Every NFL team has star players who are relied upon year-in and year-out to perform at a premium level. But on a year-in and year-out basis, successful NFL teams also have players who take huge steps in their development to push their team to the next level.
That is what you call a breakout season, and if the Vikings are to follow up last season’s success with another playoff-caliber campaign, they will need breakout seasons from several players. So with the offseason program launching today, what better time to identify candidates for breakout seasons in 2013.
DT Christian Ballard
Career games played/started: 32/2
2012 Role: Reserve DT, part of regular rotation
2013 Outlook: A reserve player as a rookie in 2011, Ballard became part of the rotation in 2012 and saw his production increase – he even registered his first career sack. In 2013, though, Ballard has an opportunity to take an even larger leap than he did from 2011 to 2012. Perhaps Ballard’s best trait is his versatility, as he can line up at DE or DT and he’s also been a special teams contributor for Mike Priefer’s group. It won’t be a surprise to see the Vikings address the DT position in the draft, but it also won’t be a surprise to see Ballard perform at a level that will make it hard for that rookie DT to walk into a starting spot.
RG Brandon Fusco
Career games played/started: 19/16
2012 Role: Starter/split time with Geoff Schwartz
2013 Outlook: A 6th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Fusco came to the Vikings from Division II school Slippery Rock and over a year earned a starting role blocking for the best RB in the NFL. The reason Fusco was able to overcome the small-school stigma and crack the starting lineup in his second season is because of his toughness and determination. Those are the same traits he’s going to need in 2013 to prevent this year’s version of Brandon Fusco (whoever that may be) from supplanting him in the lineup. We talk a lot about unknown commodities coming out of college and becoming house-hold names in the NFL – Fusco has the work ethic and desire to be another example of this.
S Mistral Raymond
Career games played/started: 20/8
2012 Role: Opened season as starter, injured, rotated with Jamarca Sanford
2013 Outlook: The Vikings are poised to once again hold a robust competition for a starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith. In 2012, Raymond won this competition over Sanford and rookie Robert Blanton, but an injury early in the season derailed his season for a bit. Fortunately, Raymond returned to action in 2012 but not as the full-time starter. The same cast of characters will return in 2013 to battle for a starting spot, and there may even be more names added to the mix once the NFL draft begins later this week. As a 6th-round pick who has battled and defeated personal and professional adversity before, expect Raymond to shine this offseason and training camp.
CB Josh Robinson
Career games played/started: 16/6
2012 Role: Rotational CB
2013 Outlook: After making all the dances and starting 6 of them as a rookie and intercepting 2 passes along the way, Robinson, a 3rd-round pick, turned out to be one of the draft’s better value selections for the Vikings. His performance in 2012 will likely land him in a starting position on the depth chart to begin the offseason program. But his development is not done. There are still improvements Robinson can make to his game, and there will also be plenty of competition added to the position before the team heads to Mankato for training camp this summer.
WR Jarius Wright
Career games played/started: 7/1
2012 Role: Inactive until Week 10, regular contributor over final half of the season
2013 Outlook: The diminutive Arkansas product showed flashes of potential in training camp and the preseason last year, but a high ankle sprain limited him in the first half of the regular season. Wright hit his stride at just the right time, though, as an ankle injury to Percy Harvin opened the door for him to step in. Wright finished the season with 22 receptions for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns, and now he’s poised to earn a spot in the starting lineup and continue in 2013 where he left off in 2012 as a versatile receiver who can play inside or outside but who excels from the slot.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Christian Ballard, Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Mistral Raymond
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 70 Comments »
The 18th annual Vikings Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally, sponsored by MillerCoors Brewing Co., the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Total Luxury Limousine and Arctic Cat, will be held at Lake Mille Lacs Saturday and Sunday, February 9-10. The event will feature current and former Vikings players along with coaches and team executives. Viktor the Viking and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders will also be in attendance to help raise money for the Vikings Children’s Fund.
Current Vikings scheduled to attend this year’s Arctic Blast include LBs Jasper Brinkley and Larry Dean, RG Brandon Fusco, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen, C John Sullivan and QB Joe Webb. Vikings alumni scheduled to attend the event include Pete Bercich, Ben Leber, Carl Lee, Walker Lee Ashley, Bob Lurtsema, Doug Sutherland and Robert Tate.
A full schedule of events will surround Arctic Blast XVIII. On Saturday, February 9, there will be giveaways, numerous prizes and games for all ages at Vikings headquarters at the Blue Goose Inn in Garrison. The organization will also provide free arcade play for kids, an ice fishing pond, karaoke and specials at various Blast Points throughout the day. On Sunday, a prize party will be held with more than $30,000 in prizes to be awarded, including a choice of a new Arctic Cat Snowmobile or ATV. Also on Saturday at the Blue Goose Inn at 3:00 pm, a special secret guest will be appearing.
Participants can register the day of the event at any of the four Blast Points located in Garrison, Onamia, Isle or Malmo ($35). For the list of Blast Points and more information, call (952) 828-6577 or visit www.vikings.com
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Everson Griffen, Joe Webb, John Sullivan, Larry Dean, Pete Bercich, Toby Gerhart
Posted in All | 13 Comments »
Vikings center John Sullivan is donating $150,000 to make a new University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital playground possible. To support Sullivan’s efforts, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, has donated $25,000 through his Lead the Way Foundation while the Vikings organization – through the Vikings Children’s Fund – has contributed the remaining $25,000 for the $200,000 project.
A ceremony will take place on Tuesday to name the playground and reveal renderings of the future project, which is set to open in Spring 2013. During the event, the playground will be officially named “Sullivan Playground” in Sullivan’s honor. Children wearing “Team Sullivan” t-shirts will celebrate the naming and refreshments will be served.
Immediately following the ceremony, Sullivan, along with teammates Brandon Fusco, Greenway, Charlie Johnson, Tyrone McKenzie, Kyle Rudolph and others, will host a “Halloween Huddle” for patients and their families in the lobby of University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. The players will then make bedside visits throughout the hospital.
About the Sullivan Playground
Just outside of University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital will be the Sullivan Playground for patients and their siblings. The play space is secure, private and comfortable. Working with Landscape Structures, a Minnesota company focused on designing inclusive playgrounds for children of all abilities, Amplatz Children’s Hospital child rehabilitation therapists and child-family life specialists selected a variety of activities and structures that are fun and appropriate for all children, regardless of age and medical conditions. This playground and design will incorporate therapeutic, sensory and development elements as well as an innovative mixture of climbing, discovery, sliding, spinning and social function that are necessary for our patient and sibling population. The unique features have exploration elements with ground level interaction. As the first commercial outdoor slide ever made to accommodate children with IVs, the custom designed posts and attachments allow patients to climb ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) stairs and go down the roller slide without disconnecting from their devices.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Chad Greenway, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph, Tyrone McKenzie
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 7 Comments »
When the Vikings signed Geoff Schwartz this past offseason, the thinking was he could perhaps compete for a starting position at right guard while also providing depth on each side of the offensive line as a swing tackle. An injury slowed his progression during training camp, though, so the Vikings didn’t get a great look at the free agent signing before the season started.
With the season in full swing now, though, the Vikings are starting to take a closer look at the reserve lineman. They rotated Schwartz into Sunday’s game at Washington, inserting him into the lineup at right guard for several snaps.
“We wanted to be able to take a look at Geoff (Schwartz) yesterday and get him some game action,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “Yesterday allowed us to do that, and we want to be able to do it periodically. We felt like that was a good game to do it and it worked out pretty good to get him, I think he had about 11 snaps, so we got some good game-action tape that we couldn’t get in the preseason to evaluate him and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
So, how did Schwartz do in his first extended regular season action as a Viking?
“In those plays, I thought he did a good job, good enough to where we feel comfortable if something were to happen, we could get him in there,” Frazier said. “But there are some other things we want to be able to see from him, but we’ll continue to evaluate him as we go forward.”
Frazier stopped short of saying the right guard competition was suddenly open for competition. Brandon Fusco is the starter there, and the second-year player out of Slippery Rock is playing well so far. More than illustrating displeasure in Fusco’s performance or trying to shake things up along the offensive line, the Vikings goal in rotating Schwartz in seems to be exactly what Frazier stated – just to get a look at a player who hasn’t seen much action on the offensive line since signing in Minnesota.
Frazier intimated the Vikings may continue to rotate Schwartz in during games, though he didn’t say if it’d be at right guard or a different position.
Schwartz measures in at 6-6, 340 pounds and is in his 5th season out of the University of Oregon. He was a 7th-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008 and played in 32 games with 19 starts. He missed all of last season with an injury. Schwartz’ young brother, Mitchell, was a 2nd-round pick of the Cleveland Browns last April.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Geoff Schwartz, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 139 Comments »
In taking a closer look at the Redskins running attack earlier on Thursday, we referenced the camaraderie generated from playing the same five starters in all five games as one factor that’s led to production. In taking a look at the Vikings offense through five games, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder have similar sentiments about their front line.
“The offensive line is playing tremendously well,” Ponder said on Wednesday. “You can tell the chemistry they have and the amount of communication they have on the line. They’re doing such a great job and they’re really gelling together, not even just the pass protection, they’re opening up holes in the run game. They couldn’t be playing any better.”
Frazier mentioned communication as a key to the line’s play as well while speaking with reporters on Wednesday.
“I see them at practice, in between, talking to one another about how we have to combo block, what we have to do from a technique standpoint,” Frazier said. “It’s a good chemistry on our offensive line right now and it’s showing up on the field.”
This type of play from the offensive line is refreshing to the Vikings and to those who’ve followed the Vikings in recent seasons. Individuals have played well at various times, but it’s been a couple of seasons since the Vikings offensive line played this well collectively. There are likely several factors behind the improvement. Let’s take a look at three of them.
1. Coach Davidson
There’s no better place to start than with Vikings OL coach Jeff Davidson. This is his second year on the job, and the veteran coach with multiple Super Bowl rings and NFL playing experience to his credit is starting to see results. It’s often said that a head coach or even defensive/offensive coordinator needs time to incorporate his scheme. A new position coach faces a similar challenge working with his subset of players, and therefore it’s fair to grant that position coach time as well. Davidson has put plenty of time in, and it’s beginning to pay off.
2. Buying the right groceries
If Davidson is the chef concocting the recipe for success along the offensive line, Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his personnel staff are responsible for buying the groceries from which Davidson creates the recipe. You may hate the analogy, but the point remains that Spielman has punched the right buttons when it comes to personnel decisions along the offensive line.
John Sullivan, whom Spielman selected with a 6th-round pick in 2008, has turned into one of the best centers in the NFL. Phil Loadholt, a 2nd-round pick in 2009, has taken a big step forward in 2012 and is in a contract year. The Vikings saw something they liked in Brandon Fusco, a 6th-round pick in 2011, and their decision to award him a starting job after training camp has turned into the right one. And you can’t talk about draft picks along the offensive line without mentioning Matt Kalil, the Vikings 4th overall pick this past April. He’s dominated the opposition at LT so far this season and looks every bit the part of a 4th overall choice. The selection of Kalil allowed the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson, last year’s LT, to his more natural position – guard.
3. You win with players
It’s only fair to credit coaching and personnel decisions when credit is due, so the first two points remain applicable. But the bottom line is that players have to go out and do their jobs. And that is what’s happening for the Vikings along the offensive line, through the first five games. There’s a lot of season to play, and the players will be the first to admit there are improvements to be made, but so far their ability to communicate and play well together has made a big difference for the Vikings offense.
“I like how they’re working together collectively,” Frazier said. “That is what you need as a unit to be effective on an offensive line and those guys are helping one another. I can see Matt [Kalil] working with Charlie [Johnson] and Charlie helping him. Then I see what John [Sullivan] is doing with Brandon [Fusco],who’s a young guy who is early in his career and helping him. And then Phil [Loadholt] is much more consistent. So each guy playing a little bit better and what it has created is a solid offensive line.”
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Leslie Frazier, Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Rick Spielman
Posted in All | 41 Comments »
Did the Vikings offensive line have their best performance of the season in Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers? It sure looked like it, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier thought so, too.
“I think, collectively, yeah. And when you consider the front they were going up against, that’s a very good front,” Frazier said.
Frazier credited LG Charlie Johnson for a solid performance against 49ers All-Pro Justin Smith, and he also noted that Matt Kalil fared well against standout pass rusher Aldon Smith. Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt anchored down on the right side of the offense, and the lynchpin of it all is C John Sullivan. Credit should also be given to the Vikings coaching staff, who used a creative blocking scheme at times to create opportunities for the offense. Loadholt shifted to the left side of the formation on at least one snap to give San Francisco a different look, and the club also found a way to get rookie Rhett Ellison in on the action.
“It was a good performance across the board,” Frazier said. “As a group, to rush for 146 yards on that defensive line or that defense, it’s pretty impressive.”
Having any success against the 49ers on the ground is impressive. Gaining 146 yards? Over the past two seasons, that’s nearly unheard of. San Francisco hadn’t allowed that many rushing yards since November of 2010, and the 344 total yards the Vikings amassed on Sunday is 5th best against the 49ers over their last 19 games. Also, the Vikings collected 25 1st downs – #1 against San Francisco over the last19 games – and they logged 33:28 in time of possession – #2 against the 49ers over that same span.
A few other notes on the offensive line’s performance against the very good 49ers defense:
— The 49ers have only been held without a sack one other time since the start of 2011 (19 games) – against Baltimore in 2011.
— The 49ers did not have an INT, and they’ve been held without an INT just four times in that same span.
— The 49ers have only been held without a SACK and INT one other time in that span – the Baltimore game in 2011.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Leslie Frazier, Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Rhett Ellison
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 23 Comments »
There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.
You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.
There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…
– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.
– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.
– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.
– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.
– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.
– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.
– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.
– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.
Tags: 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Audie Cole, Brandon Fusco, Chris DeGeare, D'Aundre Reed, Derrick Coleman, Eric Frampton, Everson Griffen, Geoff Schwartz, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Joe Berger, Jordan Todman, Lex Hilliard, Marcus Sherels, Mistral Raymond, Nick Reed, Percy Harvin, Quentin Saulsberry, Tyrone McKenzie
Posted in All | 147 Comments »
One of the main challenges to covering a NFL team during training camp is covering all the bases. With a 90-man roster and plenty of intriguing storylines to follow, it’s hard to cover everything. But there is a saving grace in all of this. Twitter.
Brevity is required when using Twitter because a message on the social media platform must be 140 or fewer characters. Some may look at that as a limitation. But we’re turning it into opportunity. The Twitter-sized player evaluations feature we debuted last week gives us a chance to provide some insight on several players, rather than an overwhelming amount of insight on just a few players.
On Monday before practice, we asked (on my Twitter handle – @wobby) which players you’d like to know about via Twitter evaluations. They are listed below with a 140 (or fewer)-character evaluation…
FB Matt Asiata – Skilled pass catcher out of the backfield. Needs to show ability on special teams during preseason.
WR Stephen Burton – May have some position flexibility to him (can play X and Z receiver) & has had very good camp. Good after the catch. Big preseason for him.
CB Chris Carr – Playing with first-team nickel. Smart, instinctive player. Was in punt return rotation on Monday.
LB Audie Cole – Big, physical & smart. Unsure if he’s best at middle or outside LB. Needs to contribute on special teams. Has a chance to be good NFL LB.
TE Rhett Ellison – Impressing with his hands and fluidity in passing game. Known as hard worker. Will be a good pro for a long time.
RG Brandon Fusco – Still the one to beat for starting RG spot. Smart, tough player. Going against Kevin Williams every day is good for him.
RB Toby Gerhart – Looks and plays the part of a starting-caliber NFL RB. Grinder who will wear defenses out. Good in passing game (protection and receiving).
LB Everson Griffen – Up and down – will make great plays or mistakes. Great instincts and athleticism. Transitioning well, could still play DL in situations.
DL Trevor Guyton – Great start to camp, leveling off a bit now. Hard to move on the inside. Has athleticism to play multiple positions. Stout against run.
DE Brian Robison – Great day of practice on Monday. Excellent inside pass rush moves. Can play DT in nickel package. Great enthusiasm and passion.
C John Sullivan – Excellent leader. Rarely makes mistake. Developing into Top 5 at his position in NFL.
K Blair Walsh – Has impressed with leg strength AND accuracy. Answered the bell in simulated game situations at end of practice. Touchbacks-a-plenty.
WR Bryan Walters – In the mix at WR, needs productive preseason. In punt return rotation & fields kicks gracefully. Sudden route runner with good separation.
WR Jarius Wright – Explosive short-area quickness. Solid hands. In return rotations. Good attitude, practices hard. Solid camp so far.
Tags: 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Audie Cole, Blair Walsh, Brandon Fusco, Brian Robison, Bryan Walters, Chris Carr, Everson Griffen, Jarius Wright, John Sullivan, Matt Asiata, Rhett Ellison, Stephen Burton, Toby Gerhart, Trevor Guyton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 65 Comments »
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.
Tags: 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Adrian Peterson, Bobby Felder, Brandon Fusco, Bryan Walters, Chad Greenway, Chris DeGeare, Christian Ponder, Everson Griffen, Geoff Schwartz, Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Kerry Taylor, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels, Mickey Shuler, Nick Taylor, Reggie Jones, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 123 Comments »
Few position groups will be as heavily scrutinized early this season more than the offensive line. The Vikings have been one of the NFL’s best rushing teams over the past several seasons, but the combination of a need for improvement in pass protection and multiple new starters in the group will have many keeping close tabs on the men up front.
The offensive line is the subject of today’s Roster Rundown…
The Vikings will bring 15 offensive linemen with them to training camp, probably a standard number in League circles. While we can be fairly certain on four of the five starters heading into training camp, there will still be plenty of competition up and down the line in both the starting lineup and especially for the reserve spots.
John Sullivan is solid at center and has developed into one of the best five or so players at his position in the entire League. Sullivan began his career as Matt Birk’s understudy and eventually rose to starter status, where he snapped to Brett Favre in his first season as the starter and has progressed nicely ever since. There are two other players listed as centers on the Vikings roster who will compete for a backup role behind Sullivan – Joe Berger and Quentin Saulsberry. Berger is a returning veteran with seven seasons of experience and Saulsberry is an undrafted college free agent out of Mississippi State.
The Vikings should be set at both OT positions as well. Phil Loadholt returns at RT and should be sufficiently motivated in a contract year. Fans have grown tired of his penalties and occasional pass protection letdown, but my sense is Loadholt is sitting on a nice season. At LT the Vikings of course have 1st-round pick Matt Kalil. Sullivan has described Kalil as a “freak” athletically. Other OTs listed on the Vikings roster are: Pat Brown, Levi Horn, DeMarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz and Darrion Weems. Brown and Love are returning from last year’s team, Schwartz was a free agent pickup for the Vikings this offseason and could compete for the starting RG spot, and both Horn and Weems are undrafted college free agents.
The addition of Kalil at LT allows the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson over to LG, perhaps his more natural position. Johnson has the athleticism to play OT, but Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained to me earlier this offseason that his arm length is not ideal for the position. Moving him inside to LG will put Johnson is a better position to succeed, and it will allow Johnson to help Kalil transition to the NFL game. The RG position is up for grabs at this point. I expect Brandon Fusco to open camp as the starter, but both Schwartz and Chris DeGeare should have their sights set on winning the job as well. The two other OGs listed on the Vikings roster are Tyler Holmes and Austin Pasztor, a pair of undrafted college free agents.
A lot of names to go over there, but it just means more competition for the position group as a whole. The top three aspects of the offensive line I’ll be watching at training camp are…
– Who looks the best at RG? Fusco has the early edge based on the offseason program, but both DeGeare and Schwartz are in the mix as well.
– How does Kalil adjust to the NFL? Going against Jared Allen every day will help Kalil a ton if the 1st-round pick can strike a balance between taking his medicine from Allen and others on defense while also establishing himself as Ponder’s blindside protector.
– Does Loadholt take a big step forward this year? He was solid as a rookie in 2009 when he helped the club go 12-4 and play in the NFC title game, but since then he’s produced mixed results. Loadholt is one of my favorite guys on the team and I know he takes pride in his game, so I expect him to take a big step forward in his second year working with well-respected OL coach Jeff Davidson.
Tags: Austin Pasztor, Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, Chris DeGeare, Darrion Weems, Demarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger, John Sullivan, Levi Horn, Matt Kalil, Pat Brown, Phil Loadholt, Quentin Saulsberry, Roster Rundown, Tyler Holmes
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 93 Comments »