Vikings Tweak Roster; Add RB Lorenzo Booker

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 7, 2010 – 3:07 pm

The Vikings made a series of roster moves on Tuesday, with the most significant being the addition of RB Lorenzo Booker. Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that the team was looking to sign Booker and they are hopeful the former Florida State University standout can contribute immediately, perhaps on 3rd-down situations.

To make room for Booker, the Vikings waived/injured RB Albert Young and placed him on Injured Reserve. In addition to those moves, the Vikings also waived C Adrian Martinez from the practice squad and added QB R.J. Archer to the practice. Archer was with the Vikings during the offseason program last summer.

Booker was selected in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. He spent the 2008 season with the Philadelphia Eagles and was a member of the UFL’s Hartford Colonials in 2010.

Note: An earlier version of this entry noted that Albert Young had been waived. He’s actually been waived/injured and has been placed on Injured Reserve.

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A Look At Potential Backup Plans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 1, 2010 – 2:05 pm

It’s far too early to speculate (accurately) on whether DE Ray Edwards (ankle), LG Steve Hutchinson (hand) and RB Adrian Peterson (ankle) will be able to play on Sunday. All 3 are dealing with injuries coming out of last weekend’s win over the Washington Redskins and all 3 will be monitored closely leading up to this weekend’s game.

Whether they end up playing or not, the Vikings will have backup plans in place to make sure the team doesn’t miss a beat on Sunday while battling the Buffalo Bills. Let’s take a look at potential backup plans should any of the 3 players be unable to play.

DE Ray Edwards
It’s an inexact exercise to pinpoint how playing time will be distributed along the defensive line. More than any other position on the field, defensive line sees a rotation of players coming in and out of the game to keep legs fresh and effort level high. I’m guessing Brian Robison would get the start should Edwards be unable to go, but it’s a safe bet that every lineman who’s active will see more snaps in this scenario, including rookie Everson Griffen and DTs Fred Evans, Letroy Guion and Jimmy Kennedy.

LG Steve Hutchinson
Ryan Cook is the top reserve lineman for the Vikings, but he’s already in the lineup as Anthony Herrera’s replacement. As a result, rookie Chris DeGeare would get the call should Hutch be unable to go. DeGeare was selected in the 5th round of last April’s draft and he’s been among the inactives for the Vikings this season; he’s also been dealing with an ankle injury but is in-line to play if the need arises.

RB Adrian Peterson
We saw Peterson’s backup in action on Sunday against Washington, as rookie Toby Gerhart stepped in and picked up the slack. Gerhart rushed 22 times for 76 yards and 1 TD in Peterson’s stead, displaying the type of grit and toughness you’d like to see out of a RB. Obviously the Vikings are in a better position with both Gerhart and Peterson going, but last week was an indication that Gerhart can be the lead guy in a pinch. If it’s determined ahead of time that Peterson can’t play – as opposed to during the game – it’s likely that Albert Young would be activated for game day and join Gerhart and FB Fahu Tahi on the depth chart.

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“In-Progress” Offense Poised To Get Back On Track

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 22, 2010 – 6:51 am

In 2009 the Vikings were the best in the NFL at sacking the QB, with the Green Bay Packers being the most frequent target. The Vikings tallied a league-high 48 sacks and got to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers 14 times in 2 games. Green Bay, meanwhile, didn’t register a single sack against the Vikings.

Similar performances from both teams this weekend would be nice to see, as the Vikings head into Lambeau Field for a Sunday night contest. The trend this season doesn’t indicate the Vikings will fare as well, though.

Minnesota has just 6 sacks to this point, tied for 2nd fewest in the NFL, while the Packers have tallied 21 sacks, tied for 2nd most in the NFL. On top of that, the Vikings have allowed 13 sacks in 5 games, which puts them on pace to yield 41 sacks through 16 games – too high of a number.

But while Sunday night’s game represents an opportunity for Green Bay to atone for last season’s significant sack disadvantage, it also gives the Vikings a chance to turn around their performance through the first 5 games, both offensively and defensively.

The offensive line has been a target of much criticism early in the season because of the sacks allowed. Sure, some of the sacks allowed are the responsibility of the offensive line. But many other factors come into play, such as blitz pickup by RBs, the ability of WRs to get open and the QB not holding the ball too long.

A season ago the Vikings had RB Chester Taylor in the mix and part of his value was his ability to pass protect. His departure via free agency has given rookie Toby Gerhart and 2nd-year player Albert Young an opportunity to step in and compete. While Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did acknowledged there are some growing pains, he also reiterated that issues in pass protection can’t be tossed at the feet of just the RBs or offensive line.

“We’ve had some missed assignments from some of the younger backs as well,” Bevell said. “We’ve mis-declared a couple from the offensive line getting us going in the right direction. I’m not going to pin it all on the running backs. We’ve had different errors from whether it’s a running back, whether it’s a tight end in protection, whether it’s your offensive line and sometimes it’s Brett’s job to get rid of the ball as well. It kind of has been all-encompassing at this point.”

A good sign for Vikings fans, though, is that the offense is not worrying about pointing fingers at each other. Rather, they’re working hard to correct the problems and get back on track.

“We always prepare for pressure,” Bevell explained. “It’s our job to be able to pick it up. We’ve had some struggles. It’s something we’re continuing to work on and try and improve and get it targeted right. A lot goes into it, it’s not always just the offensive line. Sometimes the back’s involved. Sometimes the receiver’s got to shake open and the quarterback’s got to see it. It’s still something that we’re a work in progress with.”

Another good sign is that one of the offense’s best players – RB Adrian Peterson – is eager to get the offense back on track.

“The sky is the limit,” Peterson responded when asked about the potential of his team if they put a complete game together. “I feel like with all of the talent we have offensively, we can be as good as we want. It’s just all about us clicking and starting early, getting that fast start. I feel like we can be very explosive. We have showed signs, like you have seen, but it’s about doing it for four quarters. We haven’t done that yet. We look forward to doing that this Sunday night.”

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Digging Deeper On RB2 Situation

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 1, 2010 – 9:53 am

In a blog entry on Monday we included comments from Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress regarding the #2 RB position, with the head coach characterizing Toby Gerhart and Albert Young as “2 and 2A” (he didn’t identify who is 2 and who is 2A). Essentially Childress said that both players will be used regularly and the playing time will be determined on a game-to-game or even play-to-play basis, depending on personnel, play-calling and injury situations.

This strategy runs a bit contrary to how Vikings observers have viewed the situation all offseason. What I mean by that is media and fans have been looking for indications on who would replace Chester Taylor in the role of complementing star RB Adrian Peterson. This search including veterans (LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook), current Vikings (Albert Young) and prospective draft picks (C.J. Spiller, Jahvid Best, etc.).

Ultimately, the Vikings will use a combination of the options listed above, with Gerhart (draft pick) and Young (current player) being relied upon to fulfill the role Taylor held for the past 3 seasons. If there was any doubt that the Vikings were truly using that strategy, even after Childress explained it earlier this week, that doubt should now be erased given how offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell addressed the issue after practice on Tuesday.

“It may end up having to be by committee,” Bevell explained. “There will be times when Adrian’s in there, there will be times when Albert’s in there, depending on the game. It may have to be Toby that’s in there. We’ve been trying to go kind of like that, in terms of getting all three of them ready, seeing what the strengths and weaknesses are of all those guys. I think it’s still formulating itself right now.”

The loss of Taylor is significant, but it can also be managed and the key to managing it is something Bevell referenced on Tuesday – “seeing what the strengths and weaknesses are of all those guys.” Both Gerhart and Young are talented enough to make the Vikings roster, so the fact that it could end up taking both of them to fill the role of Peterson’s complement is not a bad thing. In fact, it gives the Vikings a great chance to develop depth at the RB position.

But the Vikings do need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of their RBs and then deploy the players in the offense appropriately, so they are able to neutralize the weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths.

“I feel like I’m gaining a better understanding of what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Bevell acknowledged. “It was good to see Adrian pick up after the 49ers game to pick up a couple pressures last week. He was strong at the point (of attack). He did some good things there. I kind of know where Albert is. We’ve been able to move Toby in there a little bit as well. [We’re] learning their strengths and weaknesses but it may depend on how the game plan shapes up. It may depend on who’s up and down. Sometimes we only went with two backs last year and that may solve your problem.”

As my buddy Paul Allen pointed out on his show page, Young is effective in pass protection and that is on tape. And based on what Bevell said Tuesday, executing proper technique in pass protection is paramount to being Peterson’s complementary back. While it’s preferable that Peterson’s backup be a talented runner, it’s vital that the backup/3rd down back be a solid pass protector.

“The biggest thing for us, particularly with that second guy, is to be able to handle all the pressures and different looks that they can give us,” Bevell said. “Albert’s been here for a while, he’s been in (RBs) coach (Eric) Bieniemy’s meeting rooms. He’s well versed in it. That’s just half of it. You have to be physically strong enough to stand in there and take the pounding, step up and pick up a linebacker. Sometimes you’re going to be blocking a defensive end. [We have] to see if he can hold up in those situations. We know Albert’s running skills. We know Toby’s running skills. We need to see them in those other situations.”

In the end, the Vikings have the personnel necessary to get the RB2 job done. It’s a matter of the offensive staff deploying the talent effectively. Given the success of the Vikings offense, especially over the past 2 seasons, Vikings observers can be confident the RB2 job will be in capable hands.

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Backup RBs Are “2 And 2A”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 30, 2010 – 2:07 pm

Ever since Chester Taylor left the team via free agency to join division rival Chicago, Vikings followers have been trying to identify the individual who would replace the role of complementing Adrian Peterson. It is, after all, an important role given today’s NFL where a 2-back rotation is the way to go and it’s actually more common to have 3 solid RBs than 1 workhorse.

The search for Taylor’s replacement began with veterans such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook and then continued through the 2010 NFL Draft. In the end, the Vikings went to training camp with 2nd round rookie Toby Gerhart and 2nd-year pro Albert Young, a guy who has risen from the practice squad and now figures to be a contributor this season.

It was Young who got the start for the Vikings 1st preseason game, with Gerhart being worked in slowly after that. And then on Saturday night Gerhart got the start. The 2 RBs have been sharing reps and as a result it’s never been clear who the true #2 RB is. And that’s because there will be no clear-cut #2 RB, according to head coach Brad Childress.

“I think it will be by week and who we are facing and what exactly we need out of a second running back,” Childress explained after practice on Monday. “If you remember last year, there were a number of games where we didn’t have a third running back up and from time-to-time that will happen when maybe we need another tight end up or need another rush guy. So those guys are 2 and 2/A.”

Time will tell exactly how the Vikings offensive staff deploys Gerhart and Young. My sense is that Young is more solid in 3rd down scenarios, specifically pass protection, while Gerhart provides a better presence in the run game, specifically looking at the inside zone running scheme.

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Notes From Morning Practice; E.J., Brinkley Shine

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2010 – 11:07 am

Mother Nature took it easy on us Wednesday morning and provided modest (compared to Tuesday) heat and humidity for a 2 hour and 10-minute workout in which the Vikings were suited up in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. There was a fair amount of pad crunching going on, so I took my notebook out and jotted down a bunch of notes.

Here they are…

– The 1st portion of practice is typically dedicated to special teams, especially kick coverage. Following the kick coverage period, the Vikings worked on FGs and K Ryan Longwell looked sharp in his drill work. The last FG attempt from Longwell is occasionally designed to fall short so the team can practice returning a long missed FG; RB Darius Reynaud was the returner on Wednesday. It’s a part of the game that a team could easily go a whole season without seeing, but it’s interesting to me to take note of the minutia that teams go through to thoroughly prepare themselves for an upcoming season.

– RB Adrian Peterson was one of a handful of players who didn’t participate this morning. So rookie Toby Gerhart and 3-year veteran Albert Young shared the 1st team duties. When I saw Peterson without his shoulder pads as he headed out to practice, I wrote a note to myself to be sure to pay attention to which guy(s) got 1st-team reps. It seemed to me that Gerhart and Young shared equally the reps. At this point in camp, it’s my opinion that Young is ahead of Gerhart in the competition for Peterson’s complement, but I think ultimately it’ll come down to a trio (or more) of RBs who complement Peterson rather than a traditional 1-2 punch.

– LB play was impressive today, especially during team drills such as the 9-on-7 drill and LB vs. RB/TE passing and pass protection drill. During the 9-on-7 period, middle LBs Jasper Brinkley and E.J. Henderson stood out to me, consistently penetrating the line of scrimmage to cause disruption in the backfield or right at the line. Henderson broke up a pair of consecutive running plays, once on his own and then the 2nd time with DT Pat Williams. On the 4th and 5th plays of the period, it was Brinkley who caused the disruption, meeting up with Gerhart off RG and causing RBs coach Eric Bieniemy to tell Gerhart to bounce it outside and “trust your vision.” Near the end of this period, Reynaud registered the best run when he broke free off LT thanks to a nice seal block by rookie TE Mickey Shuler.

– Here are quick summaries of 2 players who looked good offensively: WR Bernard Berrian because of his smooth route running, leadership and sure-handedness. TE Garrett Mills because of several good “hands” catches (where the player doesn’t trap the ball against his body) during individual, 1-on-1, and team work.

– Finally, I should give you the attendance report from practice. The following players were not participants today: WR Percy Harvin (personal), WR Sidney Rice (PUP), CB Benny Sapp (illness), CB Cedric Griffin (PUP), Peterson (lower body) and LB J Leman (leg). It was good to see C John Sullivan (leg) and Shuler back in action after they had missed a few sessions.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more from 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

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Vikings Complete Practice #4; Rookie CB Cook Shines

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 1, 2010 – 4:47 pm

On what was the hottest day of 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp to this point, the Vikings completed an afternoon workout that lasted just short of 2 hours and starred rookie CB Chris Cook. The 2nd-round CB was able to nab 3 INTs during practice and impress spectators and coaches alike.

The Vikings will have 2 practices tomorrow – a morning session from 9:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and then an afternoon workout from 3:00 to 4:55. On Tuesday they’ll hold 2 more practices and Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said there will be a live period in the morning session.

CJ will have more on Cook’s impressive day as well as how Lito Sheppard’s transition is coming along in his 1st year as a Viking. In the meantime, here are a few quick thoughts from today’s practice.

– Going into training camp, I thought CB Lito Sheppard would be the defensive player who would impress me the most. He’s been solid while working with the 1st- and 2nd-team defense, but LB Chad Greenway has been the most impressive to me so far.

– WR Percy Harvin was not practicing Sunday afternoon. He tweaked his ankle on Saturday morning but was then able to practice on Saturday night, so early speculation regarding his absence from Sunday afternoon’s workout was that it was related to the ankle injury. But Childress disclosed that Harvin had a death in the family and that’s the reason for his absence.

– Logan Payne made the highlight play of the day on offense, stretching out in the right corner of the endzone to haul in a TD pass.

– I listened to DE Ray Edwards meet with a few reporters following practice and when asked about his contract situation the 5-year pro explained the issue was behind him and he’s instead focused on football and helping his team achieve the ultimate goal.

– I’ve noticed the Vikings are using a rotation of Toby Gerhart and Albert Young in place of Adrian Peterson when he doesn’t take 1st-team reps. I have not counted every snap, but my guess is Young has more reps so far with the 1st team. A long way to go yet before this position battle is decided.

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Looking Forward To The NFL Draft

Posted by cjsiewert on March 23, 2010 – 6:43 am

With the 2010 NFL Draft now less than a month away (April 22), speculation on which teams will select which players will hit full swing.  But instead of offering my opinion on who the Vikings should consider, I’d like to speculate on what positions (in no particular order) the Vikings might address and how it will impact the depth on the roster.

CB – There are a few question marks at this position, especially considering that Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield will be coming off of injuries.  It’s good that Benny Sapp will return because he provides stability at the position and there’s reason to be optimistic about Asher Allen, though he still needs to gain experience. Statistically, the Vikings ranked 19th in passing yards allowed and just 26th in INTs, so perhaps the Vikings address this position during the draft to add talent and depth to a unit with a lot of potential.

S – Madieu Williams has directed traffic in the secondary since signing before the 2008 season, but drafting another safety would push Williams and fellow starter Tyrell Johnson and it would also provide friendly competition between reserves Husain Abdullah, Eric Frampton and Jamarca Sanford, who have all spent the majority of their playing time on special teams.

DT – Yes, the Vikings did just sign Jimmy Kennedy to a multi-year deal, but Pat Williams will be entering his 14th season and adding another young DT would certainly help out with depth at this position.

LB – Chad Greenway and Ben Leber have obviously proven themselves to be steady contributors for the Vikings defense, but the uncertainty of E.J. Henderson’s return may lead to a LB being drafted this year.

RB – The Vikings lost arguably the best 3rd down back in the NFL with Chester Taylor’s departure to Chicago. This loss of experience could have the Vikings looking for a solution in a complementary player to All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson.  The Vikings may feel comfortable in Albert Young, though, and that might steer them away from using a draft pick on a RB in 2010.

OL – Not to say that the Vikings’ offensive line needs help – 2 Pro Bowlers in Bryant McKinnie and Steve Hutchinson along with 1st-year stand-out Phil Loadholt – but the Vikings may want to add some extra protection and depth along the line for future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre.

Keep in mind that drafting based on a perceived team need is not always the best route to take.  Case and point – the 2007 draft. Taylor was coming off a career-best 1,216 rushing yards and 6 TDs.  The RB position seemed to be the least of the Vikings worries heading into the 2007 season, but despite Taylor’s accomplishments the Vikings used their 1st round pick (#7 overall) on RB Adrian Peterson.

And I can be almost certain that nobody is opposed to that decision now.

Also, the WR position didn’t appear to be an immediate need during last year’s draft, but Florida’s Percy Harvin offered a versatility that couldn’t be passed up.  Result: 2009 Rookie of the Year and the Vikings’ 2nd ROY in the past 3 seasons (Peterson in 2007).

All things considered, I would look for the Vikings to select the best available player that fits their needs rather than having a predetermined selection by position.

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Moving Forward At The RB Position

Posted by cjsiewert on March 15, 2010 – 10:34 am

Now that LaDainian Tomlinson’s decision to sign with the NY Jets has come and gone, the Vikings can start looking elsewhere to fill the void left by Chester Taylor’s absence.  Although LT appeared to be the best option to complement Adrian Peterson in the running game, there are plenty more options that the Vikings could exercise.

One option that would cost nothing to the team would be to move RB Albert Young into the #2 slot.

Young provides a fresh look at the RB position and may be the Vikings best bet when considering the team’s future.  Perhaps the most appealing feature of Young’s abilities is his ball-catching capability.  During his 4 seasons at Iowa, Young caught 79 passes for 705 yards and 2 TDs.  His experience of catching passes out of the backfield may allow him to step in and take over Taylor’s role as a 3rd down back and in passing scenarios.

If the Vikings want to keep an experienced back in the #2 spot, they could acquire other free agent RBs currently on the market.  Before Tomlinson showed any interest in the Vikings, one name that gained a lot of attention was free agent RB Brian Westbrook.

Westbrook would make a nice fit in the Vikings #2 role and could make a seamless transition into Purple given his familiarity with Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress.  Westbrook has also proven that he is a more than capable pass catcher out of the backfield, but his history with concussions may raise a red flag to the organization.

Free agent RB Willie Parker has also been thrown in the mix of names that the Vikings should consider, but one of his biggest concerns over the past couple of seasons has been his inconsistency.

In 2008, Parker only scored 5 TDs and 3 of them came in the first game of the season against the Texans.  He also missed 5 games and produced a 100+ rushing performance only 4 times in the regular season.  The 6-year veteran was rarely used in 2009, with only 98 attempts for 389 yards and 0 TDs.

What may be the most conceivable route for the Vikings is to draft a RB.

Drafting a RB would allow the Vikings coaching staff to develop that player into the type of back they see most suitable for their needs.  This would also ensure a long-term solution at the RB position while providing a healthy competition with the Vikings current back-up RBs.

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Other Childress Notes From KFAN Interview

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 12, 2010 – 8:55 am

As we mentioned in the previous entry, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress called into the Power Trip Morning Show today to discuss the LaDainian Tomlinson visit as well as several other Vikings-related topics.

The audio from the interview is available via KFAN’s website with this MP3 file.  The interview is at the end of the segment.

Here are a few other non-Tomlinson notes from the interview this morning…

Adrian Peterson’s fumbles: Peterson had a handful of fumbles this season that cost the Vikings in critical situations and it’s an issue that has brought on some criticism for #28. When asked about it today, Childress said that the issue has been brought to the RB’s attention frequently and that he’s confident Peterson will “take care” of it. “I don’t want to eliminate his running style,” Peterson said. “He has an aggressive, attacking running style. So I don’t want to take anything away from that. However it’s critical obviously that the ball travels with you.”

On finding a replacement for Chester Taylor: Should Tomlinson sign with the Vikings, he’ll fulfill the same role (although perhaps a bit differently) that Taylor filled while with the team. Other RBs have also been linked to the Vikings as possible replacements for Taylor, including Brian Westbrook and even incoming rookies who will be drafted in April.

But Childress suggested another possible solution to filling the role vacated by Taylor.

“Probably not enough has been said about Albert Young,” the head coach said. “Albert Young has been a guy that’s developed here tremendously the last two years. As a matter of fact, Brett Favre and I had a long conversation about him. He believes he’s got the chance to be a good back in this league.”

Childress on the greatest thing to come out of the 2009 season: “I guess first of all, the greatest thing to come out of it was the enthusiasm of this state and community about the Vikings. Everybody started with the toe in the water. ‘Are they gonna be this? How are they going to play in September?’ But I just think as the season went, it really became a snowball (effect).”

Childress then added, “In the locker room, I have one of the [most fun] bunch of guys that I’ve probably lined up and coached in thirty years. And certainly not without fifty-three different challenges when you’re talking about the Jared Allens, Pat Williamses, Steve Hutchinsons, Brett Favres, Chester Taylors.

“There are personalities galore in there. But one thing those guys never were afraid to do was to take a challenge. They competed tooth and nail with each other, and it didn’t make any difference whether they were on the football field or playing cards or shooting hoops. They’re avid competitors in all areas. They weren’t afraid to work, they weren’t afraid to take criticism constructively and improve. That’s always satisfying and I had a great time doing it.”

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