Digging Deeper On RB2 Situation

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 1, 2010 – 9:53 am

In a blog entry on Monday we included comments from Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress regarding the #2 RB position, with the head coach characterizing Toby Gerhart and Albert Young as “2 and 2A” (he didn’t identify who is 2 and who is 2A). Essentially Childress said that both players will be used regularly and the playing time will be determined on a game-to-game or even play-to-play basis, depending on personnel, play-calling and injury situations.

This strategy runs a bit contrary to how Vikings observers have viewed the situation all offseason. What I mean by that is media and fans have been looking for indications on who would replace Chester Taylor in the role of complementing star RB Adrian Peterson. This search including veterans (LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook), current Vikings (Albert Young) and prospective draft picks (C.J. Spiller, Jahvid Best, etc.).

Ultimately, the Vikings will use a combination of the options listed above, with Gerhart (draft pick) and Young (current player) being relied upon to fulfill the role Taylor held for the past 3 seasons. If there was any doubt that the Vikings were truly using that strategy, even after Childress explained it earlier this week, that doubt should now be erased given how offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell addressed the issue after practice on Tuesday.

“It may end up having to be by committee,” Bevell explained. “There will be times when Adrian’s in there, there will be times when Albert’s in there, depending on the game. It may have to be Toby that’s in there. We’ve been trying to go kind of like that, in terms of getting all three of them ready, seeing what the strengths and weaknesses are of all those guys. I think it’s still formulating itself right now.”

The loss of Taylor is significant, but it can also be managed and the key to managing it is something Bevell referenced on Tuesday – “seeing what the strengths and weaknesses are of all those guys.” Both Gerhart and Young are talented enough to make the Vikings roster, so the fact that it could end up taking both of them to fill the role of Peterson’s complement is not a bad thing. In fact, it gives the Vikings a great chance to develop depth at the RB position.

But the Vikings do need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of their RBs and then deploy the players in the offense appropriately, so they are able to neutralize the weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths.

“I feel like I’m gaining a better understanding of what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Bevell acknowledged. “It was good to see Adrian pick up after the 49ers game to pick up a couple pressures last week. He was strong at the point (of attack). He did some good things there. I kind of know where Albert is. We’ve been able to move Toby in there a little bit as well. [We’re] learning their strengths and weaknesses but it may depend on how the game plan shapes up. It may depend on who’s up and down. Sometimes we only went with two backs last year and that may solve your problem.”

As my buddy Paul Allen pointed out on his show page, Young is effective in pass protection and that is on tape. And based on what Bevell said Tuesday, executing proper technique in pass protection is paramount to being Peterson’s complementary back. While it’s preferable that Peterson’s backup be a talented runner, it’s vital that the backup/3rd down back be a solid pass protector.

“The biggest thing for us, particularly with that second guy, is to be able to handle all the pressures and different looks that they can give us,” Bevell said. “Albert’s been here for a while, he’s been in (RBs) coach (Eric) Bieniemy’s meeting rooms. He’s well versed in it. That’s just half of it. You have to be physically strong enough to stand in there and take the pounding, step up and pick up a linebacker. Sometimes you’re going to be blocking a defensive end. [We have] to see if he can hold up in those situations. We know Albert’s running skills. We know Toby’s running skills. We need to see them in those other situations.”

In the end, the Vikings have the personnel necessary to get the RB2 job done. It’s a matter of the offensive staff deploying the talent effectively. Given the success of the Vikings offense, especially over the past 2 seasons, Vikings observers can be confident the RB2 job will be in capable hands.

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Vikings Work Through Sweltering Heat In AM Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 9, 2010 – 11:01 am

The Vikings practiced for approximately 2 hours on Monday morning as the final week of 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is officially underway. Temperatures were in the low 80s but it felt much warmer because of the humidity, but that didn’t prevent the team from having a solid practice.

“It was a hot one out there,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said to reporters following practice. “But that’s a great thing for the players. It gave them an opportunity to fight through the heat and the main thing that they need to do is focus on their assignments, focus on what they were doing, and I think the guys did a nice job of that. They were sharp in their assignments and it shows that they had some mental toughness.”

Bevell’s offense was without some key players on Monday morning. WR Sidney Rice remains on the PUP list and the following players were also not practicing – Percy Harvin (personal), RB Darius Reynaud (leg), G Anthony Herrera and TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

Instead of fretting about the missing starters, Bevell instead pointed out that it provides an opportunity to see other players perform.

“There are a lot of young guys and some younger veterans even that are getting opportunities to show us what they can do,” Bevell said. “That’s what’s going to happen in a game. You’re only going to have so many guys. If one guy isn’t there, if you’re starter isn’t there, someone’s got to step up.”

Bevell mentioned C Jon Cooper and WR Logan Payne as guys who’ve seen increased reps because of starters missing time. Rookie OL Chris DeGeare is another player who’s seen increased reps. He plays LG when Steve Hutchinson is out of the lineup and then on Monday DeGeare played RG in place of Herrera.

Bevell was also asked about Harvin, who has missed extended time this training camp as he grieves the loss of his Grandmother. Bevell said there is no timetable on a return for Harvin and he also said that he’s not too concerned about the absence because Harvin takes good care of his body and is a hard worker.

The Vikings will practice this afternoon from 2:45 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. The team was in helmets and shoulder pads this morning, so I’m anticipating they’ll be in shells and helmets this afternoon.

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Berrian Looks To Be In Top Form

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2010 – 2:44 pm

WR Bernard Berrian signed a big-money free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings prior to the 2008 season in a move designed to improve the team’s passing game by stretching opposing defenses to open things up underneath. And unlike many big-money free agents across the sports spectrum, Berrian delivered on expectations.

Berrian led the NFL in yards per catch at 20.1 and also set career highs with 7 TDs and 964 receiving yards.

His 2009 campaign was another good one, although not as sensational. Berrian ranked 3rd on the team in receiving yards after leading the team the year prior and the slight drop-off was due to an injury he suffered in the preseason. That injury had him a tick off.

But that is not the case so far during 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. Berrian is healthy and in my eyes he’s been one of the team’s most impressive performers. He makes the routine plays routinely and his speed is as evident as ever.

“I feel like I’m having a solid camp,” Berrian acknowledged, “but there are still things I can get better at and some things I can work on. There is still room to improve.”

Watching him in camp, you’d be hard-pressed to find something #87 can improve upon. But he cited route details, getting in and out of breaks and sinking his hips going into those breaks as areas of his game he’ll work to improve.

“I think one of the best things for Bernard is being out here,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He did miss a lot of time, particularly in camp and early in the season last year. He was hobbled with the injuries he had last year. I think it is great for him to be out here. By the end of the year he had started to catch up a little bit. Like I said the other day, his best game was the last game (NFC Championship Game) against New Orleans.”

While Berrian is working to perfect detailed areas of his craft, Vikings WRs coach George Stewart says Berrian has already improved other areas of his game as well.

“The thing that he’s doing that has impressed me more than anything else, is with Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin being away, he’s stepped up his leadership role,” Stewart explained to me. “Bernard has always been quiet, very reserved and has played at a high level. But he is stepping up in that leadership role, which you need at a young position.”

In a Vikings world where the headlines are focused on QB Brett Favre and his status, it looks like one of Favre’s most reliable weapons is quietly regaining his top form from 2008.

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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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Vikings Back To Work For Day 6

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2010 – 7:29 am

Wednesday is Day 6 of 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and the Vikings will hit the fields for practice #9 this morning and then practice #10 this afternoon. The morning session will go from 9:00 a.m. to 11:10 a.m. and the afternoon session is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. and will end around 3:15 p.m.

Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will meet with reporters after Wednesday morning’s practice and then the afternoon session will be a special teams practice. CJ will be here for the special teams practice and will have a report later today. I’ll be at both practices and will keep a global perspective on your favorite football team.

Feel free to chime in on the comments section below this entry to let us know what you’d like to see here on the Blog and also remember to follow the Vikings on Twitter (@VikingsFootball) for real-time updates on the team.

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Reynaud Continues Transition From WR To RB

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 13, 2010 – 8:51 am

Adrian Peterson’s absence from this weekend’s mandatory minicamp and 2nd round pick Toby Gerhart’s hectic travel schedule and immersion into the Vikings offense over the past several days have been hot topics of conversation over the weekend.

They are the team’s 2 highest-profile RBs but neither of them will be at Winter Park as the team wraps up minicamp with a Sunday morning practice. Peterson’s absence is due to the 4th annual “Adrian Peterson Day” in the superstar’s hometown of Palestine, TX and Gerhart left town on Saturday evening to attend commencement ceremonies at Stanford (he’ll be back to Winter Park for next week).

One of the RBs who will be at Winter Park for the final practice of minicamp is Darius Reynaud, who joined the Vikings 3 years ago as an undrafted college free agent WR but is transitioning to RB for the 2010 season. In previous seasons with the Vikings, Reynaud has contributed primarily as a punt returner and occasionally as a WR. But moving Reynaud to RB may give the shifty playmaker a better opportunity to contribute more frequently on offense.

Reynaud played RB in high school and at West Virginia University, so the idea isn’t foreign to him. But there are still some natural and sizable hurdles for him to overcome.

“You know he is taking a good look at things back there,” Childress said when asked about Reynaud’s transition. “I don’t know if that is surprising because he was a running back at West Virginia. But he is doing a pretty good job.”

Childress also mentioned that the next step in evaluating Reynaud’s transition is seeing how he carries his pads as a RB. The Vikings have worked without pads during OTAs and minicamp.

Another factor in the transition will be pass protection. Reynaud, who switched from jersey #82 to #27, looks natural with the ball in his hands and has a penchant for making defenders whiff on tackles. But playing RB in the NFL is more about breaking tackles and picking up yardage.

“That is going to be a big thing to be able to see if you can master that in a short time,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of Reynaud learning pass protection. “Again, not his willingness to block but just all the nuances of where we are protecting and how we are getting that done and where he fits in will be his biggest challenge probably.”

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Scoring 7s, Not 3s

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 22, 2010 – 10:20 am

Anyone with a rooting interest in the Vikings came away from last weekend’s Divisional Playoff game against the Cowboys with positive feelings, and rightfully so. The Vikings registered a complete team win, playing well in all 3 phases of the game along to a 34-3 victory.

But as any perfectionist of NFL player/coach will tell you, there’s always room for improvement. And that is especially the case when you’re preparing for the a conference championship game, where even the slightest flaw might be the difference between suiting up in the Super Bowl or suiting up for an offseason on the beach.

One area that could turn out to be crucial on Sunday is turnovers and, specifically, getting points off of turnovers. Considering the Saints and Vikings had the league’s highest-scoring offenses, respectively, adding extra points by scoring them off of turnovers could be a significant factor.

And therein lies a potential area of improvement for the Vikings coming off their seemingly flawless victory over Dallas. The Vikings turned Dallas over 3 times last Sunday – 2 fumbles and 1 INT – but they were only able to tally 6 points off of those 3 turnovers.

The Vikings recovered a fumble in the 1st quarter on their own 35, but a sack on 3rd down led them to a 3-and-out, which resulted in a punt. Dallas lost another  fumble in the 2nd quarter giving the Vikings possession on the Dallas 20. But a negative run and then a penalty resulted in a Ryan Longwell FG. Finally, Dallas was intercepted by LB Ben Leber in the 4th quarter but a 3-and-out series from the Cowboys 15 resulted in another FG.

So the Vikings wound up with just 6 points off of 3 turnovers, 2 of which gave them possession inside the red zone.

Those are numbers that must be improved if the Vikings are to upset the Saints this weekend at the Louisiana Superdome. And offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell indicated as much on Thursday while meeting with reporters.

“I think it’s huge,” Bevell responded when asked about scoring TDs instead of FGs inside the red zone. “It’s a game where you have the two highest scoring teams, so you know both teams are going to put points on the board…Any time we get down there and have opportunities to get points, you want to be able to make them seven.

“Obviously, if you can get three, you want to continue to get them, but seven points will be big in this game.”

By the way, the Vikings scored TDs on 62.3% of their red zone trips during the 2009 regular season, a rate that was 3rd best in the NFL. They also led the NFL with 43 red zone TDs and with 27 red zone passing TDs.

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Home Sweet Home

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 1, 2010 – 11:05 am

After 3 road losses in their last 4 games, the Vikings will close out their 2009 regular season schedule at home this weekend.

And for the Vikings, there’s no place like home.

The Vikings are 7-0 at home in 2009 and a win on Sunday against the NY Giants would make them 14-2 at Mall of America Field over the past 2 seasons. Consider some more Vikings trends when playing at home…

– The Vikings have allowed just 68.5 rushing yards per game at home, which is 22.1 yards per game fewer than they’ve allowed this season.
— The Vikings defense yields 20.3 points per game for the season, but just 16.7 points per contest at home in 2009.
— The Vikings have 3.1 sacks per game at home, up from 3.0 per game for the entire season.
— The Vikings average scoring margin at home is +14.4, but they’ve had margins in their last 4 home games of +20, +26, +26 and +17.

Vikings players and coaches clearly recognize the significance of playing at home. Here’s what a few of them had to say about it on Thursday:

“Our fans are second to none in terms of the noise they make and the difficulties they create in that environment for opposing offenses – just the communicating process, whether it’s coach-to-player on the field or player-to-player on the field, it just requires an extra measure of concentration. So it’s a huge environmental advantage.” — Head coach Brad Childress

“ I think it’s exciting for us to get back in front of our home crowd and be able to feed off them a little bit, the excitement. Try to finish off the season undefeated at home, which would be huge for us. – Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell

“It means a lot to play here. It’s the last game of the regular season at home. We are 7-0 at home. We are looking forward to making that 8-0. It’s always good to come back home and play in front of your home crowd and kind of have that 12th man out there with the fans and a short trip home after the game. – RB Adrian Peterson

“A big game this weekend.  We’re looking forward to being back at home and being around familiar surroundings and having our great fans in attendance. It should be an exciting time for our football team. – Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier

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Keeping Peppers Cool

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 18, 2009 – 10:57 am

It’s hard to believe that we’ve talked Vikings-Panthers for the past 3 days but haven’t yet mentioned DE Julius Peppers. Maybe it was because of his 2.5-sack season in 2007, but for some reason Peppers doesn’t get as much hype as he used to.

If you take out that substandard 2007 season, here is a list of his sack totals beginning in his rookie season (2002): 12.0, 7.0, 11.0, 10.5, 13.0 and 14.5. So far this season, Peppers has 8.5 sacks. That’s a grand total of 79.0 sacks, which ranks him 1st in Panthers history. Peppers, a 4-time Pro Bowler, is also 1st in franchise history with 24 forced fumbles and 8 blocked kicks.

As you can see, Peppers is an ultra-productive player. But he is also dangerous because of his versatility. He can play on either side of the line of scrimmage and he has a beautiful blend of size (6-7, 283 pounds), speed and power. As a result, offensive coordinators around the league are well-aware of the Panthers stud DE, regardless of the amount of hype he receives.

“You definitely have to know where he is at,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said on Thursday. “He can turn it up at any time. Obviously he’s an elite pass rusher. He’s really got all the moves that you need. He’s got enough speed to get around the edge. He can change the speed to power. They’ll use him in stunts so he can end up on the inside. So they do a great job with him and obviously at any time he can show up.”

But that’s been the criticism of Peppers as of late, mostly because of that 2.5-sack effort in ’07. Some say Peppers turns it on and off, rather than leaving it on at all times. While box scores certainly don’t tell the whole story, you can see where Peppers’ critics are coming from if you look at game-by-game logs in Peppers profile.

I’ll assure you right now, though, that studying his game-by-game box scores to try and guess if this Sunday night will be an “on” day or an “off” day for the DE is a useless exercise. There are plenty of reasons to think Peppers will be at his best in terms of effort on Sunday night.

First of all, he’s playing against one of the NFL’s most lethal offenses and against an all-time great QB in Brett Favre. Any defensive player with an ounce of competitiveness – and Peppers is as competitive as any – loves a challenge. Secondly, this game is in prime time and will be televised by NBC, giving it a high-profile nature that seems to bring out the best in star players. Lastly, Peppers will share the field on Sunday with another superstar DE – Jared Allen. Peppers and Allen have trained together and Allen did not hesitate this week to express how he feels about Peppers as a player.

“Peppers is a beast. He is an absolute beast,” Allen said, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. “He does things that sometimes I wish I could do. I have nothing but good things to say about him. For how big he is, he moves so gracefully. He does things at that end position that set precedent of themselves. He has been a player that I have always liked to watch.”

So the Vikings have a challenge this weekend in trying to keep Peppers cool. Peppers is listed as the RDE on the Panthers online depth chart, meaning those of us watching Sunday night’s game will be treated to a colossal matchup – LT Bryant McKinnie vs. Peppers.

Hopefully Mt. McKinnie can keep Peppers cool.

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Don’t Sleep On Carolina’s Secondary

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 18, 2009 – 7:42 am

Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Vikings got their running game back on track as Adrian Peterson logged his best game since Week 10 at home against Detroit and the Vikings as a team rushed the ball more than had in the previous pair of games.

The resurgence in the rushing game comes at a good time for the Vikings because this week they hit the road and will face a talented Carolina secondary that features a pair of hard-hitting safeties and a crop of collision-happy and ball-hawking CBs.

“They are a downhill playing crowd,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said of Carolina’s secondary. “Knowing (head coach) John (Fox) is a defensive guy and a former secondary coach, I know how he values those guys and how they play.

“Whether it was back in the day of Danny Manning being there or (Mike) Minter, those guys have always played with an aggressive mindset and mentality. Rarely do you see them put defensive backs on the field that don’t play that way.”

The 2009 version of the Panthers secondary fits the mold of a traditional John Fox-coached unit. They rank 6th in yards allowed and have top 5 rankings in TDs allowed (13), INTs (18) and opponents passer rating (73.1).

From an individual standpoint, the Vikings have some familiarity with this unit. CB Chris Gamble and safeties Chris Harris and Charles Godfrey all started last year at the Metrodome against the Vikings and they’ll also be on the field this Sunday night. The other starting CB – Richard Marshall – also played against the Vikings last year as a nickel back. Quinton Teal and Dante Wesley are 2 other players who will likely suit up this week that also played in last year’s contest.

“I think they do a great job with their scheme,” Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I know we’ve played against Gamble for a while. No pun intended, but he does like to gamble. He does like to sit on some routes, which has helped him over his career to be able to make big plays, to be able to get his hands on balls. (Richard) Marshall on the other side. I think they have some good players.”

Against the Vikings last year, Carolina’s secondary yielded just 186 net yards passing, intercepted Gus Frerotte once and also registered 1 of the club’s 3 sacks when Godfrey brought Frerotte down behind the line of scrimmage.

Against the Vikings this year, Carolina has an added advantage – they’re playing at home. Given their aggressive style, expect this unit to be amped up as they go against Brett Favre and Co.

“It will be a tough atmosphere for us that we have to respond to, no different than Arizona,” Favre said. “If we don’t rise up to the occasion against their defense, before we know it, we’ll be in the same situation. I don’t mean to speak for the other phases of our team.

“We have to handle our business and that is going to be tough enough.”

Here’s a closer look at the personnel in Carolina’s secondary:

– Gamble was a 1st round pick of the Panthers out of Ohio State and has had an outstanding career to this point. He’s 2nd in club history in INTs with 24 and he’s got 4 of them this season. Last year at the Metrodome, he picked off Gus Frerotte.
— The other starting CB, Marshall, led the club in special teams tackles last season and this year he has 3 INTs and 67 tackles.
— Godfrey – Registered his 1st career sack against the Vikings last season and is a fierce tackler with 2 forced fumbles this season.
— Speaking of forced fumbles, one of the league’s best at forcing fumbles is the other starting S – Chris Harris. He had 8 forced fumbles in 2007 and has 4 of them over the past 2 seasons. Harris also has 236 tackles since 2007 and has 1 INT this year.

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