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Carlson To Become A Bigger Factor This Week?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2012 – 12:33 pm

Signing TE John Carlson to a free agent contract this offseason was billed as one of the Vikings more significant additions this offseason. Carlson, at 6-5, 251-pounds, has prototypical size for his position in the NFL and the theory was that he’d provide the Vikings with another athletic, pass-catching option – along with Kyle Rudolph – who could create mismatches with LBs and safeties in the middle of the field.

An injury during training camp slowed Carlson’s progression during the preseason, and he’s yet to make a difference during the regular season in terms of catching passes. But it sounds like the Vikings are committed to changing that very soon.

“We’re overdue in getting John involved,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Thursday. “We had some plays in for him being on the field with Kyle last week, and it didn’t materialize. We’re looking forward to making up for lost time.”

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned something similar in his Monday press conference.

“We do want to expand it as we go,” Frazier said of Carlson’s snap count. “He got more snaps in this ball game (last week at Indianapolis) than he did in the first ball game, and we’ll probably do the same next week (against San Francisco), just try to continue to increase.

“We do want to make him a little bit more of a focal point. We had some things they took away that we had for him but we’ll keep exploring. We think he has the potential to really be an explosive player for us in our offense.”

Minnesota football fans are familiar with Carlson because of his accomplishments at the local high school level. He was a 3-sport standout as a prep at Litchfield High School, starring in football, basketball and baseball. Along with his brother, Alex, Carlson helped Litchfield win 3 state basketball titles. Carlson was also an all-state tennis player.

“I’m really excited to be here and be around family and friends,” Carlson said after he signed with the Vikings. “It’s a great place to live. I know that, and I’ve been gone for nine years. So that’s fantastic. But that’s not the reason I came back. It was a football decision. It was a business decision, and I’m just really excited and feel very fortunate to be back here where I grew up.”

Now, Carlson is looking to grow within the Vikings offense. A big step in that process could take place this week against the 49ers.


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From The Ground Up: Vikings Offense Paced By Ground Attack

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 14, 2012 – 6:42 am

It’s no secret. The NFL is a passing league. In 2011, only 3 teams (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) ran the ball more frequently than they passed it, and nearly 33% of NFL teams threw the ball in excess of 60% of the time. Also in 2011, 3 NFL QBs (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford) threw for 5,000+ yards and 3 had (Brees, Stafford, Aaron Rodgers) 40+ TD passes.

While it’s no question the preferred method of moving the ball in the NFL is through the air, there are still teams and coaches who place a tremendous value on running the ball. The Vikings and Head Coach Leslie Frazier fall into that category. And it’s for good reason. Since 2007 when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and hired Frazier as defensive coordinator, the Vikings have been the NFL’s best rushing team. They rank first over that span in total rushing yards (11,272), per-carry average (4.7), rushing TDs (92) and runs of 10+ yards (333).

“It’s big for our team,” Frazier said of the running game. “In a League where passing the football has become first for so many teams, we’ve taken a little bit different approach and featuring a guy who we think is the best running back in pro football in Adrian Peterson and because of that, it takes a lot of pressure off our young quarterback as well as our passing game.”

The Vikings understand the importance of being able to move the ball through the air, too. That’s why they signed free agents such as TE John Carlson and Jerome Simpson, and that’s why they used draft picks on the likes of LT Matt Kalil and a pair of WRs in the 4th round (Jarius Wright, Greg Childs). The development of young QB Christian Ponder was priority A for the Vikings this past offseason, and everyone at Winter Park knows Ponder’s progress will be key to future success. Frazier’s contention, though, is that the presence of a productive running game will ease the pressure on Ponder because opponents are forced to figure out a way to contain Peterson and Gerhart before they think about defending the Vikings passing attack.

“Having a guy like the guy that we do have makes us very unique from an offensive standpoint,” Frazier explained, “but it helps us to achieve our goals as a football team, having a good running game and establishing the run for us to run our offense and really win the way we want to win.”

As he’s explained, Frazier wants the Vikings running game to set the tone and allow Ponder and Co. to operate with more freedom. Additionally, being able to run the ball well can shorten a game for a team when it has the lead. But Frazier also explained that his desire to run the ball well is not about being a conservative team that looks to shorten the game and win close contests. Frazier sees the Vikings running game as one with explosion and scoring capability.

“For us, that’s exactly the approach we take but we also believe that we can also get explosive plays through the running game because of who we have at the halfback position,” Frazier said. “It’s not just ground and pound. We have a guy who can break the 20-yard run, the 60-yard run. Most people have to get that throwing the football down the field, and we want to be able to do the same. That’s one of the reasons we made the offseason acquisition of Jerome (Simpson) and try to feature Percy the way we do. But being able to have a balanced attack and still feature our run game is who we are.”

Side Note
Peterson and Gerhart get most of the credit for the Vikings productive running attack. On Sunday in the season opener, though, another member of the backfield was key to the Vikings ground game – FB Jerome Felton. Both Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave mentioned how well Felton played in his first regular season game as a Viking.

Said Frazier: “He played extremely well and that was a lot of snaps for him. There wasn’t one time a season ago we had that many snaps with our fullback on the field and a lot of it had to do with the way he played and what’s happening when he is on the field. It was really encouraging for all of us to see him dominate the way he did. There may be more opportunities for him as we go forward.”

Said Musgrave: “Jerome Felton played really well. He was a presence out there. He was also a presence on the sideline in terms of being the leader. He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half.”


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10 Vikings-Colts Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 6:46 am

Wednesday is the day NFL teams flip their calendars from last week to the upcoming week, as review of the recent game has concluded and on-field preparations for the next opponent begins. Vikings players will return to Winter Park on Wednesday to begin digesting the game plan Vikings coaches have devised over the past two days and the team will hold its first practice of the week in the afternoon.

Also, both Head Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder will hold press conferences on Wednesday. We’ll stream those press conferences live on vikings.com, so be sure to tune in at about 11:25 to watch.

While you’re waiting for all of that to transpire, take a look at 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…

1. Young QBs Ponder, Luck Square Off
One of the storylines last week was a clash of QBs from the Class of 2011, as #10 pick Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars visited #12 pick Christian Ponder and the Vikings. This week, the two starting QBs were not selected in the same draft, but they are both 1st-round picks. In the second start of his second season, Ponder will lead the Vikings to Indianapolis, a team once led by #1 overall pick Peyton Manning and now led by 2012 #1 overall pick Andrew Luck. In his NFL debut last week in Chicago, Luck was 23 of 45 for 309 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. Soldier Field is a tough place to play for any QB, especially a rookie QB making his first start, so expect a bit of a bounce back for Luck this week at home. But the Vikings have to make sure the bounce back isn’t significant enough to yield a victory. Interestingly, the Vikings boast a 3-0 record since 2009 vs. rookie QBs selected with the #1 overall pick – 2-0 against Matthew Stafford in 2009 and they beat Cam Newton a year ago.

2. Adrian Peterson And The Vikings Running Game
Adrian Peterson’s return was a big storyline last week leading up to the season-opener, and it turned out to be a major factor in the game as well. Peterson started the game and scored 2 TDs along the way to helping lead the Vikings to victory. Entering the game, most expected he would play. But most also expected he’d see limited action. As it turned out, though, Peterson carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and was the team’s workhorse in the 4th quarter and overtime. As a team, the Vikings rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries (4.2 yards per carry), and they’ll need similar success on the ground with Peterson and Toby Gerhart again this week if they’re to log a victory over the Colts on the road in Week 2.

3. Vikings Performance On 3rd Down
The Vikings did win last week, so the feeling was good in the locker room after the game and there is positive momentum heading into Week 2. But there are also facets of their performance that the Vikings will look to improve in Week 2. Perhaps the most important is 3rd-down performance – for both the offense and defense. Offensively, the Vikings had just 10 3rd-down opportunities, which is a good sign. A low number of 3rd-down opportunities means you’re having success on 1st and 2nd down. But of those 10 3rd downs, the Vikings converted just 2 of them into 1st downs. That number must increase, especially playing on the road. Defensively, the Vikings yielded a 50% conversion rate to the Jaguars on 3rd down (9 of 18). The Vikings defense did a great job of stepping up at a few important moments against the Jaguars, and that was good to see. But the Vikings defense must do a better job of getting off the field on 3rd down to turn the ball over to Ponder, Peterson and the Vikings offense.

4. Figuring Out The Colts 3-4 Defense
Under long-time head coach Tony Dungy and then under Dungy successor Jim Caldwell, the Colts ran a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme. But new head coach Chuck Pagano has brought with him from Baltimore a 3-4 front, which the Vikings saw a few times in the preseason and will see a few times in the regular season. The San Diego Chargers did a few things with their 3-4 defense against Ponder and the Vikings in the preseason that caused problems, so the Vikings offense will need to diagnose those issues from the preseason and apply them to their preparations for this week’s game against the Colts. It will be important for Ponder and C John Sullivan to be sharp in their communication so they can identify which players will bring pressure each play.

5. Containing Dwight Freeney And Robert Mathis
For many seasons, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis formed a lethal and productive pass-rushing duo at DE for the Colts. But in the new 3-4 scheme under Pagano, Freeney and Mathis are standup outside LBs. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff will have to figure out how they want to attack the Colts defense with Freeney and Mathis in different positions. Yes, Freeney and Mathis will still rush the passer nearly every down, but they’re coming from different spots on the field and their pre-snap positioning and movement will be different. Freeney played in just 9 snaps a week ago before injury and Mathis actually had 2.0 sacks.

6. Keep An Eye On WR Reggie Wayne
While the Vikings offensive staff will have to neutralize Freeney and Mathis, the defensive staff will have to keep an eye on Reggie Wayne. Yes, Wayne is 33 and is in his 12th season. But if last week is any indication, the 5-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro can still play and will still be relied upon by his offense. Luck targeted Wayne 18 times in the season-opener, and Wayne hauled in 9 receptions for 135 yards. Look for Chris Cook to be matched up with Wayne frequently.

7. Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams Goes Against His Former Team
In trying to defend Wayne, the Vikings will have one advantage: the presence of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. From 2002-11, Williams tutored the Colts DBs as a part of Tony Dungy’s and Jim Caldwell’s staffs. He worked with Frazier on the Colts staff for two seasons as well. While the offensive system is much different now than when Williams was around, there’s no doubt that Williams has detailed knowledge of the way Wayne approaches the game and the things he does well.

8. Turn Percy Loose
Peterson returned from injury to score 2 TDs and become the Vikings all-time leading rusher, Ponder turned things around in the 2nd half to become one of the offensive heroes, and Blair Walsh nailed a 55-yarder to send the game to overtime and then nailed a 38-yarder to ultimately provide the winning margin. Much of the post-game reaction skewed the way of those individuals. But there’s no question that Percy Harvin was a pivotal part of the Vikings victory last Sunday, even though he didn’t get into the end zone or the post-game headlines. Harvin produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. He had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns. If the Vikings defense is to operate well and produce on the road, Harvin must surely be a big part of the equation.

9. Jared Allen vs. Anthony Castonzo
It didn’t take long for Jared Allen to get his first sack of the 2012 season. Unfortunately it was negated because of a penalty. The Jaguars did everything they could to neutralize Allen from that point forward. The Jaguars kept him off the stat sheet, but Vikings defensive coaches and players were saying after the game that Allen had a profound impact on the outcome. Even still, Allen wants to be in the stat sheet – he wants sacks. The man responsible for keeping Allen away from Luck on Sunday will be Anthony Castonzo, a 1st-round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft. The Allen vs. Castonzo matchup is one of this game’s most important.

10. Playing The Colts At Lucas Oil Stadium In Their Home Opener
There’s no denying it – there is extra juice in the building on the home opener. The Vikings felt that and benefited from that last week at Mall of America Field. This week, the Vikings will be on the other end of it at Lucas Oil Stadium, as the Colts play their first home regular season game against the Vikings on Sunday. Nothing neutralizes a home-field advantage more than a sound running game and creating turnovers. Those could be listed as the keys to victory each week regardless of where the game is being played, but those are tasks that, if accomplished by the Vikings, could take the sting out of the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd. Interestingly, the Vikings have never played a regular season game at Lucas Oil Stadium, and they’re 0-10 against the Colts all-time on the road. Sunday seems like a good time to notch that first win at Lucas Oil and the first road win against the Colts.


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10 Vikings-Jaguars Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 5, 2012 – 6:50 am

Wednesday of Week 1 has finally arrived, which means it’s time for the Vikings to put the pedal to the metal in their preparations for Sunday’s season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ll have a busy day at Winter Park today, with a morning walk-thru followed by a Leslie Frazier press conference, and then an afternoon practice with players available afterwards.

It all gets going later this morning. While you’re waiting for all of that, though, here are 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…

1. Vikings Open Season At Home
For the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 2005, the Vikings will open the regular season at home. The Vikings logged a 24-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons and Adrian Peterson scored the first TD of his career the last time the Vikings opened a season at home. It’s a treat for the fans to open a season at home, and it’s a nice advantage for the team, too, after opening on the road the past four seasons. Expect Mall of America Field to be a loud and fun environment on Sunday.

2. Will Adrian Peterson Play?
The biggest talker surrounding this game all week will be the status of RB Adrian Peterson. He’s been determined to play in Week 1 throughout his entire rehab, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has not ruled his star RB out. Frazier said on Monday that Peterson will be a game-time decision. If Peterson can’t play, the Vikings will place the ball in capable hands, with Toby Gerhart set to handle the job. If Peterson can play, the Vikings will have an outstanding one-two punch at RB.

3. How Much Will Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew Play?
Jacksonville has an issue of their own at RB. Their star – Maurice Jones-Drew – was a training camp holdout and didn’t report to the team until this week. Jones-Drew is one of the best RBs in the NFL, so the Jaguars likely aren’t too concerned about his readiness. But the fact remains Jones-Drew has been away for quite a while, and there will be somewhat of a learning curve for him as he gets back into football shape and learns the Jaguars new offense. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, a former Vikings TE, has said that Rashad Jennings will start the game, but he also disclosed that Jones-Drew will play.

4. First-Rounders Kalil, Blackmon And Smith Debut
Both the Vikings and Jaguars were active in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and now both the Vikings and Jaguars hope their 1st-rounders will be active during the season. The Vikings originally held the #3 overall pick, but they traded with the Cleveland Browns and dropped back one spot. With the #4 overall pick, the Vikings selected LT Matt Kalil. The Jaguars originally held the #7 overall pick, but they moved up to the #5 position in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select WR Justin Blackmon. Then later in the 1st round, the Vikings moved up to the #29 position to select S Harrison Smith.

This week, those three 1st-rounders will prepare for their NFL regular season debuts. Kalil will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector, while Smith looks to help the Vikings secondary make big-time improvements from last season. Blackmon figures to play a key role in the Jaguars offense all season, as he’s coming off a productive preseason in which he showed the transition from college to the NFL will be no problem for him.

5. Clash Of 1st-Round QBs From Class Of 2011
Entering his second season, Vikings QB Christian Ponder is determined to show he can lead an NFL franchise to prominence. It’s only fitting, though, that Ponder begins that quest on Sunday against another QB looking to accomplish the same task for his franchise. While the Vikings selected Ponder with the #12 overall pick in 2011, the Jaguars moved to select Blaine Gabbert with the #10 overall pick.

As rookies last year, neither opened the regular season as their team’s starter. But both eventually ascended to the top of the depth chart. Gabbert got the nod in Week 3 after the Jaguars began the season 1-1, losing their Week 2 contest to the NY Jets by a score of 32-3. Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb in Week 6 during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, and then the next week was named the Vikings starter for the remainder of the season.

All of that is in the past. Sunday represents the future, as Ponder and Gabbert will open the 2012 regular season as their teams’ starting QBs. Ponder enters the season coming off an offseason in which he displayed big-time improvement from his performance as a rookie and Gabbert enters the season coming off a preseason in which he also displayed significant improvement from his rookie performance.

6. Will A Vikings WR (Besides Percy Harvin) Step Up?
Jerome Simpson has impressed every step of the way since joining the Vikings this spring, but he’ll be unavailable to the team for the first three games of the season. That opens up an opportunity for another WR to step up and produce in Simpson’s absence. Granted, the vertical, field-stretching WR is not going to represent the bread-and-butter of the Vikings offense. Still, though, having that threat adds another element to game-planning for the opposing defense. Michael Jenkins is the reliable veteran; Devin Aromashodu impressed in the preseason finale and has good speed to stretch the defense; Stephen Burton is good after the catch and continues to progress; Jarius Wright looks more natural in the slot, but he impressed with a long reception in the preseason finale as well.

Will one (or more) of these guys step up? The opportunity is there.

7. John Carlson Making His Way Back
The Vikings moved this offseason to acquire TE John Carlson, giving them an athletic pass-catching TE to pair with another athletic pass-catching TE in Kyle Rudolph. The tandem of Carlson and Rudolph will allow Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave to draw up designs that will create mismatches in the middle of the field.

Unfortunately, Carlson injured his knee during training camp and wasn’t able to play in the preseason. Carlson has been making steady progress, though, and is getting closer to a return. On Monday, Frazier could not say if Carlson would make back to the field by this weekend, but the MN native has a chance. If he can play, the Vikings offense will have an added dimension and Ponder will have another talented target in the passing game.

8. Healing Ankles
Outside of Carlson, the Vikings stayed quite healthy all of training camp and the preseason. Until the fourth preseason game, that is. In that game, LB Marvin Mitchell, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels and WR Jarius Wright all injured their ankles. It’s unknown if any of them will be able to play on Sunday, so it will be worth monitoring their status leading up to the game. Sherels is the Vikings punt returner and he’ll be involved in sub packages on defense, while Mitchell and Sendejo figure to be core special teams players. Wright has the makings of a dynamic playmaker, both on offense and as a returner, so the Vikings are hopeful he’ll be able to suit up in the season-opener.

9. Doleman To Receive Hall Of Fame Ring
Former Vikings DE Chris Doleman was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012 last month, and on Sunday the Vikings will present him with his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.

10. Looking To Restore Home-Field Advantage
The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982. The team now has a combined record of 157-88-0 (.641) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 6-4 mark in postseason games. The Vikings have gone undefeated 3 times at Mall of America Field (‘89, ‘98, ‘09) and have finished the season undefeated at home 8 total times in team history.

Unfortunately, the Vikings have gone just 5-11 at home the past two seasons. It’s time to turn that home record around, and this Sunday against the Jaguars in the season-opener is a good time to do it.


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3rd CB, RB Jobs Still To Be Decided

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2012 – 2:39 pm

Many starters are expected to sit out of the Vikings preseason finale against the Houston Texans later this week. But there is still a lot on the line Thursday night as Vikings coaches and scouts look to finalize the team’s 53-man roster.

Two spots yet to be decided are the 3rd CB spot and the 3rd RB position. Competition at both positions has been spirited in training camp, but as Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday, no one has taken the bull by the horns and taken a job.

At CB, veteran Chris Carr and rookie Josh Robinson are among those battling for position on the depth chart. Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams was asked about both players following Monday morning’s walk-thru.

“Josh is unbelievably fast, he runs as well as anyone in the NFL,” Williams said. “Josh has shown that he tackles well. Chris is an effective tackler. He gets guys on the ground. Really, Chris just has experience on him at this point.”

Others in the mix for spots at CB behind starters Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are: Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton, Bobby Felder, Reggie Jones and Marcus Sherels.

“This is another week that is important to the evaluation process to see how guys do,” Williams said. “We haven’t made any hard and firm rules in terms of who will make the team, who will start, who will be where. We’re still waiting to see after this ball game how guys play, and we’ll firm it up at that time.”

There aren’t as many players competing for the 3rd RB spot, but the race is just as close. FB Matt Asiata impressed on Friday night with 9 carries for 48 yards, including a long run of 18 as well as 2 catches for 6 yards and 1 TD. But he also lost a fumble, something a pair of other reserve RBs were guilty of as well. Undrafted rookie Derrick Coleman and veteran Lex Hilliard also lost fumbles.

“They all work tremendously hard and we’re going to give all three of them another opportunity on Thursday night,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Monday. “They did some good things. We put the ball on the ground the other night, which we don’t want to see. But other than that, their effort has been good and they’ve been working really hard.”

Asiata and Hilliard (Coleman was cut), along with Ryan D’Imperio, Jerome Felton and Jordan Todman are competing for position on the RB/FB depth chart. While the entire body of work from the beginning of the offseason program in April through last Friday’s preseason game will be considered, there’s no question that Thursday’s preseason finale will have a significant impact on decisions made up and down the roster, including at both RB and FB.


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Gerhart Poised For Increased Role In 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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Pads Will Pop On Monday At Vikings Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 6:08 am

There’s been a walk-before-you-run type of feeling around 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp so far, with a pair of morning walk-thrus and afternoon practices on Friday and Saturday before a day off on Sunday. Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s team has worked well over the two days, as the offense has looked sharp under second-year Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and the defense has begun its transition to new Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams’ plan.

But the pace will quicken and the intensity will spike significantly on Monday. Yes, the pads will pop and training camp as we’ve become accustomed to will emerge.

The Vikings will hold their first padded practice of this year’s camp on Monday at 2:45 p.m., following their customary morning walk-thru at 10:30. Everyone’s questions about how rookie LT Matt Kalil looks against DE Jared Allen or how Everson Griffen looks playing in his new position will begin to be answered. There’s nothing like the crunching of pads and popping of helmets to get football fans excited for what’s shaping up to be another fun season.

Monday marks the 2012 opening of the Northland Ford Dealer’s Autograph Zone, where you can meet and greet Vikings players each day. Beginning today and going through August 14, one position group will be in the autograph zone each day after the morning walk-thru, with gates opening 25 minutes prior to the conclusion of the walk-thru and autographs beginning immediately after practice for another 25 minutes. Today’s featured group is the TEs, including one of the most impressive performers so far during camp – Kyle Rudolph.

If you haven’t yet done so, head down or up or over to Minnesota State University, Mankato to get a good, early look at the 2012 Minnesota Vikings.


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3 Observations From Saturday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 7:41 pm

The Vikings conducted their second practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Saturday and worked under ideal weather conditions to do so. The team also saw a spike in attendance on Saturday, as Vikings fans filled the bleachers and the fence line to see their favorite team and, consequently, create a fun buzz in the atmosphere during practice.

The team has yet to practice in pads – that will start on Monday. So it’s hard to draw too many conclusions after two non-padded practices. But it’s not hard to draw observations. Here are three observations from Saturday’s practice…

Tremendous 12
Without question, Percy Harvin has been the most impressive player on the field through the first two practices. He’s been a frequent target of the QBs during team and drill work, and he’s been in the rotation for kickoff return. Harvin has made several go-to-the ground catches so far, and midway through Saturday’s practice he made a catch along the sideline that was as good as you’ll see all of camp.

Leg Work
About three or four minutes into an early period of practice I started paying attention to field #2, where the Vikings specialists – P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler and K Blair Walsh – were working on their own. Loeffler and Kluwe were working together on landing punts inside the 20 while Walsh was kicking field goals. Kluwe was consistently landing punts inside the 10 with good hang time, even one time buzzing the tower of FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer after calling his shot. While I was watching, Walsh made six consecutive kicks from 46 yards and then was 2 of 3 from 55 yards. I was also told that Walsh hit a 60-yarder on Friday while working on the side.

“He knows being the only kicker here, he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to improve,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said of his rookie kicker. “He is very conscious, a very hard working man, it’s extremely important to him. He competes with himself and that’s why I didn’t think we needed another guy at camp. I wanted to get as many reps as he can with Cullen, with Chris, with our whole first unit to put him in the situation where he can be successful.”

3rd And Long No Problem For Ponder-To-Rudolph
There is a period in practice called “special cats” (special categories) where the coaches put the players in certain game situations, such as red zone or the 2-minute drill. Saturday’s special cats period featured 3rd and long. The first-team offense looked the best of any group during the drill, as I saw Ponder convert at least three of five times. The first two conversions were accurate passes to TE Kyle Rudolph. On the first play of the period, Ponder found Rudolph on the right side for a completion near the 1st-down marker. CB Antoine Winfield was right in the area, but my guess is Rudolph would’ve had enough for the 1st down. The second conversion was also to Rudolph, as Ponder placed a pass perfectly along the sideline for Rudolph to haul in and get out of bounds.

“Kyle has had a great offseason,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He has gained strength without losing any movement. He is one of the guys that we are going to count on to contribute who wasn’t a full-time starter last year.”

The Vikings will have Sunday off and return to the field on Monday morning for a walk-thru and Monday afternoon for a padded practice.


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Here’s The Story: 10 Camp Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 7:00 am

There is never a shortage of storylines heading into training camp, and this year is no exception for the Vikings. As the team embarks on 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today with a morning walk-thru and afternoon practice, let’s take a brief look at 10 of the most notable stories to chase during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp…

Will Adrian Peterson begin on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list?
There’s no question Peterson has made tremendous strides in his recovery from major knee surgery, and there’s also no question that Peterson feels confident in his knee and is eager to display just how ready he is. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the NFL’s best RB on the field of play unharnessed. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was non-committal when asked if Peterson would begin camp on the PUP list, instead saying the decision would be made after he spoke with Peterson and the team’s medical staff. If Peterson begins camp on the PUP list, the team can take him off the list at any time. Either way, Frazier and Peterson both said they expected the RB would be doing some kind of on-field work from the get-go.

Man in the middle – Jasper Brinkley’s opportunity
The Vikings selected LB Jasper Brinkley with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and he immediately became the understudy to E.J. Henderson. Now that Henderson is no longer with the team and Brinkley still sports the Purple and Gold, the time has come for Brinkley to display just how far he’s come in three-plus seasons with the club. Brinkley is expected to be the team’s starting middle LB, an important role in this defense especially considering how well Henderson fulfilled the role for so many seasons. There are questions about Brinkley’s durability because he dealt with an injury in college, missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed some of the team’s offseason program with injury. But he’s healthy now, and it’ll be fun to watch him prove that he can be the team’s man in the middle.

Christian Ponder’s development
You can have everything else buttoned up and the stars can align, but if you don’t have the QB situation squared away in the NFL it won’t matter. The Vikings believe they will have it squared away with Ponder at the helm, and we’ll find out if they’re right this season. Early indications will come from training camp and the preseason, though. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his crew have done a nice job of surrounding Ponder with weapons – both blockers and ball-handlers. The addition of Matt Kalil improves the offensive line tremendously, and then the additions of TE John Carlson, WR Jerome Simpson and a pair of draft picks in WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright give Ponder some weapons in the passing game. Add in guys such as Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and you can’t deny that the offensive weapons in place are much better this year than in previous seasons. That sets the stage perfectly for Ponder, a guy who knows how important he is to the team and a guy who relishes in that role.

Percy Harvin’s role on offense
Harvin was in the headlines a bit this offseason, and I’m guessing he’ll be in the headlines a bit more this season because he’s going to play a pivotal role in the Vikings offense. Harvin is as dynamic an offensive weapon as you’ll find because of his ability as a pass receiver and a ball carrier. You can line him up in the slot, out wide or even in the backfield. You can throw it to him, pitch it to him, hand it off to him, you can even snap it directly to him. Harvin is one of the best players on the team, and he’s going to get the ball a lot. It will be fun to watch how Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff plan to use Harvin.

Vikings look to improve pass defense
The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense a season ago and they yielded the most TD passes as well. So the team will look to improve in that area, and one big step in that direction was the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. In Williams’ decade working with the Indianapolis Colts DBs, the club ranked in the top six in NFL passing defense five times and finished out of the Top 15 only once. In that same span, the Colts allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (159), the fewest pass completions of 25+ yards (159) and the third-fewest passing yards (29,993). Aside from Williams, the team added a pair of safeties (Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith) and a CB (Josh Robinson) in the draft, and they signed a pair of veteran free agents (Chris Carr and Zack Bowman) to bring some experience to the group. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the Vikings will have their two top CBs back on the field after they missed significant time a season ago. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook played in a combined 11 games last year, and it’s tough to do well against the pass when you’re two best CBs are out of action. Expect a big jump in performance from the Vikings pass defense this season.

Kalil’s transition to the NFL
A dominant player at USC, Kalil enters the NFL as a starter on the Vikings offensive line. His first task? Block the best DE in the NFL for three straight weeks in Mankato. Kalil will go against Jared Allen on a daily basis at training camp, and we can all agree that it will only make the rookie LT that much better.

“It should be real good for Matt to go against maybe the best defensive end in the National Football League on a daily basis in practice and I think it will be good for Jared as well because Matt is going to challenge him,” Frazier said.

What to do with Everson Griffen?
Few players this offseason have been on the mind of Vikings fans more than Griffen. The consensus among fans is that Griffen is too talented to not be on the field, and there are a growing number of fans who want to see Griffen make the transition from DE to LB. Whether Griffen is asked to make that switch or not remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that Griffen is viewed by most as a player on the rise.

The Blair Walsh project
The Vikings used a 6th-round pick in April’s draft to select K Blair Walsh, a standout player at Georgia for four seasons and one of just three kickers the Vikings deemed worthy of selection. Walsh replaces Ryan Longwell, a beloved Vikings player who made plenty of big kicks and was reliable. But the team wants more touchbacks on kickoffs, and there’s no question Walsh has the leg strength to stretch the team’s FG range. There will likely be some growing pains with a rookie kicker, but Walsh’s talent should allow him to absorb those pains and quickly turn into a solid player. Walsh projects to be a long-term option for the Vikings at kicker, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a long-term starter out of a 6th-round pick.

Stepping up at defensive tackle
As we wrote about yesterday in the defensive line version of Roster Rundown, Kevin Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him at DT. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player. Will it be a veteran such as Letroy Guion or Fred Evans? Or will it be a youngster, such as Chase Baker, Christian Ballard or Tydreke Powell? Or will it be a rotational thing? We’ll find out soon.

Rick Spielman’s first camp as Vikings General Manager
Spielman has been with the club since 2006, but this is his first training camp with the Vikings as GM. In some respects, not much has changed because Spielman has made the transition from VP of Player Personnel to GM smoothly. On the other hand, the team’s organizational structure did change a bit with Spielman’s promotion. There’s no question now who is making the final decision on roster moves, and having a central voice such as Spielman who can work well with Frazier will improve how the team functions on a daily basis. We’ll start to see that even more during training camp and as the team gets closer to making decisions about the roster coming out of the preseason.


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