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3rd CB, RB Jobs Still To Be Decided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 7, 2012 – 6:26 am

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.


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Defense Dials It Up; Notes From Monday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 6, 2012 – 5:19 pm

There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.

Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.

DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.

During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.

LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.

A few other notes…

Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.

“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”

Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.

“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”

Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.

“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”


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Monday’s Top Plays

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 7:57 pm

The energy level picked up a notch at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday, as the Vikings donned pads for the first time and guys were flying around making plays. With 90 players and roughly 120 minutes of practice time, it’s hard to catch all of the best action. But here’s a quick review of the top plays I saw on Monday…

– We’ll begin at the end of practice, where the Vikings offense and defense went toe-to-toe in a goal line drill. The situation was 1st and goal from the 1-yardline with 8 seconds remaining on the clock and the offense needing a touchdown to win the game. The best action came when the third teams were on the field. QB Sage Rosenfels took the snap and lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone for rookie Jarius Wright, who made an acrobatic catch over CB Corey Gatewood and tried to tap both feet in bounds before being shoved out of bounds. The official signaled touchdown, which prompted a celebration from the offense and heavy protest from the defense, all in good fun. The best protest – or at least the most comical protest – came from DE Jared Allen, who wasn’t involved in the play. “This is not college! This is not college! This isn’t high school,” Allen bellowed with a huge smile on his face. “You gotta have two feet in!” Allen was in the official’s face as if he were a baseball manager arguing a call with an umpire, and the entire display was a moment of levity to conclude what was the team’s most intense practice of camp so far.

– The Christian Ponder-to-Kyle Rudolph connection was as strong as ever on Monday, with Rudolph being a popular target of Ponder’s yet again. Midway through practice Ponder rifled a pass down the middle of the field to the goal line, leading Rudolph perfectly and putting the pass just out of the reach of LB Chad Greenway. Despite a gamely attempt by Greenway to deflect the pass, Rudolph was able to haul in the reception for a TD. “Kyle’s got like four or five inches on him in height, let alone wingspan. If you just get the ball up, he’s going to get it.”

– WR Devin Aromashodu is good for a flashy play or two each practice, and that was the case on Monday. Aromashodu ran a go route down the left sideline and made what turned out to be an excellent back shoulder reception while leaping over a defender. The pass came from QB Joe Webb.

– LBs Jasper Brinkley and Everson Griffen delivered a couple big-time hits. Brinkley met RB Lex Hilliard near the line of scrimmage during the second-to-last team period of practice and came out on top of the confrontation. Griffen saw FB Ryan D’Imperio make a reception in front of him and then saw fit to end the play abruptly by putting a big hit on the FB.

– Veterans Chris Carr and Tyrone McKenzie combined to force a turnover during a 7-on-7 drill. Carr tipped a pass and McKenzie, playing middle LB, got underneath the deflection to collect the INT and run the other way with a convoy of blockers in front of him.

– RB Jordan Todman flashed his greatest asset – speed – during the second-to-last team period of practice. Todman took a handoff that appeared to be designed to go inside and bounced out wide left. Todman gained the edge on the defense and raced down the left sideline for what would’ve been a TD run of at least 65 yards.

– Rosenfels displayed some athleticism near the end of practice during a team period. On the play, Rosenfels sprinted right after feeling pressure from his left and bought just enough time to hit rookie receiver Greg Childs near the sideline. Childs tapped both toes in bounds to complete the play, making up for a drop on a deep pass he had earlier in the day.


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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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A New Carr; Vikings Sign Veteran CB

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 10, 2012 – 9:33 am

For the second time in as many weeks, the Vikings have added a CB in free agency. Last week, the Vikings signed former Chicago Bears CB Zack Bowman, and this week they’ve signed former Ravens CB Chris Carr.

Carr will be entering his 8th season in 2012 and will turn 29 later this month. He was an undrafted free agent out of Boise State in 2005 and played for the Oakland Raiders through the 2007 season. Carr has also spent time with the Tennessee Titans (2008) and the Baltimore Ravens (2009-11). He played in just 9 games last year because of a back injury, but before that he was an important part of the Ravens defense and he’s been one of the NFL’s top special teams performers during his career as well.

The Vikings secondary is a group that needed upgrades this offseason, and the additions of Bowman and Carr will help toward that end. With Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield set to return in 2012, Bowman and Carr will lead the competition for another starting CB job in the Vikings secondary.


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