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CB Robinson To Get Extended Look On Friday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2012 – 1:40 pm

Josh Robinson looked good playing at the University of Central Florida, where he was a two-time All Conference USA first teamer with 10 INTs and 36 passes broken up in three seasons. Robinson looked good at the 2012 Scouting Combine, where he was the fastest player time in the 40-yard dash. And Robinson looked good during the Vikings rookie minicamp, Organized Team Activities and mandatory minicamp this spring at Winter Park.

But Robinson didn’t get any looks last Friday in the Vikings preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers. As a precaution, the team held him out of action because of a hamstring injury that hampered him earlier in camp.

This Friday should be a different story, however. Robinson is slated to see plenty of action against the Buffalo Bills.

“I don’t know if he’ll get first team reps, but we’ll try to get him a number of snaps so we can evaluate him and so he’ll be able to evaluate himself and find out what the pro game is all about,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And he wants to win a starting spot, so we want to see him go out there and work and get some snaps against some good receivers and be able to gauge where he is at the end of this ball game. We’re looking forward to watching him play.”

Fans should be looking forward to watching him play, too. Robinson is speedy and quick. He can play defense and special teams. Whether he intercepts a pass or fields a kickoff or punt, Robinson has the explosiveness to be a playmaker for the Vikings.

“He can close and go from point A to point B as fast as anybody we have, or that I’ve seen,” Frazier said. “His closing speed is outstanding.

Of course, we all know he had the fastest time at the Combine, but it shows up on the football field. A lot of guys can run fast straight ahead but it doesn’t show up when you put pads on. But in his case, it shows up.”

From the looks of it so far, Robinson has all the physical traits to be a contributor for the Vikings. The question now, and the question that the Vikings will begin to answer on Friday night when Robinson makes his NFL debut, is about the non-physical part of the game.

“He has great closing speed,” Frazier explained, “but now it’s a matter of ‘can he handle some of the things that come at him, formations, routes, terminology?’ There are so many things that have to come in to play to be a big time corner in our league.

“It’ll be a big test for him. He’s anxious to get out there and perform and show everyone that he’s capable of playing at this level.”


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Safety First: Competition Continues In Vikings Secondary

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2012 – 12:40 pm

Harrison Smith: Progression Continues
Mistral Raymond: He’s Got The Look

Improving the pass defense was a top priority for the Vikings this past offseason, and the effort to do so has continued during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and the preseason. Two starting positions at safety are open for competition, and the race to win those spots will continue this week as the Vikings prepare for preseason game #2 against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field on Friday.

In the days leading up to Friday’s game, we’ll take a daily look at three players vying for starting safety positions – Mistral Raymond (today), Harrison Smith (Wednesday) and Jamarca Sanford (Thursday).

Keep in mind that there are others fighting for spots, too. Andrew Sendejo, for example, led the Vikings in tackles last week at San Francisco and is pushing for playing time on defense. Others in the mix include Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton and Reggie Jones.

We’ll begin this series with a look at Mistral Raymond…

He’s got the look
Entering his second season, Raymond has the look of star in the making. He has the frame (6-1, 202 pounds) and skill set to be a ball-hawking NFL safety. The Vikings acquired Raymond with a sixth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but the hope is he’ll make a top-pick kind of impact on the Vikings defense.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams says physical ability and a willingness to mix it up on defense are not concerns. The thing keeping Raymond from emerging as a reliable contributor on defense is experience, something he’ll gain during his second NFL season this year.

“Yes, without a doubt,” Williams quickly responded when asked if Raymond was willing and able enough to play safety. “Willing, not a problem whatsoever, strong enough, not a problem. Experience is just going to be the thing that he needs to come along with.

“With him it’s just every situation is going to be new for him, that he hadn’t seen it, there will be some wrinkles from week-to-week and we just need to make sure that we get him enough reps in practice, and in ball games to get him up to speed so that every situation is just not new to him, that he has some experience with them.”

In college, Raymond was used both as a cornerback and safety. The Vikings are confident that Raymond’s experience playing cornerback in college will give him sound coverage skills as a safety in the NFL.

“He’s an athletic safety that still has cover skills that have not diminished since we put him at safety from the time that he was playing corner,” Williams said. “He is still learning on the go, though. He is a young safety.”

Raymond started five games last year as a rookie and flashed plenty of potential while also learning from mistakes. Entering his second season, Raymond knows his performance in training camp and practice are important, but he also knows the game experience from last year is invaluable.

“You go out in practice and give it everything you’ve got, but some of those game situations you just can’t simulate,” Raymond explained. “It’s big to get those live game reps. I think the more reps I got, the more comfortable I became and the more I started to see things. Hopefully that will translate to this season.”

The Vikings seem anxious to see what Raymond can add to the Vikings secondary.

“We’re looking to put him in as many situations as we can so that when it comes to play on Sundays, it’s not the first time that he has done it or seen it or been it,” Williams said. “He still has a ways to go, but we like his potential.”


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Harrison Smith To Get More Work With First-Team Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2012 – 5:22 am

Harrison Smith is one of the Vikings two 1st-round picks from last April’s draft. But so far during his short Vikings career, Smith has been running more with the second-team and third-team defenses than with the first team. According to Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier, though, that could be changing soon.

“One of the things when we went back to look at the tape, and we felt this way going in, [was] Harrison was really making a push,” Frazier said on Sunday. “He’s going to get a chance to work in that first group, and he did on Friday night as well, he just didn’t start the game. It will be the same this week, although we’re going to do some things a little bit different with the starting rotations on Friday night. He’s done enough now where we feel confident that he can go out there in a starter’s role and we want to see how he performs in that role. He very well could start (this) Friday, he’s did some good things when he was in there (last) Friday night.”

Those comments are great news for the Vikings. As a 1st-round pick, the expectation is for Smith to emerge from 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, and it sounds like Smith is on track to do just that. Billed as an intelligent and instinctive defender with sound coverage skills and exceptional tackling ability, Smith should upgrade the Vikings at safety and help improve a pass defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed and last in TDs allowed in 2011.

All along, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams defended putting Smith with the second and third team defenses by saying he wanted players to earn their spots as starters rather than be given starting positions based on draft position or pedigree. It sounds like Smith is doing everything the coaches are asking of him, including earning a spot as a starter on defense.


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Three Takeaways From Vikings Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 11, 2012 – 3:10 am

The Vikings made their 2012 preseason debut on Friday night, dropping a 17-6 decision to the San Francisco 49ers at a blustery Candlestick Park. Rookie K Blair Walsh capped the game’s opening drive with a 39-yard FG that cut straight through the 20 mph gusts that swirled inside the stadium, but that was the only lead the Vikings would have for the evening.

San Francisco answered with a TD later in the 1st quarter to take a 7-3 and eventually took a 17=6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Neither team scored in the 2nd half.

For the Vikings, QB Christian Ponder was good-not-great, completing 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards. RB Toby Gerhart was solid and strong, rushing the ball 5 times and gaining 31 yards, with a long rush of 16 yards. The Vikings defense struggled stopping the 49ers ground game, allowing over 100 rushing yards in the 1st half and 260 in the game.

The thrill of victory and agony of defeat take a back seat in the preseason, though, as teams are looking to find “wins” within the exhibition games. There are position battles to be settled and roster spots to be won, and that is the focus for NFL teams and their followers during the preseason.

With that in mind, here are three takeaways on my mind as I sit on the team’s charter flight back to Minneapolis…

Blair Walsh impresses in first NFL game
I’ve been a big supporter of Blair Walsh’s since the Vikings selected him in the 6th round. His leg strength was never questioned, and I didn’t find his dip in accuracy during his senior season at Georgia as concerning as others did. The kid was an 88.8% kicker as a sophomore and junior, and most of his misses during his senior year came on FGs from 40 or 50+ yards.

Regardless, there were no concerns about Walsh’s accuracy on Friday night. He converted both of his FG attempts, the first from 39 yards and the second from 26. Keep in mind, the nasty wind gusts did nothing to help matters, either. In addition to his accuracy on FG tries, Walsh’s leg strength was on display during kickoffs. He logged one touchback on a kick that was blasted through the endzone, and then his other two kickoffs were 6 and 8 yards into the endzone. During the regular season, teams will not be taking those kicks out of the touchback area.

The benefit of Walsh’s touchbacks – opponents’ average drive start will be closer to their own 20 – will far outweigh any accuracy issues he has on FGs. As any defensive player or coordinator and they’ll tell you that pinning a team at or inside the 20 is a big-time advantage for the defense. With Walsh, the Vikings will be doing much more of that in 2012 than they have in recent seasons (Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ average drive start in 2011).

Run defense missed Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield
The Vikings held out DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield on Friday night, giving the veterans a break from the action while also giving younger players more opportunity. And the absence of three quality run stoppers showed, with San Francisco gashing the Vikings defense on the ground seemingly at will in the 1st half.

One part of you gets frustrated when the opponent is able to run the ball so easily. But the other part of you knows that without Allen, Williams and Winfield in the mix, the defense is much more vulnerable. It would’ve been nice to see other players step up and stymie the 49ers ground game, but I’m not worried about the Vikings run defense just yet. If the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers are able to do in the next two weeks what the 49ers did this week, then we’ll have some concerns.

Offensive line displays improvement
I was pleased with the performance of the Vikings first-team offensive line. RB Toby Gerhart averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 5 attempts and neither Ponder nor Joe Webb were sacked while the first-team offensive line was in the game. Several times Ponder was able to settle into a pocket after dropping back, and on his52-yard pass to WR Stephe Burton Ponder was afforded the time and space to step up into the pocket to deliver the throw.

First-round pick LT Matt Kalil looked solid in his debut. He will be the first to admit there’s room for improvement, but it was a good beginning for Ponder’s new blindside protector. C John Sullivan had no issues with snaps and RT Phil Loadholt was sound in his technique and discipline.


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Vikings Arrive At Candlestick Park For Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 10, 2012 – 4:45 pm

The Vikings traveling contingent has made the short trek from the team hotel to Candlestick Park for tonight’s preseason debut against the San Francisco 49ers and players have begun hitting the field for their warmups. We’re currently under sunny skies with a temperature of 56 degrees and the winds howling at 18 mph.

Tonight marks the first preseason game for both the Vikings and 49ers, and it marks the 7th time the teams have met in the preseason, with the last coming in 2010. The last time San Francisco played a game here at Candlestick they were hosting the NFC Championship Game last January, a game in which they lost to the NY Giants.

Several representatives from the Vikings organization visited some of the 49ers facilities, which are located directly next to the site of the team’s new stadium, which is being constructed right now. We’ll have a report and pictures from that visit posted here on the vikings.com Blog shortly.

Remember to stay tuned to vikings.com tonight because we’re you’re best place for preseason coverage of the Vikings. We’ll host a live chat on the website during the game, we’ll stream press conferences after the game, and I’ll check in following the game with a recap of the night and plenty of reaction from players and coaches.

Also, for those of you not in Minnesota who wish to watch tonight’s game, go to the vikings.com home page and check out Preseason Live, a subscription-based program that you can utilize to watch every Vikings preseason game (charge of just $20).

That’s it for now, but we’ll be checking in with you periodically before tonight’s game to keep you up-to-date on the action.


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Reminder: Vikings vs. 49ers To Be Broadcast On The CW Twin Cities

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 10, 2012 – 9:54 am

The Vikings kick off their preseason schedule tonight against the San Francisco 49ers, and for the third consecutive season KARE 11 will be the team’s preseason television partner.

Because of NBC’s 2012 Olympics coverage, however, the Vikings-49ers game will be broadcast on an alternative channel. The CW Twin Cities will televise tonight’s game, with kickoff slated for 8:00 p.m. CT.

Below is a listing of The CW Twin Cities’ channel locations on Cable/ADS:

– DISH ch 23
— DirecTv ch 23
— Comcast SD ch 8
— Comcast HD ch 808
— Charter Cable ch 602 or 783 (depending on location)
— Mediacom cc 106 or 117 or 821 (depending on location)

Preseason Simulcast
The Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN) will use the Vikings Radio Network broadcast team of Paul Allen and Pete Bercich for the 2012 Vikings preseason television broadcasts. The preseason games, aired on KARE 11 (on WUCW tonight at San Francisco), will be simulcast over the Vikings Radio Network and its flagship station KFAN 100.3 FM.

“Hundreds of thousands of Vikings fans enjoy listening to PA’s exciting calls and Pete’s thorough analysis on the radio during Vikings games,” said Vikings Vice President of Sales & Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer Steve LaCroix. “This is a unique opportunity to also allow our television viewers to listen to the voices of the Vikings.”

Former Vikings punter Greg Coleman will continue his sideline reporting role, while former Vikings LB Ben Leber will be added to handle sideline interviews during the preseason TV broadcasts.

For more information on the Vikings preseason TV schedule, click here.


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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2012 – 5:19 am

There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.

You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.

There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…

– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.

– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.

– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.

– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.

– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.

– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.

– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.

– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.


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Vikings Offense Responds To Musgrave’s Motivation Measure

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 7, 2012 – 6:01 pm

If you know Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, you know that he’s generally a polite, personable character who can strike up a friendly conversation with anyone. If you know Musgrave well, though, you know that he has plenty of vitality in him when it comes to football.

The Vikings offense is well aware of this now.

As the Star Tribune’s Dan Wiederer explains on Access Vikings, Musgrave went outside the box to motivate his group for Tuesday’s practice after a subpar outing on Monday.

“Yesterday we took a step back in a couple of periods,” Musgrave said during his press conference on Tuesday. “We’re looking to make those corrections and get better the next time we’re faced with those periods for sure.”

That’s the measured, polite Musgrave speaking. The impassioned Musgrave addressed his players in a different manner, according to QB Christian Ponder.

“He had a great metaphor of lighting a fire,” Ponder said. “He finds some unique ways of motivating us. But it works. I’m not going to go into details.”

As Wiederer writes, Ponder was pushed for more detail and was asked if props were involved in the motivation tactic.

“Yep,” he said laughing. “Let’s just say it involved a bucket of water, some leaves and some sticks. It was interesting.”

It may well have been interesting. But it was also effective. The Vikings offense rebounded nicely on Tuesday, looking sharp in many of the team periods and even capping off a few drives with game-winning scores. One was to WR Percy Harvin on a deep pass down the middle of the field and another was finished by a Blair Walsh 57-yard dagger that split the uprights and had plenty of extra distance.

“It was important for us to step out and have a good practice today,” Ponder told Wiederer. “We made a point of it [Monday night], to have more enthusiasm. And we did. It was a great way to bounce back.

“He’s (Musgrave) quiet, but when he gets on the football field he gets a fire. He’s not afraid to yell at people, and he expects a lot out of us. He does it in his own way.”

Musgrave’s way is clearly the right way for the Vikings offense. As head coach Leslie Frazier mentioned to reporters after practice, every offense will experience times of adversity. What matters most is how the offense responds. Under Musgrave’s direction, the Vikings offense responded well on Tuesday.

That’s the sign of a good motivator, and of an offense going in the right direction.


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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 7, 2012 – 6:26 am

One of the main challenges to covering a NFL team during training camp is covering all the bases. With a 90-man roster and plenty of intriguing storylines to follow, it’s hard to cover everything. But there is a saving grace in all of this. Twitter.

Brevity is required when using Twitter because a message on the social media platform must be 140 or fewer characters. Some may look at that as a limitation. But we’re turning it into opportunity. The Twitter-sized player evaluations feature we debuted last week gives us a chance to provide some insight on several players, rather than an overwhelming amount of insight on just a few players.

On Monday before practice, we asked (on my Twitter handle – @wobby) which players you’d like to know about via Twitter evaluations. They are listed below with a 140 (or fewer)-character evaluation…

FB Matt Asiata – Skilled pass catcher out of the backfield. Needs to show ability on special teams during preseason.

WR Stephen Burton – May have some position flexibility to him (can play X and Z receiver) & has had very good camp. Good after the catch. Big preseason for him.

CB Chris Carr – Playing with first-team nickel. Smart, instinctive player. Was in punt return rotation on Monday.

LB Audie Cole – Big, physical & smart. Unsure if he’s best at middle or outside LB. Needs to contribute on special teams. Has a chance to be good NFL LB.

TE Rhett Ellison – Impressing with his hands and fluidity in passing game. Known as hard worker. Will be a good pro for a long time.

RG Brandon Fusco – Still the one to beat for starting RG spot. Smart, tough player. Going against Kevin Williams every day is good for him.

RB Toby Gerhart – Looks and plays the part of a starting-caliber NFL RB. Grinder who will wear defenses out. Good in passing game (protection and receiving).

LB Everson Griffen – Up and down – will make great plays or mistakes. Great instincts and athleticism. Transitioning well, could still play DL in situations.

DL Trevor Guyton – Great start to camp, leveling off a bit now. Hard to move on the inside. Has athleticism to play multiple positions. Stout against run.

DE Brian Robison – Great day of practice on Monday. Excellent inside pass rush moves. Can play DT in nickel package. Great enthusiasm and passion.

C John Sullivan – Excellent leader. Rarely makes mistake. Developing into Top 5 at his position in NFL.

K Blair Walsh – Has impressed with leg strength AND accuracy. Answered the bell in simulated game situations at end of practice. Touchbacks-a-plenty.

WR Bryan Walters – In the mix at WR, needs productive preseason. In punt return rotation & fields kicks gracefully. Sudden route runner with good separation.

WR Jarius Wright – Explosive short-area quickness. Solid hands. In return rotations. Good attitude, practices hard. Solid camp so far.


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Defense Dials It Up; Notes From Monday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 6, 2012 – 5:19 pm

There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.

Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.

DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.

During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.

LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.

A few other notes…

Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.

“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”

Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.

“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”

Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.

“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”


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