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Offensive Line Looks To Step Up vs. Eagles

Posted by cjsiewert on December 22, 2010 – 2:06 pm

Since the Vikings have posted only17 points in their last 2 games, a host of different aspects of the offense could be blamed for their current woes. Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned that the offensive line is one area that is looking to improve in order to have an opportunity to win this Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We’ll have to play our best game on both sides of the football up front,” Frazier said during his Wednesday press conference. “In particular with our offensive line.”

As Mike mentioned in his “Setting The Table” segment, the Eagles defense is not as stout as other defenses the Vikings have faced this year, ranking 13th overall and 21st in scoring defense, but their front 4 features fluid formations that are always changing from play to play.

“The Eagles have a fast front,” Frazier acknowledged. “They do a great job of moving around and very seldom do they get stuck on the line of scrimmage. They are always moving. So our offensive line will be challenged probably as well as they have been in a game this season.”

The attributes of the Eagles front 4 that Frazier alluded to are obviously a hurdle the offensive line will have to overcome in order to improve, but this will all have to be done without their regular starting guards. Both Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson are on injured reserve, and although the offensive line has been without both of them for 3 weeks now, it is still a struggle to find cohesiveness. Especially for C John Sullivan, who has been working with a different G beside side him since Herrera suffered a season-ending injury against the Packers over a month ago.

“It’s been a little bit tougher for him in some ways,” Frazier said of Sullivan. “But he’s responded quite well. There have been moments where he found himself, and this has been more of late, where he has to take control of our offensive line. More so than he would have if Steve were there or Anthony were there. It’s a different mindset for him, but he’s responded to it and I think that he’s become more confident as time has gone on and this is one of those weeks that he’ll have to become a captain for us on that offensive line.”

Losing an All-Pro player such as Hutchinson to injured reserve has a dramatic impact on the play of the offensive line, but Frazier mentioned that his replacement – rookie Chris DeGeare – has stepped in nicely.

“He’s gotten better,” Frazier said. “There’s been moments where he’s struggled, which we thought he would being a young guy and playing as much as he’s had to play. But overall, we’ve seen some consistency, we’ve seen him not back down to situations and we expect him to get better as time goes on.”

Injury-plagued or not, the Vikings offensive line will have to step up to secure a win against another team vying to clinch its division.


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Lots Of Lineup Changes For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 5, 2010 – 10:43 am

The good news is that RB Adrian Peterson will be able to play today after battling an ankle injury all week. The bad news is DE Ray Edwards (ankle), WR Percy Harvin (illness) and LG Steve Hutchinson (thumb) will not be able to play after battling their injuries/ailments this week. As a result, the Vikings have tweaked their lineup significantly and we’ll break it down right here.

Harvin is not the only WR inactive for the Vikings today – Hank Baskett and Greg Lewis are also inactive. That leaves Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice as the starters, with Greg Camarillo as the top reserve. Also, QB Joe Webb was not listed as the emergency QB, which means he’s on the active 45-man roster and could jump in at WR. That would be fun to watch. Where else might Webb be able to play today? Perhaps some snaps as a wildcat QB? Kick returner?

The Vikings top reserve offensive lineman is Ryan Cook, but he’s already in the lineup replacing Anthony Herrera, who was placed on Injured Reserve. So filling in for Hutchinson on the left side will be rookie Chris  DeGeare, whom the Vikings selected in the 5th round of last April’s draft. DeGeare has been inactive for the Vikings this season and has been battling an ankle injury, but he’s the next man up and we’ll get a good gauge at where he’s at in his first-year NFL development.

Brian Robison will start in place of Ray Edwards today, but also watch for Everson Griffen to get more time in the defensive line rotation.

This is just the 2nd game Harvin has missed in his career, with the first being last year’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.


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Who’s The Man In The Middle For Thursday?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2010 – 2:39 pm

Starting C John Sullivan was sidelined for much of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury, leaving his status for Week 1 in question and prompting the Vikings to take a look at alternatives at the position. That’s the not-so-great news.

But the better news is that Sullivan has returned to practice over the last couple of days; he was listed as a limited participant for both Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices. Making the news even a little better is what both Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had to say about their starting C this week.

“He seems like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Childress said while meeting with reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “I think that probably he’s going through some of the soreness that you get, maybe not to the same extent as camp, just when you come out here and practice and get pushed around and your muscles talk to you a little bit. I think he’s going through some of that. He’s just working hard to get some of that stamina back.”

Bevell also acknowledged this week that Sullivan seems to be improving, but he also noted that looking good on the practice field and then performing in a regular season game are different monsters.

“He’s looked good,” Bevell said on Monday. “His conditioning has looked good. He’s done things on the side, whether it’s in the pool, whether it’s with [athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman, to keep his conditioning up. But it’s a matter of loading it up and making sure that it will hold up under 65 or 70 plays a game, all the way up to 90 plays.”

The Vikings have done a nice job developing alternatives at the position should Sullivan be unavailable on Thursday night or at another point in the season. Starting RG Anthony Herrera has taken both practice reps and preseason game reps at C, and regular backup Jon Cooper has also taken turns with the 1st-team offense.

“We like what we saw from Anthony,” Bevell said. “We like what we’ve seen from Cooper. It gives us the flexibility to say who we would put in there. We’re not going to put that out there. Both guys have done a nice job. I think both guys are capable of it, and we want to make sure that when we put those guys out there that we’re going to have the five best guys that are going to help us win.”

The line is at its best with Sullivan at C, but the possibility exists that he won’t be able to go on Thursday night in New Orleans. If that’s the case, either Cooper or Herrera will fill in. My sense is that Cooper would get the call at this point, which is the simplest change for the Vikings to make.

But Childress and Bevell could also decide to put Herrera in at C, which would keep Cooper as the 1st reserve and would then slide rookie Chris DeGeare in at RG. Herrera has performed well while playing C this preseason, but the issue with this alignment is it takes away from the team’s depth at G because the 1st reserve at the position – DeGeare – would be forced into the starting lineup with Herrera moving over from RG.

Any way it shakes out, the Vikings offensive line will be prepared for Thursday night’s game.


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Final Audition For Some As Roster Deadline Nears

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 2, 2010 – 7:37 am

Tonight’s preseason finale against the Denver Broncos represents a final audition for several players as they hope to make the Vikings 53-man roster. The Vikings began training camp back on July 30 with 80 players and tonight training camp officially comes to an end and the Vikings will trim the roster to 53 players by the end of the day Saturday.

For some, such as DE Jared Allen or RB Adrian Peterson, tonight’s action isn’t so dramatic. But for others, tonight could mean everything. Let’s take a look at a few position battles that are still up in the air…

Offensive Line: All 5 starters from last year will return in 2010, but beyond that the Vikings OL situation is uncertain. Rookie Chris DeGeare has performed well to this point and could be anywhere from the Week 1 starter at RG to the team’s #1 reserve. And what about Ryan Cook? He can play all 5 positions along the line but might have to hold off others, such as Patrick Brown and Drew Radovich, to make the team.

Wide Receiver: Last year’s breakout WR – Sidney Rice – is on the mend with a hip injury and won’t be active until midway through the season, so that opens up another spot on the roster. The Vikings brought in Greg Camarillo and Javon Walker last week to fortify depth, but there are others, such as Logan Payne and Greg Lewis, who are vying for playing time as well. All of these players have a chance tonight to step up and stand out.

Defensive Line: It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings hold onto an extra defensive lineman or 2 given how well the unit has played in training camp and the preseason. Aside from the usual suspects, there have been a few standouts during training camp, including DT Letroy Guion and DE Jayme Mitchell. They’ll have a chance to solidify their positions tonight but others on the depth chart, such as DT Fred Evans and DE Everson Griffen, will try to use tonight as another stepping stone.

Linebacker: They might slide a bit under the radar, but the Vikings LB corps might be the deepest spot on the entire team. The team’s 3 starters are outstanding, and LB coach Fred Pagac has done a great job of shoring up depth behind those starters with players such as Jasper Brinkley, Heath Farwell and Erin Henderson. Given the importance of LBs to the special teams unit, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a couple more LBs (Kenny Onatolu, Nate Triplett) on the final 53-man roster.


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Choosing The Right Combination

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 31, 2010 – 2:00 pm

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress recently described his offense as “in flux” and no position represents that billing more accurately than the offensive line, specifically the C and RG positions. An injury to C John Sullivan has sidelined him for most of training camp and as a result both starting RG Anthony Herrera and backup C Jon Cooper have seen extra time in the middle of the 1st-team offensive line.

“We’re still kind of filling out that position, exactly what would be the best lineup,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell explained. “Is it moving Anthony (Herrera) in (at C) and putting Chris in (at RG)? Is it using Coop (Jon Cooper) and leaving Anthony at guard? Or if Sully’s (John Sullivan) even going to be back.”

With the regular season now just over a week away, the time will soon come for the Vikings to decide on a starting C for Week 1. If that choice is Cooper, a 2nd-year player who spent the first 4 weeks last season on practice squad but then was elevated the 53-man roster for the final 12 weeks, then the flux factor remains minimal. But if the Vikings decide to move Herrera to C, the flux factor is a bit more complicated.

Moving Herrera to C would slide 5th round rookie Chris DeGeare into the starting lineup. DeGeare has had a nice training camp and it’s possible he’d be a solid performer right off the bat at RG for the Vikings. But that move would take away the Vikings depth because DeGeare is currently a swing lineman capable of playing multiple positions.

“Chris has done a nice job for us,” Bevell explained. “He’s a quick learner. He’s done some good things. I think there are still things he can improve on. That would be probably the toughest environment (to make his 1st start), that game, going into New Orleans. If that is how it shakes down, then we are confident enough to go with it.

“We’ve been able to move the combinations around a little bit. It gave us an opportunity to look at some different guys and different combinations. All we can do is look on the bright side of it and see how we’ve been able to make adjustments by moving Anthony, putting Coop in and some of those other adjustments.”

Whichever lineup the Vikings go with to start the season, the good news is the team will have had plenty of reps with that individual at C. Sullivan’s injury happened early enough in camp that both Cooper and Herrera have spent significant time working with the 1st team at C.

Ultimately, the ideal outcome is for Sullivan to make it back healthy in time for Week 1. If he can’t, someone will have to step up along the offensive line in Week 1.


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DeGeare Getting It In Gear

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2010 – 12:31 pm

Even with a solid “live” practice on Tuesday morning and then several periods of good pad-crunching action, it’s hard for observers to get a true gauge of where interior linemen are in their development as NFL players. To this point, though, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell seems pleased with how DeGeare’s 1st NFL training camp is progressing.

“Chris is a big boy,” Bevell said of the 6-4, 335-pound rookie. “He is a strong, physical guy. He has a really good anchor down inside. I still see the wheels turning a little bit. There are times when you can speed things up a little bit. I like what I see out of him. The physical ability, the balance he has, he does a nice job.”

Bevell’s comments don’t appear to be hyperbole. When starting LG Steve Hutchinson has been out of action so far during camp, it’s been DeGeare who’s slid in to replace the perennial All-Pro.

“I know Hutch is that solid number one,” DeGeare said, “but it’s always good to get extra work in with the first-team defense. That’s part of the process and the more I can get the better.”

When DeGeare was selected by the Vikings in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the book on him was that he had great position flexibility because he is able to both guard and tackle. But for now, DeGeare says position flexibility is not his focus.

“I feel like down the road it (position flexibility) is, but right now I want to get comfortable with my position” DeGeare explained. “They don’t want me swimming and trying to learn a bunch of positions. We’ll see what happens from there.”

The Wake Forest product explained that the key to learning a position in the NFL is knowing the playbook thoroughly, including the adjustments to protections that can be made along the offensive line, and also getting a lot of reps in practice to get a feel for the pace of the game.

As I finished up my conversation with DeGeare, I asked him who the toughest challenges were on the Vikings defensive line. Aside from the Williams Wall, DeGeare named DTs Letroy Guion and Jimmy Kennedy as beasts who provide a good challenge up front. Of course DeGeare (Wake Forest) and Guion (Florida State) go back a couple of years to their days together in the ACC.


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3 More Draft Picks Officially Sign; 2nd Rounder Cook Reportedly Agrees

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 29, 2010 – 10:02 am

It’s been rumored and reported for several days, but now it’s become official – 4th round DE Everson Griffen, 5th round OL Chris DeGeare and 7th round TE Mickey Shuler have all signed their contracts and will report to training camp on time.

Those 3 rookies join 5th round LB Nate Triplett, 6th round QB Joe Webb and 7th round FB Ryan D’Imperio as Vikings draft picks who’ve signed their contracts. Only 2nd rounders CB Chris Cook and RB Toby Gerhart remain unsigned.

The Star Tribune’s Judd Zulgad is reporting that Cook has agreed to a 4-year deal as of Thursday morning, which is good news for the Vikings and would leave Gerhart as the only unsigned draft choice. Zulgad said terms of the deal were not available but he did point out that the players selected right before and after Cook had signed contracts, with OT Rodger Saffold agreeing to a 4-year, $6.3 million deal with St. Louis that includes $3.9 million in guarantees and DT Brian Price receiving a 4-year, $5.32 million deal with $3.55 million in guarantees.

Zulgad also points out that players selected right before and after Gerhart have signed their contracts, indicating the Vikings and Gerhart shouldn’t have a difficult time agreeing to a deal.


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Update On Draft Pick Signings; QB Webb Signs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2010 – 12:09 pm

With training camp only 2 days away, now is the time for any remaining unsigned picks to put pen to paper on their rookie deals. To date, 3 Vikings have officially signed their contracts – FB Ryan D’Imperio, LB Nate Triplett and QB Joe Webb, who just signed his deal today.

There are several reports out there indicating that other Vikings rookies have signed their deal. And while those reports likely have validity to them, we can’t officially confirm a signing until pen meets paper. Once that happens, we’ll post it here on the blog.

In the meantime, here’s an update on some of the reports regarding Vikings draft picks and their contracts…

DE Everson Griffen – According to ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, Griffen has agreed to terms with the Vikings.

OL Chris DeGeare – Our friends at the Star Tribune are citing NFL sources as saying DeGeare and the Vikings have agreed to terms.

TE Mickey Shuler – The website http://www.nationalfootballpost.com cited a source as saying Shuler has agreed to terms.

That leaves 2nd rounders CB Chris Cook and RB Toby Gerhart, both of whom I expect will be to camp on time. We’ll update this list when appropriate, so stay tuned.


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Childress Says DeGeare Working At Guard For Now

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 20, 2010 – 6:24 am

On Wednesday morning we wrote about rookie OL Chris DeGeare, the Vikings 5th round pick who arrived a touch late to this week’s OTAs so he could participate in graduation ceremonies at Wake Forest University. DeGeare, who earned a degree in Sociology from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) school, became the first member of his family to earn a college degree.

A versatile player with soft temperament but solid strength and power, DeGeare played both G and T at Wake Forest, spending most of his career at G but then switching to LT as a senior. We pointed out on Wednesday that DeGeare may have an opportunity to fulfill the role formerly held by Artis Hicks as a swing offensive lineman who can play multiple positions along the offensive line, something that would enhance his skill set and make him an attractive option to make the roster and round out the OL depth chart.

While I’d maintain that DeGeare has the capability to be that type of player, it should also be noted that Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said after Wednesday’s practice that the 6-4, 335-pound rookie is sticking to G for now during workouts.

“We are keeping him in there at guard right now,” Childress said. “Typically those offensive linemen are swimming right now but he has done some good things in the one-on-one stuff. He has to communicate with both people on the sides of him and learn a whole new system. Physically he can stand in there and do what he needs to do. It’s just a matter of getting it rote so that he doesn’t have to think he can just play.”

We also mentioned on Wednesday the reports that are linking free agent G Chester Pitts with the Vikings. Pitts is a 9-year pro who was drafted by the Houston Texans – starting all 112 games in which he played – but is coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss 14 games in 2009.

Pitts has said that as many as 5 teams, including the Vikings, have called inquiring about his services and he also said he’s scheduled a workout day for July 15.

“We are always inquiring,” Childress explained. “I think that we have talked to his agent. I don’t think that anyone in the organization has talked to Chester Pitts, maybe the exception of Sage Rosenfels because they are former teammates.

“I wasn’t aware that there is a workout day. I was thinking about being on a beach somewhere.”


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Report: Veteran OL Pitts A Possibility For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 19, 2010 – 8:11 am

We wrote this morning about rookie OL Chris DeGeare and his first day of OTAs, explaining that the versatile 5th rounder has an opportunity to fill a void on the Vikings depth chart that was created when Artis Hicks bolted for the Washington Redskins via free agency.

DeGeare won’t be the only individual vying for that job, though. There is a roster full of young OL who will work to show Vikings coaches that they are good enough for the job. Also, as Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune pointed out yesterday, it’s certainly not out of the question for the Vikings to add a veteran free agent to the mix.

One such example pointed out by Zulgad is Chester Pitts, an experienced G who was with the Houston Texans from 2002 through last season. Before the 2009 season, Pitts had started in all 112 career games; he played and started in 2 games last year before an injury derailed his campaign.

Pitts told Sirius NFL Radio last month that a handful of teams are interested in his services, including the Vikings, and that he will work out for teams on July 15. He is recovering from knee surgery and expects to be healthy enough to workout by that date. Pitts played LG in Houston but it’s widely believed he could transition to RG.

As Zulgad pointed out, Pitts – who turns 31 this June – could join the Vikings and compete with Anthony Herrera for the starting RG spot or he could join the Vikings and add depth to the Vikings OL while also providing veteran leadership.


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