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Combine Memories: Blair Walsh

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 21, 2013 – 11:50 am

No, we haven’t yet seen a blistering-fast 40-yard dash time from a cornerback or receiver. We haven’t witnessed a defensive lineman or offensive lineman put up a herculean effort in the bench press. And no quarterbacks or middle linebackers have yet to craft a perfect Wonderlic score. But it’s only because  they haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet.

Before much of that can occur, it’ll be the place kickers who take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for their on-field work. That will take place on Friday. While it may not be as interesting to pay attention to the on-field performances of the place kickers, it’s still an important part of the Combine process. Look no further than your very own Vikings for an illustration of that point. It was after an impressive Combine showing and then a pre-draft visit from Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer that put Blair Walsh on the Vikings map a year ago.

“Tremendous kickoff leg,” Vikings GM Rick Spielman quickly said when asked to reflect on Walsh’s Combine performance last year. “And then Mike Priefer seeing some technical flaws that he had and then when we went down and worked him out in Athens (GA), how quickly he adapted to some of the stuff that Mike adjusted with him.”

The Vikings were rewarded for doing their due diligence on a kicker before, during and after the Combine. Eventually the Vikings tabbed Walsh with a 6th-round choice and he went on to have a Pro Bowl rookie season, converting 35 of 38 FG tries and hitting 10 of 10 attempts from 50+ yards along the way. He also set a team record for touchbacks and he finished the regular season with 141 points, the second-highest scoring season in team history.


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(Re)Making The Grade: Looking Back At 2012 Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 8, 2013 – 7:12 am

We will talk a lot about the 2013 NFL Draft on vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog over the next 2.5 months. But right now, let’s take a look back at how the Vikings fared in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The impetus behind this idea is a piece put together by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. Immediately following each year’s draft, he applies a grade to each team’s effort by reconciling the selections made by each team against that team’s draft positions and specific roster needs. Anyone who does this will tell you there’s a high degree of error involved because it’s typically a 3-year process before you can complete the evaluation of a draft-class. But in order to be fair and to hold himself accountable, Kiper has decided to revisit his post-draft grades for each team and hand out new grades based on how the draft picks and teams fared during the 2012 season.

The Vikings efforts in the 2012 NFL Draft were applauded immediately after, as they came out of the event with a pair of 1st-round picks at positions of need and also peppered the roster with 8 other selections after that. Kiper gave the Vikings a post-draft grade of a “B” and said the following: “The Vikings did pretty well. They got the left tackle they coveted in Matt Kalil, and they moved up to get a safety. Both Kalil and Harrison Smith, their two first-round picks, should be starting in Week 1. Josh Robinson adds speed, if not a lot of polish, at corner, and has the chance to develop into a good player.”

A pretty spot-on post-draft evaluation. Kalil and Smith both started all 16 games this season, and Robinson indeed has the look of a developing player after playing in all 16 games and starting 6 in his rookie season. Plus, he was 3rd on the team with 2 INTs and 7th on the team with 61 tackles.

In revisiting the draft and handing out new grades, though, Kiper has increased that grade by changing it to an A-. Kalil, Robinson and Smith fulfilled his expectations, and then others, most notably Blair Walsh, add significant contributions to cause Kiper to upgrade his evaluation. Here’s what he provided as new commentary:

“Kalil not only started 16 games at left tackle, played well at a significant position and if his run-blocking catches up with his pass-blocking, he’ll become among the league’s best. Smith became exactly what the Vikings had hoped, started all 16 games at free safety and should be there for years to come. The instincts he showed at Notre Dame were on display, and he’ll continue to get better. Robinson is raw, but could ultimately take over for Antoine Winfield. And don’t overlook one of the steals of the draft. Blair Walsh was taken at No. 175 overall, and was the best kicker in the league in 2012. A year later, a pretty good draft looks even better.”

And that’s not even to mention WR Jarius Wright coming on in the second half of the season, Rhett Ellison well on the way to providing the offense with gritty blocking and sneaky-good production in the passing game, and late-round picks Robert Blanton and Audie Cole poised to take on increased roles after serving on special teams from time-to-time in 2012. Including the injured Greg Childs, 9 of the Vikings 10 draft picks from last year are still on the team.

The news gets better from here, too. The Vikings are currently slated to have 8 draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which provides GM Rick Spielman and Co. with plenty of ammunition and opportunity to add even more young talent to an already young and talented roster that will continue to get better.

 


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Vikings Boast Top-Ranked Special Teams Group

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 29, 2013 – 3:09 pm

Well-respected Dallas Morning News sports columnist Rick Gosselin has come out with his annual special teams rankings, and the Vikings came out on top. Gosselin, who covers all sports in his columns but is an especially astute football observer, ranks the NFL special teams groups each season and does so by ranking all 32 units in 22 categories and assigning points according to their standing – 1 for the best, 32 for the worst.

“Minnesota booted the most field goals, committed the fewest turnovers and allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season on special teams,” Gosselin wrote. Gosselin also noted that the Vikings finished in the top five in seven other categories and the top 10 in four more. Blair Walsh was the standout performer for the Vikings special teams group this season, converting 35 of 38 FG tries and hitting 10 of 10 attempts from 50+ yards. Walsh also set a team record for touchbacks and he finished the regular season with 141 points, the second-highest scoring season in team history.

Gosselin also credited Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer for the team’s improvement in this area, nothing that Priefer is a seccond generation special teams coach (his father, Chuck, coached 17 years in the NFL for Detroit and San Diego). Under Priefer’s direction, the Vikings special teams group vaulted from 29th in 2011 to 1st this year, which represents the best single-season improvement in the 33-year history of the rankings. The Vikings finshed with 253.5 points, and the next closest team in the rankings was the Cincinnait Bengals at 276.

Here’s a link to the full rankings, but the content is behind a paywall so you’ll have to pony up some coin in order to see the entire piece. Here’s a list of the 22 categories Gosselin uses in his rankings: kickoff return, punt return, kickoff coverage, punt coverage, average starting field position after kickoff, opponent’s average starting field position after kickoff, punting, net punting, inside-the-20 punts, opponent’s punting, opponent’s net punting, field goals, field goal percentage, opponent’s field goal percentage, extra point percentage, points scored, points allowed, blocked kicks, blocked kicks allowed, takeaways, giveaways and penalties.


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Rudolph, Walsh And Teammates Help NFC 62-35 Route AFC

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 27, 2013 – 9:37 pm

Kyle Rudolph had a 3-yard TD reception and led the NFC with 122 receiving yards on 5 receptions. Blair Walsh hit FGs of 48 and 26 yards to go along with 8 PATs. Chad Greenway had a fumble recovery. Jerome Felton had a 4th quarter TD run. It was a good night for Vikings at the Pro Bowl.

Those contributions plus many others from the rest of the NFC squad led to a 62-35 victory over the AFC in the Pro Bowl. Rudolph’s TD came from NY Giants QB Eli Manning and it gave the NFC a commanding 31-14 lead as the squads went into the locker rooms at halftime. Felton’s TD came midway through the 4th quarter, with the game out of hand, and it gave the NFC its 62nd point and a 34-point lead.

Matt Kalil played much of the game while rotating between LT and RT, while Jared Allen also played much of the game and emphasized the importance of players participating in the game when voted in by their peers during a sideline interview during the 4th quarter. It’s notable that Allen made the statement because he’s played through a shoulder injury all season and did so once again during the Pro Bowl.

Adrian Peterson, who won Pro Bowl MVP honors after the 2007 season, had 5 carries for 13 yards and made a quick exit.

The NFC’s victory this year marks their 4th in the last 6 games.

Other standouts from the game included:

– Packers C Jeff Saturday snapping the ball to Broncos QB Peyton Manning. Saturday played for the NFC and Manning for the AFC, but the snap was a special moment because the two were long-time teammates with the Indianapolis Colts, and Saturday is set to retire this year.

– NY Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul intercepting a pass intended for Houston DE JJ Watt and thrown by Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck.

– Bengals WR AJ Green grabbing 7 receptions for 119 yards and 3 TDs.

– NY Giants QB Eli Manning going 16 of 23 for 191 yards and 2 TDs.

– Seattle QB Russell Wilson going 8 of 10 for 98 yards and 3 TDs.

– Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson and NY Giants WR Victor Cruz combining for 16 receptions for 187 yards and 3 TDs.

– Saints QB Drew Brees throwing for 131 yards and 1 TD on 8 of 11 passing.


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Keeping Up With Postseason Award Recipients/Winners

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 11, 2013 – 1:06 pm

Now is the time of year when various media outlets and NFL teams vote on and/or select recipients for awards and honors. Several Vikings players have been recognized for many of these awards, so we’ll keep a running tally here to keep you up to date.

Vikings Team MVPs
Defense: LB Chad Greenway
Offense: RB Adrian Peterson
Special Teams: K Blair Walsh

Pro Bowlers
Jared Allen
Jerome Felton
Chad Greenway
Adrian Peterson
Blair Walsh

2012 Vikings Ed Block Courage Award Recipient: RB Adrian Peterson

2012 Vikings Community Man of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson

2012 Korey Stringer Good Guy Award: LB Chad Greenway

Pro Football Weekly
All-Pros: RB Adrian Peterson, C John Sullivan, K Blair Walsh
All-Rookie Team: LT Matt Kalil, S Harrison Smith, K Blair Walsh
NFL MVP: RB Adrian Peterson
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson
Comeback Player of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson

2012 Maxwell Football Club
Bert Bell Professional Player of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson
Bert Bell Most Valuable Player: RB Adrian Peterson

2012 NFL 101 NFC Offensive Player of the Year: RB Adrian Peterson


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Vikings Season Ends With 24-10 Playoff Loss At Lambeau

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 6, 2013 – 2:33 am

The Vikings did a lot of things right while winning their final four games of the regular season to advance to the postseason. But they ran out of magic on Saturday night at Lambeau Field, falling to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 24-10 while playing without their starting QB.

Christian Ponder injured his arm in last week’s win over the Packers and was unable to play Saturday night. Joe Webb started in place of Ponder, but he and the offense were unable to muster any momentum until it was too late. Webb opened the game nicely, driving the Vikings 53 yards in 10 plays to take an early 3-0 lead. From that point on, though, the offense struggled to stay on the field.  The following four drives all ended in punts for the Vikings, and at halftime they had just 97 net yards and were 2 of 8 on 3rd downs.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, was his usual self and paced his team to the victory, the first home postseason win of his career. Rodgers was 23 of 33 for 274 yards with 1 TD on the night, seemingly always finding the open receiver at the biggest moments and always staying away from the back-breaking mistake.

It was the Vikings who made the mistakes. Green Bay’s first TD of the game came on a drive that was kept alive by a 3rd-down offsides penalty against the Vikings. Then Green Bay’s second TD of the game came one play after the Packers were awarded a 1st down via penalty on a FG attempt because the Vikings were flagged for having 12 men on the field. On top of those two TD-yielding mistakes, the Vikings also turned the ball over three times and forced zero turnovers of Green Bay.

After the Vikings took their early 3-0 lead, both teams exchanged punts. That’s when the offsides penalty against the Vikings led to Green Bay’s first score, an 8-yard TD run by RB DuJuan Harris that capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive. The teams traded possessions after that, and eventually Green Bay kicked a 20-yard FG after a stout goal line stand by the Vikings defense. Green Bay led 10-3 at that point, but they extended their lead to 17-3 thanks to a late 1st-half TD run by FB Jon Kuhn.

Green Bay opened the 2nd half with the ball and bookended their TD late in the 1st half with another TD early in the 2nd half, this one a TD reception for Kuhn from 9 yards out to make the score Green Bay 24, Minnesota 3. That’s all the scoring Green Bay would generate, but that’s all the scoring Green Bay would need. The Vikings turned the ball over on their next two possessions – a Webb fumble and then a Webb INT – and then a muffed punt by Marcus Sherels at the start of the 4th quarter only made matters worse.

The Vikings eventually got on the board with a TD when Webb found a wide open Michael Jenkins along the right sideline for a 50-yard score. A failed onsides kick gave Green Bay possession at their 20 and they were able to run all but 19 seconds off the clock from there.

Adrian Peterson finished the game with 99 yards on 22 carries, modest numbers for a runner that racked up 409 yards rushing against the Packers in 2 regular season games this season.

The loss ends what was a successful season for the Vikings. They were a 3-win team just a season ago, and their jump up to 10 wins this season marks the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history. There is a lot upon which this young Vikings team can build going into 2013, and that process will commence almost immediately at Winter Park now that their postseason run has concluded.


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Peterson, Walsh Named NFC Players Of The Month

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 3, 2013 – 10:55 am

There are many reasons why the Vikings were able to construct the most successful single-season turnaround in franchise history this season, going from 3 wins in 2011 to 10 wins in 2012. A 4-0 record over the final quarter of the regular season was a big reason, and that strong finish would not have been realized without the effots of Adrian Peterson and Blair Walsh.

The NFL put the pieces together quite well today, naming Peterson as the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Month for December and naming Walsh as the Special Teams Player of the Month for December.

Peterson
During the month of December, Peterson led the League with 135 carries and had an NFL record for rushing yards in a month with 861. He was also tied for 3rd with 5 rushing TDs. The 6th-year player out of Oklahoma eclipsed the 200-yard mark 2 times while setting a new career long rush of 82 yards on 2 separate occasions during the month. Remarkably, this is the first time Peterson has won a player of the month award. He is the first Viking to receive the offensive award since Brett Favre in November of 2009. Along with this honor, Peterson has been named the NFC Player of the Week 2 times in 2012, Week 7 and Week 14.

Walsh
Walsh, a rookie out of Georgia who was named to the Pro Bowl, connected on 11 of 12 field goals (91.7%) and was a perfect 14 of 14 on PATs over the month of December. His FGs included a perfect 5 of 5 from 50+ yards, as he set an NFL single-season record in 2012 with 10 field goals from that range. Walsh kicked the Vikings into the playoffs in last week’s win over Green Bay, converting a 29-yard attempt as time expired. His 3 field goals from 50+ at St. Louis on 12/16/12 also set a new single-game NFL record. Walsh tied a team-record 56-yard field goal against the Houston Texans on 12/23/12. He also finished tied for 2nd in the NFC with 12 kickoff touchbacks in the month of December. His 47 points over the month ranks 3rd in the NFL.


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Blair Walsh Named NFC Special Teams Player Of The Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 3, 2013 – 6:48 am

Vikings K Blair Walsh has been named the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his Week 17 performance against the Green Bay Packers. Walsh sent the Vikings into the playoffs with a 29-yard FG as time expired, and he also connected on FGs of 54 and 37 yards in the 37-34 win. This was Walsh’s second game-winning kick of the 2012 season (Week 1 vs. Jacksonville).

Walsh has won this award 3 times and becomes the first rookie to do so since Devin Hester in 2006. Until now, no Vikings rookie has ever won the Player of the Week Award 3 times in one season (A. Peterson – 2007, R. Moss – 1998). The Pro Bowl kicker was honored after his Week 1 performance against Jacksonville and his Week 15 showing in St. Louis.

The Georgia product was 10-10 on FGs of 50+ yards this season, a NFL record. He led the NFL in FGs with 35 and was 4th in scoring with 141 points. His 92.1 FG percentage is the best in NFL history by a rookie kicker. Walsh was 35-38 on the season and was 3rd in the NFL with 53 touchbacks.

Other Vikings kickers to win the award are: Fuad Reveiz (2x), Gary Anderson (4x), Eddie Murray and Ryan Longwell (2x).


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Griffen Steps Up In Big Spot

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2013 – 7:39 am

Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder and Blair Walsh all picked a great time to have one of their best – if not the best – performance of the 2012 season. In the game’s biggest moment, those three Vikings registered A+ performances to help lead the Vikings to victory in a true win-or-go-home scenario.

But those three weren’t working alone on Sunday. Another Vikings player also registered a season’s-best performance on Sunday, and that performance was a huge factor in the team’s win. Everson Griffen played like a man possessed, and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers paid for it.

In his 3rd season out of USC, Griffen had arguably the best game of his career Sunday. He sacked Rodgers three times for a loss of 20 yards, hit Rodgers another time, and tallied 4 total tackles on the day.

Griffen’s first sack came late in the 2nd quarter on a 2nd-and-10 from the Minnesota 38 with Green Bay driving for what looked like could be a TD right before the half. The sack resulted in a loss of 9 yards and all but eliminated the opportunity for Green Bay to score a TD and instead forced them to position themselves for a long FG try. Griffen’s 2nd sack came on the Packers first drive of the 2nd half and resulted in a loss of 3 yards on a 1st-and-10 play from the Minnesota 45. Griffen’s third and final sack came in the 4th quarter on a 1st-and-10 from the Green Bay 34. It backed Green Bay up 8 yards and eventually forced them into a 4th down, which they converted on a completion to Jarrett Boykin.

For the regular season, Griffen finished 3rd on the Vikings with 8.0 sacks, just a half-sack behind Brian Robison and 4.0 sacks behind Jared Allen. Griffen also ranked 4th on the team with 10.0 tackles for loss, 2nd on the team with 25 QB hurries, and he added 7 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams.


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Ponder Produces Best Game In Biggest Moment

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 31, 2012 – 7:36 am

Sunday’s win-and-in, season finale against the Green Bay Packers was a big moment for the Vikings organization. Having won just 9 of their previous 32 games entering the 2012 season, the Vikings won 9 games in 2012 alone and needed a 10th victory in the season’s final week to qualify for the postseason.

They did it. The Vikings registered a thrilling, instant classic 37-34 victory that included a walk-off 29-yard FG from their rookie Pro Bowl kicker – Blair Walsh. The game also included a historic performance from RB Adrian Peterson, as he rushed for 199 yards and a TD on 34 carries. In the effort, Peterson became just the 7th player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards.

In mentioning the individuals who were instrumental in guiding the Vikings to victory, Peterson and Walsh should be near the top of the list. At the top of the list, though, you’ll find QB Christian Ponder. He’s been much-maligned at times in Minnesota, producing uneven results in 25 career starts entering Sunday. He’s had ups and downs. He’s been criticized plenty. Some say he cost the Vikings a victory earlier in the season at Lambeau Field with costly 2nd-half interceptions that spoiled a 210-yard rushing output by Peterson.

But on Sunday, in what was the biggest moment yet in his young career, Ponder gave us his best performance. He was 16 of 28 for 234 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 120.2 passer rating. He took just one sack, had no turnovers, and made clutch throws in crucial moments. On 3rd downs, Ponder was 8 of 11 for 87 yards with 1 TD, no sacks and no INTs. Of the 8 completions on 3rd downs, 6 resulted in 1st downs.

“He made so many big plays at the quarterback position, some of the throws,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing at a high, high level at this point. We needed that today against a high powered offense with an excellent quarterback. He did a terrific job. He’s playing very good football at the right time for us.”

The key moment of the game came at the 2-minute warning, and all the pressure was on Ponder. Facing a 3rd and 11 from the Minnesota 27 with 2:00 to play and the game knotted at 34, Ponder dropped back, pump faked, and found WR Michael Jenkins in between defenders for a 25-yard completion. That led to the eventual game-winning FG by Walsh. Earlier in the 4th quarter with the game tied at 27, it was Jenkins who was on the receiving end of a 3-yard TD toss from Ponder after the QB had avoided pressure and scrambled to his left to buy time. That Ponder-to-Jenkins TD play also came on a 3rd down.

“He’s grown a lot,” Jenkins, a 9-year veteran, said in the locker room after the game. “A lot of people outside of this locker room have written him off. That was tough to see him kind of go through that, but he persevered through that. He battled. It was probably his best game today.”

It was definitely his best game. As I wrote in the Monday Morning Mailbag, Sunday was certainly a Top 3 performance for Ponder when you look at the raw numbers. He’s thrown for more yards on seven occasions, but he’s never had a higher single-game passer rating (120.2) and the performance against Green Bay is the 2nd time he’s had 3-plus TD passes in the game. But when you consider the circumstances in concert with the raw numbers, there’s no question that Sunday’s win over Green Bay was the best performance of Ponder’s career. Given what transpired before the Vikings even kicked off, with both Chicago and the NY Giants winning, the Vikings were in a true win-and-in scenario, where there was no way for them to qualify for the postseason with a loss.

This game will go down as one game in his entire body of work as the Vikings evaluate him going into the offseason. But the quarterback position, more than any other, is evaluated with careful consideration to “clutch moments,” and Sunday’s game against Green Bay represented as clutch a moment as Ponder has seen in his career. Ponder played his best game in the biggest moment.

 

 


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