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A Glance At Vikings Practice Squad

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 4, 2012 – 11:12 am

Preparations for Sunday’s regular season and home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be full-steam ahead on Wednesday. So today, let’s take a look at a group of players who will play important roles in aiding the Vikings in those preparations – the practice squad.

Teams use the practice squad primarily as a roster mechanism to procure the development (and hopefully future production) of young players who aren’t quite ready to hold down a spot on the 53-man roster. But an ancillary function of a practice squad player is helping the team prepare for the upcoming opponent.

The Vikings announced their full practice squad on Monday. Here is a quick look at all eight of those players…

DT Chase Baker – He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and had a solid training camp. Baker was on the North squad at this year’s Senior Bowl, which gave the Vikings a detailed look at him prior to the draft. Baker measures in at 6-0, 300 pounds and played college football at Boise State.

CB Bobby Felder – Another undrafted rookie free agent who spent camp with the Vikings, Felder is around the ball a lot and ultimately showed enough for the Vikings to want to keep him around. Felder had a productive career (5 INTs and 3 blocked kicks as a senior in 2011) at Nicholls State and measures in at 5-11, 200 pounds.

WR Tori Gurley – Described as a receiver in a TE’s body, Gurley measures in at 6-4, 232 pounds and had a productive career at South Carolina, totaling 75 receptions for 905 yards and 6 TDs. He signed with the Packers last year as an undrafted free agent and spent the season on their practice squad.

OL Tyler Holmes – A 4-year starter and letterwinner at Tulsa, Holmes was actually selected with the 7th overall pick in the CFL Draft, but he ultimately signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and spent training  camp impressing coaches enough to earn a spot on the practice squad. He started all 46 games he played at Tulsa, received his bachelor’s degree in management in May of 2011 and played last season while pursuing a Master’s degree in business.

OL Kevin Murphy – An undrafted rookie free agent from Harvard, Murphy signed with the Vikings just days before training camp. He measures in at 6-7, 305 pounds.

DE Ernest Owusu – A long and lean DE, Owusu is a product of California and had a productive career there, playing in 42 games with 18 starts and recoding 14.0 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks. He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent.

WR Chris Summers – Another tall receiver listed at 6-5, 215 pounds, Summers signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent and was waived last week. A product of Liberty, Summers joins Gurley as former members of division rivals who are now on the Vikings practice squad.

RB Jordan Todman – Signed off the San Diego Chargers practice squad last December, Todman was injured for much of training camp but performed well once healthy this preseason, capping off the exhibition season with a 10-carry, 114-yard, 1 TD outing against the Houston Texans. He was originally a 6th-round pick of the Chargers in 2011.


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Making Moves: Vikings Tweak Roster

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 1, 2012 – 2:00 pm

The never-ending process of building and maintaining an NFL roster continued on Saturday at Winter Park, as the Vikings shuffled their roster and began the process of establishing a practice squad. This process will likely continue over the next several days, but as of now here’s the latest on the Vikings roster…

– The Vikings and Arizona Cardinals consummated a trade that will send CB A.J. Jefferson to Minnesota in exchange for undisclosed draft pick compensation. Jefferson is a 3rd-year player out of Fresno State.

– The Vikings waived CB Zack Bowman.

– The Vikings were awarded offensive lineman Mark Asper via waivers; he was released by the Buffalo Bills. To make room for Asper, the Vikings waived offensive lineman Pat Brown. Asper played college football at Oregon, was selected by the Bills in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft and weighs in unofficially at 6-7, 325 pounds.

– The Vikings also signed the following players to their practice squad: DT Chase Baker; DB Bobby Felder; OL Tyler Holmes; and RB Jordan Todman.


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10 Vikings Off To Fast Starts At Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 2, 2012 – 4:28 pm

The Vikings are now a week into training camp and it’s full speed ahead for the team as they begin preparing for the 2012 season. Now that we’re gaining a better understanding of the roster after six days of practice, let’s take a look at 10 players who are off to fast starts at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

TE Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph’s combination of size, strength and speed is unique, and it presents big-time mismatch problems for the defense. QB Christian Ponder is not afraid to look Rudolph’s way, and until someone finds a way to slow the 6-6, 258-pound beast, he’s going to keep catching passes.

LT Matt Kalil
You would naturally excuse a rookie – even a third overall choice – if he were making mistakes during training camp. Add in the fact that the rookie is going against the best defensive end in football, and you’d allow even a few more perhaps. But Kalil hasn’t been guilty of many miscues. Sure, Jared Allen is winning his fair share of the matchups, but all things considered, Kalil has looked the part of a player who could develop into a cornerstone LT.

CB Antoine Winfield
We wrote in this space multiple times about how great Antoine Winfield looked during the offseason program. He’s continued to look great during training camp.

“We were talking about that as a staff last night, he really seems to be into this training camp more than any other. You see him out there taking one-on-ones and all of the reps,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “We will have to monitor that a little bit, he is not 22 years of age anymore, but he is definitely invigorated in a lot of ways, which is good for our young players in our secondary to see the way he works and how he approaches things. It’s great for them.”

CB Bobby Felder
One of those young players in the secondary is Bobby Felder, an undrafted college free agent out of Nicholls State. I’m asked about Felder more than most players for some reason, but maybe Felder will show us all why he deserves to be noticed. He didn’t have the best day of practice on Wednesday, but other than that he’s been solid. Felder is a player to watch in the preseason.

WRs Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson
I like what the Vikings have going at WR. Entering the offseason, WR was a position that needed an upgrade. And it got one. The Vikings look much better at the position, and the addition of Jerome Simpson is a big reason for that. Simpson has tremendous speed and is terrific after the catch. He’s not strictly a vertical route receiver, either. Simpson can run intermediate/deep crossing patterns as well, and he’s hard to stop on comeback routes.

Simpson looking so good likely has Percy Harvin upping his game as well. Harvin is already one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, so watching him rise to the challenge in competing with Simpson for passes from Ponder has been great to watch.

DT Letroy Guion
When the defensive coordinator singles you out as having a good camp, you’re going to make this list.

“Letroy has been one that has been phenomenal in camp,” Alan Williams said. “It may not seem to the naked eye but there are some clips of him just getting off blocks, running to the ball and pursuing. Day two he made a play outside of the numbers running to the football so we are very pleased with him.”

LB Chad Greenway
We listed Chad Greenway as a stand out from Tuesday’s practice, largely because of an athletic pass breakup (PBU) he registered on an end zone fade pass to Kyle Rudolph and also because of a couple plays he made in short-yardage and goal line periods. Greenway is a leader on the Vikings defense and will be a three-down player for the Vikings once again this season.

TE Rhett Ellison
During the Vikings rookie minicamp in May, Rhett Ellison emerged as a stand out thanks in large part to his fluid pass-catching skills. Billed as more of a physical, blocking-type of TE, Ellison displayed a natural ability in the passing game during that camp and has continued to do so in training camp. He’s also a physical player in the trenches. That type of all-around ability could yield a long, productive career for the rookie from USC.

RB Derrick Coleman
Undrafted this year and joining the Vikings for their rookie minicamp, not many paid much attention to Derrick Coleman this spring. But it’s hard not to notice him during training camp. He is running with the third-team, so it’s appropriate to temper the enthusiasm. But you can only beat the people put in front of you, and right now Coleman is winning more than he’s losing when he’s on the field. He’ll be another player to watch during the preseason.

GM Rick Spielman
We’re only a week into training camp, but you’ve got to give GM Rick Spielman and his staff, along with head coach Leslie Frazier, credit for attacking the task of reforming this roster over the offseason. The Vikings were coming off consecutive seasons of 6-10 and 3-13, plus they had tough roster decisions to make on valued veteran players. On top of that, the team had 10 draft choices to execute.

The Vikings have had a good training camp to date and the talent level on this roster is going the right way. There is a clear sense of direction the team is heading in, and there’s no question Spielman and Frazier set out to make this roster younger and more talented. Judging by one week of training camp, they did a good job. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the progress is encouraging.


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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Notes From Friday Walk-Thru And Practice; Solid Start For Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 5:19 pm

The first walk-thru and practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is in the books, as the Vikings conducted their one-hour walk-thru this morning and then worked for roughly two hours and 15 minutes in the afternoon. Coaches and players were available to reporters after both workouts, and Head Coach Leslie Frazier also met with reporters via press conference after the walk-thru.

There are a number of topics to touch on following Friday’s action, so let’s be brief with several topics rather than long-winded with just a few…

Peterson to Active/PUP; Burton, Shuler on NFI
Frazier announced during his press conference that RB Adrian Peterson will begin camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which simply means that he won’t take part in the walk-thrus or practices and will instead work on the side with the training and strength staffs. This is not an unexpected development. The Vikings can remove Peterson from the PUP list at any time. Two other players – WR Stephen Burton (toe) and TE Mickey Shuler (heel) – were both placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. Frazier both would be day-to-day because neither injury is considered serious.

Solid first practice for offense
The offense was slow-to-go in their first practice of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), but eventually hit their stride and showed great improvement. It was a much different start for the offense in training camp. For a first practice of camp, Friday’s workout went well for the offense. I saw a number of players make diving catches (John Carlson, Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson), LB Chad Greenway was as vocal as I’ve heard him, OL coach Jeff Davidson was pleased with the way his offensive line worked during individual drills, etc. QB Christian Ponder told me while walking off the field after practice that Friday’s workout was probably better than any of the OTA practices they held during the offseason. Obviously there’s a ways to go, but Friday was a solid start.

Griffen focusing on LB
There was a lot of talk this offseason about the possibility of Everson Griffen transitioning from DE to LB. The talk is over now because it’s actually happening. Griffen worked with the LBs during Friday’s practice and Frazier said that’s where he wants Griffen to focus his undivided attention.

“He’s an outstanding athlete, was a great special teams player for us a year ago,” Frazier said. “Played in multiple positions for us a year ago at linebacker and then at defensive end. With his athletic ability, we want to try to find a way to get him on the field a little bit more.”

Griffen shed 18 pounds this offseason to get within the team’s ideal range for a player at his position, and Frazier described Griffen as extremely motivated to show what he can do at LB.

Competition at RG
Brandon Fusco opened camp with the first team at RG, an expected development. The position will be one to watch this camp and preseason as the Vikings look to solidify an offensive line that is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Frazier indicated the competition would include Fusco, Chris DeGeare and Geoff Schwartz, and that ideally the team would name a starter by the third preseason game (at home vs. San Diego).

“We’ll let those guys compete and battle it out,” Frazier said, “and hopefully we’ll be a better team with whichever one ends up winning the job.”

Many competing for punt return duties
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said this offseason that he’s pleased with the number of players on the Vikings roster who have the ability to cleanly field kicks. He said he’s been to teams where they struggled to find one player who could consistently do it. This year in Minnesota, Priefer has a bevy of players competing for opportunities. On Friday the following players took turns fielding punts from Chris Kluwe: CB Bobby Felder, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, CB Nick Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright.

Robinson is fast
Speaking of Robinson, there was a moment early in practice on Friday where he put his quick burst on display. It happened during a special teams period of practice where Robinson was in the rotation to field punts. A punt heading his way got caught up in the wind and tumbled down to the ground well short of where Robinson was positioned. It’s a cardinal sin for punt returners to let the ball hit the ground, and it only compounds the problem when a returner lets the ball hit the ground and then tries to pick it up after more than one bounce. In an effort to not let the ball bounce more than once, Robinson turned on the jets and covered six yards as fast as I’ve ever seen, getting his hands under the ball at the last second before it bounced a second time.

Later in practice, Robinson pulled up with what appeared to be a leg injury of some kind. No word on what kind of injury it is or how serious.


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Roster Rundown: Cornerbacks

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 18, 2012 – 6:38 am

Last week we started our “Roster Rundown” series by taking a look at the wide receivers. Today the series continues with a look at the guys who will guard the wide receivers during training camp – the cornerbacks.

The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense (yards allowed) and allowed the most passing TDs in 2011, causing the club to make significant additions and changes to the secondary. Before we get to the new players, though, keep in mind that the secondary will see an immediate boost with the return of Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook. They are the two best CBs on the Vikings roster, and together they played in just 11 games last year. Their return bolsters the Vikings pass defense and sets the stage for other CBs on the roster to fill in the voids.

There are two other returning veterans on the Vikings 2012 training camp roster. Marcus Sherels made last year’s roster as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota. Aside from carving out a role on the defense, Sherels increased his value by becoming the club’s part-time kickoff returner and full-time punt returner. Brandon Burton, a 5th-round pick from last year, will also return to the club for training camp. Burton played in 10 games with 1 start in 2011.

The Vikings used both the draft and free agency to add talent to the CB position. In free agency, the club signed Chris Carr and Zack Bowman to add a veteran presence to what is otherwise a young position group. Carr began his career as a special teams ace in Tennessee and then became a regular in the Baltimore Ravens defense. He’s the early leader to be the team’s third CB, but there is plenty of competition for that spot as well. Bowman has some position flexibility to him and trained at both CB and safety during his time with the Chicago Bears.

In the draft, the Vikings used a 3rd-round selection to beef up the CB position by selecting the speedy Josh Robinson. The fastest man at the Combine (clocked a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash), Robinson’s speed will help him recover from natural coverage miscues as a rookie, and his 5-10, 192-pound frame will allow him to battle receivers on the outside. If he performs well in training camp, Robinson could earn himself a significant role on the defense immediately.

Others who will come to Vikings training camp looking to compete for a roster spot include Bobby Felder, Corey Gatewood and Nick Taylor. Felder was a standout over the Vikings final two days of the offseason program, Taylor is a former basketball player from Florida International University who is looking to transfer his hoops skills to the gridiron, and Gatewood was signed by the Vikings late in the offseason program (on June 4).


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5 Observations From OTA #2

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 30, 2012 – 4:10 pm

The Vikings conducted OTA #2 on Wednesday on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park in more favorable conditions than Tuesday’s action. It was partly sunny with little breeze and moderate temperatures, creating a good teaching environment for the coaches and a comfortable climate for the players.

Both head coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder met with reporters following practice, and we’ve posted both of those press conferences to the website. So check that out after reading the following 5 observations from Wednesday’s practice…

Looking for a big year
CB Chris Cook made a great play during the 7-on-7 period of practice, leaping to high-point a deep pass along the right sideline. Cook immediately bounced to his feet and sprinted down the sideline, accompanied by defensive teammates serving as would-be blockers. Veteran Antoine Winfield was asked after practice about Cook, and he said: “We’re looking for a big year out of him.”

A lot like Frazier
Winfield hung out for nearly 20 minutes after practice speaking to reporters, and he was eventually asked about new Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. Said Winfield of his new coordinator: “Reminds me of Leslie Frazier. Soft-spoken, straight to the point and he expects us to work hard each day.”

Play the pass, too
If the Vikings were to play a game today, the starting middle LB would likely be Jasper Brinkley. Known as a hard hitter and sound run-stuffer, some may question Brinkley’s ability to play the pass. But Brinkley is determined to prove those people wrong. Last week on Vikings Tonight, a weekly 30-minute radio show hosted by Paul Allen and co-hosted by yours truly on the Vikings Radio Network, Brinkley was our guest. When I asked him if filling the gaps in the run game was his forte, Brinkley quickly responded by saying: “Not to neglect my pass coverage, I can play that. That’s one of the things people always try to say that I can’t do. But I will be able to prove this year than I can do it.” You have to love that determination from Brinkley, and you also have to love how Brinkley is following through on his commitment. After practice on Wednesday, there was a group of 6 DBs catching passes from the JUGS machine. Joining that group of 6 DBs was one other player – Brinkley.

Felder finds an INT
At one point during practice a CB made a great play on a pass to collect an INT. The player was wearing jersey #43, so I had to glance down at my cheat sheat to figure out the identity of that player. It was Bobby Felder, an undrafted rookie out of Nicholls State. If he keeps making those kinds of plays, Felder could play himself into a roster spot. I was glad to see him grab the INT.

Play of the day
The play of the day – of the plays I saw, anyway – was a tremendous reception made by an unlikely target. QB Joe Webb dropped back to pass and lofted a pass fairly deep down the left sideline. As I panned to my left to watch the conclusion of the play, I expected to see either Devin Aromashodu or Jerome Simpson run under the pass. But instead it was FB Matt Asiata, who was sprinting toward the ball and completely extended himself to make the diving catch and land inbounds.


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