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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 1, 2012 – 7:15 am

On Tuesday as I walked out to afternoon practice here at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, I asked followers on Twitter if there were any players they’d like me to pay special attention. We received many responses, so instead of responding to each person individually, we decided to put all the responses together and share it that way so everyone can read about the players that are tipping the curiosity of the fans.

And to make it as Twitter-realistic as possible, each comment below is in 140 characters or less (that is the character limit for a Twitter message). Here we go…

DL Christian Ballard: Second-team DT on Tuesday. Looks significantly bigger and better this year compared to last year. Will contribute.

S Robert Blanton: Sat out practice on Tuesday. Has been good to this point. Still learning defense obviously.

LB Audie Cole: Best I’ve seen him look on Tuesday. Great swim move during pass rush drill. Strikes well.

CB Bobby Felder: Had impressive INT during 1-on-1 drill. Won’t surprise me if he impresses during preseason. Plays with energy.

FB Jerome Felton: Was running with the first team at FB. Solid blocker. Also a special teams contributor.

LB Everson Griffen: First-team kickoff coverage; third-team LB. Explosive rushing passer off edge. Plays with energy.

DT Letroy Guion: First-team DT. Having a great camp. Good movement skills, very good strength. Anchors well.

DT Trevor Guyton: Third-team offense. Also plays special teams. Good movement. Role TBD.

LB Tyrone McKenzie: Big jump up from last year. Plays second-team MIKE LB. Impressive INT on Tuesday. Vocal on field.

S Mistral Raymond: Mostly first-team reps, some second-team. Seems better-versed in defensive scheme this year.

DE Brian Robison: Same ‘ol B-Rob. Plays with passion. Exclusively first-team left DE. Good inside pass rush moves.

OL Geoff Schwartz: Plays multiple positions with second and third teams. Role still TBD.

WR Jerome Simpson: Great speed. Gets open a lot. Love him on comeback routes. Good after the catch.

S Harrison Smith: Opened camp with the second team, but has begun to take some reps with first team. Looks the part. Plays bigger than listed.


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Greenway, Rudolph, Walsh Stand Out On Tuesday; Other Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2012 – 5:33 pm

The competitive spirit was as thick in the air as the sweltering humidity on Tuesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the Vikings conducted their second padded practice that included a couple periods of live, tackle-to-the ground work. Those periods featured short-yardage and goal line situations, perfect opportunities to jot down some notes.

Here are a few of them from Tuesday’s practice…

One-On-One
A large crowd of scouts, special guests and members of the ownership group gathered around one end of Field #2 to watch the RBs, FBs and TEs go one-on-one against the LBs. The drill is competitive as it is, but the unusually large crowd that gathered near the drill only intensified the atmosphere.

The first part of the drill required the offensive players to pass protect against the defensive players. LB Jasper Brinkley got home on his first three rushes and RB Jordan Todman jumped up and displayed some striking pass protection. Rookie LB Audie Cole got in the mix with a great swim move to get past his blocker in a flash and LB Everson Griffen showed his explosion by winning two of his three matchups.

The offense saw much more success in the pass receiving/coverage portion of the drill. The star of the show was TE Kyle Rudolph, who had no trouble wiggling open and hauling in receptions. He made an inside move on LB Chad Greenway and then broke to the outside, creating plenty of separation for Christian Ponder to loft a pass toward the TE. John Carlson got in on the action, too, utilizing an out-breaking route to separate from Griffen and haul in a pass. Todman also flashed once again, shaking free from Cole to win his matchup.

Goal Line Battles
There was outstanding back-and-forth between the offense and defense in the team’s goal line drill. The drill was setup for the offense to have it 1st-and-goal from the 2-yardline. In all three matchups (first team, second team, third team), the defense stymied the offense on 1st and 2nd down, but yielded a TD on 3rd down.

Greenway made one of the better defensive plays of the day when he registered a pass breakup (PBU) on a fade route from Ponder to Rudolph. On the next play CB Chris Cook, DT Letroy Guion and Greenway combined to stuff RB Lex Hilliard short of the goal line. On 3rd down, though, Hilliard burrowed his way into the end zone.

The second team offense threw an incomplete pass on their 1st down try and then saw Todman get stuffed. On 3rd down, RB Derrick Coleman surged past the defense and into the end zone for the score.

Coleman took a handoff on 1st down for the third team, too, and was stopped by a trio consisting of Cole, Griffen and DE Ernest Owusu. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and then he hit FB Ryan D’Imperio for a TD on 3rd down.

Booming Blair Walsh
It’s standard for the Vikings begin practice with a special teams period or two, and today practice began very well for the Vikings. And it was largely because of K Blair Walsh, whose leg strength was on full display. Of the kicks I saw, Walsh booted touchbacks on six of six tries, with two of those kickoffs flying over the goal post and through the uprights.

Walsh also ended practice on a solid note, hitting a 43-yard FG to close the final period.

Fans have expressed concern to me about the potential for Walsh to struggle on FG accuracy during his rookie season. Nothing that I’ve seen suggest Walsh will have that struggle, but even if he does I expect the increase in field position the defense will see this year because of Walsh’s touchbacks will counterbalance the loss in points from missed FGs. The Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ drive start last season (24.4-yardline), and that statistic will only improve for the Vikings this season with Walsh in the fold. Missed FGs show up in the stat sheet and are directly reflected on the scoreboard, while average drive start for your opponent is a much more subtle influence. But both are equally important to the outcome of a game, and Walsh has shown that he has the ability to improve the Vikings in both areas.


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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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Vikings Get 6 Draft Picks Under Contract

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 22, 2012 – 1:31 pm

NFL teams have begun the process of signing their draft picks over the past few weeks and the Vikings have jumped into the mix as well. On Tuesday the team made official the signing of 6 selections from last month’s NFL Draft.

The players who’ve signed contracts are: 4th-round WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, 5th-round DB Robert Blanton, 6th-round K Blair Walsh, 7th-round LB Audie Cole and 7th-round DT Trevor Guyton.

Signing this year’s draft class is a tall task because, for the second consecutive year, the Vikings have 10 selections. Tuesday’s news that six are now under contract leaves four players who’ve yet to sign their deals. They are: 1st-round LT Matt Kalil, 1st-round S Harrison Smith, 3rd-round CB Josh Robinson and 4th-round TE Rhett Ellison.

Click here to read more about the Vikings 2012 draft class.


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Ellison Continues Strong Showing At Vikings Rookie Minicamp; More From Saturday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 5, 2012 – 2:27 pm

The Vikings had two productive practices on Friday to open their annual rookie minicamp, and the coaches and players were right back at it on Saturday as well with two more practices. The minicamp will conclude on Sunday with one practice.

Here are a few observations from Saturday’s on-field action…

– The Vikings were able to squeeze the morning practice in and work outside before a weather system carrying heavy rain arrived, but the afternoon practice was moved inside due to inclement weather.

– I can’t say he’s the most impressive of the rookie minicamp because it’s virtually impossible to give equal attention to every player without watching hours of film, but in my eyes FB/TE Rhett Ellison is having as good a few days as anyone. Ellison is billed as a big, physical blocking-type of TE. But as I said on Friday, he’s a fluid route runner and smooth pass catcher. We recorded an interview with LT Matt Kalil on Friday for next week’s Wobcast, and Kalil – a teammate of Ellison’s at USC – spoke very highly of Ellison and described him as a do-everything type of player who is also a great teammate in the locker room. I noticed that Ellison was the last one off the practice field on Saturday morning and spent a few minutes beating up on a blocking sled before retreating to the locker room following practice.

– Saturday was a better day for WR Jarius Wright. The 4th-round pick was sidelined midway through the morning practice on Friday and then sat out the afternoon practice as well. On Saturday morning, the shifty WR was back on the field and looked good.

– The Vikings signed LB Soloman Elimimian at the end of January to a future free agent contract, and now they’re getting to see the former CFL standout on the field in Minnesota for the first time. I’m guessing they like what they see so far. Elimimian plays with great energy, always seems to be around the ball and is clearly athletic enough to compete at the NFL level. He might be undersized, but that might also not matter. Now, it’s one thing to standout in rookie minicamp and it’s an entirely different matter to standout when the veterans arrive. But so far, so good for Elimimian.

– There are several familiar faces from last year at this weekend’s camp, and one of them is that of Alexander Robinson, the former Iowa State RB who was with the Vikings during training camp last year. Robinson, a Minneapolis native, impressed in the Vikings preseason finale a year ago and now he’s trying to carve out a spot for himself on the Vikings offseason roster this year. Robinson has looked solid so far in camp. The other RBs in camp this weekend are: FB Matt Asiata (Utah), Derrick Coleman (UCLA), Josh Murray (Mary) and FB Tyler Legate (Nebraska).

– LB Audie Cole, drafted by the Vikings in the 7th round last weekend, had 2 INTs on Saturday morning.


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A Closer Look: Middle Man Of The Vikings Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 1, 2012 – 8:47 pm

The 2012 NFL Draft has come and gone, and by most accounts the Vikings had a good few days. Judging from the comments section of the vikings.com Blog and the emails sent to my inbox, Vikings fans seem to be pleased with their team’s 10 selections, and it’s likely due to the blend of addressing team needs but also finding value in each of the picks.

When you’re coming off a 3-13 season, though, having one solid draft isn’t going to calm all the nerves and fix all the issues. One of the issues on many fans’ radars – again, judging by fan comments and emails – is that of the middle linebacker on the Vikings defense. The Vikings haven’t re-signed E.J. Henderson and they didn’t address LB in the draft until their first of two 7th-round choices.

So who will play middle LB for the Vikings in 2012?

It’s natural to wonder about the return of Henderson because A) there’s no obvious alternative and B) Henderson has been a consummate professional and both a defensive leader and source of inspiration for the entire organization. Henderson has been everything a team can ask of a player, and more. Bringing him back would give many fans a sense of relief and confidence in the position.

But, given the decisions the Vikings have made in the case of veterans such as CB Cedric Griffin, RG Anthony Herrera and LG Steve Hutchinson, and also given the push to build through the draft and acquire young players with upside, it appears re-signing Henderson is not in the plans.

As for a draft pick, the Vikings did take Audie Cole in the 7th round, and while the organization is looking to infuse the roster with youth, I don’t believe the team is counting on Cole to fill the void in 2012.

That leaves Jasper Brinkley as the team’s top candidate to man the middle of the defense. And when all is said and done, it may not be a bad option. Brinkley was selected with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and played special teams while serving as Henderson’s understudy for the first two years of his career. Last year, Brinkley sustained a hip injury that forced the Vikings to place him on the Reserve/Injured list and end his season before it began.

Brinkley appears fully recovered now and he’s poised to take on starting responsibilities. While it’s hard to accept the reality that Henderson is no longer calling the shots for the Vikings defense on the field after so many productive seasons and so many big-time plays, this is the natural progression of the NFL and a necessary step for the Vikings in their quest to build a team that can compete for the long-term.


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Pick-By-Pick Summary Of Vikings 2012 NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2012 – 10:56 am

A quick pick-by-pick analysis of the Vikings 2012 draft…

LT Matt Kalil – 1st round
Projected to be a cornerstone LT for the next decade and allows the Vikings to solidify their offensive line by moving Charlie Johnson to LG and holding a robust competition at RG among Joe Berger, Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz.

S Harrison Smith – 1st round
A 2-year captain at Notre Dame who is known for his intelligence, leadership, consistency and tackling ability, Smith will start from Day 1 at safety.

CB Josh Robinson – 3rd round
The fastest player at the Combine, Robinson has explosive athletic qualities and will compete for time at both CB and punt returner in his rookie season. If he can be the 4th CB and contribute on special teams as a rookie, this pick is a success. From a long-term perspective, Robinson could compete for a starting spot at CB some day.

WR Jarius Wright – 4th round
One of my favorite moves of the draft. Wright provides depth behind Percy Harvin at slot receiver should he sustain an injury or should the Vikings chose to deploy Harvin in the backfield or as an outside receiver on occasion. Wright, a First-Team All-SEC WR in 2011, is an explosive athlete with big-time production at Arkansas.

TE Rhett Ellison – 4th round
Seems to be a player who can fulfill the role of blocking TE and FB. No one can replace Jim Kleinsasser, but that’s the thinking behind this pick perhaps. Ellison is a blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player who will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

WR Greg Childs – 4th round
A great value pick here, as a knee injury caused Childs to fall from a 1st- or 2nd-round prospect last year to a mid-round prospect this year. Childs has prototypical size for an outside WR at 6-3, 219 pounds, and he also has great speed and ball skills.

CB Robert Blanton – 5th round
Blanton will likely move from CB to safety with the Vikings and perhaps even join Smith, his college teammate, as a starter in 2012. Good position flexibility here for Blanton, plus he can be a special teams contributor right away as well.

K Blair Walsh – 6th round
Walsh has a very strong leg and was one of just three kickers with a draftable grade on the Vikings board. His accuracy dipped in 2011, but also consider he was 40 of 46 as a sophomore and junior. His accuracy dipped last year because he had so many attempts (led nation in FG tries) and because he had a high number of long attempts. A good selection here because it adds competition to the kicker position with the ever-steady and reliable Ryan Longwell also still in the fold.

LB Audie Cole – 7th round
Cole adds competition to his position, and his best attribute may be position flexibility, as he can play all three LB spots in the Vikings defense.

DL Trevor Guyton – 7th round
Similar to Cole, Guyton is a late-round selection who has a chance to stick around because of his position flexibility. Guyton can play DE or DT, will add competition to the defensive line, and could contribute as a special teams player as well.


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Vikings Take Two In Round Seven: LB Audie Cole And DL Trevor Guyton

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2012 – 3:57 pm

To close their efforts in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Vikings selected former NC State LB Audie Cole with the 3rd pick of the 7th round (210th overall), traded away the 4th pick of the round (#211 overall) for a 6th-round pick next year, and with the 12th pick of the round (219th overall) selected DE Trevor Guyton.

Cole, who measures in at 6-4, 246 pounds, moved from outside LB to middle LB as a senior and was productive during his career. He led the team in tackles in 2009 and 2011 after redshirting in 2007 and playing a reserve and special teams role in 2008.

Reports describe Colt as an intelligent player who can make all the calls and checks at the line of scrimmage and also as an efficient pass rusher from his position. It will be interesting to see what the Vikings vision is for him because he has experience playing both outside and inside, and many say he was better playing outside. The Vikings have depth needs at all three LB positions, plus they’ll count on Cole to contribute on special teams.

Guyton played at the University of California and has experience at both DE and DT. He played in 7 games as a true freshman, 11 games as a reserve during his sophomore year, 11 games as a junior with 4 starts and then started all 13 games as senior. Scouts describe Guyton as scheme-diverse player who has a workman-like mentality and consistent performance history.

We’ll have more on these picks and each pick the Vikings made during the 2012 NFL draft later on vikings.com.


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