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Vikings Shuffle LBs To Dance Around Injuries

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 7, 2012 – 7:12 am

A return from injury by Erin Henderson and a new injury for Marvin Mitchell could result in a small roster shuffle at LB for the Vikings on Sunday. Solid play in all phases of the game by Jasper Brinkley and solid depth behind Henderson and Mitchell will allow the Vikings defense to overcome the hurdles, though.

Henderson, who missed the past two games because of a concussion, was limited in practice on Wednesday but was a full participant on Thursday and Friday. He was listed as questionable for the Vikings on their final injury report. Mitchell, who has dealt with an ankle injury all season, also injured his calf during Wednesday’s practice. He was limited in work on Thursday, did not practice on Friday and is listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

While meeting with reporters on Friday after practice, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier intimated that Henderson will be able to play today, which is big news because of Mitchell’s expected absence. Even with Henderson back, though, expect both Audie Cole and Tyrone McKenzie to be active for the game.

The key to the whole picture, though, is the solid play from Brinkley, especially in the Vikings nickel package. Brinkley has displayed marked improvement in pass coverage, which has allowed the team to put Brinkley in its nickel package as the “MIKE” LB in place of Henderson, the team’s regular starter in that package.

“Yeah we’re going to keep Jasper at the nickel mike for the time being,” Frazier said. “He’s done a good job there. Give Erin a chance to kind of get his legs back under him and then we’ll revisit it later on. Jasper has done a good job so we have a lot of confidence in what he’s accomplished so far.”


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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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Walsh Comes Up Clutch, Vikings Edge Jaguars 26-23 In Overtime

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 3:58 pm

The Vikings hadn’t opened a regular season at home since 2007. They sure made up for lost time on Sunday, opening the season at Mall of America Field in front of a spirited crowd with a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars that included the return of Adrian Peterson, a pair of clutch FGs from rookie K Blair Walsh, a new team record established and a try at the new overtime rules.

Where to begin? How about with the score? After trailing 9-0 after the 1st quarter and 23-20 with just 20 seconds to go in the 4th quarter, the Vikings displayed some resiliency and clutch kicking on the way to upending the visiting Jaguars by a count of 26-23 in overtime.

Both the Vikings and Jaguars were inches from closing out victories in regulation. Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker from Georgia drafted by the Vikings, converted a 42-yard FG with 5:33 to play in the game that gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead. On the ensuing Jaguars possession, the Vikings forced a punt and took possession with 1:51 to play. But the home team could not tally a 1st down to run out the clock, instead punting away to Jacksonville. Facing a 4th and 3 from midfield, Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert hit rookie WR Justin Blackmon for the conversion to extend the drive. On the next play, Gabbert lofted a pass downfield and WR Cecil Shorts got underneath it to haul in a 39-yard TD, giving Jacksonville a 23-20 lead following a 2-point conversion pass to Blackmon.

It was, at the time, a devastating blow to the Vikings because it appeared the game was over and the Vikings had lost yet another late lead, something that plagued the team last season. But the Vikings had a little magic left up their sleeve. QB Christian Ponder completed consecutive passes to WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and TE Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, putting the Vikings on the Jacksonville 37 with just :04 to play.

Enter: Walsh. The somewhat controversial move the Vikings made to go with a rookie kicker this year paid off big-time. Walsh split the uprights on a 55-yard game-tying FG as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime and Mall of America Field into jubilation.

The Vikings won the toss, elected to receive, and began their overtime possession on the 25 after Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 30 yards; Harvin gave the Vikings a sensational performance on the day with 14 total touches (receiving, rushing, returning) for 192 yards. Peterson, who returned to action and started the game after coming back from tearing two knee ligaments last Christmas Eve, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns in overtime and helped put the Vikings in position to win. He rushed for 10 yards on the first play of the series, hauled in a 3-yard reception on the second play, and then ripped off a 20-yard gain on the third play to put the Vikings inside Jaguars territory. Ponder found Aromashodu for 19 yards and a few plays later hit Toby Gerhart for 8 more, setting up Walsh to hit a 38-yarder that wound up being the game-winner.

Because of the NFL’s new overtime rules, though, that requires a team to score a TD to win the game on the first possession of overtime, Jacksonville had one last chance to pry a victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings defense jumped up, however, and sealed the win. Gabbert threw incomplete on 1st down, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 8 yards on 2nd down, Harrison Smith deflected a pass on 3rd down and then Gabbert overthrew WR Laurent Robinson on 4th down, giving the Vikings their victory and throwing the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy.

Sunday’s season-opener was a roller-coaster affair for the Vikings, but it finished on a high thanks to some late-game clutch kicking from Walsh, a solid 2nd-half performance from Ponder, an incredible will-to-win resiliency by Peterson and opportunistic playmaking by the Vikings defense. The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since 2009, and they’ll celebrate this victory on Sunday night before returning to Winter Park on Monday to review the victory and begin preparations for next week’s challenge on the road in Indianapolis.

Post-Game Notes
– Adrian Peterson finished the day with 84 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 17 carries. His 2-TD performance in a return from a serious knee injury last season was remarkable enough. Making it even more special, however, is the fact that Peterson broke the Vikings all-time rushing record, previously held by Robert Smith (6,818). Peterson is now at 6,836 career rushing yards.

– It may get lost in the shuffle of post-game reaction because he didn’t get in the end zone, but Percy Harvin was magnificent  for the Vikings. He produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. Harvin had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns.

– Christian Ponder was unspectacular in the 1st half, going into the locker room at intermission with a stat line of 7 of 11 for 78 yards with no TDs or INTs. Not terrible, but not up to standard, either. Ponder finished very well, though, ending the day completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards with no TDs or INTs.

– We’ve got to give some love to the defense. There were breakdowns, particularly in the 1st half and then at the end of regulation when Gabbert hit Shorts for the go-ahead TD with just 20 seconds to play. But there were also times when the Vikings defense stepped up to the challenge. Jacksonville had it 1st and goal from the 5 on their first possession of the game, but the Vikings stood their ground and forced a FG. Down 9-0 late in the 1st half, the Vikings punted away to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance to blow the game open. The Vikings defense responded, forcing a 3-and-out and setting up the Vikings offense for a drive that ended in a TD right before halftime. Kevin Williams recovered a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings for another TD drive on the ensuing possession. Jacksonville began a possession on the Minnesota 16 following a Ponder fumble, but they were forced into a FG try after going 3-and-out. After the Vikings hit a FG on their first possession in overtime, the Vikings defense came on the field and forced a 4-and-out, ending the game.

– Vikings outside LBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson cleaned up, combining for 23 total tackler, 1.0 sack and 2 passes defensed. Greenway led all defenders in the game with 13 tackles.

– Both Henderson and CB Chris Cook registered sacks on the afternoon.

There’s much, much more to cover in terms of post-game reaction, including quotes from Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier. We’ll also review the performance of some other Vikings rookies in the season opener, most notably 1st-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. All of that and more will come later tonight and tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for more.


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Too Many Turnovers Lead To Vikings Loss vs. Chargers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 10:28 pm

Hoping to ride the momentum generated from a strong showing against the Buffalo Bills a week ago, the Vikings offense opened Week 3 of the 2012 preseason with the ball and designs of setting the tempo for their exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers. Instead of creating tempo, the Vikings offense generated too many turnovers and wasn’t able to gain any rhythm in a 12-10 loss at Mall of America Field on Friday night.

“We never really got a rhythm,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said. “When we get the ball first in a game, it’s always important for us to set a tone. Not only did we go three-and-out on the first drive, but on the second drive as well. It started off with an incompletion on the very first play, and that set a tone for the rest of the game.”

There were flashes of efficiency for the Vikings. Ponder found WR Percy Harvin deep down the right side for a gain of 40 yards and FB Matt Asiata flashed a bit in the 2nd half, but overall the offense didn’t perform up to par after a standout performance last week that left many optimistic in the young group’s potential.

“We made plays,” Ponder explained. “We ran the ball well. Just four turnovers, and penalties at inopportune times make it tough to overcome. It’s frustrating when we only put, for us (first-team offense), three points on the board. We ended up scoring a touchdown at the end, so ten points. It was a little disappointing, but it shows us that we have a lot to work on. We wish we would’ve performed like we did the first two weeks, but we know we have the capability to do so, we just gotta get better.”

Ponder is the first to claim responsibility for the offense’s shortcomings. Asked if pressure was getting to him – he was sacked three times in the 1st half and five times overall – Ponder was quick to point out he shared some of the blame for the pressure.

“I got myself in trouble. We talked about it on the sidelines,” Ponder said. “I was getting back on the top of my drop and just sitting there. That puts a lot of pressure on our (offensive) tackles. I could do a lot better job of stepping up, moving forward…It’s on me. I’ve got to get better in the pocket. Usually I don’t do that. I don’t know why it happened this game. It’s something to work on in practice and get better at.”

Ponder is likely too hard on himself, but the Vikings can take solace in the fact they have a QB who takes pride in his on-field work, takes blame when things don’t go right and is determined to fix them the next week in practice. Expect Ponder and Co. to do just that and have a solid week of practice leading up to their Week 1 home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In addition to too many sacks allowed, the Vikings also committed too many turnovers. The Vikings saw three drives end in San Diego territory, including two inside the red zone and one inside the 5. Another drive ended via an INT after the offense had driven 47 yards in just 4 plays. Those turnovers will cover up many of the stretches in which the Vikings offense was moving with efficiency and explosion.

“Probably the thing that defines (the game) the most for us were the mistakes,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. We turned the ball over four times. Whether it’s the preseason or regular season, it’s hard to win in our League when that happens.”

It looked as if the Vikings would be able to overcome their turnover-riddled performance and emerge with a victory after QB Sage Rosenfels drove the offense down the field and found Asiata for a 1-yard TD. That score and the resulting PAT by K Blair Walsh gave the Vikings a 10-9 lead with 1:54 to play. But Chargers reserve QB Jarrett Lee put together a drive that was aided by a Vikings personal foul penalty and ended with a 45-yard game-winning FG as time expired by Nick Novak.

The highlight of the night for the Vikings was the performance by their first-team defense, which suffocated the Chargers offense. Granted, San Diego held out many of its starters, but the Vikings did exactly what they should have done under the circumstances. San Diego was just 3 of 16 (19%) on 3rd downs, they gained just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt and the Vikings sacked Chargers QBs six times.

LBs Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson clearly had their best performances of 2012, combining for 9 tackles. Brinkley had 2.0 sacks and Henderson was a disruptive force on multiple occasions. DE Jared Allen was up to his old tricks with a pair of sacks and three of his four tackles resulting in a loss of yardage for San Diego. The Vikings also got a sack from DT Fred Evans, who started in place of an injured Letroy Guion.

“Our first defense, they played extremely hard,” Frazier said. “They kept us in the game. Real good on third down. Didn’t come up with the turnovers that we would like. But I thought our first unit did everything that we asked.”

The Vikings move to 1-2 this preseason and will conclude their exhibition struggle on Thursday by traveling to Houston for a contest against the Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT.


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Defense Clamps Down On Chargers In 1st Half

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 7:28 pm

The Vikings offense mustered just seven 1st downs and 102 net yards of offense in the opening two quarters of play on Friday night at Mall of America Field. But because of a stout performance from the first-team defense, the Vikings entered the locker room at halftime of their third preseason game trailing by just a FG – 6-3.

San Diego’s offense has not fared much better than the Vikings group, picking up just five first downs and accumulating just 80 yards of offense on 34 snaps. QB Charlie Whitehurst, who started the game because San Diego chose to rest Philip Rivers (and plenty of other starters, too), has completed 7 of 16 attempts for 72 yards. The Chargers have gained 35 yards rushing on 14 carries and have converted just 2 of 9 third-down attempts.

Several Vikings defenders are standing out in the 1st half, including All-Pro DE Jared Allen. Last year’s sack king has 2.0 tonight, and both LB Jasper Brinkley and DT Fred Evans have gotten to Whitehurst as well. LB Erin Henderson is having a solid game and S Jamarca Sanford has collected 4 tackles while starting alongside Harrison Smith.

San Diego will open the 2nd half with the ball, as both they and the Vikings first-team offense will look to turn things around in the 3rd quarter. The Vikings defense will look to keep things the same.


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Roster Rundown: Quarterbacks And Linebackers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 23, 2012 – 6:32 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Thursday and the team’s first practice is on Friday, which means we only have a few more days to complete our Roster Rundown series. We continue the series today by taking a look at the four quarterbacks and 10 linebackers the team will bring to training camp…

Head Coach Leslie Frazier has been clear this offseason that Christian Ponder is his starting QB. Ponder played in 11 games and started 10 during his rookie season, producing mixed results and battling injuries. But this offseason the results have not been mixed – Ponder made huge strides during the offseason program and is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Jobs are not handed out in the NFL, so Ponder will have to perform well enough to retain the starting job. Based on his performance in the offseason program, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.

After Ponder the Vikings will see Joe Webb battle Sage Rosenfels for the backup job. These two have contrasting styles and are at different points in their careers. Webb surely has designs on becoming an NFL starter one day, and he can continue that quest during camp. Whether he ultimately beats Ponder for the job or not is a separate issue from whether he continues his development as an NFL passer. Rosenfels is a 12-year veteran who is a great complement to the QB meeting room that includes three young players still learning the ropes.

Aside from Ponder and Webb, the other youngster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He joined the Vikings via a futures contract this past January after starring at Sacramento State and then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL and then the Miami Dolphins. Bethel-Thompson, an undrafted college free agent, has impressive arm strength and was clearly the best QB in the Vikings rookie minicamp. He was on the Dolphins practice squad to finish the 2011 season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the Vikings practice squad (at a minimum) after this year’s training camp.

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There are questions at linebacker for the Vikings as they head to training camp, but the good news is there also appears to be sufficient talent at the position as well. Chad Greenway is the best of the group and prepares to enter his seventh NFL season in 2012. Greenway has led the club in tackles the past four seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do it again this season. The other starting linebacker should be Erin Henderson, who returns to the club motivated after signing a one-year contract this past offseason. Last season was Henderson’s first as a full-time starter, and I’ve identified him as a player poised for a breakout season this year.

Jasper Brinkley enters training camp as the team’s middle linebacker, but there are questions about his durability. Those questions are fair because Brinkley missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed parts of the team’s offseason program this year as well. Brinkley has declared himself 100% healthy as we approach training camp, though, and once he’s able to stay on the field I see him solidifying the Vikings starting group of linebackers. When E.J. Henderson was lost for the season in 2009 with a leg injury, Brinkley stepped into the lineup and played capably as the Vikings made a run through the playoffs. That experience along with natural progression that comes from two complete seasons after that should have Brinkley prepared to fulfill expectations this season.

After the three starters, there will be great competition for reserve spots among the Vikings LB group. Only two of those players competing for reserve spots are returning veterans. They are special teams standout Larry Dean and two-year veteran Tyrone McKenzie. Dean made last year’s team as an undrafted free agent based on his special teams ability, and he’ll have to be a standout in the same way this preseason to make the roster. McKenzie was the player asked to step into the middle linebacker role this offseason when Brinkley was out of action.

Outside of Greenway, the most veteran NFL player in the Vikings LB group is Marvin Mitchell, a six-year pro the Vikings signed this offseason in free agency. Mitchell had been with the Saints, and with the Vikings he’ll provide depth at multiple LB positions and he’s expected to be a contributor on special teams as well.

The remaining LBs are 7th-round draft pick Audie Cole, former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian and undrafted college free agents Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes. At NC State, Cole led the team in tackles while playing both inside and outside LB. Nielsen was a standout at the University of Iowa and Paredes went undrafted out of the University of Hawaii.

Elimimian will be interesting to watch because he’s undersized but he’s also a player who clearly knows how to play the position. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and helped his club (BC Lions) win the Grey Cup in 2011. In two CFL seasons, Elimimian tallied 175 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 2 INTs and was voted the league’s “hardest hitter” by his peers.

After the three projected starters, LB jobs are wide open for the Vikings. An ability to contribute on special teams will be crucial for those looking to win a roster spot, but so too is demonstrating sound technique and knowledge of the defensive system. I expect most of the decisions to be made at this position to come down to the final two preseason games later in August.


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Henderson Grows In Role As Playmaker And Leader

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 18, 2012 – 9:25 am

Erin Henderson was a standout performer during the Vikings 10 Organized Team Activities (OTAs) the past three weeks, seemingly always around the ball and never one to shy away from competition. He’s been a fun player to watch evolve after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and then growing into a starting role last year.

While he’s established himself as a starter on the Vikings defense, Henderson hasn’t fallen into complacency. His background as an undrafted free agent who’s earned a spot on the Vikings roster and the competitive nature he possesses won’t allow him to do that. Henderson’s progression isn’t exclusively on-field improvement, either. Those who observe practice, from media to coaches, have noticed Henderson growing into his role not only as a playmaker, but as a leader as well.

“That’s a good observation because he has become more vocal,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said last week. “I don’t know if it’s because E.J. is not here, but some of it is the inexperience we have also at the linebacker position without Chad (Greenway) being here. But he has become more vocal.”

Greenway was absent for some of the Vikings OTAs recently as he tends to a family matter. But in a few seasons as Henderson’s teammate and more importantly in the time he’s spent with Henderson this offseason, Greenway has also noticed his teammate growing into a more significant role and discussed it with Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen on his weekday 9-noon show on KFAN.

“With Erin looking to be that nickel MIKE (middle linebacker), just because of his experience last year, he has got unbelievable range and his wingspan is ridiculously big,” Greenway said. “He’s got great hips in coverage, he’s proven that last year on film. I’m so excited for his future at that position.”

Whether Henderson plays strong-side or weak-side. Or whether he’s the nickel MIKE or not, Henderson has an important place on this team, and he’s stepping up his performance appropriately.

“He understands he’s in a role now where we need him to step up and speak up and really help the young guys that are on our defense,” Frazier said. “He’s growing. He’s growing as a player and a person, which is good for us.”


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Vikings Looking For “A Right Mix” At Linebacker

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 14, 2012 – 6:34 am

We’ve mentioned several times over the course of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that now is not the time to try and track which players are running with the starters and which players are running with the second-team. The time to figure out depth charts and position battles will come at training camp and the preseason.

Now is the time when teams experiment with different combinations to try and find the right mix. And nowhere is that more true for the Vikings than at linebacker. In 2012 the Vikings will have a new middle LB in both their base defense and in nickel, and the team will also feature plenty of new faces providing depth at the position.

The process of identifying the contributors for the coming season is a work in progress, and so far it’s been a fluid situation. Jasper Brinkley and Solomon Elimimian have both missed time recently with what Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier described as precautionary measures, and Chad Greenway has been absent for much of OTAs as he tends to a family matter. None of those three issues are cause for alarm as the Vikings prepare for the 2012 season, but they do illustrate the point that the Vikings are in the process of figuring out their situation at linebacker.

“I’m hoping that we’ll find a right mix there,” Frazier told reporters on Tuesday. “Chad (Greenway) is, of course, solid. We’d like to have Jasper practicing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case right now. We’d like for him to be getting these reps, but hopefully we’ll have him next week. We want Erin (Henderson) to make it clear that he’s the choice at the WILL (weak-side LB) position, but we’d like to see Marvin (Mitchell) come along and some of the other backups because you really need six guys that you can dress on Sunday to really be effective both on defense and special teams.”

That the Vikings don’t yet have every answer at linebacker is not a concern at this point. Every team has questions up and down their roster at this point in the offseason. The good news for the Vikings is that they have the bodies currently on the roster to eventually answer every question. There are 10 linebackers on the Vikings 90-man roster currently, a group that includes a good mix of returning veterans (5), rookies (3) and free agent additions (2).

“We’re trying to find that mix, that quality depth,” Frazier said. “It’s an area where we’re still not quite there yet in my mind, so we’ll see how it pans out over the next couple of practices we have and when we get to training camp. It’s one of those areas where myself and Rick (Spielman), we’ve talked about and it’s an area we have to keep an eye on.”


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Greenway, Harvin Participate In OTA #4; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 5, 2012 – 12:28 pm

The Vikings returned to the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park on Tuesday for Organized Team Activity (OTA) #4, and two of the team’s best players – LB Chad Greenway and WR Percy Harvin – rejoined the team for on-field activities. Weather conditions were ideal – sunny skies and warm temperatures – and the team worked for approximately 90 minutes.

Both Greenway and Harvin looked fresh and explosive during practice, and their presence along with a weekend for all the players to rest and recover after last week’s three OTAs yielded an up-tempo practice environment. We caught up with Harvin after practice for a quick interview and will have that posted to vikings.com shortly.

Here are a few other observations from OTA #4 on Tuesday…

– Tuesday’s practice opened with a special teams period, and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer had several guys in the rotation to field kickoffs. By my count there were 8 players catching kicks – WRs Stephen Burton, Harvin, Bryan Walters and Jarius Wright; CBs Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson and Nicholas Taylor; and RB Jordan Todman. The point here is not so much to try and track who’s taking the reps, but more to illustrate that Priefer is looking at the entire roster in an attempt to fill the kickoff return role. This OTA portion of the offseason is not the time to narrow down the competition by figuring out who can’t fill the role, rather now is the time to discover guys who can fill the role so a robust competition can be held in training camp and the preseason.

– It’s mentioned above that Greenway made his return to the field, and he looked good in doing so. He’s the leader of that LB group and is one of the team’s most consistent performers. Another who’s stood out among that group, though, is Erin Henderson. He had a good week last week and hit the ground running this week, too, making splash plays in both the special categories and 9-7 periods of practice.

– A couple of young DBs tallied INTs during practice. S Mistral Raymond got one late in practice and fellow S Robert Blanton, the team’s 5th-round pick in this year’s draft, grabbed one a few moments earlier during 7-on-7 action. Overall the defense is playing a bit faster than the offense at this point, but that is to be expected this early in the OTAs and offseason programming. The offense has clearly taken a step forward since OTA #1 and I expect the offense will continue making great strides as training camp approaches.

– It wasn’t all defense on the highlight reel on Tuesday. QB Christian Ponder connected with TE Kyle Rudolph on a terrific touch pass that was perfectly placed over a pair of LBs and underneath a CB and S late in practice. Rudolph fully extended and stayed on his feet to make the catch. Walters also had a full-extension catch late in practice where he had to dive among defenders to secure the ball.

– Early in practice both Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu made highlight-caliber catches. Aromashodu’s came first on a pass from Ponder with CB Chris Carr in coverage. Aromashodu stopped his route short, leaped high in the air and made the catch over Carr (who was in perfect position), and came down with both feet in bounds and the ball secured while falling onto the left sideline. Moments later, Arceneaux made his catch in similar fashion – more of a back-shoulder fade, this time from Joe Webb.

– The Vikings will hold OTA #5 on Wednesday at Winter Park and it will be open to the media. We’ll have continuing coverage of OTAs and the Vikings offseason program here on vikings.com, so stay tuned.


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Antoine Winfield, WR Bryan Walters Impress During OTA #1; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 29, 2012 – 1:39 pm

The Vikings held their first Organized Team Activity (OTA) of the 2012 offseason program on Tuesday, working for roughly 90 minutes on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park under mostly cloudy skies and windy conditions. The energy level is ramped up around the facility as the team begins Phase 3 of the offseason program.

Now is not the time to put much stock into depth charts and tracking which players are working with the first-stringers and which players are working with the second-stringers. Coaches experiment with several different combinations for a variety of reasons at this point in the offseason, so we’ll let others worry about all of those projections.

There were plenty of other observations to make, however. Here are a few notes I scribbled out while watching Tuesday’s practice…

– One of the first players to stand out in my eyes was CB Antoine Winfield. It was great to see him back on the field after he played in just 5 games last season. Winfield showed no signs of being slowed now, though, as he looked spry during individual drills and very sound during team offense vs. team defense. Winfield had a bounce in his step around the facility before and after practice, and it’s clear he still has explosion in his legs while on the field.

– QB Christian Ponder was sharp early in practice, displaying accuracy and command during the individual and group installation periods. He spread the ball around to several receivers, encountered no QB-center exchange issues with C John Sullivan and even found WR Jerome Simpson on a deep pass. After working through some issues midway through practice, Ponder bounced back nicely at the end of the 7-on-7 drill to cap a solid first practice.

– Speaking of Simpson, it’s a treat to watch him chase down a deep pass. There are times when the QB takes a short drop and launches a pass downfield that looks to be grossly overthrown. But Simpson usually finds a way to track the ball down and make a play on it. You can see that Ponder already has trust in Simpson’s ability to make plays downfield, and that trust and play-making potential will only grow the more they practice together.

Click here to check out a photo gallery from OTA #1.

– A group of collegiate officials were at Tuesday’s practice and will be officiating OTAs for the Vikings.

– My sense is LB Erin Henderson is poised for a breakout season. He now has one year as a full-time starter under his belt and I think he’ll only improve with another offseason of work at Winter Park before his second year as a full-time starter. Henderson is a player who seems to be around the ball a lot, and I’m hopeful he’ll make the improvement from a player who is around the ball a lot, to a player who makes big plays around the ball frequently.

– The Vikings WR position will be a fun one to watch this offseason, training camp and preseason. There are currently 11 WRs on the roster, and I’m guessing there will be some tough cuts later this summer. Bryan Walters, acquired by the Vikings earlier this offseason, impressed me on Tuesday. At 6-0, 190-pounds, Walters is a diminutive receiver with sure hands and crisp route-running abilities. As well as he could perform at WR, I’m also curious to see if he’ll be in the punt return rotation because that would increase his stock. He’ll be a player to watch this summer as the team prepares for the 2012 season. Walters is a 2-year veteran out of Cornell.

– There has never been a doubt in my mind that RB Toby Gerhart could shoulder the load full-time for an NFL team, and after seeing him on Tuesday that continues to be the case. Whether he has to do just that with the Vikings remains to be seen, but if he is charged with that responsibility the Vikings will still be in good shape. Gerhart looks very fit, and I can say with certainty that I would not like to be the one trying to break down and tackle him as he runs downhill.

– Another spot that is sure to see good competition this offseason for a starting position is DT next to Kevin Williams. Williams has been missing a solid, consistent running mate since the other half of the Williams Wall – Pat Williams – was no longer with the team. Time will tell which players the coaches tab to compete for that spot, but I don’t think there will be a shortage of candidates. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his scouting staff have done a nice job of acquiring players to try and fill that gap. Both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans were brought back and could be candidates. And from the looks of it, several others, including 7th-round pick Trevor Guyton (6-3, 280 pounds), Tydreke Powell (6-3, 325) and Terrell Resonno (6-3, 305) will be in the mix. I left DTs Chase Baker and Christian Ballard off that list only because I could see them playing at Kevin Williams’ spot in a reserve role, but the Vikings coaching staff could certainly ask either of them to step into the competition as well.

Quick Hitters
– WR Devin Aromashodu was hot during 7-on-7 drills and was a favorite target of young QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
— RB Jordan Todman, preparing for his 2nd season out of Connecticut and acquired by the Vikings late last year after spending much of his rookie season with San Diego, is impressively fast. He burst through a hole during team offense vs. team defense drills today and his explosion was remarkable.
— I saw LB Larry Dean around the ball a lot on Tuesday.
— Rookie LB Corey Paredes made one of the best defensive plays on Tuesday, nabbing a Joe Webb pass out of thin air and returning it for a TD.


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