Brinkley Shows More Improvement As Regular Season Approaches

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 26, 2012 – 10:56 am

We mentioned late last week that Vikings coaches were pleased with the progress starting middle LB Jasper Brinkley has made in training camp and the preseason. We may be talking more about that progress this week, as Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier once again praised Brinkley after Friday’s exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers.

“Jasper seemed like he played a lot better,” Frazier said. “He was more aggressive, he seemed like he was out there having fun, kind of letting go a little bit. His play was encouraging just watching from the sideline. He made a lot of plays tonight so that should help his confidence. It was inspiring to see him play as aggressive as he did.”

Brinkley had 2.0 sacks and 3 QB hurries on the night, as he was a part of suffocating performance by the Vikings first-team defense. Granted, San Diego was missing several starters, but the Vikings defense did what they should’ve done given their matchup. The Chargers had just 80 net yards of offense and 5 first downs in the 1st half versus the Vikings starters, and the visitors were just 22% on 3rd downs and averaged only 2.5 yards per carry.

That’s the kind of performance coaches and fans want to see from Brinkley. His injury history has been well-publicized, but after great improvement since training camp began in late July and a couple of encouraging preseason outings, it will be Brinkley’s solid play that gets the publicity soon.

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Vikings Release 15 To Reach 75-Man Roster Limit

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 25, 2012 – 2:05 pm

NFL teams are required to reduce their rosters to the 75-man limit by Monday, and the Vikings released 15 players on Saturday to comply with the rule.

The following players were released by the Vikings:

G Bridger Buche
RB Derrick Coleman
G Grant Cook
LB Solomon Elimimian
DB Corey Gatewood
OT Levi Horn
DT Anthony Jacobs
WR Kamar Jorden
WR AJ Love
LB Tyler Nielsen
DE Ernest Owusu
DT Tydreke Powell
DB Chris Stroud
WR Kerry Taylor
WR Bryan Walters

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Blanton Figures To See Extended Time In Thursday’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 25, 2012 – 1:03 pm

Through the offseason program, training camp and now three preseason games, it appears the Vikings have a promising class of draft picks from 2012. But one selection the team hasn’t seen much of to this point – at least in the preseason – is 5th-round pick Robert Blanton.

The Vikings selected Blanton with 139th overall pick last April and have converted him from a college CB to an NFL safety. Blanton’s transition to the NFL hit a speed bump in training camp, though, when he injured his hamstring. The Notre Dame product has missed the Vikings three preseason games because of that injury, but now the team is hoping to get an extended look at Blanton this week in practice and during Thursday’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans.

“We probably could have played him in this ball game, but we didn’t want to risk it because we want to play him in that next ball game,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday night. “We’ll get through these couple days, he’ll practice, and play quite a bit in that Houston game, which helps some of the injuries that we have at safety.”

Frazier disclosed those injuries following Friday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers, explaining that S Mistral Raymond’s back tightened up on him in pregame warm-ups, CB Marcus Sherels and S Andrew Sendejo suffered sprained ankles, S Eric Frampton injured his groin and CB Josh Robinson was evaluated for a concussion. While the Vikings will remain optimistic that none of those injuries will sideline players for an extended time, the team will also lean heavily on Blanton while the other DBs are on the mend.

Blanton stands at 6-1, 208 pounds and improved his draft stock during a solid senior season at Notre Dame, playing alongside Vikings teammate Harrison Smith in the Fighting Irish secondary. Regardless of where he opens the season on the defensive depth chart, Blanton figures to be a solid special teams contributor as well.

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Too Many Turnovers Lead To Vikings Loss vs. Chargers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 10:28 pm

Hoping to ride the momentum generated from a strong showing against the Buffalo Bills a week ago, the Vikings offense opened Week 3 of the 2012 preseason with the ball and designs of setting the tempo for their exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers. Instead of creating tempo, the Vikings offense generated too many turnovers and wasn’t able to gain any rhythm in a 12-10 loss at Mall of America Field on Friday night.

“We never really got a rhythm,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said. “When we get the ball first in a game, it’s always important for us to set a tone. Not only did we go three-and-out on the first drive, but on the second drive as well. It started off with an incompletion on the very first play, and that set a tone for the rest of the game.”

There were flashes of efficiency for the Vikings. Ponder found WR Percy Harvin deep down the right side for a gain of 40 yards and FB Matt Asiata flashed a bit in the 2nd half, but overall the offense didn’t perform up to par after a standout performance last week that left many optimistic in the young group’s potential.

“We made plays,” Ponder explained. “We ran the ball well. Just four turnovers, and penalties at inopportune times make it tough to overcome. It’s frustrating when we only put, for us (first-team offense), three points on the board. We ended up scoring a touchdown at the end, so ten points. It was a little disappointing, but it shows us that we have a lot to work on. We wish we would’ve performed like we did the first two weeks, but we know we have the capability to do so, we just gotta get better.”

Ponder is the first to claim responsibility for the offense’s shortcomings. Asked if pressure was getting to him – he was sacked three times in the 1st half and five times overall – Ponder was quick to point out he shared some of the blame for the pressure.

“I got myself in trouble. We talked about it on the sidelines,” Ponder said. “I was getting back on the top of my drop and just sitting there. That puts a lot of pressure on our (offensive) tackles. I could do a lot better job of stepping up, moving forward…It’s on me. I’ve got to get better in the pocket. Usually I don’t do that. I don’t know why it happened this game. It’s something to work on in practice and get better at.”

Ponder is likely too hard on himself, but the Vikings can take solace in the fact they have a QB who takes pride in his on-field work, takes blame when things don’t go right and is determined to fix them the next week in practice. Expect Ponder and Co. to do just that and have a solid week of practice leading up to their Week 1 home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In addition to too many sacks allowed, the Vikings also committed too many turnovers. The Vikings saw three drives end in San Diego territory, including two inside the red zone and one inside the 5. Another drive ended via an INT after the offense had driven 47 yards in just 4 plays. Those turnovers will cover up many of the stretches in which the Vikings offense was moving with efficiency and explosion.

“Probably the thing that defines (the game) the most for us were the mistakes,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. We turned the ball over four times. Whether it’s the preseason or regular season, it’s hard to win in our League when that happens.”

It looked as if the Vikings would be able to overcome their turnover-riddled performance and emerge with a victory after QB Sage Rosenfels drove the offense down the field and found Asiata for a 1-yard TD. That score and the resulting PAT by K Blair Walsh gave the Vikings a 10-9 lead with 1:54 to play. But Chargers reserve QB Jarrett Lee put together a drive that was aided by a Vikings personal foul penalty and ended with a 45-yard game-winning FG as time expired by Nick Novak.

The highlight of the night for the Vikings was the performance by their first-team defense, which suffocated the Chargers offense. Granted, San Diego held out many of its starters, but the Vikings did exactly what they should have done under the circumstances. San Diego was just 3 of 16 (19%) on 3rd downs, they gained just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt and the Vikings sacked Chargers QBs six times.

LBs Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson clearly had their best performances of 2012, combining for 9 tackles. Brinkley had 2.0 sacks and Henderson was a disruptive force on multiple occasions. DE Jared Allen was up to his old tricks with a pair of sacks and three of his four tackles resulting in a loss of yardage for San Diego. The Vikings also got a sack from DT Fred Evans, who started in place of an injured Letroy Guion.

“Our first defense, they played extremely hard,” Frazier said. “They kept us in the game. Real good on third down. Didn’t come up with the turnovers that we would like. But I thought our first unit did everything that we asked.”

The Vikings move to 1-2 this preseason and will conclude their exhibition struggle on Thursday by traveling to Houston for a contest against the Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT.

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Defense Clamps Down On Chargers In 1st Half

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 7:28 pm

The Vikings offense mustered just seven 1st downs and 102 net yards of offense in the opening two quarters of play on Friday night at Mall of America Field. But because of a stout performance from the first-team defense, the Vikings entered the locker room at halftime of their third preseason game trailing by just a FG – 6-3.

San Diego’s offense has not fared much better than the Vikings group, picking up just five first downs and accumulating just 80 yards of offense on 34 snaps. QB Charlie Whitehurst, who started the game because San Diego chose to rest Philip Rivers (and plenty of other starters, too), has completed 7 of 16 attempts for 72 yards. The Chargers have gained 35 yards rushing on 14 carries and have converted just 2 of 9 third-down attempts.

Several Vikings defenders are standing out in the 1st half, including All-Pro DE Jared Allen. Last year’s sack king has 2.0 tonight, and both LB Jasper Brinkley and DT Fred Evans have gotten to Whitehurst as well. LB Erin Henderson is having a solid game and S Jamarca Sanford has collected 4 tackles while starting alongside Harrison Smith.

San Diego will open the 2nd half with the ball, as both they and the Vikings first-team offense will look to turn things around in the 3rd quarter. The Vikings defense will look to keep things the same.

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6 Keys To Vikings-Chargers Preseason Tilt Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 3:40 pm

The Vikings welcome the San Diego Chargers to Mall of America Field tonight for each team’s third preseason contest of 2012. While we wait for kickoff, let’s go over a few keys to the game…

– Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier indicated all week that his offensive starters will play into the 3rd quarter. That gives the Vikings offensive staff an opportunity to go into the locker room at halftime knowing they’ll have a drive with their starters in the 2nd half. If the Chargers are able to slow a particular area of the Vikings offense in the 1st half, look for the Vikings to come out in the 2nd half with an answer. It would be a significant positive sign for the Vikings first-team offense if they can have a productive drive to open the 3rd quarter before giving way to the backups and reserves.

– One more offensive key – no sacks allowed. This is on Vikings receivers and QB Christian Ponder as much as it’s on the offensive line. Receivers need to wiggle open – especially important since starting WR Jerome Simpson won’t be as heavily involved tonight – and the QB needs to get rid of the ball on time. And of course the offensive line needs to provide a pocket in which Ponder can step up and deliver.

– It’s a big night for Jasper Brinkley. Since missing all of last season and some of the offseason program with an injury, Brinkley has made progress as the man in the middle of the Vikings defense. Tonight Brinkley has a chance to accelerate that progression and instill confidence in coaches and fans that he can be the type of LB the Vikings defense needs. You’ll know Brinkley is playing well if you see him in the backfield early on run plays and if San Diego has trouble passing on early downs.

– The Chargers will have several starters out of action, including RB Ryan Mathews, giving the Vikings defense an opportunity to clamp down on an opponent and build some confidence. The Vikings run defense, specifically, took a huge step forward last week and I think they’ll do so again tonight. Add in home field advantage, and you can expect a sharp performance from the Vikings defense against San Diego tonight.

– The Vikings special teams units have performed well all of training camp and the preseason, but there’s still one missing element that would be nice to see before the regular season opens – a big kickoff or punt return. Kickoff and punt coverage has been solid and the Vikings return units have had sound blocking, so now it’s time for a returner to stick his foot in the ground, make a cut and rip off a big return.

– Rookie K Blair Walsh has had a nice preseason, hitting on 7 of 8 FGs and all of his PATs, along with booming 5 touchbacks. Another quality outing from Walsh is to be expected tonight as his confidence grows and the team’s and fans’ confidence in him grows as well.

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Tentativeness Leaving, Confidence Building For Brinkley

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 22, 2012 – 10:30 am

The Vikings are relying on Jasper Brinkley to hold down the middle LB job this season (and many seasons in the future), which is an important position in the team’s 4-3 scheme. After missing all of last season and some of this year’s offseason program, some grew concerned about Brinkley’s durability and, subsequently, his ability to handle the task.

But after the first part of training camp and two preseason games, the Vikings coaching staff doesn’t seem to be sharing that concern.

The Vikings allowed too many rushing yards in their preseason debut against the San Francisco 49ers, surrendering 198 yards and 1 TD in the 1st half. As the middle LB, Brinkley encountered external criticism in the aftermath. Brinkley and the Vikings defense were much better the following week, though, as they surrendered just 68 rushing yards on 20 carries to the Bills in a 36-14 win. A big reason for the Vikings improvement against the run was the big step forward in performance by Brinkley.

“I thought he made tremendous leaps from the week before in game action against San Francisco,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And what he did against Buffalo, you could see him begin to get his legs back under him. You could see the quickness and the burst that we’ve been wanting to see.”

As the Vikings work in a new middle LB, they’re also welcoming a new defensive coordinator in Alan Williams. And Williams liked what he saw from Brinkley last week, too.

“He played well,” Williams said. “He hustled, he ran around. I think Jasper is getting more comfortable with having to command the defense, making calls, making checks, getting people lined up. He is running extremely well, he played downhill a little bit better. We’re looking to see if he can do that in more of a consistent basis.”

Becoming a more consistent player comes with reps. After missing all of last season and parts of the offseason program, Brinkley is still working his way back into game form.

“When he tried to practice in the OTAs (Organized Team Activities) in the offseason, to have trouble then, that will plant a seed in your mind that, ‘I could be a guy that is going to struggle with injuries,’ and to see some of the tentativeness early on wasn’t a surprise,” Frazier explained. “But the more he has played, the more comfortable and the more confident he has become. We just have to keep putting him in those situations so he can just turn it loose and not be worried about getting injured.

“We’ll get him hopefully quite a few reps in this San Diego game so he can gain confidence and his teammates will continue to gain confidence in him as well but this preseason is a big deal for him with all of the time he has missed. They’re big for all of us because we’re counting on him to do a good job.”

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Gerhart Poised For Increased Role In 2012

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2012 – 11:06 am

The big news in the Vikings RB stable this offseason was the rehab of Adrian Peterson from a knee injury. Though Peterson’s rehab has been executed to plan, conventional wisdom suggested that the Vikings would lean on backup Toby Gerhart a bit more in 2012 while Peterson worked his way back to form.

Gerhart is indeed poised for an increased role in the Vikings offense this season, but it’s becoming apparent that the increased role is more a function of Gerhart’s improvement than it is of Peterson’s recovery from injury. In two preseason games this year, Gerhart has 11 carries for 61 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 1 reception for 19 yards. He looks the part of a starting-caliber NFL RB. Aside from that production, Gerhart has displayed his improvement in other areas as well.

“Toby has made strides in the pass protection realm of his game,” Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave explained. “He’s always been smart, but I think his technique is better this year. He’s playing with lower pad level. Running the ball, too, he seems to be more assertive. A little bit quicker to hit the hole.”

Gerhart occupying a prominent role in the offense may be new to Vikings fans, but to those who’ve followed his career, it’s commonplace. He was a standout player at Stanford over four seasons, and during his time there he was a unanimous All-American, won the 2009 Doak Walker Award (honors nation’s top college RB) and was a runner-up in Heisman voting in 2009 as well.

That kind of recognition is in the rear view mirror, now, and ahead of him is another shot at a productive season.

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A Closer Look: Ponder In Command On 1st And 2nd Down

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 19, 2012 – 8:55 am

Everyone knows it’s important for an offense to convert 3rd downs. But what’s the key for an offense to register a high 3rd-down conversion rate? A good possession receiver would help. A versatile RB coming out of the backfield would be good, too.

But the real key to converting 3rd downs is to be good on 1st and 2nd down. Vikings QB Christian Ponder subscribes to that theory, anyway, which is why he and the Vikings offensive staff have put an increased focus on performing well on 1st and 2nd down. During a press conference over the offseason, Ponder stated that the offense had a goal of completing 75% of their passes on 1st and 2nd down. Then last week Ponder reiterated the goal to Mark Craig the Star Tribune.

“We want 75 percent completions on first and second downs,” the 2nd-year QB said. “That’s the number we’re shooting for. Obviously, we were in a lot of third-and-long situations a year ago, and we want to get out of that.”

Ponder put the theory to practice on Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. He was 8 of 10 for 128 yards with 1 TD on 1st and 2nd downs, an impressive display of passing that left the team and its fans optimistic about Ponder’s continued develop and the progression of the offense. Furthermore, Ponder connected with 7 different receivers on those 8 completions, and 5 of the 8 completions resulted in a 1st down or touchdown.

Granted, a 75% completion rate on 1st and 2nd down for a whole season is certainly an ambitious goal. Last year, Drew Brees set an NFL record for overall completion percentage at 71.2%, and he was 73.1% on 1st down and 70.4% on 2nd down. So if the guy who set an NFL record for overall completion percent wasn’t able to attain the goal, is it realistic for Ponder to do it in his first full year as a starter? Some may say no, but Vikings fans have to like that their QB as a high expectation of performance for himself and the team.

Ponder attained the goal on Friday night. Yes, it was a preseason game in which Ponder exited during the 2nd quarter. But it’s a sign that Ponder is progressing. And it’s a sign that the Vikings will be better on 3rd downs in 2012.

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Vikings Run Defense Back To Form vs. Buffalo

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 19, 2012 – 7:34 am

A lot changes from year-to-year in the NFL. But one thing you’ve been able to count on year-in and year-out in recent seasons is a stout Vikings run defense. The Vikings ranked #1 against the run from 2006-08 and have finished outside of the Top 10 just once since 2006.

But you wouldn’t have known that from watching the Vikings preseason opener last week in San Francisco. Thanks in some part to a 78-yard TD run by QB Colin Kaepernick but mostly to poor execution by Vikings defenders, the Vikings allowed 260 rushing yards and 1 TD on 42 carries against the 49ers, including 198 yards and a score on 21 carries in the 1st half. For a team used to stopping the run with the best of them and for a defensive-minded head coach who’s part architect of the Vikings vaunted rushing defense and was also a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears defense, that was unacceptable.

And so after a week of corrections in training camp and a renewed focus to stop the run, the Vikings defense responded big-time this past Friday night against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings were stingy versus the run, permitting Bills runners just 68 total yards on 20 carries (3.4 yards per carry), with just 27 yards on 8 carries in the 1st half.

“Well, we talked a bit about how we want to play run defense and we wanted to see some improvement in that area,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. “We know with the new faces that we have on defense that it’s going to take a little bit of time; it’s going to be a process. We wanted to see improvement and we did.”

It’s difficult to gauge exactly when the Vikings starters left the game based on the play-by-play, but suffice it to say it was the Vikings first-team defense that did the most damage to Buffalo’s running game. In its first two offensive series on Friday night, the Bills offense had runs of 3, 1, -2 and -8 yards. On the third series, Buffalo gained 25 yards, but then the Vikings allowed just 8 total yards on the next two series.

Stopping the run with that type of effectiveness is crucial to the Vikings defense. Much of the talk this past offseason surrounding the Vikings defense was about improving against the pass. That’s all well and fine, but if teams can run the ball against you, then it doesn’t matter how good you are against the pass. Frazier and Co. certainly realize that.

“We’ve built our defense on being able to stop the run and getting up to the quarterback with our pass rushes,” Frazier explained. “We don’t have a chance if people can be balanced. We have to be able to defend the run, and tonight we did a much better job of it. We will have to continue to work on it and continue to improve in that area, but that’s something we want to be good at.”

On Friday night, the Vikings were very good at it.

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