Through the offseason program, training camp and now three preseason games, it appears the Vikings have a promising class of draft picks from 2012. But one selection the team hasn’t seen much of to this point – at least in the preseason – is 5th-round pick Robert Blanton.
The Vikings selected Blanton with 139th overall pick last April and have converted him from a college CB to an NFL safety. Blanton’s transition to the NFL hit a speed bump in training camp, though, when he injured his hamstring. The Notre Dame product has missed the Vikings three preseason games because of that injury, but now the team is hoping to get an extended look at Blanton this week in practice and during Thursday’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans.
“We probably could have played him in this ball game, but we didn’t want to risk it because we want to play him in that next ball game,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday night. “We’ll get through these couple days, he’ll practice, and play quite a bit in that Houston game, which helps some of the injuries that we have at safety.”
Frazier disclosed those injuries following Friday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers, explaining that S Mistral Raymond’s back tightened up on him in pregame warm-ups, CB Marcus Sherels and S Andrew Sendejo suffered sprained ankles, S Eric Frampton injured his groin and CB Josh Robinson was evaluated for a concussion. While the Vikings will remain optimistic that none of those injuries will sideline players for an extended time, the team will also lean heavily on Blanton while the other DBs are on the mend.
Blanton stands at 6-1, 208 pounds and improved his draft stock during a solid senior season at Notre Dame, playing alongside Vikings teammate Harrison Smith in the Fighting Irish secondary. Regardless of where he opens the season on the defensive depth chart, Blanton figures to be a solid special teams contributor as well.
Tags: Andrew Sendejo, Eric Frampton, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton
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Harrison Smith: Progression Continues
Mistral Raymond: He’s Got The Look
Improving the pass defense was a top priority for the Vikings this past offseason, and the effort to do so has continued during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and the preseason. Two starting positions at safety are open for competition, and the race to win those spots will continue this week as the Vikings prepare for preseason game #2 against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field on Friday.
In the days leading up to Friday’s game, we’ll take a daily look at three players vying for starting safety positions – Mistral Raymond (today), Harrison Smith (Wednesday) and Jamarca Sanford (Thursday).
Keep in mind that there are others fighting for spots, too. Andrew Sendejo, for example, led the Vikings in tackles last week at San Francisco and is pushing for playing time on defense. Others in the mix include Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton and Reggie Jones.
We’ll begin this series with a look at Mistral Raymond…
He’s got the look
Entering his second season, Raymond has the look of star in the making. He has the frame (6-1, 202 pounds) and skill set to be a ball-hawking NFL safety. The Vikings acquired Raymond with a sixth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but the hope is he’ll make a top-pick kind of impact on the Vikings defense.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams says physical ability and a willingness to mix it up on defense are not concerns. The thing keeping Raymond from emerging as a reliable contributor on defense is experience, something he’ll gain during his second NFL season this year.
“Yes, without a doubt,” Williams quickly responded when asked if Raymond was willing and able enough to play safety. “Willing, not a problem whatsoever, strong enough, not a problem. Experience is just going to be the thing that he needs to come along with.
“With him it’s just every situation is going to be new for him, that he hadn’t seen it, there will be some wrinkles from week-to-week and we just need to make sure that we get him enough reps in practice, and in ball games to get him up to speed so that every situation is just not new to him, that he has some experience with them.”
In college, Raymond was used both as a cornerback and safety. The Vikings are confident that Raymond’s experience playing cornerback in college will give him sound coverage skills as a safety in the NFL.
“He’s an athletic safety that still has cover skills that have not diminished since we put him at safety from the time that he was playing corner,” Williams said. “He is still learning on the go, though. He is a young safety.”
Raymond started five games last year as a rookie and flashed plenty of potential while also learning from mistakes. Entering his second season, Raymond knows his performance in training camp and practice are important, but he also knows the game experience from last year is invaluable.
“You go out in practice and give it everything you’ve got, but some of those game situations you just can’t simulate,” Raymond explained. “It’s big to get those live game reps. I think the more reps I got, the more comfortable I became and the more I started to see things. Hopefully that will translate to this season.”
The Vikings seem anxious to see what Raymond can add to the Vikings secondary.
“We’re looking to put him in as many situations as we can so that when it comes to play on Sundays, it’s not the first time that he has done it or seen it or been it,” Williams said. “He still has a ways to go, but we like his potential.”
Tags: 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Alan Williams, Andrew Sendejo, Eric Frampton, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Reggie Jones, Robert Blanton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 159 Comments »
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.
Tags: 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Audie Cole, Brandon Fusco, Chris DeGeare, D'Aundre Reed, Derrick Coleman, Eric Frampton, Everson Griffen, Geoff Schwartz, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Joe Berger, Jordan Todman, Lex Hilliard, Marcus Sherels, Mistral Raymond, Nick Reed, Percy Harvin, Quentin Saulsberry, Tyrone McKenzie
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The Vikings made key additions to the safety and tight end positions this offseason, but they utilized different methods in doing so. At safety, the Vikings looked to the draft to add young talent and infuse the position with competition. At tight end, the Vikings turned to free agency to bolster the position.
Safeties and tight ends are the subject of today’s Roster Rundown. Let’s begin with the safeties…
Four players listed as safeties will return from last year’s team. Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games in 2011 and is entering his fourth season, has the most experience playing defense of the bunch. Eric Frampton, entering his sixth season, has been a core special teams player for the Vikings since 2007 and should retain at least that role in 2012. The two other returning players are Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo. Raymond started five games last year and Sendejo was added to the active roster via free agency in late November 2011.
The Vikings added two safeties to the roster via the draft, using a 1st-round pick to select Harrison Smith and a 5th-round pick to select Robert Blanton. As a 1st-round pick, the expectation for Smith is that he’ll emerge from training camp with a starting role. Blanton is converting from cornerback to safety and will compete for time at the other safety position. Others who will compete for time at safety are Reggie Jones and perhaps Zack Bowman (he could rotate between cornerback and safety).
Safety is a position to watch during training camp and the preseason. The assumption is that Smith will hold down one starting spot while Blanton, Raymond and Sanford compete for the other position. But don’t be surprised to see others insert themselves into the mix, including Bowman and Sendejo.
The Vikings shed a fair amount of experience at tight end this offseason, with 13-year pro Jim Kleinsasser retiring and nine-year pro Visanthe Shiancoe not returning. But now the position is full of youth and play-making athleticism. Not many teams used more multiple-TE formations than the Vikings a season ago, so this will be an important position to watch develop during training camp and the preseason.
Kyle Rudolph was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings last year and he came on strong at the end of the season. He and QB Christian Ponder clearly have a good rapport, so it won’t be a surprise to see Rudolph take a huge step forward in 2012. As if one athletic, field-stretching TE from Notre Dame wasn’t enough, the Vikings added John Carlson to the mix during free agency. A Litchfield, MN native, Carlson is a proven talent in the NFL with a pair of 50+ reception seasons and a per-catch average of 11.1 yards for his career.
Behind Carlson and Rudolph, the Vikings have a pair of former Big Ten tight ends who are also talented pass catchers in Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler. Both have two years of experience and both will have to display an ability to help on special teams as well as on offense to earn a roster spot.
The last player we’ll mention in this space is Rhett Ellison, even though he may eventually be listed as a FB. The Vikings selected Ellison in the 4th round of this year’s draft and he could be asked to fulfill a variety of roles on the Vikings offense, including as a tight end. Billed as a big, physical blocking-type of tight end entering the draft, Ellison displayed fluid route running and pass receiving skills at the Vikings rookie minicamp in May. A blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player, Ellison will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.
Carlson and Rudolph will be the main threats at TE for the Vikings in 2012. While both are capable blockers, that is not their forte. That leaves opportunity for Reisner and Shuler to prove their worth during training camp; it will also be important for Reisner and Shuler to perform well on special teams during training camp and the preseason.
Tags: Allen Reisner, Andrew Sendejo, Eric Frampton, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Mickey Shuler, Mistral Raymond, Reggie Jones, Rhett Ellison, Robert Blanton, Roster Rundown
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 278 Comments »
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.
Tags: Chris Kluwe, Cullen Loeffler, Eric Frampton, Lorenzo Booker, Mike Priefer, Ryan Longwell
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 35 Comments »
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.
Tags: Chris Kluwe, Cullen Loeffler, Devin Aromashodu, Eric Frampton, Heath Farwell, Jaymar Johnson, Larry Dean, Mike Priefer, Ryan Longwell
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 66 Comments »
The Vikings were under the lights and in full pads on Friday evening at Blakeslee Field to conclude their 1st full week of training camp in Mankato. Following the practice, an extended and spectacular fireworks display was put on for fans who attended and stuck around afterwards.
In the full team parts of practice, the Vikings worked on 3rd-and-long situations and what Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress termed “backed up” situations, where the offense was either trying to get away from its own goal line or was trying to pick up a couple of 1st downs and run out the clock in a 4-minute situation.
Given those circumstances, you’d certainly expect the defense to win more than their fair share of periods. And they did. But both Childress and QB Sage Rosenfels acknowledged that those situations favor the defense.
“The third-and-long is a tough situation,” Childress said. “You expect defenses to win 99 and 9/10ths percent of the time you put yourself in a third-and-11 or 12. But you’ve got to practice those situations.”
As for the QB competition, Childress hesitated to make any finite judgments.
“I’m not slapping a grade on it,” Childress said. “Obviously, he (Tarvaris Jackson) had missed time so it wouldn’t be fair to sit there and say, ‘This guy is ahead by virtue of the fact he had five more practices.’ It’s a good competition and it’s all headed toward a cumulative work here during practice and then I want watch them compete with the lights on.”
As for Jackson, he told reporters after practice that it was nice to put the pads on and play under the lights. Jackson was injured and unable to participate the last time the Vikings were in full pads and played inside of Blakeslee Stadium.
Eric Frampton had a nice interception near the middle of practice. He leaped and grabbed the ball deep in the secondary. Percy Harvin also hauled in a few more long passes, wowing the crowd several times.
Once again, the stands were packed. The Vikings have enjoyed great crowds all week long and are crushing attendance numbers from last year.
Tags: Eric Frampton, Percy Harvin, Sage Rosenfels
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 3 Comments »