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Roster Rundown: Quarterbacks And Linebackers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 23, 2012 – 6:32 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Thursday and the team’s first practice is on Friday, which means we only have a few more days to complete our Roster Rundown series. We continue the series today by taking a look at the four quarterbacks and 10 linebackers the team will bring to training camp…

Head Coach Leslie Frazier has been clear this offseason that Christian Ponder is his starting QB. Ponder played in 11 games and started 10 during his rookie season, producing mixed results and battling injuries. But this offseason the results have not been mixed – Ponder made huge strides during the offseason program and is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Jobs are not handed out in the NFL, so Ponder will have to perform well enough to retain the starting job. Based on his performance in the offseason program, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.

After Ponder the Vikings will see Joe Webb battle Sage Rosenfels for the backup job. These two have contrasting styles and are at different points in their careers. Webb surely has designs on becoming an NFL starter one day, and he can continue that quest during camp. Whether he ultimately beats Ponder for the job or not is a separate issue from whether he continues his development as an NFL passer. Rosenfels is a 12-year veteran who is a great complement to the QB meeting room that includes three young players still learning the ropes.

Aside from Ponder and Webb, the other youngster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He joined the Vikings via a futures contract this past January after starring at Sacramento State and then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL and then the Miami Dolphins. Bethel-Thompson, an undrafted college free agent, has impressive arm strength and was clearly the best QB in the Vikings rookie minicamp. He was on the Dolphins practice squad to finish the 2011 season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the Vikings practice squad (at a minimum) after this year’s training camp.

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There are questions at linebacker for the Vikings as they head to training camp, but the good news is there also appears to be sufficient talent at the position as well. Chad Greenway is the best of the group and prepares to enter his seventh NFL season in 2012. Greenway has led the club in tackles the past four seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do it again this season. The other starting linebacker should be Erin Henderson, who returns to the club motivated after signing a one-year contract this past offseason. Last season was Henderson’s first as a full-time starter, and I’ve identified him as a player poised for a breakout season this year.

Jasper Brinkley enters training camp as the team’s middle linebacker, but there are questions about his durability. Those questions are fair because Brinkley missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed parts of the team’s offseason program this year as well. Brinkley has declared himself 100% healthy as we approach training camp, though, and once he’s able to stay on the field I see him solidifying the Vikings starting group of linebackers. When E.J. Henderson was lost for the season in 2009 with a leg injury, Brinkley stepped into the lineup and played capably as the Vikings made a run through the playoffs. That experience along with natural progression that comes from two complete seasons after that should have Brinkley prepared to fulfill expectations this season.

After the three starters, there will be great competition for reserve spots among the Vikings LB group. Only two of those players competing for reserve spots are returning veterans. They are special teams standout Larry Dean and two-year veteran Tyrone McKenzie. Dean made last year’s team as an undrafted free agent based on his special teams ability, and he’ll have to be a standout in the same way this preseason to make the roster. McKenzie was the player asked to step into the middle linebacker role this offseason when Brinkley was out of action.

Outside of Greenway, the most veteran NFL player in the Vikings LB group is Marvin Mitchell, a six-year pro the Vikings signed this offseason in free agency. Mitchell had been with the Saints, and with the Vikings he’ll provide depth at multiple LB positions and he’s expected to be a contributor on special teams as well.

The remaining LBs are 7th-round draft pick Audie Cole, former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian and undrafted college free agents Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes. At NC State, Cole led the team in tackles while playing both inside and outside LB. Nielsen was a standout at the University of Iowa and Paredes went undrafted out of the University of Hawaii.

Elimimian will be interesting to watch because he’s undersized but he’s also a player who clearly knows how to play the position. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and helped his club (BC Lions) win the Grey Cup in 2011. In two CFL seasons, Elimimian tallied 175 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 2 INTs and was voted the league’s “hardest hitter” by his peers.

After the three projected starters, LB jobs are wide open for the Vikings. An ability to contribute on special teams will be crucial for those looking to win a roster spot, but so too is demonstrating sound technique and knowledge of the defensive system. I expect most of the decisions to be made at this position to come down to the final two preseason games later in August.


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Antoine Winfield, WR Bryan Walters Impress During OTA #1; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 29, 2012 – 1:39 pm

The Vikings held their first Organized Team Activity (OTA) of the 2012 offseason program on Tuesday, working for roughly 90 minutes on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park under mostly cloudy skies and windy conditions. The energy level is ramped up around the facility as the team begins Phase 3 of the offseason program.

Now is not the time to put much stock into depth charts and tracking which players are working with the first-stringers and which players are working with the second-stringers. Coaches experiment with several different combinations for a variety of reasons at this point in the offseason, so we’ll let others worry about all of those projections.

There were plenty of other observations to make, however. Here are a few notes I scribbled out while watching Tuesday’s practice…

– One of the first players to stand out in my eyes was CB Antoine Winfield. It was great to see him back on the field after he played in just 5 games last season. Winfield showed no signs of being slowed now, though, as he looked spry during individual drills and very sound during team offense vs. team defense. Winfield had a bounce in his step around the facility before and after practice, and it’s clear he still has explosion in his legs while on the field.

– QB Christian Ponder was sharp early in practice, displaying accuracy and command during the individual and group installation periods. He spread the ball around to several receivers, encountered no QB-center exchange issues with C John Sullivan and even found WR Jerome Simpson on a deep pass. After working through some issues midway through practice, Ponder bounced back nicely at the end of the 7-on-7 drill to cap a solid first practice.

– Speaking of Simpson, it’s a treat to watch him chase down a deep pass. There are times when the QB takes a short drop and launches a pass downfield that looks to be grossly overthrown. But Simpson usually finds a way to track the ball down and make a play on it. You can see that Ponder already has trust in Simpson’s ability to make plays downfield, and that trust and play-making potential will only grow the more they practice together.

Click here to check out a photo gallery from OTA #1.

– A group of collegiate officials were at Tuesday’s practice and will be officiating OTAs for the Vikings.

– My sense is LB Erin Henderson is poised for a breakout season. He now has one year as a full-time starter under his belt and I think he’ll only improve with another offseason of work at Winter Park before his second year as a full-time starter. Henderson is a player who seems to be around the ball a lot, and I’m hopeful he’ll make the improvement from a player who is around the ball a lot, to a player who makes big plays around the ball frequently.

– The Vikings WR position will be a fun one to watch this offseason, training camp and preseason. There are currently 11 WRs on the roster, and I’m guessing there will be some tough cuts later this summer. Bryan Walters, acquired by the Vikings earlier this offseason, impressed me on Tuesday. At 6-0, 190-pounds, Walters is a diminutive receiver with sure hands and crisp route-running abilities. As well as he could perform at WR, I’m also curious to see if he’ll be in the punt return rotation because that would increase his stock. He’ll be a player to watch this summer as the team prepares for the 2012 season. Walters is a 2-year veteran out of Cornell.

– There has never been a doubt in my mind that RB Toby Gerhart could shoulder the load full-time for an NFL team, and after seeing him on Tuesday that continues to be the case. Whether he has to do just that with the Vikings remains to be seen, but if he is charged with that responsibility the Vikings will still be in good shape. Gerhart looks very fit, and I can say with certainty that I would not like to be the one trying to break down and tackle him as he runs downhill.

– Another spot that is sure to see good competition this offseason for a starting position is DT next to Kevin Williams. Williams has been missing a solid, consistent running mate since the other half of the Williams Wall – Pat Williams – was no longer with the team. Time will tell which players the coaches tab to compete for that spot, but I don’t think there will be a shortage of candidates. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his scouting staff have done a nice job of acquiring players to try and fill that gap. Both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans were brought back and could be candidates. And from the looks of it, several others, including 7th-round pick Trevor Guyton (6-3, 280 pounds), Tydreke Powell (6-3, 325) and Terrell Resonno (6-3, 305) will be in the mix. I left DTs Chase Baker and Christian Ballard off that list only because I could see them playing at Kevin Williams’ spot in a reserve role, but the Vikings coaching staff could certainly ask either of them to step into the competition as well.

Quick Hitters
– WR Devin Aromashodu was hot during 7-on-7 drills and was a favorite target of young QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
– RB Jordan Todman, preparing for his 2nd season out of Connecticut and acquired by the Vikings late last year after spending much of his rookie season with San Diego, is impressively fast. He burst through a hole during team offense vs. team defense drills today and his explosion was remarkable.
– I saw LB Larry Dean around the ball a lot on Tuesday.
– Rookie LB Corey Paredes made one of the best defensive plays on Tuesday, nabbing a Joe Webb pass out of thin air and returning it for a TD.


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