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QB Roundup After Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2011 – 8:19 am

Preseason game #1 is in the books and we’re now one step closer to the regular season. The natural tendency is to draw wide-sweeping conclusions after the first preseason game, but we must remember that Saturday night’s tilt against the Titans was just another small step in the process of preparing for the season.

With that said, let’s take a look at how the Vikings QBs fared on Saturday night…

Donovan McNabb – For your starting QB, the first preseason game is more about eliminating mental mistakes and perfecting fundamentals than it is about scoring points and accumulating statistics. To that end, McNabb was just fine on Saturday night. He was 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs and no INTs. McNabb completed his first three passes and four of his first five attempts. On his first offensive series, McNabb converted two third-down passes and drove the Vikings offense from their own 7-yardline out to the 40.

McNabb came out for a second series and immediately hit WR Bernard Berrian on a quick slant. Then he lofted a touch pass to WR Greg Camarillo on 3rd and 3 to keep the drive going. Eventually the drive stalled and the Vikings had to punt from their own 46.

In the end, I came away encouraged with what I saw from McNabb and the first-team offense. Two of McNabb’s incompletions could’ve been caught, none of his passes were near-INTs and he used his athleticism to get out of the pocket to buy time. These are all good signs in the first preseason game.

Joe Webb – The team’s backup QB entering training camp, Webb has done nothing to lose his status as the #2 in camp and he didn’t lose any ground on Saturday night, either. I would characterize McNabb’s night as a positive and Webb’s as a mixed bag. Too often Webb is quick to pull the ball down, escape the pocket and start running downfield. Now, this is a good tool for a QB to possess, but you also want your QB to be willing to stay in the pocket, find the open receiver and deliver the pass in the face of pressure. We haven’t seen Webb do that yet. On top of that, he did throw an INT on his second series.

In the end, Webb finished going 3 of 5 for 36 yards 4 of 8 for 45 yards with no TDs and the INT; he also had 5 carries for 33 yards. There is no questioning Webb’s athletic ability, arm strength and overall look at the QB position. But he does need to become more polished. At this point in his career and at this point in the season, though, that’s about what you expect. He has the potential to play QB at this level.

Christian Ponder – The longer Ponder stayed in the game, the better I thought he looked. As has been the case with Ponder since he was selected 12th overall by the Vikings last April, nothing seemed too big for him on Saturday night and he never showed signs of being overwhelmed. No, he didn’t lead the Vikings offense to points. But also keep in mind that the Vikings went for it on two separate 4th downs when they were deep in Titans territory.

Ponder entered the game midway through the 3rd quarter and hit fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph for a 10-yard completion on his first play. An incompletion, 5-yard run and sack in subsequent plays forced the Vikings to punt. On his next series, Ponder had another 10-yard completion, another sack, a 17-yard completion that was negated by penalty and then an incompletion, all leading to another punt.

Ponder’s third series was fun to watch. He hit TE Allen Reisner for 16 yards on 2nd and 8, then completed a 26-yard strike to WR Juaquin Iglesias that got the Vikings near the red zone. But Ponder and Co. couldn’t muster much after that and eventually they turned the ball over on downs on 4th and 2 from the Titans 14. On his final series, Ponder went 2 of 3 before taking a sack on 4th and 2 from the Tennessee 16.

In total, Ponder finished going 8 of 13 for 84 yards with no TDs, no INTs and 3 sacks.

Overall, I was encouraged by most of what I saw from the Vikings QBs on Saturday night. Yes, it would’ve been nice to see more points on the board. But given the wide spectrum of results you can see during a preseason game, what we saw on Saturday night was right about in the middle. And it looks to be going in the right direction.

I thought McNabb gave a pretty good assessment of his play during a sideline interview on Saturday night. As it turns out, McNabb’s comments were actually a good assessment of how all the QBs performed in preseason game #1. Here’s what he said…

“Well, obviously there are some things we’d like to have back. I think it was a good overall start. We had a lot of rhythm going on and our chemistry was definitely there. Obviously something we can feed off of going into game number two. But overall just kind of stepping back right now before watching film, you’ve got to be pleased by the enthusiasm of the guys, the execution of the plays, getting in and out of the huddle and then starting the tempo that we needed.”


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Vikings Lose Preseason Opener To Titans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 9:49 pm

The Vikings dropped a 14-3 decision to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday Night at LP Field in Nashville. The game represented each club’s preseason opener and each club surely came away knowing there is still plenty of work to be done before the regular season begins on September 11.

Both teams gave their starters the quick hook, so as to minimize their exposure to injury. That combined with the fact that offenses are even more behind pace than usual because of the lockout – which cancelled all offseason work – didn’t give fans a good look at what their club will look like in 2011.

Both the Vikings and Titans are featuring new, veteran starting QBs and both guys didn’t see much action. For the Vikings, Donovan McNabb went 6 of 11 for 40 yards with no TDs or INTs. He actually looked fairly sharp, converting a couple of 1st downs and using his athleticism to evade the pass rush a couple of times. One 1st-down completion was to WR Percy Harvin, a connection Vikings fans are itching to see more of once the season begins.

Matt Hasselbeck is the Titans new passer and he wasn’t any more sensational in his debut performance. Hasselbeck was 5 of 6 on the night for 55 yards with no TDs or INTs. Actually, the Titans relied on their running game for the most part in the first half. RB Jamie Harper had 8 carries for 27 yards and even found the endzone once.

Both of Tennessee’s TDs came in the 2nd quarter. Rookie QB Jake Locker entered the game once Hasselbeck left and he connected with Yamon Figurs for a 45-yard scoring toss on what turned out to be a near-botched play. Locker fumbled the snap, chased the ball down, picked it up and connected with Figurs, who had run behind the Vikings secondary when CB Chris Cook hesitated at the sight of the fumble. Tennessee’s second TD came on Harper’s two-yard run just moments later.

The Vikings finally got on the board in the 3rd quarter when Ryan Longwell was true on a 37-yard FG that capped an 11-play, 59-yard drive led by Joe Webb. Speaking of Webb, he came in once Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier decided to pull McNabb. Webb, who was quick to pull the ball down and vacate the pocket, was 4 of 8 for 45 yards with no TDs and 1 INT. But he did look good when running with the ball and he finished the night with 33 rushing yards on 5 carries.

Ponder was the third Vikings QB to enter and he flashed plenty of potential. While he wasn’t able to lead the offense to any points, the Vikings did go for it twice on 4th down when they were in FG range. Also, Ponder had two completions of 10 yards – including his first throw of the night, which was to fellow rookie Kyle Rudolph – and he also had another 16-yard completion. It was encouraging to see Ponder running around and making plays, especially with some of the plays coming downfield.

Defensively, it was new starting outside LB Erin Henderson who led the way. He had 10 tackles, which was far and away the team high. His older brother, E.J. Henderson, was tied with three others for second on the team in tackles with 3. E.J. Henderson also had a forced fumble.

There’s much more to go over from Saturday night’s game, including: a solid performance overall by the Vikings special teams group, RB Lorenzo Booker showing up in the box score, Jaymar Johnson taking a step forward and a couple of rookies showing up to make plays.

We’ll cover all of that and more right here on the vikings.com over the next 24 hours, so stay tuned.


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 1:15 pm

The Vikings preseason opener is tonight in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Here are five things to watch tonight when the Vikings and Titans clash in Nashville…

5. Mental mistakes, procedural penalties
No one on the field has a lack of competitive desire, but the truth of the matter is that the preseason is not about wins and losses. With the exception of guys at the bottom of the roster trying to bite, scratch and crawl for a spot, it’s about looking good, knocking the rust off and progressing every day. Coaches are more concerned about seeing zero missed assignments than they are about seeing 31 offensive points on the board. What we don’t want to see tonight are blitzers running free at Vikings QBs, running backs from the Titans bursting through the line of scrimmage without a hand on them and Vikings WRs cutting one way and the QB tossing a pass the other way. We also don’t want to see botched QB-center exchanges, false starts and illegal formation penalties.

4. The QB eye test
We’re going to have to go easy on crafting a water-tight judgment of Vikings QBs after this game. Remember, three of them are new Vikings (Rhett Bomar, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder) and the other (Joe Webb) may as well be new to the team because he’s learning a brand-new offense. With the lockout cancelling all offseason practices, offenses across the League have only just begun to install their strategies. So we’ll see a very vanilla style from the Vikings offense tonight, but I still want to see any Vikings QB who trots out there pass the eye test and at least look comfortable in all situations, whether it be a snap on first-and-ten or a pressure moment late in the half with time winding down and the defense dialing up a blitz.

3. Vikings pass rush
Jared Allen and Everson Griffen had great camps, but I’d like confirmation that they’re playing well tonight. Confirmation will come in the form of a few disruptive plays against the Titans. This might be a bit tougher to see from Allen because head coach Leslie Frazier may want to limit his reps to reduce exposure to injury, but I think Griffen will get plenty of reps tonight and I expect him to play well.

2. Kick and punt returners
The Vikings have a deep group of players competing for kick and punt return duties. This is an important role on the team not only because it helps the team win the field position battle, but also because anyone who can contribute on special teams will increase their chances of making the roster. If a WR can be relied upon to return kicks and cover kicks as well as run the correct routes on offense, he has a better chance to make the roster. If a RB can do the same while also showing good pass protection ability and a burst with the ball in his hands, then he has a better shot to make the roster. The same can be said for a CB trying to win the return job. RB Lorenzo Booker, WRs Stephen Burton, Percy Harvin and Jaymar Johnson and even a few members of the secondary are examples of players who can increase their value to the team by giving a good accounting of themselves in the return game.

1. Reserve offensive linemen
There are six offensive linemen you can count on (barring injury) being around once the regular season begins – LT Charlie Johnson, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RGs Anthony Herrera and Chris DeGeare and RT Phil Loadholt. But who will fill in as reserves? The process of determining that begins tonight and, specifically, begins about midway through the first quarter when the starters will exit the game. Draft picks C Brandon Fusco and OT DeMarcus Love have had nice camps. The versatile Ryan Cook was brought back and could fill in anywhere. Veteran Scott Kooistra is a big body that can play both LT and RT. What about Seth Olsen, who filled in for Hutchinson at LG during camp a few times? There are several more names in the mix for reserve offensive linemen jobs and it’ll be interesting to see who plays well tonight.


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First Full Pads Practice Was Worth The Wait

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2011 – 5:25 pm

Given the CBA/lockout situation we all endured over the course of this past offseason, it was only appropriate that we had to wait just a little longer than anticipated to finally see a full pads practice at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

Policies within the new CBA prohibited players operating under new contracts from participating in their team’s training camp until the CBA was ratified, something that was widely expected to happen by this morning. But as things tend to go in situations such as collective bargaining, there was a hang up.

The Vikings had a full pads practice scheduled for 3:00 on Thursday, but 3:00 came and no players were in sight on the practice fields. As it turned out, the CBA had not been ratified and therefore players with new contracts were still unable to participate. Finally the locker room doors opened and players filed outside to the fields, but even still the players with new contracts didn’t participate in the early part of practice.

Eventually – about 30 minutes into practice – Vikings VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman gave the thumbs up to his players while in between two of the practice fields, and Donovan McNabb and Co. hopped into the action and participated in their first practices of training camp.

“We were like little kids at Pop Warner who didn’t make weight,” McNabb said during his post-practice press conference. “We were just standing around. But you know the whole thing about it, the guys who were off on the sideline awaiting that opportunity have been working extremely hard the last couple days just getting the mental reps and then spending time together working out and pushing each other. Just trying to perfect our craft.”

Speaking of perfecting the craft, McNabb began the practice perfectly, connecting on his first three passes of full team work. McNabb’s first completion was a deep pass down the left sideline to WR Bernard Berrian, who fought off a defender and hauled in the pass for a 50-yard TD. A huge applause from the packed crowd ensued and practice was off to a great start.

McNabb held a press conference after practice and we’ll have the full version of that in on-demand format for your viewing pleasure, so stay tuned.

The overall energy and intensity of practice remained high and the fact that the guys were in pads for the first time was certainly a big reason. The Vikings have a one-hour walk-through scheduled for tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. and then they’ll practice in full pads once again tomorrow afternoon at 3:00.

Odds and Ends
– RB Adrian Peterson did not participate in practice but is expected back tomorrow.
— S Jamarca Sanford, competing for a starting position, intercepted a pass during the first team period of practice. The pass was thrown by McNabb and TE Visanthe Shiancoe was the intended target, but Sanford jumped the route and made a nice play.
— McNabb looked sharp, especially considering it was his first practice with the team. He completed his first three passes of the day before the Sanford INT and then he began 7-on-7 drills going four of four.
— Frazier said after practice that rookie QB Christian Ponder and Joe Webb are rotating in and out of the second string QB role.
— Rookie TE Kyle Rudolph had the catch of the day – and maybe the catch of training camp – when he was able to collect a one-handed grab while running down the right seam in a full team portion of camp. But he wasn’t done there. When practice concluded, Rudolph and Visanthe Shiancoe stayed several minutes after to work with TEs coach Jimmie Johnson and then on their way to the locker room Rudolph and Shiancoe took a few minutes to stop and sign autographs for fans.

The Eye Test
Our new feature this year – the eye test – has gotten pretty good reviews actually, so I’m going to keep it going. Passing the eye test from today’s practices were: RB Lorenzo Booker, WRs Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins and S Jamarca Sanford.

For those of you keeping score at home, the only player to pass the eye test in all four full practices is Harvin. LB Chad Greenway has been mentioned after three practice and CB Cedric Griffin, DE D’Aundre Reed and Sanford have passed it twice. It should also be noted that Jenkins passed the eye test in his first opportunity and I probably should’ve included McNabb, but we have high expectations of him and I know he’ll be a regular mention in this part of the notes down the line.


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Emptying Out The Notebook Before First Full Pads Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2011 – 10:08 am

It’s another perfect day at 2011Verizon Vikings Training Camp on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Mankato. The Vikings wrapped up a morning walk-through at about 10:00 a.m. and now they’ll rest and recover before heading out for their first full pads practice at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.

Assuming a few issues with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement are worked out before this afternoon, the 3:00 p.m. practice today will be the first time players with new contracts can practice.

The Vikings had several special visitors at this morning’s walk-through, including U.S. Senator Al Franken (Minn.). Franken addressed the team after the walk-through and also spent some time with vikings.com. He talked a little Vikings history, touched on the stadium situation in Minnesota, gave his opinion on the acquisition of QB Donovan McNabb and gave us his outlook for the season. We’ll have the interview with Franken posted shortly.

Also visiting practice today was NFL referee Jeff Triplette and his crew. An NFL officials crew visits Vikings training camp each year to go over new rules with coaches, players and the media.

Let’s empty out the notebook before I start filling it up again at this afternoon’s practice. Here are a few topics I’ve made notes on but haven’t mentioned yet…

– There is a vacant starting position at outside LB on the Vikings defense and head coach Leslie Frazier has said that Erin Henderson is penciled in as the starter. But he’s one player under a new contract, which means he hasn’t been able to practice yet. In his place, Jasper Brinkley and Heath Farwell have taken reps with the first team. This will be a position to watch as training camp rolls on and as we get into the preseason.

– Staying with the defense, there is also competition for starting positions at safety. Husain Abdullah is a likely starter, but he is under a new contract and hasn’t been able to practice yet. Taking reps with the first team has been Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford. Also, don’t discount rookie Mistral Raymond as someone who could earn some playing time. Right now, I’d guess that Abdullah is a favorite to start and then the other starting spot will come down to Johnson and Sanford.

– This is a tough environment for coaches because many of their players have not been allowed to practice and because contact was prohibited in practice for the first three days of camp. Compounding the difficulty, of course, is the fact that the lockout wiped away all offseason practices, such as minicamps and OTAs. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave spoke with reporters on Wednesday and I thought he gave an interesting explanation of what it’s been like for coaches around the NFL, particularly new coaches who are trying to get acclimated with their teams. Here is his quote:

“It’s unchartered territory. We’ve never been through anything like this whether as a coach or a player so we’ve tried to be smart and whittle down the volume we present to the players. We want to be difficult and diverse to defend on offense but at the same time we want to know what we’re doing. We also want to get these guys back in football shape and not just work hard mindlessly. We want to work smart. We’re bouncing all of those factors with our eye on September 11 down in San Diego. Fortunately we do have the month of August and we’ve planned as such I believe.”


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Timeline Of An NFL QB

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 3, 2011 – 2:18 pm

Critics of the Vikings decision to trade for QB Donovan McNabb questioned whether the 13-year veteran has enough left in the tank to be an effective player.

Well, it sounds like you can count offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave as one who believes McNabb has the juice left to be a productive player, largely because he’ll be able to rely on experiences and lessons learned from past seasons to stay one step ahead of the game.

Musgrave held his first official press conference as Vikings offensive coordinator after the morning practice on Wednesday and at one point he laid out an interesting timeline as it relates to veteran QBs in the NFL.

“Donovan is entering into his mid-thirties and at times, quarterbacks really start to apply the lessons learned right when they approach their mid-thirties,” Musgrave explained. “It happened with Steve Young in the mid to late nineties. It happened with John Elway. We know it happened with Rich Gannon. But you take your lumps early on in your career and then you still have your legs underneath of you, you can still make plays in your late-twenties and early-thirties and then as you get to your mid-thirties you start to apply all of those lessons and play a little bit differently but sometimes the end result is must better than you ever anticipated.”

Remember, Musgrave’s perspective on the topic of veteran QBs is a good one because he was a backup to Joe Montana and Steve Young in San Francisco from 1991-94, where he worked under coaches Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. And he was also a backup behind John Elway in Denver from 1995-96. So he clearly knows how successful veteran QBs operate.


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New NFL QB Rule Could Mean More Action For Joe Webb

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2011 – 9:49 am

With all of the Collective Bargaining Agreement news this offseason, it was easy to forget a few of the rules changes that took place in the NFL. And with the arrival of two new QBs (Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder) in Minnesota, it was easy to forget about Joe Webb.

But these two issues are going to be important for the Vikings and Vikings fans this season.

Under old rules, NFL teams were allowed to have 45 players on their active game day roster. A 46th player was designated as the emergency or 3rd QB. If the emergency QB entered the game before the 4th quarter, then the other two QBs were disqualified.

Under the new rules, NFL teams are allowed to have 46 players on their active game day roster. In addition, the emergency QB rule is abolished, which means a team’s 3rd string QB can enter the game at any point without disqualifying the other two QBs.

This could be a big deal for the Vikings and perhaps for Webb. With McNabb now in the fold, the plan is for him to start and it’s possible that Ponder will perform well enough in training camp and the preseason to win the backup job. In this scenario, Webb would be the 3rd string QB. Under the old rules, Webb likely wouldn’t enter the game until the 4th quarter. But now, the Vikings offensive coaching staff can be creative in how they deploy Webb. He can line up at QB or WR, he can return kicks and he can run a Wildcat-type of package.

All of this is presuming quite a few things, from McNabb being named the starter and staying healthy to Ponder playing well enough to win the backup job. Remember, Webb enters training camp with a leg up on Ponder because of experience.

No matter how you slice it, though, the new QB rule is significant for the Vikings. And for the Vikings ability to get Webb and his athletic ability out on the field as often as possible.


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McNabb A Pro At Limiting Mistakes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2011 – 6:03 am

In 12 NFL seasons, QB Donovan McNabb has accumulated a lot of TD passes (230), a lot of wins (97), a lot of playoff appearances (seven) and a lot of division championships (five).

But there’s one statistic he’s been able to avoid collecting in mass – interceptions.

In fact, McNabb ranks among the NFL’s all-time best at keeping a good TD/INT ratio. He enters the 2011 season with a 2/1 margin, which is good for fourth in NFL history among QBs who’ve thrown for a minimum of 200 TDs (Tom Brady, Steve Young, Peyton Manning rank 1-3).

McNabb’s INTs relative to TD passes is impressive, and so too is his INT total relative to pass attempts. He has the third best INT% in NFL history, having thrown just 115 picks in 5,218 attempts (2.2%), which is the same percentage as Brady.


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McNabb Acquisition The Best Of Both Worlds For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 29, 2011 – 5:22 pm

The much-anticipated trade between the Vikings and Washington Redskins involving QB Donovan McNabb was finalized on Friday. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but the Vikings come away with a six-time Pro Bowler and a passer who is playoff tested (16 career playoff games) and eager to get back to the postseason.

This is the second time Vikings fans have welcomed a new QB to town this offseason; Christian Ponder was selected by the club in the first round (#12 overall) of last April’s NFL draft. In addition to McNabb and Ponder, Vikings fans are also anxious to see Joe Webb play, especially after he flashed some promise late in the 2010 season.

With a couple of young QBs already in the fold, some Vikings fans would prefer the team stick with the young guns in an attempt to develop a long-term plan. Yet others are enthusiastic about the prospects of landing McNabb because he gives the team a legitimate shot to reclaim division supremacy and make it back to the playoffs.

But I think both camps should feel satisfied. In the short-term, the Vikings are in it to win it. The roster has talented players in key spots – DE Jared Allen, WR Percy Harvin, RB Adrian Peterson, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield – and now another huge talent was added at perhaps the game’s most important position.

At the same time, can you think of another veteran QB who was readily available this offseason who would’ve been a better example for Ponder and Webb? There’s nothing wrong with a young QB sitting back for a bit and watching an experienced veteran work his craft. Assuming McNabb grabs a hold of the starting job, there will be no pressure on Ponder or Webb to step into the starting lineup on the road against San Diego in Week 1 and lead a talented roster full of Pro Bowlers back to the playoffs.

The acquisition of McNabb is a “best of both worlds” proposition for the Vikings. It gives them the experience and talent at the position to be a winner this year and it gives Ponder and Webb (and Rhett Bomar) a veteran influence in the meeting room, in the locker room and on the field.

What do you think of the move, Vikings fans?


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