Top 10 Free Agent Signings In Vikings History

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 11, 2013 – 6:51 am

Free agency is about to begin and while we wait to see which players the Vikings sign this year, let’s take a look back at the best (modern) free agent signings in franchise history.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 (year signed), with honorable mentions at the bottom.

Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…

10. Ben Leber (2006)
Leber is a great example of a free agent who provided his team with outstanding value relative to the contract he signed. A starter for 5 seasons at outside LB for the Vikings, Leber was an important part of defenses that ranked 1st against the run for 3 straight seasons (2006-08) and that helped the franchise capture back-to-back division titles in 2008-09 as well as an appearance in the NFC title game following the ‘09 season.

9. Jeff Christy (1993)
A 4th-round pick of the Phoenix Cardinals in 1992, Christy was eventually cut and missed that season. Phoenix’s trash was the Vikings treasure, as Christy played 7 seasons in Minnesota and was a key cog on an offensive line that in 1998 blocked for one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. Christy was a 2-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler in Minnesota who started all 16 games of a season 5 times as a Viking.

8. Gary Anderson (1998)
In just 5 seasons with the Vikings, Anderson quickly climbed the franchise’s all-time scoring list and still ranks 6th. He had a perfect regular season in 1998, helping the Vikings to a 15-1 record. In 2000, Anderson surpassed the legendary George Blanda to become the NFL’s all-time leading scorer (he now ranks 2nd).

7. Darren Sharper (2005)
One of the most prolific ball-hawking safeties in the NFL, Sharper jumped state lines in 2005 and joined the Vikings for 4 productive seasons. During his Vikings career, Sharper was an All-Pro twice and he tallied 18 INTs and 3 TDs.

6. Pat Williams (2005)
One half of the famed “Williams Wall” that anchored a dominant Vikings run defense for half a decade, Williams finished his 14-year NFL career with 6 great seasons in Minnesota. The Vikings became the first team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to lead the NFL in rush defense, and Williams was a key contributor in that effort.

5. Randall Cunningham (1997)
Out of football for a year in 1996, Cunningham joined the Vikings in ‘97 and displayed no signs of rust. He enjoyed the greatest season of his career as a Viking in 1998, guiding the Vikings to a 15-1 regular season record with 34 TDs and only 10 INTs. Among QBs with 20+ starts, Cunningham has the 2nd-best winning percentage (.696) and his 34-TD campaign in ‘98 still ranks 2nd all-time in club history.

4. Ryan Longwell (2006)
As steady as the day is long, Longwell was a key part of 2 division winning teams during his 6 years with the Vikings and finished his career in Purple ranked 3rd in all-time scoring. Blair Walsh began to rewrite the Vikings record book for kickers, and much of what he’s rewritten only validates how productive Longwell was for the Vikings. Longwell ranks 1st in Vikings history with 9 game-winning FGs.

3. Steve Hutchinson (2006)
A member of the 50 Greatest Vikings team, Hutchinson was a dominant road-grading run blocker and sure-fire pass protector during his 6 seasons with the Vikings. Hutchinson earned 4 of his 7 career Pro Bowls with the Vikings, and he was an invaluable part of Vikings offenses that featured a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his seasons in Minnesota.

2. Brett Favre (2009)
After torturing the Vikings for 16 seasons as a member of the Packers, Favre joined the Purple in 2009 and had arguably his best season with 33 TDs and a passer rating of 107.2 while leading the Vikings to the NFC title game. Favre was the difference between a team that went 10-6/one-and-done in the playoffs following the 2008 season and a team that went 12-4 and was on the brink of a Super Bowl appearance.

1. Antoine Winfield (2004)
An easy selection at #1, Winfield has been the rare blue-chip signing who outperforms expectations. He has played in 119 games over 9 seasons with the Vikings and in 2010 was named to the 50 Greatest Vikings team. Twice he’s recorded a single-season team record for tackles by a CB (110) and he now holds the Vikings record for most fumble recoveries by a DB with 11 and ranks tied for 2nd in team history with 12 forced fumbles by a DB.  Winfield has also scored all 5 of his career touchdowns (2 FRs, 2 INTs, 1 blocked FG) as a Viking.

Honorable mention: Jerry Ball, Bernard Berrian, Greg Biekert, Corey Chavous, Jack Del Rio, Jerome Felton, Lance Johnstone, Fuad Reveiz, Visanthe Shiancoe, Chester Taylor

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Leber, 21 Others Selected For 2nd Annual “Hollywood Bootcamp”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 28, 2013 – 5:28 pm

Former Vikings LB and current preseason sideline analyst Ben Leber and 21 other current and former NFL players, including 2005 NFL MVP SHAUN ALEXANDER and 4 active 1st-round draft picks – Darrius Heyward Bey (Raiders), Alex Mack (Browns), Gerald McCoy (Bucs) and Jared Odrick (Dolphins) – will take part in the second annual NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp at Universal Studios in Universal City, California.

The program, which runs from March 11-15, is being directed by NFL Player Engagement and Film Life Inc., the New York-based film production company, and will cover a wide range of topics in the movie industry.

The 4-day boot camp will offer a comprehensive overview of creative disciplines in the film industry including screen writing, directing, producing and film financing. Session leaders will be selected from among top industry executives and filmmakers and include Legendary Pictures partner/producer and member of the Pittsburgh Steelers ownership group Thomas Tull (The Dark Knight, Inception, We Are Marshall), director/producer Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), and writer/actor/director Robert Townsend (The Five Heartbeats, Hollywood Shuffle).

Participants will have the opportunity to shoot and edit a short film at Universal Studios, the largest working motion picture studio in the world which offers 30 sound stages and 30 backlot movie sets where many legendary films have been shot.

“We are excited to continue providing opportunities for active and former players to explore and develop valuable professional contacts in a wide range of career fields,” said Troy Vincent, senior vice president of NFL Player Engagement.

“We are excited to work with the NFL on the second Pro Hollywood Boot Camp, which exposes players to life beyond the field, “said Jeff Friday, CEO of Film Life Inc., which created the Pro Hollywood initiative. “Pro Hollywood was designed to provide an in-depth overview of the film business as well as a mentorship program for those who come out of it serious about building a career in film.”

Player enrollment criteria include previous participation in NFL Player Engagement programs, prior media experience, essays, and NFL playing experience.

With the longer offseason, NFL Player Engagement now offers current and former players 10 training programs for post-NFL careers.

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Vikings Playing For Pride, Future

Posted by cjsiewert on December 22, 2010 – 4:16 pm

With a win on Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles can clinch a playoff berth and an NFC East Championship, so needless to say, there’s a lot at stake for the NFC East leaders. But the Eagles are not the only team with something to play for this week – the Vikings will be playing for pride and look to improve upon many different things looking forward to next season.

“I really believe that our guys are mentally where they need to be as we have to focus on the Philadelphia Eagles who are a very good football team,” Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “They’ve got a lot to play for at this time of the year and in a lot of ways, we do as well. Our guys have really bought into the fact that we’re playing for our own personal pride, but also, we have a chance to go on the road and get a win against a very good team which would bode well for us as we go forward.”

Ever since falling out of playoff contention after the loss to the NY Giants at Ford Field 2 weeks ago, there have been questions swirling about whether players would “coast out” to finish the season. But after receiving his 2nd Korey Stringer Good Guy Award – honoring the Vikings player who is the most cooperative and has the best attitude with the media – LB Ben Leber pointed out that it his job to continue playing and leave any other concerns for the offseason.

“No, I mean it hasn’t been tough at all,” Leber responded when asked if it’s hard to finish out the season while not thinking about the future. “This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’ll have a long offseason, especially we don’t have a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) to think about, what’s going to happen with my future. I’ll have plenty of time to think about that. Just focus on how I’m going to get myself and this team better.”

It’s safe to say that there will be some significant roster moves to a Vikings team that has fallen to 5-9 just one season after claiming their 2nd consecutive NFC North title and a conference championship appearance. Also consider the amount of free agents after this season and those looking for new contracts. But what remains a priority of Frazier’s is to stay focused at the task at hand, and that’s to beat the Eagles on Sunday night.

Frazier spent 1999-2002 with the Eagles as their DBs coach, so he holds ties back in Philadelphia, but still has his mind set on one thing – winning.

“It’s special in the fact that we get a chance to go back and see some old friends, but we just need a win so bad,” Frazier said. “I mean that’s what’s on my mind more than anything. What can we do to figure out a way to get a win against a good team on the road? That’s where my energy and focus is.”

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Vikings Leaders Standup After 21-3 Loss To NY Giants

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 14, 2010 – 9:01 am

After the weekend we just experienced and then the game the Vikings played on Monday night, it’s impossible and somewhat disingenuous to put a positive spin on any aspect of the Vikings performance against the Giants at Ford Field. But from the moment the game ended to now, there is one thing that stays atop my mind and it should be evidence enough for Vikings fans to have faith in this team, in the short-term but especially in the long-term.

I won’t go into details because I believe what happens behind closed doors in a locker room is meant to stay behind closed doors, but what I saw in the Vikings locker room after the loss was not a team that is about to quit or a group of players that don’t believe in one another. I’m confident that the core of this Vikings team will stand up to not allow a lapse in effort going forward, even though playoffs are no longer even a remote possibility.

On top of that, I read a few quotes from core Vikings players on Access Vikings this morning and that fortified my opinion even more of the status of this Vikings team. Check out what Ben Leber, Chad Greenway and Visanthe Shiancoe had to say following the 21-3 loss to New York. Again, these were transcribed and posted by Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune’s Access Vikings and I think they’re a good indication of how the leadership of this team will guide the franchise going forward.

Ben Leber: “That performance out there is unacceptable to every guy in the locker room. I think that’s why everybody is shocked right now, especially on defense to give up that many rushing yards. That’s unacceptable. But we’re going to come back and make it right. I don’t care if we’re out of the playoffs. We’re going to make it right.”

Chad Greenway: “I want to apologize to our fans. We have good fans back home. We have fans who made it all the way here. We have fans everywhere. They expect us to go out and play hard. I think we played hard. We just didn’t play good enough to win that’s for sure.”

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had tears in his eyes, Scoggins said, as he spoke with reporters:

“That’s embarrassing. We had a lot of energy coming into this game. People were energized. I can’t put my finger on nothing for why this turned out this way. Our offense has to put up more points than three points. You’ve got to put up more than three points on the Giants. They’re going to score. You’ve got to score too.”

“This is the second time this year: The Packers [loss] and this,” he added. “Something is going on. Something has to be fixed man. This is atrocious. This is embarrassing. We look like the Bad News Bears out there. That’s some embarrassing stuff to put on film in front of the whole damn nation. That’s embarrassing. I can’t put my finger on nothing. I don’t understand it.”

Asked if the tears in his eyes were because he was angry or disappointed, Shiancoe said, “That’s a combination of everything. Combination of everything. I’m very disappointed. I didn’t expect the season to end like that. But it did. But you’ve got to keep on trucking. This is all about what’s in here now [pounding his heart]. What’s all about in your chest man. We’ll see who lays down.”

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Vikings Defense – Quiet Dominance

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 8, 2010 – 11:11 am

It will likely go a bit unnoticed this week, but the Vikings defense was dominant in Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals. It will go unnoticed because Arizona finished with 24 points and because the Vikings had such a sensational offensive performance in the 4th quarter and overtime.

But it won’t go unnoticed here. The bottom line is the defense allowed just 10 points (Arizona scored TDs on a kickoff return and a fumbled kickoff by the Vikings), held Arizona to 95 yards in the 2nd half and recorded 6 sacks. And if not for their effort, the offense wouldn’t have been in position to spark a dramatic comeback victory.

The peak of the Vikings defensive performance came at the game’s most crucial moments. The Vikings offense was just stymied at the goal line and Arizona took over on their own 1. The Vikings held Arizona to a quick 3-and-out, which allowed the Vikings offense to drive down the field quickly on the ensuing possession and score a TD to make the score 24-17 in favor of the visiting Cardinals.

Then the Vikings defense held Arizona to another 3-and-out on the next drive, which set up Brett Favre and Co. for the eventual game-tying drive when TE Visanthe Shiancoe came down with a dramatic TD. The Vikings defense held Arizona on a last-second possession to force overtime.

One more time the defense came up big. Another 3-and-out series for Arizona, this one in overtime. The Vikings drove down the field and Ryan Longwell kicked a game-winning 35-yard FG.

In those 4 possessions, the Vikings sacked Cardinals QB Derek Anderson 4 times and held Arizona’s offense to -8 yards in 12 plays.

“We knew it was on us and we wanted to get the ball back for number four and the boys,” LB E.J. Henderson said after the game, “and we knew that they could put up some money and we got it back to them and they scored.”

Another factor that should not go unnoticed is the raucous Mall of America Field crowd, which came alive late in the game and was at its loudest in a long time. The noise clearly impacted Arizona’s offense and provided the Vikings with an advantage.

“They really feed off that crowd,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said of his team. “That’s really an advantage that we’ve come to expect here at the Metrodome, raising the roof off that place. They feed off the positive energy. That’s huge.”

Here are a few more notes on the Vikings defensive performance:
– Arizona had 6 drives that went 3-and-out
– Vikings held Arizona to 20 yards or less on 8 of 11 drives
– Arizona had negative yardage on 2 drives
– Cardinals had multiple 1st downs on just 2 of 11 drives

Very impressive work by Leslie Frazier’s group. Here’s what a few of the key defenders had to say following the game…

“We were making him (Derek Anderson) move all game; he just made some plays. He didn’t just sit in the pocket, he was good with the ball and moving around. We just finally corralled him there at the end, and it was good to do that. That’s how we needed to be playing all year.” — DT Kevin Williams

“I think we had him (Anderson) on his heels a little bit. The crowd had a great impact for us, and the D-line had a little bit quicker step, it seemed like. I think his eyes went quickly from down the field to the rush and everyone around him. That’s what we need in those situations. That’s why it’s fun to play at home.” — LB Ben Leber

“I definitely feel like it was a turning point. It was a crucial four or five minutes and we showed the type of team that we are and the type of heart we have and the camaraderie of the team. As you can see this locker room is like a playoff win so it’s definitely big for us and hopefully it will get us rolling.” — Henderson

“All the guys calmed down. We said, ‘It’s our season. If we lose this game, that’s it, really.’ If we lost, that would have basically been it for us. So, everybody just calmed down and everybody started playing better.” — DT Pat Williams

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Resilient Henderson Vital In Vikings Victory Over Dallas

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 19, 2010 – 7:33 am

Coming back from a season-ending injury is one thing. Coming back from season ending injuries in consecutive years is another. And coming back to play at the same (high) level you did prior to those injuries is nothing short of rare.

But that’s what we’re seeing from Vikings LB E.J. Henderson, who lost his 2008 season to a foot injury in Week 4 and then suffered a serious leg injury during Week 13 of the 2009 season.

In spite of those injuries, though, Henderson is back in the middle of the Vikings defense and he’s fresh off his best game since that foot injury in 2008. He grabbed 2 INTs off Cowboys QB Tony Romo, the second of which led the Ryan Longwell’s game-winning FG, and he added 9 tackles for extra measure.

Asked about his middle LB after Sunday’s game, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress told reporters that he doesn’t notice any hitch in Henderson’s step following leg injuries in consecutive seasons.

“I don’t see him take many missteps at all,” Childress explained. “I think he disguises well. I think he’s showing up in the run game well. I think he’s obviously showing up in the pass game well. I don’t see him taking a backwards step.”

Henderson, a team captain and defensive leader, is 2nd on the team in tackles with 45 and his mere presence makes a huge difference. Fellow LB Ben Leber was asked about Henderson’s outstanding performance and what it means to the defense.

“I think everything is a little extra special when you see him out there playing,” Leber said. “For everything he has been through in the offseason and the work that he put in, it is great to see him out there again.”

DT Kevin Williams, another defensive leader and team captain, came into the NFL with Henderson. Both players were drafted in 2003 – Williams with the #9 overall selection and Henderson with a 2nd-round choice. Williams noted the importance of Henderson’s INTs and also commented on what it meant emotionally to see his friend playing at a high level again.

“That was huge,” Williams said. “For him to go through what he went through last year and to get two big picks down on our end of the field and help our offense get points, it was tremendous for him and it was great to see it.”

While his teammates were glad to see him tally a couple INTs and help guide the team to victory, Henderson was pleased the defense as a whole contributed to the win and capitalized on opportunities, which assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier emphasizes.

“I hope so,” Henderson responded when asked if his play provided an emotional lift to the team on Sunday. “Like I said, anytime a defensive player makes a big play we hope we can lift the offense. We always pride ourselves on being the ones that can win games. Coach (Leslie) Frazier has talked to us about that all the time and I am glad we did it [Sunday].”

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Defense Ready For Playoff Atmosphere

Posted by cjsiewert on October 15, 2010 – 6:18 am

Last season, the NFC Divisional round game between the Vikings and Cowboys resulted in a convincing 34-3 victory in favor of the Vikings. But this isn’t last season anymore.

Both the Vikings and Cowboys enter Sunday’s matchup at 1-3. Many critics have labeled the matchup as a “playoff” game – meaning that whoever loses will likely miss the playoffs. The entitlement of a “playoff” game comes from good reason since there have been only a handful of teams in NFL history to reach the playoffs after starting the regular season 1-4.

The last team to make the playoffs after a 1-4 start was the Green Bay Packers in 2004, as then Packers QB Brett Favre led his team to a 9-2 record throughout the remaining regular season, claiming the NFC North. And if you’re well versed in Vikings history, you’ll know that the Vikings ended the Packers season in the NFC Wild Card playoff game that year.

The fact of the matter is that the so-called “playoff” game on Sunday may indicate post-season aspirations and will certainly boast a playoff atmosphere at Mall of America Field.

“We really need our crowd to be energetic and loud, even louder, maybe, than the (2009) NFC playoff game,” assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier acknowledged during his weekly press conference on Thursday. “That would be outstanding. Looking forward to it, should be a great game for our fans.”

Frazier might get his wish once the Vikings defense takes the field versus Cowboys QB Tony Romo and Co. In regard to the noise factor, Romo described Mall of America Field as a “tough” or “difficult place to play” on 3 different occasions during his press conference on Wednesday.

Although the crowd noise may be a factor come Sunday, the Cowboys offense has shown consistency in moving the chains, averaging 421.5 YPG of total offense – ranked 2nd in the league. A great portion of that yardage is a result of the Dallas aerial attack (326.2 YPG). The Cowboys passing game includes a heavy use of 5- and 7-step drops by Romo to allow the receiver’s routes to progress. This aspect of the Cowboys offense has the Vikings defense eager to get after the QB with more time to pursue.

“Any time you face a quarterback that does like to sit back and take a little bit more time to throw you are going to have an advantage as a defense as opposed to a guy who likes to get the ball out,” Vikings LB Ben Leber told a group of reporters on Thursday. “Hopefully that does work out for us in that respect, but we’ll see what happens.”

The Dallas passing game may be the staple of its offense, but the Vikings defense is aware that they cannot sleep on the ground game. The Vikings gave up 155 rushing yards against the NY Jets on Monday night and are now handed the task of stopping a tandem of RBs possessing different skill sets, including a supportive RB3 – Marion Barber and Felix Jones supported by Tashard Choice.

“They got two good backs back there with Jones and Barber,” Vikings LB E.J. Henderson said. “I think they do a lot of similar things but also Jones is a little more explosive. We’ll see how it works out. We definitely got to have our eye on them to be able to stop the run.”

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CBs Cook, Griffin Questionable; Leber Probable

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 24, 2010 – 3:25 pm

The Vikings and Lions have issued their Friday injury reports. Let’s get right down to the details…

The good news is that LB Ben Leber (back) was a full participant and is listed as probable for Sunday’s game. He was limited on Wednesday and Thursday and progressed to a full participant in Friday’s practice; it appears he’s in line to play this weekend. WR Percy Harvin (hip) was limited again today but that’s good news considering he missed Wednesday’s practice with the hip ailment and an illness.

There’s been speculation that both Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin could suit up this weekend. Cook was a full participant on Friday and Griffin was limited; both are listed as questionable on the injury report and the jury is still out as to whether they’ll play on Sunday.

Here is where the other players on the Vikings injury report stand: DT Jimmy Kennedy (knee) is questionable and WR Bernard Berrian (knee), QB Brett Favre (ankle/elbow), T Bryant McKinnie (finger) and C John Sullivan (calf) are all probable.

For the Lions, QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) has been ruled out, as expected. Also ruled out are WR Nate Burleson (ankle) and LB Zach Follett. Listed as questionable are: DE Cliff Avril (finger/knee), LB Landon Johnson (neck), LB DeAndre Levy (groin) and G Stephen Peterman (foot). Listed as probable are: S C.C. Brown (forearm), S Louis Delmas (biceps/calf/groin) and LB Ashlee Palmer (ankle).

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Harvin (Hip), Leber (Back) Improving

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2010 – 4:29 pm

The Vikings had injury added to insult during Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins when both WR Percy Harvin and LB Ben Leber were forced out of action due to injuries. Harvin told reporters immediately after the game that he was to undergo an MRI on Monday and word emerged that Leber was dealing with a back ailment.

On Monday there were positive reports on both Harvin and Leber, although time will tell if either or both players will be sufficiently healed to suit up again next Sunday when the Vikings host the Detroit Lions.

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said Harvin is doing better, that his hip injury is of the nagging variety and that nothing “dramatic” is going on with the hip. Childress then described Leber as “much improved” and indicated a “twist or a turn” was the culprit in the LBs back injury because the point at which he suffered the injury did not look obvious on tape.

Asked if there’s a chance Harvin or Leber will play on Sunday, Childress said: “There’s always a chance.”

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Vikings LBs Play Well In Season-Opener

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2010 – 3:15 pm

We heard earlier on the Blog from TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who said the Vikings offense left a lot of plays on the field against the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night’s season-opener. While I’m sure the Vikings defense has a handful of plays they’d like to have back as well, one strong-point of the defense’s effort was the play of the LB corps.

Leading the charge was the man in the middle of the Vikings defense – E.J. Henderson. Coming off a severe leg injury that ended his 2009 season early, Henderson aggressively rehabbed all offseason and remained ahead of schedule in his return to the field. The latest step in Henderson’s return was his performance on Thursday night.

Henderson led all tacklers with 12, with 9 of them being unassisted tackles. One play in particular that stood out to me came late in the 2nd quarter when he filled a gap and ran through Saints RB Pierre Thomas to register a tackle for a loss. New Orleans eventually missed a FG to end the drive, eventually allowing Brett Favre to hook up with Visanthe Shiancoe for a 20-yard TD just before halftime.

“I thought E.J. played exceptionally,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said. “He showed up in a lot of different spots. I can think of one or two instances where you’d liked him to play something a little bit differently, but I thought he was very active.”

It wasn’t just Henderson who played well among the Vikings LB corps. Chad Greenway, with 9 tackles, was the game’s 2nd-leading tackler (Antoine Winfield also had 9 stops) and Ben Leber tallied 4 stops and 1 pass break up (PBU). Each of the 3 starting LBs had a tackle for a loss in the game.

“All three of those linebackers, and don’t leave Ben Leber out of the mix, he played very well last night,” Childress said. “Those three guys had an active night among all of them and Ben’s not taking back seat to any of them right now.”

Speaking of Leber, he saw several snaps in the Vikings nickel package and has been rotating in and out of that alignment with Henderson; Greenway is a staple at LB in the nickel package.

Finally, one more LB stood out to me as well, except it wasn’t with a performance on defense. Heath Farwell, a reserve LB who is a leader on special teams, tallied 2 special teams tackles and was a key aspect in the Vikings ability to hold punt returner Reggie Bush in check. Bush had just 7 punt return yards on 3 attempts.

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