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Roster Rundown: Quarterbacks And Linebackers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 23, 2012 – 6:32 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Thursday and the team’s first practice is on Friday, which means we only have a few more days to complete our Roster Rundown series. We continue the series today by taking a look at the four quarterbacks and 10 linebackers the team will bring to training camp…

Head Coach Leslie Frazier has been clear this offseason that Christian Ponder is his starting QB. Ponder played in 11 games and started 10 during his rookie season, producing mixed results and battling injuries. But this offseason the results have not been mixed – Ponder made huge strides during the offseason program and is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Jobs are not handed out in the NFL, so Ponder will have to perform well enough to retain the starting job. Based on his performance in the offseason program, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.

After Ponder the Vikings will see Joe Webb battle Sage Rosenfels for the backup job. These two have contrasting styles and are at different points in their careers. Webb surely has designs on becoming an NFL starter one day, and he can continue that quest during camp. Whether he ultimately beats Ponder for the job or not is a separate issue from whether he continues his development as an NFL passer. Rosenfels is a 12-year veteran who is a great complement to the QB meeting room that includes three young players still learning the ropes.

Aside from Ponder and Webb, the other youngster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He joined the Vikings via a futures contract this past January after starring at Sacramento State and then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL and then the Miami Dolphins. Bethel-Thompson, an undrafted college free agent, has impressive arm strength and was clearly the best QB in the Vikings rookie minicamp. He was on the Dolphins practice squad to finish the 2011 season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the Vikings practice squad (at a minimum) after this year’s training camp.

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There are questions at linebacker for the Vikings as they head to training camp, but the good news is there also appears to be sufficient talent at the position as well. Chad Greenway is the best of the group and prepares to enter his seventh NFL season in 2012. Greenway has led the club in tackles the past four seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do it again this season. The other starting linebacker should be Erin Henderson, who returns to the club motivated after signing a one-year contract this past offseason. Last season was Henderson’s first as a full-time starter, and I’ve identified him as a player poised for a breakout season this year.

Jasper Brinkley enters training camp as the team’s middle linebacker, but there are questions about his durability. Those questions are fair because Brinkley missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed parts of the team’s offseason program this year as well. Brinkley has declared himself 100% healthy as we approach training camp, though, and once he’s able to stay on the field I see him solidifying the Vikings starting group of linebackers. When E.J. Henderson was lost for the season in 2009 with a leg injury, Brinkley stepped into the lineup and played capably as the Vikings made a run through the playoffs. That experience along with natural progression that comes from two complete seasons after that should have Brinkley prepared to fulfill expectations this season.

After the three starters, there will be great competition for reserve spots among the Vikings LB group. Only two of those players competing for reserve spots are returning veterans. They are special teams standout Larry Dean and two-year veteran Tyrone McKenzie. Dean made last year’s team as an undrafted free agent based on his special teams ability, and he’ll have to be a standout in the same way this preseason to make the roster. McKenzie was the player asked to step into the middle linebacker role this offseason when Brinkley was out of action.

Outside of Greenway, the most veteran NFL player in the Vikings LB group is Marvin Mitchell, a six-year pro the Vikings signed this offseason in free agency. Mitchell had been with the Saints, and with the Vikings he’ll provide depth at multiple LB positions and he’s expected to be a contributor on special teams as well.

The remaining LBs are 7th-round draft pick Audie Cole, former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian and undrafted college free agents Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes. At NC State, Cole led the team in tackles while playing both inside and outside LB. Nielsen was a standout at the University of Iowa and Paredes went undrafted out of the University of Hawaii.

Elimimian will be interesting to watch because he’s undersized but he’s also a player who clearly knows how to play the position. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and helped his club (BC Lions) win the Grey Cup in 2011. In two CFL seasons, Elimimian tallied 175 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 2 INTs and was voted the league’s “hardest hitter” by his peers.

After the three projected starters, LB jobs are wide open for the Vikings. An ability to contribute on special teams will be crucial for those looking to win a roster spot, but so too is demonstrating sound technique and knowledge of the defensive system. I expect most of the decisions to be made at this position to come down to the final two preseason games later in August.


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Young Vikings Bond By Getting Social

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 22, 2012 – 9:01 pm

An essential component of any successful team is cohesion. The ability for a large group of talented individuals from varying and complex backgrounds to come together and move in one direction toward a common goal is not easily realized. Training camp is the starting point for NFL teams in their quest to gain this sense of purpose and direction.

In just a few days, the entire Vikings roster will gather in Mankato for 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp as they continue preparations for the upcoming season and the quest for cohesion. But thanks to modern technology and a bond born from both a passion for fun and wealth of resources, an important segment of this young Vikings roster has a significant head start on the building of camaraderie.

Andrew Miller of www.fasthorseinc.com wrote an interesting story about how QB Christian Ponder, TE Kyle Rudolph and C John Sullivan have made Minnesota their home by finding fun activities to pass the time of the offseason, and about how they share the fun with their fans via Twitter.

Miller’s piece is worth the read (and includes photos of the three Vikings out and about in Minnesota). Just make sure you come back to vikings.com after reading it. We have more Roster Rundowns to get to, after all.


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Roster Rundown: Safeties And Tight Ends

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 19, 2012 – 6:40 am

The Vikings made key additions to the safety and tight end positions this offseason, but they utilized different methods in doing so. At safety, the Vikings looked to the draft to add young talent and infuse the position with competition. At tight end, the Vikings turned to free agency to bolster the position.

Safeties and tight ends are the subject of today’s Roster Rundown. Let’s begin with the safeties…

Four players listed as safeties will return from last year’s team. Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games in 2011 and is entering his fourth season, has the most experience playing defense of the bunch. Eric Frampton, entering his sixth season, has been a core special teams player for the Vikings since 2007 and should retain at least that role in 2012. The two other returning players are Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo. Raymond started five games last year and Sendejo was added to the active roster via free agency in late November 2011.

The Vikings added two safeties to the roster via the draft, using a 1st-round pick to select Harrison Smith and a 5th-round pick to select Robert Blanton. As a 1st-round pick, the expectation for Smith is that he’ll emerge from training camp with a starting role. Blanton is converting from cornerback to safety and will compete for time at the other safety position. Others who will compete for time at safety are Reggie Jones and perhaps Zack Bowman (he could rotate between cornerback and safety).

Safety is a position to watch during training camp and the preseason. The assumption is that Smith will hold down one starting spot while Blanton, Raymond and Sanford compete for the other position. But don’t be surprised to see others insert themselves into the mix, including Bowman and Sendejo.

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The Vikings shed a fair amount of experience at tight end this offseason, with 13-year pro Jim Kleinsasser retiring and nine-year pro Visanthe Shiancoe not returning. But now the position is full of youth and play-making athleticism. Not many teams used more multiple-TE formations than the Vikings a season ago, so this will be an important position to watch develop during training camp and the preseason.

Kyle Rudolph was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings last year and he came on strong at the end of the season. He and QB Christian Ponder clearly have a good rapport, so it won’t be a surprise to see Rudolph take a huge step forward in 2012. As if one athletic, field-stretching TE from Notre Dame wasn’t enough, the Vikings added John Carlson to the mix during free agency. A Litchfield, MN native, Carlson is a proven talent in the NFL with a pair of 50+ reception seasons and a per-catch average of 11.1 yards for his career.

Behind Carlson and Rudolph, the Vikings have a pair of former Big Ten tight ends who are also talented pass catchers in Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler. Both have two years of experience and both will have to display an ability to help on special teams as well as on offense to earn a roster spot.

The last player we’ll mention in this space is Rhett Ellison, even though he may eventually be listed as a FB. The Vikings selected Ellison in the 4th round of this year’s draft and he could be asked to fulfill a variety of roles on the Vikings offense, including as a tight end. Billed as a big, physical blocking-type of tight end entering the draft, Ellison displayed fluid route running and pass receiving skills at the Vikings rookie minicamp in May. A blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player, Ellison will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

Carlson and Rudolph will be the main threats at TE for the Vikings in 2012. While both are capable blockers, that is not their forte. That leaves opportunity for Reisner and Shuler to prove their worth during training camp; it will also be important for Reisner and Shuler to perform well on special teams during training camp and the preseason.


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Jared Allen Set To Play In Lake Tahoe Celebrity Golf Tournament For Charity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 18, 2012 – 3:25 pm

Each offseason, Vikings DE Jared Allen hosts his Night Ops Golf Tournament to benefit Homes For Wounded Warriors. The event includes glow-in-the-dark golf balls, drill sergeants on tee boxes, a slip-n-slide on the driving range and a bunch of other skullduggery.

This weekend, Allen will participate in tamer golf tournament that will also raise money for charity. Allen will be playing in the 2012 American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe, an event that raises money and awareness for LIVESTRONG.

The $600,000, 54-hole competition at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Lake Tahoe will be aired on NBC Sports Network on Friday, July 20 from 4-7 pm (ET) and on NBC on Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22 from 3-6 pm (ET). This will be Allen’s second time participating in the tournament, which has a first place prize of $125,000.  In 2010, he finished 70th.

Other NFL personalities who will be joining Allen at the tournament include Marcus Allen, Miles Austin, Jerome Bettis, John Elway, Marshall Faulk, Jerry Rice, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Emmitt Smith and Jason Witten. Other celebrities who will participate include, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Ray Romano, Shane Battier and defending champion Jack Wagner.

Further information on the tournament can be found at www.tahoecelebritygolf.com.


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Roster Rundown: Cornerbacks

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

Last week we started our “Roster Rundown” series by taking a look at the wide receivers. Today the series continues with a look at the guys who will guard the wide receivers during training camp – the cornerbacks.

The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense (yards allowed) and allowed the most passing TDs in 2011, causing the club to make significant additions and changes to the secondary. Before we get to the new players, though, keep in mind that the secondary will see an immediate boost with the return of Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook. They are the two best CBs on the Vikings roster, and together they played in just 11 games last year. Their return bolsters the Vikings pass defense and sets the stage for other CBs on the roster to fill in the voids.

There are two other returning veterans on the Vikings 2012 training camp roster. Marcus Sherels made last year’s roster as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota. Aside from carving out a role on the defense, Sherels increased his value by becoming the club’s part-time kickoff returner and full-time punt returner. Brandon Burton, a 5th-round pick from last year, will also return to the club for training camp. Burton played in 10 games with 1 start in 2011.

The Vikings used both the draft and free agency to add talent to the CB position. In free agency, the club signed Chris Carr and Zack Bowman to add a veteran presence to what is otherwise a young position group. Carr began his career as a special teams ace in Tennessee and then became a regular in the Baltimore Ravens defense. He’s the early leader to be the team’s third CB, but there is plenty of competition for that spot as well. Bowman has some position flexibility to him and trained at both CB and safety during his time with the Chicago Bears.

In the draft, the Vikings used a 3rd-round selection to beef up the CB position by selecting the speedy Josh Robinson. The fastest man at the Combine (clocked a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash), Robinson’s speed will help him recover from natural coverage miscues as a rookie, and his 5-10, 192-pound frame will allow him to battle receivers on the outside. If he performs well in training camp, Robinson could earn himself a significant role on the defense immediately.

Others who will come to Vikings training camp looking to compete for a roster spot include Bobby Felder, Corey Gatewood and Nick Taylor. Felder was a standout over the Vikings final two days of the offseason program, Taylor is a former basketball player from Florida International University who is looking to transfer his hoops skills to the gridiron, and Gatewood was signed by the Vikings late in the offseason program (on June 4).


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Ponder, Others To Attend Vikings Ride For Life Motorcycle Rally This Weekend

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 17, 2012 – 9:34 am

The 2012 Minnesota Vikings Ride for Life Motorcycle Rally will be held this Saturday, July 21 and QB Christian Ponder headlines the contingent of current and former players who will be on-hand.

The 18th annual Ride for Life, which benefits the Vikings Children’s Fund (VCF), will begin at the Blue Heron Grill in Hugo, Minnesota.  Ponder will be joined there by teammates Toby Gerhart, John Sullivan and D’Aundre Reed, along with Vikings alumni Ted Brown, Stu Voigt and others. The Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders and team mascot Viktor will also be present.

Day of Event registration opens at 9:00 a.m. at the Blue Heron Grill and at Hinckley’s Amphitheater at 12:30 p.m. The cost to participate is a $15 donation to the Vikings Children’s Fund. Over $20,000 in prizes including $5,000 in cash, will be awarded.

At 1:00 p.m., all motorcycles will depart Hugo on a 50-mile trek to Hinckley’s Outdoor Amphitheater where the prizes will be awarded. Non-motorcyclists are welcome to participate in the Ride for Life by following the group to Hinckley. The event is supported by the Minnesota State Patrol and local law enforcement.

For more information, visit http://www.vikings.com or call the event line at (952) 828-6577.

Since 1978, nearly $10 million has been raised for the VCF with over $5 million allocated to support research at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Pediatrics.


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Vikings VP Lester Bagley Earns Public Policy Award

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 10, 2012 – 9:00 am

This past spring, Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley led the organization to its biggest off-the-field victory when he helped secure financing for a new publicly-owned and operated stadium for the State of Minnesota and the Vikings. Tonight he will be appropriately honored for his 10-plus years of dedication and leadership on the issue.

As part of the Leaders in Public Policy 2012 program at the Saint Paul Hotel, Bagley will be given the “Public Policy Achievement (Sports)” award. Named annually by Politics in Minnesota and the St. Paul Legal Ledger Capitol Report, the public policy awards “recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions toward Minnesota’s political, public policy or civic environment during the state’s current fiscal year or legislative session.” Bagley will be honored alongside Governor Mark Dayton, as well as stadium bill authors Senator Julie Rosen and Representative Morrie Lanning.

“Lester’s unwavering passion and commitment to the stadium effort make him very deserving of this award,” said Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf. “Because of his dedication, Minnesota will have a multi-purpose facility that will be a first-class destination in the Midwest and will leave a lasting legacy on the State. The Vikings organization is proud of Lester and his tremendous accomplishment for the State of Minnesota, the Vikings and our fans.”

Despite an extremely difficult political environment and economy, Bagley oversaw the public discussion and advocacy effort surrounding a new stadium on behalf of the Vikings. With his guidance, a coalition of elected officials, Vikings fans and business, labor and community leaders organized to advance the stadium issue at the Minnesota Capitol, and on May 10, 2012, the efforts culminated with the House and Senate passing legislation to construct a $975 million multi-purpose stadium in Minneapolis. Just days later on May 14, Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill into law.

“Without Lester Bagley, there would have been no stadium bill passed in the last legislative session,” said Governor Dayton.

“This legislation would not have passed without Lester’s leadership and perseverance,” said Senator Rosen, who authored the Senate version of the stadium bill. “It was an honor to work with Lester and his team.”

With the stadium bill behind him, Bagley has turned his attention to the design and construction of the new facility. Over the next four years, the Vikings will work closely with the newly-created five-member Stadium Authority to ensure that a world-class facility is constructed for the State, the team and Vikings fans. Groundbreaking is expected in spring 2013, followed by nearly three years of construction, with the stadium opening in 2016.


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Roster Rundown: Wide Receivers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 9, 2012 – 6:14 am

We’re in the middle of about the only slow time in the NFL news cycle. So what better to do than take an inventory of what the Vikings have on their roster with training camp just weeks away.

Let’s begin with the wide receivers, where the Vikings currently have 12 on the roster…

The wide receiver position is high profile as it is, but add in a mix of A) desire for improvement from last year’s performance, B) a flashy free agent acquisition and C) a mix of veterans and youngsters battling for roster spots, and you can be sure the Vikings wide receiver situation will be one to watch.

Percy Harvin is the cream of the crop, and after him the Vikings have worked hard this offseason to improve the position, most notably by adding veteran Jerome Simpson in free agency and then drafting a pair of receivers in the 4th round (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright).

Keep in mind, Simpson won’t count against the Vikings roster limit to begin the season because of a three-game suspension, so that opens up another spot for competition among a group of several players that is comprised of both veterans and youngsters. Veterans Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins will rely upon their one year of experience in Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scheme to try and ward off the young receivers the Vikings have in the fold. Jenkins was ‘ol reliable last season before getting hurt, and WRs coach George Stewart loves having him around because he’s a good influence on a young position group. Aromashodu showed flashes of playmaking ability last season, most notably his diving TD grab at Kansas City. Another veteran added to the mix is Bryan Walters, who looked good during the Vikings offseason program and is a sleeper in the punt returner competition.

The youngsters on the roster are highlighted by Childs and Wright, but also include a seventh-round choice from last year – Stephen Burton. He’s continually progressed since being drafted by the Vikings and took another step forward this offseason. The remaining receivers on the roster who will compete for spots are:

– Manny Arceneaux – Acquired by Vikings in January of 2011 after two standout seasons in the CFL…took a step forward this offseason with his work in Organized Team Activities and minicamp.
— Kamar Jorden – Bowling Green product who plays bigger than his listed height of 6-2…definitely not a throw-away player.
— A.J. Love – Acquired late in the offseason program and will need to watch more in training camp to get an opinion.
— Kerry Taylor – Injured his hand during the offseason program, so another who will merit a longer look in training camp. Quicker than fast, possible option in return game.


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Vikings-Titans Week 5 Game Moved To 3:25 PM Kickoff

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on July 6, 2012 – 10:03 am

The Week 5 (October 7) kickoff time for the Titans-Vikings game has been moved from Noon to 3:25 PM to accommodate the Twin Cities Marathon which starts near Mall of America Field in the morning on that date, it was announced today.

The game will be televised nationally by CBS, and locally by WCCO.


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Training Camp Schedule Change Benefits Team, Fans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 2, 2012 – 6:10 am

Soon, thousands of Vikings fans will make a familiar trek to Mankato, Minnesota to watch their football team prepare for the 2012 season at Verizon Vikings Training Camp. Mankato has been the Vikings training camp home for 47 consecutive years, meaning both the team and its fans have grown accustomed to day-to-day life in that setting.

There is a change to this year’s training camp schedule, though. And both the team and fans will be impacted by the change.

In recent seasons the Vikings have held practices in the morning and walk-throughs in the afternoon. This year the team will flip that schedule, instead choosing to conduct a walk-through session in the morning and then hold a full practice in the afternoon. As you can see in the training camp scheduled posted on vikings.com, the Vikings will hold their one-hour morning walk-throughs at 10:30 a.m. and then will begin their practice at 2:45 p.m. (concluding most days at 5:30 p.m.).

It’s important for fans to note the times of both walk-throughs and practices because many fan-favorite events are scheduled around those events, such as: morning autograph sessions, Minnesota Vikings Cheerleader clinics, youth football clinics, and various Vikings Village activities.

This change in schedule has many benefits for both the team and fans. Here are just a few of them…

– The morning walk-through schedule allows for better autograph access for fans because players may be more engaging and willing to sign since they won’t have just concluded a demanding practice.

– Walk-throughs are conducted at a more relaxed pace, which will allow fans who’ve seen the morning session in the past a chance to see players in a different light.

– Regardless of which practice session fans attend on a daily basis, they will see the entire team. In the past, select afternoon walk-throughs included special teams work only. With walk-throughs scheduled for the morning, more of them will include the entire team.

– Having padded practice in the afternoon makes for a longer day of activity at training camp, including inside the fan-friendly confines of Vikings Village. Fans can come early and stay for both practices, rather than in the past where fans would come early and leave by early afternoon once the padded practice concluded.

– With fans potentially sticking around later in the day, local businesses could see a boost in activity.


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