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Vikings DT Christian Ballard To Join Harlem Globetrotters On Friday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 5, 2012 – 5:18 am

Vikings DT Christian Ballard will join the world famous Harlem Globetrotters in a comical football routine at the Target Center during the third quarter of the game on Friday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m CT.

In celebration of Ballard’s guest appearance, the Globetrotters are collaborating with the Vikings to donate tickets for Friday’s game to youth from The Zanewood Recreation Center of Brooklyn Park.

Ballard will join a long list of NFL stars to participate in “Globetrotter Football” including, Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Rice, Brandon Jacobs, Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs, and many others.  The Globetrotters cater their famous football skit to the skills of the NFL player.

The Globetrotters bring two games to the Target Center on Friday, April 6 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 7 at 2 p.m.  Tickets are available at www.harlemglobetrotters.com and the Target Center Box Office.

The Globetrotters will play over 270 games on the North American portion of the 2012 World Tour, bringing the Globetrotter magic to over 230 cities in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and five Canadian provinces.  

 Sponsored by Howard Johnson Hotels, Greyhound Lines, Spalding, and Russell Athletic, the Original Harlem Globetrotters will celebrate their 86th consecutive year in 2012, continuing a world famous tradition of ball handling wizardry, basketball artistry and one-of-a-kind family entertainment that continues to thrill fans of all ages. Throughout their history, the Globetrotters have showcased their iconic talents in 120 countries and territories on six continents, often breaking down cultural and societal barriers while providing fans with their first-ever basketball experience. Proud inductees of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Globetrotters have entertained hundreds of millions of fans—among them popes, kings, queens, and presidents—over more than eight thrilling decades. For the latest news and information about the Harlem Globetrotters, and to purchase tickets and team merchandise, visit the Globetrotters’ official Web site: www.harlemglobetrotters.com.


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Ballard, Griffen Will Have Opportunity To Contribute On Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 8, 2011 – 1:31 pm

On Sunday the Vikings will face a Lions offense that leans heavily on the pass. No team passes on a higher percentage of their offensive snaps (64.9%) than the Lions and only the New Orleans Saints have attempted more passes on the season. The Lions pass-to-run ratio currently sits at 490-278, which includes games with 63 and 50 pass attempts.

The Lions are coming off back-to-back games of 45 and 44 pass attempts, and now they may be even more inclined to attack through the air with starter Jahvid Best out and his replacement, Kevin Smith, also battling injury.

Suffice it to say, Vikings pass rushers – especially the defensive ends – will have a lot of work to do this Sunday. Jared Allen has been productive for the Vikings this season – his 14.5 sacks rank 2nd in the NFL – but not even he can put enough pressure on Lions QB Matthew Stafford alone. Allen’s usual partner on the other end of the defensive line is Brian Robison, but Robison is trying to comeback from a concussion he sustained in last week’s game against the Broncos.

With or without Robison, the Vikings will rely on depth along the defensive line to keep fresh bodies in the game and a relentless pass rush in Stafford’s face. After Allen and Robison, the next two outside pass rushers the Vikings will insert into the game are rookie Christian Ballard and 2nd-year DE Everson Griffen.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac was asked about his depth along the defensive line during his customary Thursday morning meeting with reporters.

“We’re planning on playing him,” Pagac said of Griffen. “He’s been getting more reps as the season’s gone on. We plan on using him quite a bit. The other guy will be Christian Ballard. Those guys are going to have to play. We’re going to have to rotate people through, we’re going to have to get fresh bodies in there rushing the passer, and play sixty minutes of football. Give them different looks, play aggressively and have some fun.”

Both Ballard and Griffen are 4th-round draft picks of the Vikings, and both figure to be in the team’s long-term plans along the defensive line after impressing coaches and scouts early in their careers. For both players, versatility is a strong-point in their skill sets. They can both contribute on multiple phases of special teams, and they can both play multiple positions on defense. Griffen is most comfortable playing DE, but the Vikings have also experimented with him as a LB. Ballard was a standout at the University of Iowa at both DE and DT, and he’s been productive in short stints for the Vikings at both positions as well.

With the Vikings season coming up short of expectations, now is a great opportunity for these two young players to gain additional playing time and prove even more to coaches that they’re deserving of playing time. Add in the fact that the Vikings defense will face a pass-happy Lions attack this weekend, and the opportunity for Ballard and Griffen gets even better.

Here’s what Pagac had to say about both Ballard and Griffen when he was asked to evaluate them:

On Ballard: “I think that kid is multi-talented. He can play different positions. I don’t think he’ll have a problem there. In fact, the snaps that he has gotten at that end position, he’s been pretty stout and he’s gotten us pretty good push on the pocket. He’s a young player who’s going to be a good football player.”

On Griffen: “Everson has great potential. In my opinion, he’s had pretty good productivity on the plays that he’s played and he’s got to continue to mature and grasp some scheme and go from there. He has great athleticism. He has a good motor. He can make athletic plays.”


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Young DTs Ballard, Guion Flash Potential

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 22, 2011 – 2:49 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that DT Kevin Williams played his best game of the season on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. That’s a good sign for the Vikings defense because when Williams makes plays in the middle of the Vikings defense, it opens up opportunities for other defenders.

But Williams isn’t the only Vikings DT who has stood out recently. Youngsters Christian Ballard and Letroy Guion have flashed potential recently, and seeing them continue to develop would be a huge positive for the Vikings defense. We won’t get ahead of ourselves here; Ballard and Guion can’t be mentioned in the same breath as Williams yet, and “flashing potential” is a far cry from becoming a productive and disruptive member of an NFL defensive line. But seeing young players flash potential is a lot better than the alternative.

It was Guion who blocked the Raiders 49-yard FG attempt in the 4th quarter to help the Vikings build momentum for a 14-point 4th quarter and near comeback victory. For the season, Guion has 13 tackles and 1.0 tackle for loss playing behind Williams. Those numbers won’t blow you away, but they’re an indication that Guion is progressing in his 4th season and will likely compete for a starting position at some point in the near future.

Ballard made a great play on Sunday against the Raiders, too. The Raiders had the ball and a 27-14 lead with just over 6 minutes to play in the 4th quarter, and they were trying to work on the game clock and get out of Mall of America Field with a tough road win. On a 1st-and-10 rush by RB Michael Bush, Ballard was cut block and fell to the ground. But he quickly picked himself up, ran to Bush as the RB sprinted off left tackle, and punched the ball out of Bush’s arms. DE Brian Robison was there to recover the fumble, and the Vikings scored a TD just two plays later to close the gap and make the score 27-21 with 5:12 to play.

Again, this doesn’t mean Ballard is destined for the Pro Bowl anytime soon. But it was the kind of hustle and impact play that you want to see from young, developing players, even though the team is going through a disappointing 2-8 season. Ballard has 2.0 tackles for a loss on the season and he’s also been a factor for the Vikings special teams group. Just as is the case for Guion, it appears Ballard will be challenging for even more playing time next season.

Another aspect about this to keep in mind is that both Ballard and Guion were mid-round picks by the Vikings. Ballard was selected with a 4th-round choice (#106 overall) this past April and Guion was a 5th-round pick (#152) in 2008. Getting this kind of development – and hopefully consistent disruption and production in the near future – from mid-round picks is crucial to a franchise’s ability to build a roster that can attain long-term success.


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Williams’ Return Makes D-Line Deeper, More Versatile

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 7:45 am

The return of Kevin Williams to the lineup from a two-game suspension is a big deal for the Vikings defense. He’s a 6-time Pro Bowler and the defense now has a playmaker in the middle of the defensive line for whom opposing offenses will have to account on a play-by-play basis.

But Williams’ return goes beyond just having another playmaker on the field. With Williams back in the fold, the Vikings defensive line instantly becomes deeper, and the Vikings defensive coaches have more flexibility in their scheme, playcalling and rotation options.

For example, Remi Ayodele and Letroy Guion have been the starters at DT in Williams’ absence. With Williams back in the lineup, the Vikings can keep both Ayodele and Guion fresh by rotating their snaps. Then you have rookie Christian Ballard, who has the position flexibility to play both DE and DT. Early on he’s been playing primarily DT, but with Williams back and Ayodele and Guion potentially rotating at DT, perhaps Ballard gets more time at DE?

Those are just two examples of how Williams’ return positively impacts the Vikings ability and depth along the defensive line. Now, the key is for the Vikings to execute whatever strategy they employ.


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A Few Notes On Vikings Defensive Line Heading Into Opener

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2011 – 3:25 pm

The Vikings will open the 2011 regular season against one of the best pass offenses in the NFL and they’ll have to do so without one of their best defensive linemen. Six-time Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams, an anchor for the Vikings defense, will miss the first two games of the season because of suspension.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters after Friday’s practice, the last full practice before the team heads to San Diego, and he confirmed that Letroy Guion will be the starter at that spot on Sunday. We’ve written about Guion previously here on the vikings.com Blog, and Vikings fans should be anxious to see what #98 can do to help this defense.

But Guion won’t be alone in trying to fill the void created by Williams’ absence. A couple of other defensive linemen were brought into the conversation with Frazier on Friday…

– Rookie Christian Ballard, whom the Vikings selected in the 4th round in last April’s draft, has some position flexibility to him because started a lot of games at both DE and DT in college. He projects to be a versatile defensive lineman in the NFL, too, but right now Frazier said he’s asked Ballard and his coaches to have the rookie concentrate solely on playing what they term the “3 technique.” The 3 technique is a technical football term for the position that Williams plays.

– Another young defensive lineman, Everson Griffen, will be in the mix this season. Griffen is a DE but he has a touch of versatility to him as well. In fact, the Vikings experimented last week with playing Griffen at outside LB. But Frazier and the Vikings defensive coaching staff have the same strategy planned for Griffen that they do for Ballard – for now, concentrate on playing the primary position. For Griffen, that’ll be DE, where he’ll join the rotation with starters Jared Allen and Brian Robison and then reserves Adrian Awasom and D’Aundre Reed.

A couple of other quick notes from the conversation with Frazier…

– CB Asher Allen has been limited in practice all week and Frazier indicated there’s a good chance Allen will be listed as questionable on this week’s final injury report.

– Frazier was also asked about LT Charlie Johnson, who joined the club in training camp and has had to assimilate to the team quickly. As should’ve been expected, Johnson took his lumps early. He was learning a new offense, moved to a new city and was going against Jared Allen every day in practice. But now Johnson seems to be getting his feet under him and Frazier said on Friday that the team is growing more and more comfortable with Johnson at LT. Frazier also praised Johnson for his work ethic, study habits, preparation and overall professionalism. I know many fans are nervous about this part of the offensive line, and I understand the reasoning. But from what I’ve been able to glean after training camp, the preseason and this week of preparation for San Diego, I think the Vikings will be just fine at LT.


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Vikings Getting Creative With Young D-Linemen Ballard, Griffen

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 2:12 pm

One of the themes new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave operates under is to tailor his system to fit the players on the Vikings roster. And it looks like that theme is one the Vikings defensive coaches are going to subscribe to as well.

On Monday at practice, 2nd-year DE Everson Griffen spent a few plays standing up and playing in the spot usually occupied by an outside LB. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was quite complementary of Griffen’s athletic ability during his post-practice press conference and he made it clear the team has every intention of tapping into Griffen’s potential.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Frazier said, also noting that Griffen weighs 270 pounds and can run a 4.5-4.6 forty-yard dash. “He’s just a tremendous athlete with good football intelligence and has some playmaking ability, so we want to utilize his athletic ability.”

The back and forth Frazier had with reporters after practice was more centered on having Griffen “stand up” on defense, rather than simply moving him to outside LB. Whether the idea actually involves a position change remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that the Vikings have a few things in mind to just get #97 on the field.

“We have some packages where we want him to stand up sometimes,” Frazier said, “and we thought that this (experimenting during practice) would give him an opportunity to get comfortable doing that [for] when we go to some of those packages during the year.

“We’re going to try to get him in there, depending on how he handles things this week that we’re throwing at him in these couple days that we got. But we’d like to take a look at him and just see how he does. But for sure, as the year goes on, we want to be able to stand him up sometimes in certain situations and let him be like a linebacker.”

Frazier was also clear that using Griffen in this manner is no indictment on the play of Erin Henderson or any of the other outside LBs currently on the roster. Rather, it’s actually based on confidence the Vikings defensive coaching staff has in another young DL on the roster.

“What it speaks to more is, some of the things we have in mind for Christian Ballard,” Frazier explained. “The fact that we think he can play inside, but also slide outside. We’ve seen some things with him that makes us believe he has some position flexibility. We’re going to try him a little bit in this game on Thursday night at (defensive) end and just see what he gives us in that area. If he can come around, it’ll help our football team.”

Who says the 4th preseason game is boring? It sounds like the Vikings defense has a lot of fun in store for the preseason finale.


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McNabb Says Offense Is Coming Along; Practice Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2011 – 3:41 pm

Vikings QB Donovan McNabb met with reporters after practice on Wednesday, just three days before the Vikings suit up for preseason game #3. Typically the third preseason game is when starters see the most playing time, so Saturday night’s contest against the Dallas Cowboys should give us a pretty good glimpse into just how much progress the Vikings offense has made.

Remember, coming off a lockout that canceled all Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps in addition to a new Offensive Coordinator and starting QB has the Vikings a bit behind the 8 ball. But the Vikings won’t use that as an excuse for poor play, largely because many other teams are enduring the same or similar disadvantages and also because there’s a sense among many on this team that the offense is making strides.

“We’re getting very close, we’re getting very close,” McNabb said about the chemistry developing between himself and the receivers. “I’m excited with where we’re at right now and those guys kind of have a feel of where I may place the ball [when] they come out of their routes. I have a feel of how they’re going to come out of their routes.

“But again, each game is different and it’s a learning process for all of us and hopefully once the whistle blows come Game One we’re right where we want to be.”

That’s the goal – to be ready to go once Week 1 rolls around and then to continue getting better from that point forward. It seemed as if the Vikings offense made a step forward in that effort on Wednesday. During one full team period of practice, I was standing just behind Musgrave and I heard him complement the Vikings offense a number of times on their spacing and timing.

“We had a good day today,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice, speaking about his entire team. “I really believe we got better in some areas. We worked a little bit of short yardage, some goal line and some two-minute. Great weather again for us to practice in, which really helps a lot as you’re trying to mold the team and get the team ready for our third preseason game.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Frazier continued. “This game on [Thursday] night will give us a better indication of where we are and how far we have to go to be ready for our first regular season game.”

Here are a few observations from practice…

– The Vikings worked for roughly two hours on Wednesday in full pads and in warm, breezy conditions.

– Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who returned to practice from a hamstring injury on Tuesday, was not out on the field taking part in practice on Wednesday. Frazier said Shiancoe incurred a setback, but said it was not a major setback. The Vikings ultimately decided to hold him back on Wednesday rather than risk further injury.

– With Shiancoe on the sidelines, rookie TE Kyle Rudolph saw a few more reps. He’s had a tremendous training camp so far and he was very good on Wednesday. The one aspect of Rudolph’s game that I notice the most is how sure-handed he is; you rarely, if ever, see him take his eye off the ball before he secures it and moves upfield. He also rarely traps the football against his body to catch it.

– There was some pretty good action in the goal line portion of Wednesday’s practice. On three straight plays, the Vikings defense made stops against the scout team. On the first play, DT Letroy Guion penetrated and stopped a run in the backfield. On the second play, the offense used a play-action fake to try and fool the defense but LB Erin Henderson did not bite and was able to tip the pass and cause an incompletion. On the third and final play of the series, DT Christian Ballard and CB Cedric Griffin combined to stop a run short of the goal line.

– WR Percy Harvin made the play of the day on a pass from rookie QB Christian Ponder. Harvin was flying down the left sideline and was able to catch up to and dive under a pass that Ponder had launched downfield. Harvin came up with the ball, secured it all the way to the ground and then quickly got to his feet and completed the play by dashing to the endzone. This was one of the plays when Musgrave complemented Ponder and Harvin on “great timing.” In fact, Musgrave made the “great timing” comment as Ponder’s pass was in the air and about 75% of the way to where Harvin ended up making the catch.


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2011 – 10:44 am

The Vikings will play their second game of the 2011 preseason tonight against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle. Here are five things to watch during tonight’s game…

Improvement from Donovan McNabb, first-team offense
While it might not have satisfied the appetite of Vikings fans, the performance from the first-team offense last week was acceptable for a preseason debut. But a similar performance tonight against Seattle in preseason game #2 will not be acceptable. McNabb and Co. need to take a step forward and they appear ready to do that after a solid week of practice. McNabb is cautiously optimistic about the offense’s progress and we’ll find out tonight if that optimism is warranted. No, we shouldn’t look for perfection, but we should expect to see extended drives, minimal penalties, no turnovers, no sacks and maybe even a TD.

Tyrell Johnson’s performance at safety
There’s been great competition at the safety position during training camp, primarily between Johnson and Jamarca Sanford. But we also can’t count out rookie Mistral Raymond, who has put together a great training camp and is opening eyes. Tonight, Johnson will get the start and it’s important that he plays well. Johnson has all the physical tools to be a talented safety in the NFL. He’s also a smart player who understands the Vikings scheme. Now he needs to put it all together at once while he’s on the field, something he hasn’t been able to do consistently. If he can do that, I believe he’ll be the coaching staff’s choice as the starter. If he can’t do that tonight, then I think it’s a wide open race for the starting position among Johnson, Raymond and Sanford.

Who will step up at WR
Both Greg Camarillo and Percy Harvin have been declared out of this game, which means the Vikings coaching staff will get a longer look at a few players who normally wouldn’t see as much action. Both Camarillo and Harvin play primarily in the slot position, so I expect Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson will be the guys who get the extra reps tonight. Both are roster bubble guys and both have recently been playing well. Iglesias has looked great in practice while filling in for Camarillo and Harvin. Johnson has worked his tail off to remain on this roster and then last week he ripped off a 40-yard punt return. Other guys who could get a few extra looks tonight in the slot are Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu – I view Aromashodu as more of an outside receiver but I also think he’s a polished enough receiver that he could play all three of the WR positions in this offense.

Christian Ballard at DT
Ballard’s best trait, in my eyes, is his versatility. He played and started in a lot of games at the University of Iowa at both DE and DT. So far with the Vikings, he’s played primarily at DT behind Kevin Williams at the 3-technique and his best moment of training camp came last week in Tennessee when he notched a sack from the DT position. If Ballard can continue to be a disruptive force tonight – even if it doesn’t result in a sack – it will go a long way toward convincing coaches that he can be a member of the DL rotation this season. It’s uncertain how well Brian Robison will play as the new starter at left DE and it’s uncertain if Williams will be available for the first four games of the regular season, so Ballard’s presence as a disruptive force in the rotation will ease a lot of the uncertainty.

Ryan D’Imperio creating separation at FB
One of my favorite position battles to watch so far during training camp and the preseason is at FB, where D’Imperio entered as the starter and Matt Asiata came in as an undrafted rookie free agent. D’Imperio was a draft pick in 2010 and the Vikings converted him from a college LB to an NFL FB. He spent last season on the practice squad and there’s no questioning the improvement he’s made in one year’s time. Asiata has also impressed, primarily because of his athleticism both in carrying the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. Tonight, though Asiata won’t play because of injury, which means D’Imperio can create more separation with a solid performance.


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Trend Or Mirage?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2011 – 10:52 am

Much of my attention so far in the aftermath of the Vikings preseason opener in Tennessee has been on the QBs. Much of the fans’ attention has been on criticizing the offensive line and secondary. So for a moment let’s focus on a few other topics from Saturday night’s game and discuss whether they are trends that we can anticipate continuing or mirages that were just a flash in the pan.

Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…

Lorenzo Booker flying all over the field
From an individual standpoint, RB Lorenzo Booker flashed on the field more than any other player for the Vikings. Many Vikings fans will remember Booker as “the guy who came on late last season and returned a few kicks.” But on Saturday night he had a different role. In the end, Booker finished with 9 carries for 47 yards (5.2 yards per carry), including a run of 20 yards. He also had 3 receptions for 32 yards and a kickoff return for 26 yards.

More than just the numbers, though, Booker displayed his above-average speed and his outstanding quickness. He has a wiggle to him when the ball is in his hands and rarely does the first defender bring him to the ground. In fairness, we must note that he did lose a fumble on Saturday night and that turnover led to a Tennessee TD. That cannot continue if Booker is going to remain a factor for the Vikings.

Trend or Mirage: I say this is a trend. Booker immediately bonded with QB Donovan McNabb (they were together in Philadelphia during the 2008 season) and I think he’s going to be a safety net for McNabb in the Vikings offense. Booker is a great change-of-pace RB, he’ll be valuable on 3rd downs and, perhaps most importantly, he could be the primary kickoff returner. If Booker can prove reliable as a kick returner, it will allow the Vikings to preserve Percy Harvin from that role and increase Harvin’s touches on offense.

Christian Ballard notches a QB sack
The Vikings selected DL Christian Ballard with their fourth-round pick in last April’s draft and they took him with the thought that he could bolster the defensive line’s depth because he can play both inside at DT and outside at DE. Ballard was productive at both spots while playing for the University of Iowa and I’ve seen nothing so far in training camp that indicates he can’t be productive at either spot in the NFL.

On Saturday night during the 2nd quarter, Ballard crashed the pocked and sacked QB Jake Locker on 3rd and 2, ending the Titans drive and forcing a punt. That’s the kind of disruption the Vikings hoped to see from Ballard.

Trend or Mirage: Looks like a trend to me. Although he hasn’t had an outstanding camp, he has played well enough so far, especially with the sack on Saturday night, to inspire confidence that he can be a member of the DL rotation this season.

Vikings secondary suspect again
It was only the first preseason game, so we don’t want to draw a water-tight conclusion yet. But unfortunately we saw more of the same from the Vikings secondary on Saturday night. Granted, Tennessee only scored 14 points for the game, but there were times when it felt like both Matt Hasselbeck and Locker had no problem finding holes in coverage. Also, the Vikings didn’t generate much of a pass rush all night – except for Ballard’s sack - and that doesn’t help the secondary cover anybody.

Both Asher Allen and Chris Cook will be criticized for the next week for their play in Saturday night’s game. Also, fans will be quite vocal about the need for an improvement at safety. Given how the secondary performed last year and also how Saturday night unfolded, this is a fair complaint. But as upset as you are fans, at how the secondary has played, I hope you are just as open to seeing improvement in the weeks ahead.

Trend or Mirage: I think it’s a mirage. My expectation is the Vikings pass rush will be better in 2011 than it was in 2010 and I also think the return of Cedric Griffin to the starting lineup (he didn’t play Saturday night) will make a huge difference in the secondary. I know head coach Leslie Frazier believes in Cook and if the second-round pick from last year can gain some confidence and play well, the Vikings can quickly turn what was once a major weakness into a serviceable to strong part of the team. Yes, we saw a few things we didn’t want to see on Saturday night, but we have three preseason games and a whole lot more training camp to go before the regular season begins on September 11 in San Diego.


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Monday Morning Mailbag Extra: A Look At Defensive Draft Picks

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 11, 2011 – 7:03 am

In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, a reader asked about the Vikings defensive draft picks and what we can expect from them in their rookie seasons. Because the Vikings chose 5 defensive players in the draft this year, the question was better-served to be answered in a blog entry than in the Monday Morning Mailbag.

So, here it goes… 

DL Christian Ballard: This is a player about whom Vikings fans should be excited. He measures in at 6-4, 283 pounds, which gives him the frame to play either DE or DT in the Vikings 4-3 defensive scheme. Conveniently, Ballard has the skill set as well as the frame to be a versatile lineman capable of playing multiple positions. Ballard spent the first 2 years of his career at left DE before moving inside and starting all 13 games of his junior season at DT. In his final season, Ballard rotated often at both spots, starting 8 contests on the outside and 5 more inside. Wherever the Vikings need an infusion of talent – DE or DT – Ballard looks able to provide it.

CB Brandon Burton: He was drafted in the 5th round (#150 overall) out of Utah and will compete for playing time on special teams and maybe even on defense right away. He’s got an uphill climb to get into the base defensive package and even nickel situations, but if he can display coverage ability and sound tackling technique, it’s not out of the question for him to earn playing time over Asher Allen and Chris Cook.

LB Ross Homan: A gritty LB from Ohio State, Homan comes to the Vikings with an outside shot to find playing time at LB but with a great chance to be a core special teams player. Homan was a leader on Ohio State’s defense and you can tell almost immediately after seeing him play that he’s a guy who gives 100% effort on every snap and is willing to do anything to help the team win. I think he can be a Heath Farwell-type of producer on special teams pretty quickly, which is saying a lot because Farwell is one of the best special teams players in the NFL.

DB Mistral Raymond: He’s 6-1, 191 pounds and played both CB and S at South Florida. The Vikings chose him with a 6th-round pick (#170 overall) and I’d love to see nothing more than for him to succeed in the NFL. His back story is incredible and is worth researching if you aren’t familiar with it. I expect that he’ll compete immediately for playing time on special teams and I’m optimistic that he can find a role on defense, whether it’s at CB or S.

DL D’Aundre Reed: This is the draft pick I know the least about. He stands at 6-4, 261 pounds and is listed as a DE. From what I can tell, he’ll play primarily on the right side, which means he’ll be behind Jared Allen. Because Allen obviously has the starting spot locked down, Reed will be in a good position to watch an established and talented veteran while honing his pass-rushing skills.


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