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Frazier Says Henderson Out, Mitchell Starts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2012 – 12:21 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier on Friday ruled LB Erin Henderson out of Sunday’s game. Henderson sat out of practice this week with a concussion. Frazier also said that 6-year veteran Marvin Mitchell will start for Henderson against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Vikings signed Mitchell this past offseason, and a big reason he was appealing to the Vikings was his experience not only on special teams but also on defense. Mitchell started 2 games at LB for the New Orleans Saints in 2009, the year they won the Super Bowl. Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams was asked about Mitchell on Thursday while meeting with reporters and said he feels comfortable with having Mitchell play a prominent role on defense.

“Marvin has been in ball games as a starter, he’s been in ball games as a backup, he’s played a lot of football so everything that happens is not new to him out there,” Williams said. “That gives me comfort and when he’s been in ball games, he’s performed well so that gives me comfort that it’s not all new to him and we’re not playing guys that have not played a lot of football. Marvin has so I feel good about that.”

With Henderson out, it’s expected that staring middle LB Jasper Brinkley will now stay on the field in nickel situations. Henderson is usual the “MIKE” LB in nickel, with Chad Greenway also on the field in those situations. Additionally, rookie LB Audie Cole stands a good chance of being active for his first NFL regular season game to provide depth on defense and perhaps play a role on special teams as well.

Frazier also ruled DE D’Aundre Reed (calf) out for the game, but said all others listed on the injury report – John Sullivan (ankle), Andrew Sendejo (ankle), CB Chris Cook (biceps), TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), Mitchell (ankle), Brian Robison (elbow) and Jarius Wright (ankle) – will likely be listed as probable.


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Line Change: Vikings DL Rotation Proved Effective

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 13, 2012 – 12:23 pm

Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams is new to Minnesota. But it didn’t take him long to find a beloved state pastime to use as an analogy in explaining one of his defensive philosophies.

Williams explained during training camp that he’ll use a rotation at defensive line throughout the season, comparing his substitution patterns to that of a hockey lineup.

“I said before that this is Minnesota, we’re going to have a hockey lineup so we need eight guys to come in and play for us and play well,” Williams said. “We’ll have guys that are rotating and we expect whatever that rotation is for guys to play winning football.”

The philosophy was in play last week in the Vikings season-opening win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Vikings four starting defensive linemen – DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison and DTs Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams – took the bulk of the snaps, but Christian Ballard, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen and D’Aundre Reed were in the mix as well. Griffen logged 33 defensive snaps, Evans 18, Ballard 17 and Reed 4. The Vikings at one time actually had four defensive ends on the field at once, looking to apply pressure to QB Blaine Gabbert late in the game.

Were Vikings coaches pleased with the production of the defensive line?

“Oh yeah,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And the more I looked at the tape and saw the hits that we put on the quarterback, that was very, very encouraging because over time, generally, that makes a big difference. You’d like to get sacks but you definitely want to get some hits on the quarterback and we got a number of good hits on the quarterback.”

The main critique many had of the Vikings rotation plan was that the starters – namely Allen and Williams – would be off the field too frequently. But on Sunday it appears Vikings coaches found a good mix, as Allen was on the field for 75 snaps and Williams logged 64.

“I thought it was good for us and it’s something we have to continue to grow and develop and make sure the guys we do put in for our starters are really living up to the things that we expect,” Frazier explained. “But it was a good start for us, to be able to get that rotation going in a fashion we think will help us over the long haul.”


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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2012 – 5:19 am

There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.

You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.

There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…

– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.

– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.

– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.

– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.

– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.

– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.

– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.

– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.


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Defense Dials It Up; Notes From Monday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 6, 2012 – 5:19 pm

There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.

Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.

DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.

During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.

LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.

A few other notes…

Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.

“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”

Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.

“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”

Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.

“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”


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Roster Rundown: Defensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 26, 2012 – 9:29 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today and their first walk-thru and practice will be tomorrow, so it’s time for us to complete our Roster Rundown series. There are three position groups to go, and we’ll knock off the largest group right now – the defensive line.

Let’s split this up into DEs and DTs, without regard to who’s playing right DE compared to left DE and without regard to who’s playing the three-technique and who’s playing nose. Here we go…

Defensive Ends
For my money, the Vikings have the best DE in the NFL. Jared Allen comes off a 22.0-sack season a year ago, and no player has more sacks than Allen’s 105.0 since he entered the League in 2004. It’s not a stretch in the least to think Allen can have another sensational season in 2012. Yes, teams will be focusing on neutralizing him, but teams have been trying to neutralize him for years with no avail. As a bookend at DE, Brian Robison is the favorite to hold a starting position on the defense as he comes off a career-high 8.0-sack season in 2011.

Behind starters Allen and Robison, the Vikings have high hopes for Everson Griffen this season. Griffen has been a standout special teams player during his two-year career, and he’s gotten to the point now where the team will try to find more snaps for him on defense. Because of his versatility, those snaps could come at either DE or DT, and there’s also been talk of him getting into the mix at LB. Another reserve who could take a step forward this year is D’Aundre Reed. He was a 7th-round pick out of Arizona last season and didn’t play in a game, but coaches are excited about his athleticism and potential.

Other DEs on the roster who will fight to add depth to the group are: Jeff Charleston, Trevor Guyton, Anthony Jacobs, Eric Latimore, Ernest Owusu and Nick Reed. Charleston and Reed are veterans, Guyton was a 7th-round pick this year, and Jacobs (Minnesota), Latimore (Penn State) and Owusu (California) are undrafted college free agents.

Expect Allen and Robison to emerge from camp with starting spots, with Griffen pushing Robison for playing time and the two perhaps playing on a rotational basis. D’Aundre Reed has a big training camp ahead of him and could take a huge step forward. The rest of the group is a nice blend of veterans and youngsters, and they have a chance to provide some depth at what is a very strong position for the Vikings.

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Defensive Tackle
Teammates call him The Big Ticket. Kevin Williams is the leader of the Vikings DTs and has been changing games for the Purple since 2003. Williams played better than most people realize a year ago, and there’s no reason to expect a slowdown from Ticket in 2012.

This year, Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player.

Letroy Guion is a good, young option for the Vikings. Guion is only 25, but he’s entering his 5th season out of Florida State already and the Vikings would benefit greatly if he could step up and earn a starting position. Another returning veteran on the roster is Fred Evans, a six-year veteran who joined the Vikings in 2007.

Earlier this offseason, we identified Christian Ballard as one of eight Vikings poised for a breakout season in 2012. A rotational player in 2011 as a rookie, Ballard trained hard this offseason and is committed to earning more playing time for 2012. Perhaps Ballard’s biggest asset will be versatility because he can line up at defensive end or defensive tackle.

The Vikings have two undrafted college free agents at DT - Chase Baker (Boise State) and Tydreke Powell (North Carolina). Baker was a standout to me at this year’s Senior Bowl (Leslie Frazier and his staff had Baker on their North squad), and Powell will impress because of his size (6-3, 310 pounds).

Williams is obviously solidified as the starter at the three-technique, but a great opportunity exists for the rest of the DTs to earn a starting spot next to Williams. This will be a fun position battle to monitor during training camp. Don’t be surprised if this situation is ultimately resolved with a by-committee approach, but it also wouldn’t be surprising – and would be quite pleasant – if someone emerged from camp with a firm grasp on the job.


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A Change In Overall Atmosphere At Vikings Training Camp; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 2, 2011 – 10:57 am

The Vikings have moved one step closer to full-contact, all-hands-on-deck mode as they have completed Practice #2 of 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp in Mankato. Tomorrow (Wednesday) the team can finally strap on the pads and then on Thursday all players will be eligible to hit the field.

Tuesday’s practice began around 9:00 a.m. and wrapped up at about 10:45. Coaches and players worked in comfortable temperatures and underneath mostly cloudy skies. A little rain shower about half-way through practice didn’t do much to distract the team.

One observation I’ve had so far early in camp is just a general change in the atmosphere and attitude. There aren’t really any distractions, there is tranquility on the coaching staff and no one is constantly looking over their shoulder for the next piece of adversity to come strolling along.

In last year’s camp, the theme was to basically “bring the band back together” again and make another run at the NFC playoffs after falling in the conference championship game the year prior. This year, though, it’s different because there’s a sense of building toward something. There are going to be a few new starters in the lineup and several new faces on the roster overall, and I think that yields a competitive atmosphere where everyone – even the established starters – is working hard to earn a spot and earn the respect of coaches and teammates.

A few notes from today’s practice…

– Superstar RB Adrian Peterson left practice early on Monday because his fiancé went into labor. He was obviously not at practice today and has been excused.

– A pair of starting offensive linemen were among the Vikings who sat out of practice, as RG Anthony Herrera (PUP list) and LT Bryant McKinnie (NFI list) worked on the side with the strength and conditioning staff. With so many players not allowed to practice and with their being no contact allowed, it’s hard to tell who exactly is playing the first, second and third teams, so we’ll try to drill down on that a bit more in the coming days.

– LB Chad Greenway and S Jamarca Sanford grabbed INTs today. Greenway’s came very early in practice and Sanford’s came toward the end on a deflected pass.

– WR Percy Harvin had the highlight play of the day, leaping into the air to bring down a pass along the left sideline of Field #1, right in front of bleachers full of Vikings fans.

– Continuing our eye test experiment, where I’ll note after each practice a few players who pass the eye test, I’d point to Greenway, Harvin, LB E.J. Henderson, QB Christian Ponder, DE D’Aundre Reed and Sanford. Repeats from yesterday’s eye test are Greenway, Harvin and Reed.


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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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Vikings Take DE D’Aundre Reed With 7th-Round Choice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2011 – 3:42 pm

The Vikings continued to add defensive players to their roster on Day 3 of the 2011 NFL Draft, using their first of two 7th-round choices on DE D’Aundre Reed.

Reed is 6-4, 261 pounds and was projected to be a DE in a 4-3 scheme or an outside LB in a 3-4 scheme. The Vikings, of course, run a 4-3 scheme so Reed will join the DE rotation in Minnesota, a stable that is growing and will be one of the most competitive spots on the roster leading up to the regular season.

As is typically the case with picks at this point in the draft, Reed will also be a contributor on special teams for the Vikings.

Here is the NFL.com scouting report on Reed: “Reed brings a lot of versatility to the table but lacks the athleticism to become a starter.. Could turn into a back up run-stopping defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker for a team that stresses gap-integrity. Does a good job against the run, coming off the ball, keeping blockers off his body, and maintaining outside contain but struggles against bigger tackles, with misdirection, and won’t make a ton of plays from the backside or in space. Currently does not offer much as a pass rusher but could develop into an adequate power rusher with some more moves and technical refinement. Reed’s a late-round prospect.”


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