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3 Observations From Saturday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 7:41 pm

The Vikings conducted their second practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Saturday and worked under ideal weather conditions to do so. The team also saw a spike in attendance on Saturday, as Vikings fans filled the bleachers and the fence line to see their favorite team and, consequently, create a fun buzz in the atmosphere during practice.

The team has yet to practice in pads – that will start on Monday. So it’s hard to draw too many conclusions after two non-padded practices. But it’s not hard to draw observations. Here are three observations from Saturday’s practice…

Tremendous 12
Without question, Percy Harvin has been the most impressive player on the field through the first two practices. He’s been a frequent target of the QBs during team and drill work, and he’s been in the rotation for kickoff return. Harvin has made several go-to-the ground catches so far, and midway through Saturday’s practice he made a catch along the sideline that was as good as you’ll see all of camp.

Leg Work
About three or four minutes into an early period of practice I started paying attention to field #2, where the Vikings specialists – P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler and K Blair Walsh – were working on their own. Loeffler and Kluwe were working together on landing punts inside the 20 while Walsh was kicking field goals. Kluwe was consistently landing punts inside the 10 with good hang time, even one time buzzing the tower of FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer after calling his shot. While I was watching, Walsh made six consecutive kicks from 46 yards and then was 2 of 3 from 55 yards. I was also told that Walsh hit a 60-yarder on Friday while working on the side.

“He knows being the only kicker here, he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to improve,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said of his rookie kicker. “He is very conscious, a very hard working man, it’s extremely important to him. He competes with himself and that’s why I didn’t think we needed another guy at camp. I wanted to get as many reps as he can with Cullen, with Chris, with our whole first unit to put him in the situation where he can be successful.”

3rd And Long No Problem For Ponder-To-Rudolph
There is a period in practice called “special cats” (special categories) where the coaches put the players in certain game situations, such as red zone or the 2-minute drill. Saturday’s special cats period featured 3rd and long. The first-team offense looked the best of any group during the drill, as I saw Ponder convert at least three of five times. The first two conversions were accurate passes to TE Kyle Rudolph. On the first play of the period, Ponder found Rudolph on the right side for a completion near the 1st-down marker. CB Antoine Winfield was right in the area, but my guess is Rudolph would’ve had enough for the 1st down. The second conversion was also to Rudolph, as Ponder placed a pass perfectly along the sideline for Rudolph to haul in and get out of bounds.

“Kyle has had a great offseason,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He has gained strength without losing any movement. He is one of the guys that we are going to count on to contribute who wasn’t a full-time starter last year.”

The Vikings will have Sunday off and return to the field on Monday morning for a walk-thru and Monday afternoon for a padded practice.


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Final Roster Rundown: Running Backs And Specialists

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 9:12 am

Friday marks the first practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and, appropriately, the final part of our Roster Rundown series. The series concludes with a look at the Vikings RBs and specialists…

Running Backs
Even with both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart coming back from knee injuries, RB is a position of strength for the Vikings. There aren’t many teams with a better one-two punch than the Vikings. Gerhart has fully recovered from his knee injury, and he’ll shoulder the load for Peterson until he’s back at 100% health as well. Gerhart would be a starter for many NFL teams, so the job is in good hands while Peterson finishes up his recovery.

Depth at the position will be important for the Vikings in 2012 for reasons mentioned above, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said the team is looking for a back with all-around skills to have as the third option. Guys competing for this role in camp will include undrafted college free agent Derrick Coleman, four-year veteran Lex Hilliard and youngster Jordan Todman. 

The Vikings designs at FB are uncertain at this point. Draft pick Rhett Ellison could play the part, but there are others who are actually listed as FBs on the roster as well (Ellison is listed as a TE). Ryan D’Imperio is a returning veteran with solid special teams ability as well, Matt Asiata was with the Vikings during last year’s camp and returns this year as well, and five-year veteran Jerome Felton will be around to increase the competition. Aside from how each of these players perform during practice and preseason games, the determining factor in this competition will be how the team plans to use the FB.

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Specialists
The Vikings go into 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp with starters in place at the specialists positions. Cullen Loeffler returns as the team’s long snapper, Chris Kluwe remains at punter, and Blair Walsh enters camp as the kicker. Together, Loeffler and Kluwe boast 17 years of NFL experience, so they are great mentors for Walsh as he embarks on his rookie season. It’s important for each of these players to perform well in their individual roles, but it’s also important for them to work well together. I have no doubt they’ll be able to do just that.


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Cullen Loeffler One Of 26 Honored On USA Football All-Fundamental Team

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 15, 2011 – 7:46 am

Congratulations go out to Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler on being named to the 3rd annual USA Football All-Fundamental team. USA Football has selected 26 NFL players to its All-Fundamentals Team in an effort to honor players who exhibit exemplary football techniques for youth players to emulate.

Previous Vikings honorees on the USA Football All-Fundamental team have been Steve Hutchinson and Antoine Winfield.

“It’ll be a great thing to be able to contribute to the football program, and like I said, this will hopefully get them better equipment so they’ll be better protected for what they’re doing,” Loeffler said. “So, it’s a great award and I’m happy to accept it.”

USA Football’s All-Fundamentals Team recognizes NFL players at each offensive and defensive position as well as four special teams positions. Each NFL player chosen for the All-Fundamentals Team will receive a $1,500 equipment grant from USA Football to donate to the youth or high school football program of his choice.

The USA Football All-Fundamentals Team was assembled by a 5-person selection committee that included Charles Davis of NFL Network and FOX Sports, former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, USA Football Board Member and ESPN analyst Merril Hodge, former NFL head coach and newly hired head coach at UCLA Jim Mora, Jr., and USA Football Chairman and former NFL executive Carl Peterson.

Approximately 3 million American children age 6-14 play organized tackle football, placing it among the country’s most popular youth sports. Employing proper technique, particularly when blocking and tackling, fosters better on-field performance and inherent safety benefits, which is why USA Football strives to recognize and honor those NFL players whose play emphasizes the importance of fundamentals.

“Since he arrived here in 2004, he’s been one of my community go-to guys,” Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations/Youth Football Brad Madson said. “He’s helped out with the National Football Foundation, USA Football, always supporting youth football. In addition, just a few of the other organizations; The Sheriff’s Youth Program, United Way, Special Olympics Minnesota, Taste of the NFL, Minnesota Veterans Home, and of course, our children’s hospital visits.”

NFL game footage showing USA Football All-Fundamentals Team players’ techniques is available at www.usafootball.com/all-fundamentals-team

About USA Football: USA Football, the sport’s national governing body in the United States, hosts more than 80 football training events annually offering education for coaches and game officials, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners. The independent non-profit is the official football development partner of the NFL and its 32 teams as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference. USA Football manages U.S. national teams within the sport for international competition and awards $1 million annually in equipment grants to youth and high school football programs based on merit and need. Endowed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association in 2002 through the NFL Youth Football Fund, USA Football is chaired by former NFL team executive Carl Peterson.


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Vikings Make Several Changes To Roster

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 29, 2011 – 5:33 pm

There were no press conferences and players have the day off, but Tuesday was still a busy day at Winter Park as the Vikings made several changes to the active roster and the practice squad. After a rash of injuries, a few of which came in last Sunday’s game against the Falcons, the Vikings have placed 4 players on the Reserve/Injured (IR) list and signed 5 others to the active roster/practice squad.

S Husain Abdullah, WR Michael Jenkins, S Tyrell Johnson and long snapper Cullen Loeffler were all placed on IR. Jenkins, Johnson and Loeffler were all injured last Sunday, while Abdullah has missed the last two games after suffering a concussion against the the Packers in Week 10.

To fill those four roster spots, the Vikings signed WR Stephen Burton, long snapper Matt Katula, S Jarrad Page and S Andrew Sendejo. The team also signed TE Mickey Shuler to the practice squad. There was one opening on the practice squad after the Vikings promoted Allen Reisner to the active roster last Saturday and waived Burton to make room for the move.

Vikings fans will recognize the names of Burton and Shuler because both have been with the team recently. Burton was a 7th-round pick in last April’s draft and has been with the Vikings the entire season. Shuler was also a 7th-round pick of the Vikings (2010) but was claimed by the Miami Dolphins when the Vikings tried to clear him through waivers to add to the practice squad.

Page might also be a recognizable name because he’s a 6-year veteran out of UCLA who has spent time with Kansas City, New England and Philadelphia. He was a 7th-round pick of the Chiefs in 2006, was acquired via trade by the Patriots in 2010, signed with the Eagles in August of 2011 and then was released by the Eagles earlier this month.

Katula is a 6-year veteran out of Wisconsin who has spent time with the Baltimore Ravens (2005-09) and the Patriots (2010). New England signed Katula in November of 2010 and then waived him in August of this year.

Sendejo went undrafted out of Rice in 2010 and has spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and NY Jets. In November of 2010 Sendejo was signed to the Cowboys practice squad and then was promoted to the active roster just days later. In September of this year, Sendejo was claimed by the Jets off waivers, was later waived and re-signed, and was finally waived again on September 27.


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Vikings, Loeffler Agree To Contract Extension

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 7, 2011 – 11:48 am

The Vikings have agreed to terms on a contract extension with long snapper Cullen Loeffler. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I’m excited to be here with the Minnesota Vikings,” Loeffler said. “I love this organization and I’m really glad to be a Viking. I expect good things in the future.”

Loeffler is in his 8th season with the Vikings and has handled all the special teams snapping duties since joining the club as a rookie free agent in 2004. Loeffler has responded in big situations, snapping on 5 of the 6 longest FGs in team history and 4 of the 6 longest game-winning FGs, including a career-long 55-yard game winner at Chicago in 2007 by Ryan Longwell. Loeffler has helped punter Chris Kluwe re-write the Vikings record book for game, season and career punting for average, long punts and punts landed inside the 20.

Loeffler is only the second Vikings long snapper to appear in 100+ games. Mike Morris holds the record with 144 games while Loeffler has appeared in 116 games during his career.


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Vikings Special Teams Strong Again Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 22, 2011 – 8:42 am

The Vikings special teams unit is going through a period of transition right now, partly because of some roster turnover but largely because there is a new coordinator in charge. Mike Priefer is now on the job and he’s making significant changes to some of the fundamental aspects of each special teams phase.

We’ll spare the detail of those changes for now, but suffice it to say Priefer has had a lot to teach in a short amount of time, especially considering he didn’t have the minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) usually afforded to teams in the offseason.

Despite all of that, early results are outstanding for Priefer and Co. The special teams were probably the strongest part of the Vikings preseason debut in Tennessee a week ago and then last Saturday in Tennessee the special teams gave another strong showing.

Let’s go over some of the highlights…

– Ryan Longwell has been solid on kickoffs all preseason. On Saturday night he was hitting his kicks into the endzone, with one going as deep as 6 yards. That combined with terrific effort from the coverage team is helping the Vikings win the field position battle. Here is Seattle’s starting field position after Longwell’s four kickoffs: SEA 11, SEA 27, SEA 9, SEA 15. The Vikings defense will enjoy life quite a bit this season if opponents are starting drives inside the 20 with regularity.

– P Chris Kluwe is doing his part to help the Vikings win the field position battle, too. On Saturday night he had 4 punts, with a gross average of 39.8 and a net average of 38.5. When the gross average and net average are similar, you know the opponents aren’t doing much in the return game. Seattle averaged just 1.7 yards per return on 3 tries and Kluwe landed 2 of his 4 punts inside the 20.

– S Eric Frampton continues to be a standout in kick coverage. He had another open-field tackle on Saturday night.

– Longwell was also solid in the place kicking department, nailing FGs from 34 and 36 yards and also hitting his lone PAT try. The battery of long snapper Cullen Loeffler to Kluwe also improved on Saturday night.

– Lorenzo Booker, who is my choice to be the Vikings kickoff returner this season, registered another impressive return on Saturday night with a 26-yard scamper. Marcus Sherels, who returned an INT 64 yards for a score in the game, also had 2 punt returns for a 10.0-yard average, but he did lose a fumble and that won’t be tolerated by Priefer and special teams assistant coach Chris White.

– Outside of Frampton, the other players credited with special teams tackles on Saturday were: Tony Carter, Loeffler, Sherels, Devon Torrence and Mark Washington. Devin Aromashodu (1), Jasper Brinkley (2),  Booker (1) and Larry Dean (1) were all credited with assists.


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Vikings Special Teams Give Strong Showing

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2011 – 7:11 am

It’s generally not something you find football fans talking about, but it’s a vital part of every team and it’s an important factor in every game. We’re talking about special teams. And this preseason for the Vikings, it’s an especially important group to watch because there’s a new special teams coordinator in town with Mike Priefer aboard.

After one preseason game, it’s so far, so good for Priefer’s special teams groups. In what was mostly an uninspiring performance from the Vikings on Saturday night in Tennessee, the special teams groups looked strong. Let’s take a moment to point out a few of the strongpoints…

– P Chris Kluwe had a nice night, booming five punts and generating an average of 41.6 yards per punt and 39.4 net yards per punt; a net average of 39.4 yards would’ve ranked Kluwe 4th among all punters last year. Also, Kluwe put two of his five punts inside the 20-yardline and only three of his punts were returned.

– The Vikings punt coverage unit performed well in unison with Kluwe, allowing just 3.7 yards per return on three attempts.

– On kickoff returns, the Vikings averaged 26.0 yards per try, which would’ve ranked them 2nd in the NFL last year. In kickoff return coverage, the Vikings allowed just 19.0 yards per return, which also would’ve ranked them 2nd best in the NFL last year.

– Give credit to the group of Kluwe, K Ryan Longwell and long snapper Cullen Loeffler because they didn’t have a botched snap, hold or kick all night. Longwell was true from 37 yards out to give the Vikings their only points.

– WR Jaymar Johnson, who is trying to earn a spot on the WR depth chart, certainly helped his cause by performing on special teams. He returned a punt 40 yards in the second half, displaying a quick burst and then excellent top-end speed on the play. Another WR – Devin Aromashodu – who is also trying to win a spot on the WR depth chart helped himself on special teams as well by notching a tackle.

– Others who chipped in with special teams tackles were LB Larry Dean, S Eric Frampton and LB Heath Farwell.


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Cullen Loeffler Named Honorary Captain For Team USA Vs. The World Football Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 1, 2011 – 11:48 am

Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler will join Air Force Technical Sergeant Damien M. Larche and Houston Texans DT Amobi Okoye as honorary captains at the 2nd annual Team USA vs. The World game in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, February 2 in Westlake High School’s Chaparral Stadium at 7:30 p.m. CT.

Loeffler joined the Vikings as a rookie free agent in 2004 and won the starting job in training camp. He hasn’t relinquished those duties since 2004 and has developed into one of the best players at his position in the NFL. He spends his offseasons in Austin, Texas and was a 3-year football letterman at the University of Texas. He shared UT’s Frank Denius Most Valuable Special Teams Player Award, was awarded the Longhorn Club Sportsmanship Award and was one of the Longhorns’ Dr. Nasser Al-Rashid Strength and Conditioning Awards as a senior in 2003. Loeffler attended Tom Moore High School in Ingram, Texas.

Team USA vs. The World matches the U.S. Under-19 National Team, comprised of 45 high school seniors representing 18 states and Washington, D.C., against a World Team composed of athletes and coaches from 16 countries on five continents.

Team USA vs. The World marks the largest number of nations (17) ever to participate in a single football game.

Team USA vs. The World will be nationally televised live on Fox College Sports Central and streamed live at http://www.HighSchoolSports.net, a partner of USA Today. Among the outlets broadcasting the game on tape delay is NFL Network, which will air the game on Friday, February 11 at 4:30 p.m. ET. The Team USA vs. The World game will be available in more than 100 million households live or on tape delay.

About USA Football
USA Football, the sport’s national governing body, hosts more than 80 football training events annually offering education for coaches and game officials, skill development for players and resources for youth football league commissioners. The independent non-profit is the official youth football development partner of the NFL, its 32 teams and the NFL Players Association. USA Football manages U.S. national teams within the sport for international competition and awards $1 million annually in equipment grants to youth and high school football programs based on merit and need. Endowed by the NFL and NFLPA in 2002 through the NFL Youth Football Fund, USA Football is chaired by former NFL team executive Carl Peterson.


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Farwell Returns From Pro Bowl

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 2, 2010 – 11:10 am

Vikings LB and special teams ace Heath Farwell has returned to Minnesota after spending a week in South Florida for Pro Bowl festivities.

Farwell flew down to the South Florida area last Tuesday to begin preparations for the Pro Bowl and to participate in all of the activities surrounding the NFL’s annual all-star game.

“It was a lot of fun just hanging out with the other players and their families,” Farwell said. “You have respect for these guys and it’s a nice opportunity to chat with them and enjoy the experience together. There’s a lot of exchanging autographs and things of that nature.”

One of the items Farwell brought back home with him was a signed pair of DeMarcus Ware cleats.

Farwell flew down to South Florida with his wife, Julie, on Tuesday and then later in the week Farwell’s parents and grandparents arrived, as well as Julie’s parents.

The group returned to Minnesota on Monday, the day after the Pro Bowl. Farwell saw a lot of the field on Sunday and was credited with 2 special teams tackles. His production came in a losing effort, however, as the AFC defeated the NFL 41-34.

Next up in Farwell’s offseason activities is a hunting trip with teammate and Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler down in Texas, which is where Loeffler grew up and makes his offseason home.


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