Not making an appearance in Wednesday’s “8 Vikings-Rams Storylines To Follow” blog entry was the topic of Vikings CBs, but they were a hot topic during Leslie Frazier’s meeting with local reporters. The first five questions of Frazier’s Wednesday press conference focused on various issues surround Vikings CBs, so let’s go over a few things we learned…
A.J. Jefferson could play on Sunday
Since Chris Cook went down with a broken arm during the Vikings Week 8 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, A.J. Jefferson has stepped into an increased role on defense. Near the end of last week’s win over Chicago, though, Jefferson also was injured. He suffered a concussion and was forced out of the game and into the NFL’s return-from-concussion protocol.
On Wednesday, Frazier said Jefferson was “getting closer” to passing all of his tests. The Vikings expect to have a much better idea of Jefferson’s chances to play this Sunday in St. Louis after Thursday’s work.
Next man up
In the event that Jefferson is not able to return in time for Sunday’s game, a few players would be asked to step up. Rookie Josh Robinson would be first on the list, although he’s seen plenty of the field this season while playing in the Vikings nickel package. On Monday, Frazier also mentioned Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels as guys who may see increased roles on defense should Jefferson sit out.
Sherels to resume kickoff return duties
With Percy Harvin unavailable because of his ankle injury, the Vikings kickoff return role is open for business. Sherels was the first to fill the void and he’s done so adequately. More recently, though, Jefferson took a turn returning kicks. With his availability now in question because of the concussion, Frazier indicated earlier in the week that Sherels will reassume the kickoff return roles. Even if Jefferson does play on Sunday, expect Sherels to take the reps so the Vikings can reduce Jefferson’s exposure to another concussion.
Chris Cook on track
Chris Cook has returned to practice for the Vikings and appears to be on track to return to game action as soon as next week against the Houston Texans. Frazier has been asked about the chances of Cook returning this season and hasn’t been specific about if or when it could happen, but the fact that Cook has returned to practice is a sign of good progress.
The Vikings have done a nice job of covering up his absence with Jefferson and Robinson, but having Cook return to action would be a big plus for the Vikings in terms of their ability to cover bigger receivers and in terms of their depth both on defense and on special teams.
Winfield held out of Wednesday practice
Veteran Antoine Winfield did not practice on Wednesday, but that is not worthy of alarm. The Vikings have been diligent about monitoring Winfield’s reps, and it is paying big dividends this season. Winfield, in his 14th season, is having another stellar campaign and his health is a big reason for the Vikings increased performance against the pass. Frazier did mention that Winfield’s knee was bothering him a bit, and that added to the team’s decision to hold him out on Wednesday. It’s expected that Winfield will return to practice on Thursday.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Winfield, Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 225 Comments »
On Wednesday morning the NFL calendar is going to flip from Week 14 to Week 15, which means now is the time to empty out the notebook from last weekend’s victory over the Chicago Bears. Here are a few of my final thoughts…
Jared Allen’s Effort
In the NFL, it’s not often that we feel compelled to credit a player for giving maximum effort. But that’s what I’m going to do here. The Bears had a 1st and 10 from their 15, and they handed the ball of to RB Matt Forte. Going wide right, Forte turned the corner and began sprinting down the right (Vikings) sideline. Jared Allen, having lined up on the opposite side of where the play was heading, saw Forte break contain and began sprinting. He took an aggressive angle, and after several moments of all-out sprinting, Allen finally angled Forte off and pushed him out of bounds. Unfortunately, Forte had stepped out of bounds an instant before Allen shoved him, so the officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness and enforced a 15-yard penalty. But you can hardly blame Allen, after sprinting about 60 yards across the field, to not have the wherewithal to stop on a dime and refrain from pushing Forte out of bounds after catching him.
It was a great play by Allen because he could easily have never taken off to try and catch Forte and instead relied on a teammate closer to Forte to take a less aggressive angle and still catch him before he broke away. Instead, Allen took it upon himself to be the one to catch Forte. The end result was nowhere near ideal because the 15-yard penalty tacked on to the 36-yard run set the Bears up with a 1st and 10 from the Vikings 34, but Allen and Co. were able to force a punt just 3 plays later. Plus, the effort Allen gave is a good indication that this team is playing hard and giving everything it has to make a late-season push.
Final Word (For Now) On Ponder
I basically explained this in the Monday Morning Mailbag, but it’s my belief that the hyper-analysis on Ponder and the angst over whether he can be the QB of the future in Minnesota should subside momentarily to the more team-centric and relevant issue of the Vikings push to the playoffs. There’s no question Ponder needs to improve his play – he will be the first to acknowledge that. The sub 100-yard passing outings are hard for fans to stomach given the fact that Ponder was the 12th overall pick and is being groomed to be a franchise quarterback. But if you can refrain from analyzing Ponder through that lens and instead focus on what Ponder and the Vikings need to do to win games this season, you’ll be a happier Vikings fan and you’ll be better able to A) appreciate the season Adrian Peterson is having and B) appreciate the fact that the Vikings are playing meaningful games in December for the first time since 2009.
AP For 2K?
Can he get to 2,000? Adrian Peterson has 1,600 yards rushing through 13 games and needs to average 133.3 yards per game over the final 3 to reach the 2,000-yard mark. Only 6 other RBs in NFL history have done it. I think Adrian will get there, and if he does it will be an impressive accomplishment on a number of levels. Obviously he’s coming back from the knee injury. But also, he’s doing it while the Vikings have struggled to move the ball through the air and while Percy Harvin has been unavailable due to injury. And, if Peterson reaches 2,000, he’ll have done it after facing 3 consecutive Top 15 rushing defenses over the final few weeks of the season.
Jerome Felton Having a Pro Bowl-Caliber Season
A couple of big-name free agent acquisitions haven’t worked out according to plan for the Vikings. But there’s another free agent the team acquired this past offseason who has worked out better than most imagined.
It’s FB Jerome Felton. The guy is playing out of his mind and is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’s worthy of your Pro Bowl vote.
I was glad to see Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mention Felton in his press conference on Monday.
“Jerome at the fullback position is an unsung hero,” Frazier said. “We’re playing a lot more two-back than we played a season ago and it’s really helped us. We went into this offseason saying that we wanted to be able to find a fullback to really be a lead blocker for Adrian because we felt like some of his best runs have come when he had a lead blocker. Now he might differ from that, but you put the tape on and you see that’s true. Jerome has done a terrific job of doing everything we’ve asked him to do as a lead blocker and he’s had a lot to do with the success we’ve had running the football.”
Sherels, Burton To Step Up If Jefferson Can’t Go
CB A.J. Jefferson suffered a concussion near the end of Sunday’s win over the Bears, leaving the Vikings even more short-handed at the position. Starter Chris Cook is already out, of course, so that means Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels will have to step up if Jefferson isn’t able to play on Sunday in St. Louis. As for Cook, he can start practicing with the team on a more regular basis and could return as soon as next week against the Houston Texans.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Adrian Peterson, Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Christian Ponder, Jared Allen, Jerome Felton, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 194 Comments »
The fourth and final preseason game of 2012 is in the books, as the Vikings closed out their exhibition schedule with a tight and high-scoring 28-24 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on Thursday night. With the preseason in the rear view mirror, fans will now set their attention on Week 1 of the regular season.
But not so fast.
Before NFL teams can set their sights on their Week 1 opponent, an important preseason process must first be completed – the 53-man roster cutdown. Currently, the Vikings roster stands at 75 players, but NFL teams are required to arrive at the 53-man limit by Friday evening.
As Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier, along with their staffs, go through discussions to try and configure the right mix of players, they will consider the entire body of work a player has put together from the beginning of the offseason program in the middle April through Organized Team Activities (OTAs), minicamps, training camp and the preseason. At the same time, there’s no denying that the fourth and final preseason game has significant bearing on those decisions.
So, how did the Vikings preseason finale impact decisions Spielman, Frazier and Co. will make? Let’s take a look at seven players who helped their chances of making the 53-man roster thanks to a strong final performance in the exhibition season.
(The opinions expressed below are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of GM Rick Spielman, Head Coach Leslie Frazier or the Vikings organization.)
RB Matt Asiata
Based largely on a solid performance last week combined with a good training camp, Asiata came into Thursday’s preseason finale with a legitimate shot to make the final roster. He’s listed as and is built like a FB, but Asiata has some RB skills – nimble feet, good agility, good hands and good vision. Against the Texans, Asiata registered a 6.1 yards-per-carry average on 7 attempts. For the preseason, Asiata has 23 carries for 134 yards and 3 receptions for 15 yards with 1 TD. Is it enough to make the 53-man roster? Hard to tell, but Asiata is certainly a player who helped himself in the final preseason contest.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
It’s easy to get excited about the potential of MBT. He has a big arm, looks the part, and is a good guy to have around the facility. On top of that, he’s had a good training camp and preseason. MBT has not looked overwhelmed, and in fact he led the Vikings on a drive late in Thursday’s game that resulted in him throwing into the end zone to try and steal a victory. It wasn’t to be, but MBT showed some late-game poise during the drive, and that’s fun to see from a youngster.
For the preseason, MBT’s numbers look like this: 18 of 36 for 242 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs.
CB Brandon Burton
The return of Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield after they missed 21 games combined last year along with the presence of 3rd-round pick Josh Robinson has garnered much of the attention placed on the Vikings CBs. That has allowed Burton to quietly go about his business and have a pretty good camp. He’s backed up that pretty good camp with a solid preseason as well. On Thursday night, Burton collected 3 tackles on defense and another on special teams; he took another step forward in his development. Burton has been more willing to mix it up this year during training camp, and that along with a couple of solid preseason outings might be enough to earn him a spot on the team.
LB Audie Cole
Perhaps the highlight of the entire preseason was Cole’s performance against the Buffalo Bills, when he intercepted consecutive passes from Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith and returned both for TDs. But Cole was solid before that performance and he’s been solid since that performance as well. Cole began his night on Thursday with a pair of special teams tackles, and followed it up with a good performance on defense in the 2nd half. Cole was tied for second on the team with 6 tackles and defense and he led the Vikings with 2 special teams tackles as well. Frazier mentioned Cole during his post-game press conference as a guy the team could look at for depth should Marvin Mitchell be held out of Week 1 action after spraining his ankle against the Texans.
C Quentin Saulsberry
The Vikings offense was on the field for 83 snaps on Thursday night, and in that time they racked up 562 yards of offense. The man in the middle of the offensive line for most of that time was not John Sullivan or even backup Joe Berger; it was Saulsberry, an undrafted rookie free agent who has quietly hung around during the offseason program and training camp. With Sullivan in place as the starter and Berger a quality backup, it might be ambitious to speculate Saulsberry being an option for the 53-man roster. But perhaps the Vikings think enough of Saulsberry to keep him around for practice squad consideration. His performance on Thursday night in helping the Vikings amass a large net yardage total certainly helped.
RB Jordan Todman
Most will point to his 76-yard TD run as evidence that Todman deserves consideration for the 53-man roster. It’s true that the long TD jaunt helped Todman, but the speedster also helped his cause in other ways. One play that stands out to me came in the Vikings final offensive drive when he caught a screen pass, but had little room to run. Rather than trying to squeeze out every last yard, Todman wisely decided to run horizontally to get out of bounds and stop the clock. For the game, Todman finished with 114 rushing yards and 1 TD on just 10 carries and he added 5 receptions for 21 yards as well.
An ankle injury limited Todman for most of training camp and the preseason, so the Vikings have a limited sample size with which to judge him. That might ultimately cause the team to go another direction, but what makes the decision even more difficult is Todman’s outstanding performance on Thursday evening.
WR Jarius Wright
As a 4th-round pick, Wright was likely a lock to make the roster anyway. But after Thursday night, it’s clear the rookie receiver made the roster based on his on-field performance rather than his draft stock. Before leaving the game with a sprained ankle, Wright caught 6 balls for 122 yards, including a 59-yard TD in the 3rd quarter. Wright showed some explosion and some toughness.
Tags: Audie Cole, Brandon Burton, Jarius Wright, Jordan Todman, Matt Asiata, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Quentin Saulsberry
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 233 Comments »
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).
Tags: Antoine Winfield, Bobby Felder, Brandon Burton, Chris Carr, Chris Cook, Corey Gatewood, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Nick Taylor, Roster Rundown, Zack Bowman
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 54 Comments »
The inactive list and several other circumstances leading up to today’s game will give several young Vikings players plenty of playing time. Let’s take a look at a few of them…
QB Christian Ponder – He’ll be making his 2nd consecutive start today after a good debut showing last week against the Green Bay Packers. Ponder will go head-to-head against another rookie QB in Cam Newton, who is far and away the NFL’s most sensational first-year player. Today marks the first time in franchise history that the Vikings and their opponent will both start rookies at QB.
WR Stephen Burton – When Bernard Berrian was released earlier in the week, it was Burton who was promoted to the active roster. Not only is he on the 53-man roster, he’s active today and it looks like he could get a look at kickoff returner with Lorenzo Booker among the inactives.
CBs Asher Allen, Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels – These 3 youngsters will see significant action today with Antoine Winfield inactive (neck) and Chris Cook on a leave of absence from the team. This will be Burton’s 3rd game on the active roster, Allen will get the start opposite Cedric Griffin and Sherels will be on the field whenever the Vikings are in their nickel defense.
Tags: Asher Allen, Brandon Burton, Christian Ponder, Marcus Sherels, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 210 Comments »
Most Vikings first-teamers didn’t play in the team’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans on Thursday night at Mall of America Field, but those Vikings that did play made sure to entertain everyone watching. QBs Christian Ponder and Joe Webb, along with a host of other young Vikings, impressed in the final game of the preseason and put together a 28-0 victory.
With so many starters out of action, the main storyline heading into Thursday night’s game was the fact that Ponder was making his first start. The 1st-round pick did not disappoint, going 10 of 17 for 83 yards with 1 TD and no INTs; Ponder also had 61 yards rushing on 8 carries, frequently utilizing his athleticism to avoid pressure and escape the pocket. Ponder’s TD toss went to fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph.
Webb also looked solid and led scoring drives of his own, guiding the Vikings on an 11-play, 59-yard drive that culminated in a Caleb King rushing score early in the 4th quarter and then leading another drive late in the 4th quarter that also ended with a King rushing score. For the game, Webb was 5 of 6 for 43 yards with no TDs or INTs; he also had 1 carry for 12 yards.
Another positive development was the play from the team’s RBs. Minneapolis native and Iowa State University product Alexander Robinson scored on a 4-yard run in the 3rd quarter and then King, an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Georgia, scored twice in the 4th quarter. Tristan Davis got the start on Thursday night and rumbled for 25 yards on 8 carries. In total, the 3 RBs rushed for 135 yards on 34 carries. Robinson averaged 6.9 yards per carry and King was the leading rusher among the three with 62 yards.
The Vikings offense saw a lot of opportunities for success because the defense and special teams played so well. The Vikings defense surrendered only 14 first downs on the night and held Houston to a 33% third-down conversion rate. The Vikings kick coverage units were solid once again, as they have been all preseason, and allowed just 9.0 yards per punt return. P Chris Kluwe put 3 punts inside the 10, including one at the Houston 1-yardline in the 1st half.
Rookie CB Brandon Burton, who has flashed a bit over the past two games, notched an INT in the 2nd half and continues to make a strong case for himself. DE Adrian Awasom, who has lined up with the second-team defense all of camp and the preseason, registered a pair of sacks on the night and newly acquired DE Stylez White also had a sack. Reserve S Ryan Hill tallied a pair of special teams tackles and also led the team in defensive tackles with 5.
The victory over Houston concludes the Vikings preseason and now they’ll prepare for their regular season opener against the San Diego Chargers on September 11.
Tags: Adrian Awasom, Alexander Robinson, Brandon Burton, Caleb King, Chris Kluwe, Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Kyle Rudolph, Ryan Hill, Stylez White, Tristan Davis
Posted in All | 50 Comments »
In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, a reader asked about the Vikings defensive draft picks and what we can expect from them in their rookie seasons. Because the Vikings chose 5 defensive players in the draft this year, the question was better-served to be answered in a blog entry than in the Monday Morning Mailbag.
So, here it goes…
DL Christian Ballard: This is a player about whom Vikings fans should be excited. He measures in at 6-4, 283 pounds, which gives him the frame to play either DE or DT in the Vikings 4-3 defensive scheme. Conveniently, Ballard has the skill set as well as the frame to be a versatile lineman capable of playing multiple positions. Ballard spent the first 2 years of his career at left DE before moving inside and starting all 13 games of his junior season at DT. In his final season, Ballard rotated often at both spots, starting 8 contests on the outside and 5 more inside. Wherever the Vikings need an infusion of talent – DE or DT – Ballard looks able to provide it.
CB Brandon Burton: He was drafted in the 5th round (#150 overall) out of Utah and will compete for playing time on special teams and maybe even on defense right away. He’s got an uphill climb to get into the base defensive package and even nickel situations, but if he can display coverage ability and sound tackling technique, it’s not out of the question for him to earn playing time over Asher Allen and Chris Cook.
LB Ross Homan: A gritty LB from Ohio State, Homan comes to the Vikings with an outside shot to find playing time at LB but with a great chance to be a core special teams player. Homan was a leader on Ohio State’s defense and you can tell almost immediately after seeing him play that he’s a guy who gives 100% effort on every snap and is willing to do anything to help the team win. I think he can be a Heath Farwell-type of producer on special teams pretty quickly, which is saying a lot because Farwell is one of the best special teams players in the NFL.
DB Mistral Raymond: He’s 6-1, 191 pounds and played both CB and S at South Florida. The Vikings chose him with a 6th-round pick (#170 overall) and I’d love to see nothing more than for him to succeed in the NFL. His back story is incredible and is worth researching if you aren’t familiar with it. I expect that he’ll compete immediately for playing time on special teams and I’m optimistic that he can find a role on defense, whether it’s at CB or S.
DL D’Aundre Reed: This is the draft pick I know the least about. He stands at 6-4, 261 pounds and is listed as a DE. From what I can tell, he’ll play primarily on the right side, which means he’ll be behind Jared Allen. Because Allen obviously has the starting spot locked down, Reed will be in a good position to watch an established and talented veteran while honing his pass-rushing skills.
Tags: Brandon Burton, Christian Ballard, D'Aundre Reed, Mistral Raymond, Ross Homan
Posted in All | 24 Comments »
The Vikings addressed the front of their defense in the 4th round by selecting DL Christian Ballard, surely putting extra pep in the step of DL coach Karl Dunbar. In the 5th round, Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods found the same extra pep in his step because the Vikings decided to select CB Brandon Burton in the 5th round (#139 overall).
Burton stands at 6-0, 190 pounds and is described as a good fit in the Vikings Cover 2 scheme because of his ability to re-route WRs at the line of scrimmage. But in speaking with Woods this afternoon, the Vikings decision to select Burton was more about him just being an overall good football player as opposed to being a great fit in the defensive scheme.
“It’s not really about scheme when you’re looking at players right now,” Woods explained from his perspective. “He’s just a good overall player. Solid in coverage, willing in run support, and he really just understands what he’s doing on the field. That’s really what stands out the most.”
It was actually refreshing to hear Woods explain that a player the team selected wasn’t necessarily chosen because he’s a great fit for the scheme or because of some other rubber-stamped, generic reason that no one can refute. Woods put is simply, saying Burton was just a flat-out good athlete who loves football, will be a smart player and understands how to play defense.
“He’s a big corner, a good athlete and smart,” Woods said. “He’s going to be a student of the game.”
Tags: 2011 NFL Draft, Brandon Burton, Joe Woods
Posted in All | 12 Comments »
The Vikings added another defensive player to this year’s draft class by selecting CB Brandon Burton with a 5th-round pick (#139 overall). It’s the 3rd year in a row they’ve added a CB in the draft and Burton will be a guy who steps in and immediately competes for playing time.
Burton played college football at the University of Utah and he’s exactly what head coach Leslie Frazier likes in a CB – big and physical. Burton is 6-0 and 190 pounds and ran a 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash. The Vikings often require their CBs to re-route WRs off the line of scrimmage, and that’s something Burton excels at, according to his scouting report on NFL.com. Also, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said he had a 3rd-round grade on Burton.
Mayock also cited 3 separate times when Burton won a “jump ball” contest with 1st-round WR Jonathan Baldwin in a game last season.
Here is a paragraph from Burton’s scouting report on NFL.com: “Burton has a nice combination of height and speed. Uses his length to jam and re-route receivers at the line and shows the ability to recover. Does a nice job in off-man reacting to the football in front of him. Can rack up the PBUs and break up the jump ball.”
Tags: 2011 NFL Draft, Brandon Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 41 Comments »