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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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23 Quick Observations From The 2012 NFL Scouting Combine

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 29, 2012 – 6:32 am

1. Andrew Luck solidified his standing at the #1 prospect in this draft. Robert Griffin III did the same at the #2 position. I’d argue that in any other year dating back to 1998 (Peyton Manning), RG3 would be #1 player in the draft class, with the possible exception being 2001 (Michael Vick).

2. The St. Louis Rams, who hold the #2 overall pick right now, WILL trade out of that spot, and I think Cleveland is in the best position (#4 overall) to move up and get him.

3. Matt Kalil is the best LT prospect in this class, just ask him. But I do agree, and the Vikings and Vikings fans should be pleased to get him.

4. Might want to scratch WR Pierre Garcon off your free-agent wish list. A prominent ESPN personality predicted to me that he’ll stay in Indy. Also, Peter King of Sports Illustrated suggests Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne might be a package deal in free agency.

5. Expect a large number of teams to utilize the franchise tag to retain their most-valued free agents. This will shrink what appears to be a thick market at several positions.

6. WR Vincent Jackson is not a likely candidate to be tagged, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Vikings take a run at him, although the Vikings certainly won’t be the only team interested. Outside of Jackson, though, I don’t think the Vikings will be major players at the top end of the free agent market.

7. It was interesting to hear insiders talk about the significance of schools hosting their Pro Days before the NFL begins its free agency period (March 13). This means that at the start of free agency, most NFL GMs will be on the road scouting draft prospects.

8. Expect a fairly liberal roster turnover for the Vikings this offseason.

9. Interesting to hear Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explain the team must prepare as if CB Chris Cook will not be on the team in 2012. That’s not Frazier making any prediction, it’s just him simply explaining that the team must prepare for the worst-case scenario. I’d add that regardless of Cook’s status, CB is still a need for the Vikings.

10. Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd was a winner at the Combine because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. That’s quicker than some anticipated, and I think it assures he’ll go in the 1st round rather than the early part of the 2nd round.

11. Other WRs who jumped up during the Combine were Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill (4.36 in 40-yard dash), Wake Forest’s Chris Givens (think: Jeremy Maclin) and Appalachian State’s Brian Quick (played for Vikings staff at Senior Bowl).

12. The “best player available” (BPA) strategy will be in play for the Vikings this year, especially as it pertains to the team’s 2nd-round pick (currently #35 overall). Even if the BPA is a DE, RB or TE, I wouldn’t put it past GM Rick Spielman and his personnel staff to simply select the best football player on the board, regardless of position, when they’re on the clock. That’s a good way to infuse a talent-depleted roster with some talent.

13. An underrated aspect of this year’s draft class is the depth and top-end talent at DT. “I’ve got anywhere from five to seven potential first-round defensive tackles, which is atypical,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said of the DT class during this week’s Wobcast. “Usually in a year you might have three first-round grades. So twice as many potential first-round picks. There is depth throughout the entire defensive tackle class, regardless of position.” Memphis’ Dontari Poe stole the show at the Combine, but he’s not the only talented, potential run-stopping DT out there. I also like Michael Brockers, Fletcher Cox, Kendall Reyes, Devon Still and Jerel Worthy.

14. Speaking of NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, he’s THE best in the business at analyzing these college players and communicating his opinions under the bright lights with the cameras rolling. Truly a treat to work with him.

15. Not one national reporter/personality I spoke with at the Combine was negative on Christian Ponder. Most anticipate the Vikings adding talent around him to put him in position to succeed.

16. CB Janoris Jenkins is an interesting prospect. He’s a kid with clear 1st-round talent, but off-field issues might cause some teams to pause. “I’ve made a few mistakes and I’ve learned from them,” he was quoted as saying by Peter King. As King later noted, the question is, who will take a shot on a very good talent at a vital position, who is such a risk? Maybe the Vikings if he falls as far as #35, or even falls far enough for the Vikings to consider trading up to get him?

17. Indianapolis is a tremendous host city for big events such as the Combine. It’s in the Midwest, the residents are generally courteous, happy people, there’s a brand-new airport close to downtown, there are plenty of hotels and great restaurants, an elaborate skyway system links most of downtown, and Lucas Oil Stadium is a first-class facility.

18. A few small-school CBs to watch in this year’s draft class: Dwight Bentley (UL-Lafayette), Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson (Montana) and Ryan Steed (Furman).

19. I prefer Caribou Coffee to Starbucks. Our hotel had a Starbucks on the 2nd level, which I frequented each day and was satisfied with, but I prefer Caribou.

20. I wonder if hailing from such a great program (University of Alabama) has inflated the draft stock of LBs Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. I just wasn’t impressed with their on-field workouts, but I’ll also acknowledge game tape means much more than the Combine, plus they still have their Pro Day.

21. This was my 5th visit to the NFL Scouting Combine, but just the first time I tried a pizza parlor called Bazbeaux. Awesome thin crust pizza with a generous portion of toppings, a great atmosphere, a cool bar area and quick seating despite the place being packed to the brim on a busy Saturday night.

22. I thoroughly enjoyed my two days of co-hosting radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen’s weekday 9-noon radio show on KFAN.

23. A couple of sleeper picks for the Vikings in the 2nd round: S Harrison Smith (Notre Dame) and DL Nick Perry (USC).


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Decompressing After Information Overload On Friday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 25, 2012 – 9:13 am

Today the OL and special teams players will have their on-field workouts, QBs, WRs and RBs will go through more administrative duties and the DL and LBs will arrive. But before we worry about today, let’s go over a few important developments from Friday.

– I once again joined radio voice of the Vikings Paul Allen for his 3-hour morning show on KFAN and we had a rock-star list of guests all day. Dallas Morning News columnist Rick “Goose” Gosselin joined us right out of the gate and was excellent. If you’re not familar with him, Gosselin is known as a heavy hitter in the draft analyst world, specifically as it relates to researching players, speaking with NFL teams and then compiling highly accurate mock drafts. Last year, Gosselin had Tennessee taking Jake Locker and he even had the Redskins taking Christian Ponder at #10. Anyway, we had an NFL-wide type of conversation with Gosselin, but he did say he is optimistic on Ponder for the Vikings and he also thinks this year’s draft features great depth at CB, which is good news for a Vikings team that will need to add CBs in the middle rounds of the draft.

– Leslie Frazier joined us midway through the show and we touched on a variety of topics with him. I’ll refer you to KFAN’s on-demand page so you can listen to the whole interview, but Frazier was great with us and it was fun to catch up with him. One of the most interesting points came right at the end when PA brought up the Chris Cook situation. It’s a sticky issue to speak on, even for me, so I won’t get into it much here. But Frazier said the team basically has to plan as if he won’t be on the team because of the uncertainty that surrounds his off-field issues. That’s not to say Frazier is predicting Cook won’t be with the team, but it is to say that in some cases you have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

– One more interesting takeaway from the Frazier conversation is that he indicated the Vikings may be looking to play some more man coverage in the future, rather than relying on almost exclusively zone coverage. That part of the conversation began when I asked him about the physical characteristics he looks for in a CB. The stigma with Frazier and his defense is that he wants big, physical CBs who jam receivers at the line and then drop back into zone coverage. Frazier responded with his comment about playing more man coverage and about looking for CBs who are just good football players, regardless of size and build.

– NFL Network and CBS analyst Charley Casserly joined us just after Frazier and he provided some great insight as well. On Ponder, Casserly said: “I think he’s going to be fine. I think they reached on him when they drafted him, but most quarterbacks are reached on.” That’s a great point by Casserly, a guy who was a GM in the NFL for 20+ years and who wisely chose DE Mario Williams over RB Reggie Bush – despite consensus that Bush should’ve been the top pick – when he was GM of the Houston Texans.

– We also had other guests on the show, including NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora, Rich Gannon, former Vikings S Jack Brewer, MN native and sports agent Blake Baratz. To check all of it out in on-demand format, head to the KFAN audio section of vikings.com by clicking here or you can also go to this page on KFAN.com.


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Minnesota Vikings Statement Regarding Chris Cook

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on October 25, 2011 – 8:40 pm

Today’s allegations against Chris Cook are very disturbing and disappointing. At this time, he is suspended without pay from the team while we continue to gather information regarding the situation. We will have no further comment until the appropriate time.


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Vikings Secondary Is Prepared If Winfield Can’t Go

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2011 – 1:26 pm

Immediate reaction following last Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals was that the young Vikings secondary, which played without Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield, stepped up in a big way. And Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier shared a similar reaction after the game.

“They came up big for us today,” Frazier said in his post-game press conference. “Great to see Asher step up, great to see Jamarca step up. Chris Cook seems like he’s getting better every week. We all know there are big-time receivers every week in our league, and I haven’t seen him bat his eyes yet. He just continues to improve.”

With Winfield unavailable and fellow starter Cedric Griffin sidelined for the first series, Allen and Cook stepped into the starting lineup. And since Arizona had 3 WRs on the first offensive snap, Marcus Sherels also got the start. That means on the first offensive snap of the game, the Vikings 3 starting CBs had an average age of 23 years and average NFL playing experience of 2 seasons.

Even when Griffin returned to the lineup, the secondary was still youthful. But they played like veterans and were a huge reason the defense allowed just 10 points to Larry Fitzgerald and Co.

The Vikings may need a similar effort from that group this week when they travel to Chicago. Winfield didn’t practice all week and he’s listed as doubtful for the game.

“That was extremely encouraging, watching both of those guys compete the way they did,” Frazier said of Allen and Cook on Friday. “We feel like we should be in pretty good shape. With Antoine (out), you miss something from a tackling standpoint, leadership, and all the intangibles he brings. But both Asher and Chris, they’re showing they’re really coming along, which is great for our team.”


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Young Vikings Secondary Rises To Challenge

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2011 – 3:47 pm

We said it before Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals began: with star CB Antoine Winfield unavailable due to a neck injury, the young Vikings secondary had to step up.

And they did.

With Winfield out and Cedric Griffin benched for the first series, the Vikings ran out Asher Allen (23 years old, 3rd season) and Chris Cook (24-2)  as their starters at CB. On the game’s first snap, the Vikings had their nickel package on the field, with Marcus Sherels (23-1) being the 3rd CB. Do the math, and you’ve got a group of CBs with an average age of 23.3 years and an average experience level of 2 seasons.

But that didn’t stop the group from playing well. Arizona was forced into a 3-and-out on their first series, and then with Griffin back in the fold, the secondary continued to play well. Allen grabbed an INT in the 1st quarter, and after the first two quarters of play, Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb had completed just half of his 22 pass attempts for 104 yards and he had a passer rating of only 44.5.

Star WR Larry Fitzgerald was held in check, too, as he finished the game with 6 receptions for 44 yards and, most importantly, no TDs.

“They came up big for us today,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “Great to see Asher step up, great to see Jamarca step up. Chris Cook seems like he’s getting better every week. We all know there are big-time receivers every week in our league, and I haven’t seen him bat his eyes yet. He just continues to improve.”

In total, Kolb was 21 of 42 for 232 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs; backup QB Richard Bartel was 2 of 6 for 22 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT. Coming into the game, Kolb was averaging 8.1 yards per pass attempt. On Sunday against a youthful Vikings secondary, Kolb averaged just 4.1 yards per pass and he was unable to find the end zone for the second consecutive week.

The bottom line is the Vikings secondary is a group that has been much maligned recently. Some of that criticism was warranted, and I’m sure some of it wasn’t. But after Sunday’s performance, there’s nothing but positives to take away from this group. And it’s a group that will only get better and gain more confidence once Winfield can return to action.


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With Winfield Down, Asher Allen & Chris Cook Must Step Up

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2011 – 9:37 am

One of the Vikings best defensive players – CB Antoine Winfield – will not play today against the Arizona Cardinals because of a neck injury suffered in last week’s game against Kansas City. As the Vikings get ready to kick it off against a Cardinals team that features arguably the NFL’s best WR in Larry Fitzgerald, a pair of young CBs must step up in Winfield’s absence.

Those young CBs are Asher Allen and Chris Cook. Expect Cook to play almost exclusively on the outside, while Allen will likely play a lot of the nickel CB snaps over the slot receiver that Winfield usually handles. Also, this could mean added playing time for Marcus Sherels.

Earlier this week, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked about the possibility of Winfield not playing and what that would mean for Allen.

“He’s had a good two days of practice here,” Frazier said on Thursday. “He’s practicing as if he’s going to have to play, which is the right attitude to take because it may very well turn out to be that way.”

As for replacing Winfield, Frazier knows you can’t really replace a player of his ability with just a few days’ notice. With that said, Frazier does expect the guys who are on the field to step up and held the defense contribute to a victory.

“Antoine is a hard guy to replace,” Frazier acknowledged. “He does so many things for us. Even the play that he got injured on, he’s making a tackle that a lot of guys in the secondary might not be able to make in our league. The first play of the game they (Kansas City) ran to his side and I was surprised they did. And he tackled the back in the backfield, blows up a tackle for a loss or a zero gain.

“So it’s hard to replace that at the corner position, but you’ll have someone in there who will do a good job, but it’s not Antoine Winfield.”


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A Look At How Injuries Impact Sunday’s Vikings-Chiefs Contest

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 29, 2011 – 7:46 am

The Vikings and Chiefs are both off to disappointing 0-3 starts, and they’ve gotten to this point in different ways. The Vikings have built double-digit leads in each of their games, only to lose nail-biters in the 4th quarter and overtime. The Chiefs have suffered through a pair of blowouts and one nail-biter of their own, but adding salt to the wounds is the number of players they’ve had go down to injury.

Given the Chiefs misfortune with injuries so far this season and with 7 players listed on the Vikings first injury report of the week, it makes sense for us to take a quick look at how injuries could impact Sunday’s game between these two clubs.

For the Vikings
It’s natural to be concerned when you see both LB E.J. Henderson and RB Adrian Peterson on the week’s initial injury report and listed as “did not participate.” Henderson is dealing with a sore knee and Peterson is listed with a calf injury. But indications are that their injuries won’t keep them off the field on Sunday, with Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier saying Peterson will be fine and Henderson could return to practice as early as today.

A pair of CBs – Asher Allen (toe) and Chris Cook (groin) – were on the injury report again this week, but both played through their injuries last week and both were full participants on Wednesday. Kevin Williams (foot) is also dealing with an ailment but played through the game on Sunday and was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.

S Tyrell Johnson (hip) and TE Jim Kleinsasser (elbow) were also on the injury report and listed as limited participants. No word on the severity of those injuries, but if they’re limited or full participants today, expect them to be available for Sunday’s game.

For the Chiefs
There isn’t quite as much optimism for the Chiefs on the injury front. They lost their best offensive player – RB Jamaal Charles – to a season-ending knee injury in Week 2, and they lost one of their top two defensive players – S Eric Berry – to a season-ending injury in Week 1. On top of that, starting TE Tony Moeaki suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season started and WR Jonathan Baldwin, a 1st-round pick last April, has been sidelined with a thumb injury since the preseason. So before this week’s first injury report was issued, the Chiefs were already hurting.

With Berry already out, the Chiefs secondary is now dealing with two more injured starters. Talented CB Brandon Flowers was a limited participant on Wednesday with an ankle injury, but he told reporters afterward that the ankle felt better than he anticipated and that he’ll push it even harder in today’s practice. The other injured starter is S Jon McGraw, who injured his shin last week against San Diego. McGraw was also a limited participant in practice on Wednesday.

Baldwin has been steadily progressing in recent weeks and his return could come as soon as this week. He traveled with the team to both Detroit in Week 2 and San Diego in Week 3. He hasn’t been a full participant in practice yet, but if he is this week that might indicate his return will be Sunday against the Vikings.

Ultimately, with both teams trying to avoid an 0-4 start, expect players to grind out practices this week and push hard to be available on Sunday. At this point it would be a surprise if either Flowers or McGraw didn’t play for the Chiefs, and as discussed above it sounds like Henderson and Peterson will be good to go for the Vikings.


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All Hands On Deck For Battle Against Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 25, 2011 – 6:39 am

The Vikings are at 0-2 after a pair of tale-of-two-halves losses to begin the season and today they have an NFC North matchup against the 2-0 Detroit Lions. On many different levels, this is a big game for the Vikings.

The good news is it looks like the Vikings will have all hands on deck for today’s battle.

The Vikings had 8 players listed on the Friday injury report, but 7 of them were given the “probable” designation and just 1 was “questionable.” CB Chris Cook is listed as questionable with a groin injury, but Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he made it through the week just fine and should be good to go for today.

A pair of starting defensive linemen – Jared Allen and Kevin Williams – were on the injury report, with Allen feeling soreness in his shoulder and Williams still dealing with a foot injury. Both players are probable for the game, and Williams was a full participant in practice all week while Allen was limited on Wednesday but was a full participant on Thursday and Friday.

WRs Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins should both be good to go. Harvin missed Thursday’s practice with an illness but was back at full strength on Friday, while Jenkins is listed with a groin injury but didn’t miss any practice over the week.

The other 3 players listed were LB E.J. Henderson (knee) and CBs Asher Allen (toe) and Marcus Sherels (chest). Allen and Sherels both finished the week as full participants in practice and Henderson, who was limited all week in practice, is expected to play and start today.


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