first practice of camp, Friday’s workout went well for the offense. I saw a number of players make diving catches (John Carlson, Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson), LB Chad Greenway was as vocal as I’ve heard him, OL coach Jeff Davidson was pleased with the way his offensive line worked during individual drills, etc. QB Christian Ponder told me while walking off the field after practice that Friday’s workout was probably better than any of the OTA practices they held during the offseason. Obviously there’s a ways to go, but Friday was a solid start.

Griffen focusing on LB
There was a lot of talk this offseason about the possibility of Everson Griffen transitioning from DE to LB. The talk is over now because it’s actually happening. Griffen worked with the LBs during Friday’s practice and Frazier said that’s where he wants Griffen to focus his undivided attention.

“He’s an outstanding athlete, was a great special teams player for us a year ago,” Frazier said. “Played in multiple positions for us a year ago at linebacker and then at defensive end. With his athletic ability, we want to try to find a way to get him on the field a little bit more.”

Griffen shed 18 pounds this offseason to get within the team’s ideal range for a player at his position, and Frazier described Griffen as extremely motivated to show what he can do at LB.

Competition at RG
Brandon Fusco opened camp with the first team at RG, an expected development. The position will be one to watch this camp and preseason as the Vikings look to solidify an offensive line that is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Frazier indicated the competition would include Fusco, Chris DeGeare and Geoff Schwartz, and that ideally the team would name a starter by the third preseason game (at home vs. San Diego).

“We’ll let those guys compete and battle it out,” Frazier said, “and hopefully we’ll be a better team with whichever one ends up winning the job.”

Many competing for punt return duties
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said this offseason that he’s pleased with the number of players on the Vikings roster who have the ability to cleanly field kicks. He said he’s been to teams where they struggled to find one player who could consistently do it. This year in Minnesota, Priefer has a bevy of players competing for opportunities. On Friday the following players took turns fielding punts from Chris Kluwe: CB Bobby Felder, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, CB Nick Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright.

Robinson is fast
Speaking of Robinson, there was a moment early in practice on Friday where he put his quick burst on display. It happened during a special teams period of practice where Robinson was in the rotation to field punts. A punt heading his way got caught up in the wind and tumbled down to the ground well short of where Robinson was positioned. It’s a cardinal sin for punt returners to let the ball hit the ground, and it only compounds the problem when a returner lets the ball hit the ground and then tries to pick it up after more than one bounce. In an effort to not let the ball bounce more than once, Robinson turned on the jets and covered six yards as fast as I’ve ever seen, getting his hands under the ball at the last second before it bounced a second time.

Later in practice, Robinson pulled up with what appeared to be a leg injury of some kind. No word on what kind of injury it is or how serious.


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Final Roster Rundown: Running Backs And Specialists

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 9:12 am

Friday marks the first practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and, appropriately, the final part of our Roster Rundown series. The series concludes with a look at the Vikings RBs and specialists…

Running Backs
Even with both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart coming back from knee injuries, RB is a position of strength for the Vikings. There aren’t many teams with a better one-two punch than the Vikings. Gerhart has fully recovered from his knee injury, and he’ll shoulder the load for Peterson until he’s back at 100% health as well. Gerhart would be a starter for many NFL teams, so the job is in good hands while Peterson finishes up his recovery.

Depth at the position will be important for the Vikings in 2012 for reasons mentioned above, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said the team is looking for a back with all-around skills to have as the third option. Guys competing for this role in camp will include undrafted college free agent Derrick Coleman, four-year veteran Lex Hilliard and youngster Jordan Todman. 

The Vikings designs at FB are uncertain at this point. Draft pick Rhett Ellison could play the part, but there are others who are actually listed as FBs on the roster as well (Ellison is listed as a TE). Ryan D’Imperio is a returning veteran with solid special teams ability as well, Matt Asiata was with the Vikings during last year’s camp and returns this year as well, and five-year veteran Jerome Felton will be around to increase the competition. Aside from how each of these players perform during practice and preseason games, the determining factor in this competition will be how the team plans to use the FB.

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Specialists
The Vikings go into 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp with starters in place at the specialists positions. Cullen Loeffler returns as the team’s long snapper, Chris Kluwe remains at punter, and Blair Walsh enters camp as the kicker. Together, Loeffler and Kluwe boast 17 years of NFL experience, so they are great mentors for Walsh as he embarks on his rookie season. It’s important for each of these players to perform well in their individual roles, but it’s also important for them to work well together. I have no doubt they’ll be able to do just that.


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Here’s The Story: 10 Camp Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 7:00 am

There is never a shortage of storylines heading into training camp, and this year is no exception for the Vikings. As the team embarks on 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today with a morning walk-thru and afternoon practice, let’s take a brief look at 10 of the most notable stories to chase during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp…

Will Adrian Peterson begin on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list?
There’s no question Peterson has made tremendous strides in his recovery from major knee surgery, and there’s also no question that Peterson feels confident in his knee and is eager to display just how ready he is. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the NFL’s best RB on the field of play unharnessed. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was non-committal when asked if Peterson would begin camp on the PUP list, instead saying the decision would be made after he spoke with Peterson and the team’s medical staff. If Peterson begins camp on the PUP list, the team can take him off the list at any time. Either way, Frazier and Peterson both said they expected the RB would be doing some kind of on-field work from the get-go.

Man in the middle – Jasper Brinkley’s opportunity
The Vikings selected LB Jasper Brinkley with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and he immediately became the understudy to E.J. Henderson. Now that Henderson is no longer with the team and Brinkley still sports the Purple and Gold, the time has come for Brinkley to display just how far he’s come in three-plus seasons with the club. Brinkley is expected to be the team’s starting middle LB, an important role in this defense especially considering how well Henderson fulfilled the role for so many seasons. There are questions about Brinkley’s durability because he dealt with an injury in college, missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed some of the team’s offseason program with injury. But he’s healthy now, and it’ll be fun to watch him prove that he can be the team’s man in the middle.

Christian Ponder’s development
You can have everything else buttoned up and the stars can align, but if you don’t have the QB situation squared away in the NFL it won’t matter. The Vikings believe they will have it squared away with Ponder at the helm, and we’ll find out if they’re right this season. Early indications will come from training camp and the preseason, though. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his crew have done a nice job of surrounding Ponder with weapons – both blockers and ball-handlers. The addition of Matt Kalil improves the offensive line tremendously, and then the additions of TE John Carlson, WR Jerome Simpson and a pair of draft picks in WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright give Ponder some weapons in the passing game. Add in guys such as Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and you can’t deny that the offensive weapons in place are much better this year than in previous seasons. That sets the stage perfectly for Ponder, a guy who knows how important he is to the team and a guy who relishes in that role.

Percy Harvin’s role on offense
Harvin was in the headlines a bit this offseason, and I’m guessing he’ll be in the headlines a bit more this season because he’s going to play a pivotal role in the Vikings offense. Harvin is as dynamic an offensive weapon as you’ll find because of his ability as a pass receiver and a ball carrier. You can line him up in the slot, out wide or even in the backfield. You can throw it to him, pitch it to him, hand it off to him, you can even snap it directly to him. Harvin is one of the best players on the team, and he’s going to get the ball a lot. It will be fun to watch how Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff plan to use Harvin.

Vikings look to improve pass defense
The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense a season ago and they yielded the most TD passes as well. So the team will look to improve in that area, and one big step in that direction was the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. In Williams’ decade working with the Indianapolis Colts DBs, the club ranked in the top six in NFL passing defense five times and finished out of the Top 15 only once. In that same span, the Colts allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (159), the fewest pass completions of 25+ yards (159) and the third-fewest passing yards (29,993). Aside from Williams, the team added a pair of safeties (Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith) and a CB (Josh Robinson) in the draft, and they signed a pair of veteran free agents (Chris Carr and Zack Bowman) to bring some experience to the group. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the Vikings will have their two top CBs back on the field after they missed significant time a season ago. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook played in a combined 11 games last year, and it’s tough to do well against the pass when you’re two best CBs are out of action. Expect a big jump in performance from the Vikings pass defense this season.

Kalil’s transition to the NFL
A dominant player at USC, Kalil enters the NFL as a starter on the Vikings offensive line. His first task? Block the best DE in the NFL for three straight weeks in Mankato. Kalil will go against Jared Allen on a daily basis at training camp, and we can all agree that it will only make the rookie LT that much better.

“It should be real good for Matt to go against maybe the best defensive end in the National Football League on a daily basis in practice and I think it will be good for Jared as well because Matt is going to challenge him,” Frazier said.

What to do with Everson Griffen?
Few players this offseason have been on the mind of Vikings fans more than Griffen. The consensus among fans is that Griffen is too talented to not be on the field, and there are a growing number of fans who want to see Griffen make the transition from DE to LB. Whether Griffen is asked to make that switch or not remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that Griffen is viewed by most as a player on the rise.

The Blair Walsh project
The Vikings used a 6th-round pick in April’s draft to select K Blair Walsh, a standout player at Georgia for four seasons and one of just three kickers the Vikings deemed worthy of selection. Walsh replaces Ryan Longwell, a beloved Vikings player who made plenty of big kicks and was reliable. But the team wants more touchbacks on kickoffs, and there’s no question Walsh has the leg strength to stretch the team’s FG range. There will likely be some growing pains with a rookie kicker, but Walsh’s talent should allow him to absorb those pains and quickly turn into a solid player. Walsh projects to be a long-term option for the Vikings at kicker, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a long-term starter out of a 6th-round pick.

Stepping up at defensive tackle
As we wrote about yesterday in the defensive line version of Roster Rundown, Kevin Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him at DT. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player. Will it be a veteran such as Letroy Guion or Fred Evans? Or will it be a youngster, such as Chase Baker, Christian Ballard or Tydreke Powell? Or will it be a rotational thing? We’ll find out soon.

Rick Spielman’s first camp as Vikings General Manager
Spielman has been with the club since 2006, but this is his first training camp with the Vikings as GM. In some respects, not much has changed because Spielman has made the transition from VP of Player Personnel to GM smoothly. On the other hand, the team’s organizational structure did change a bit with Spielman’s promotion. There’s no question now who is making the final decision on roster moves, and having a central voice such as Spielman who can work well with Frazier will improve how the team functions on a daily basis. We’ll start to see that even more during training camp and as the team gets closer to making decisions about the roster coming out of the preseason.


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