Preparations for Sunday’s regular season and home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be full-steam ahead on Wednesday. So today, let’s take a look at a group of players who will play important roles in aiding the Vikings in those preparations – the practice squad.
Teams use the practice squad primarily as a roster mechanism to procure the development (and hopefully future production) of young players who aren’t quite ready to hold down a spot on the 53-man roster. But an ancillary function of a practice squad player is helping the team prepare for the upcoming opponent.
The Vikings announced their full practice squad on Monday. Here is a quick look at all eight of those players…
DT Chase Baker – He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and had a solid training camp. Baker was on the North squad at this year’s Senior Bowl, which gave the Vikings a detailed look at him prior to the draft. Baker measures in at 6-0, 300 pounds and played college football at Boise State.
CB Bobby Felder – Another undrafted rookie free agent who spent camp with the Vikings, Felder is around the ball a lot and ultimately showed enough for the Vikings to want to keep him around. Felder had a productive career (5 INTs and 3 blocked kicks as a senior in 2011) at Nicholls State and measures in at 5-11, 200 pounds.
WR Tori Gurley – Described as a receiver in a TE’s body, Gurley measures in at 6-4, 232 pounds and had a productive career at South Carolina, totaling 75 receptions for 905 yards and 6 TDs. He signed with the Packers last year as an undrafted free agent and spent the season on their practice squad.
OL Tyler Holmes – A 4-year starter and letterwinner at Tulsa, Holmes was actually selected with the 7th overall pick in the CFL Draft, but he ultimately signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and spent training camp impressing coaches enough to earn a spot on the practice squad. He started all 46 games he played at Tulsa, received his bachelor’s degree in management in May of 2011 and played last season while pursuing a Master’s degree in business.
OL Kevin Murphy – An undrafted rookie free agent from Harvard, Murphy signed with the Vikings just days before training camp. He measures in at 6-7, 305 pounds.
DE Ernest Owusu – A long and lean DE, Owusu is a product of California and had a productive career there, playing in 42 games with 18 starts and recoding 14.0 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks. He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent.
WR Chris Summers – Another tall receiver listed at 6-5, 215 pounds, Summers signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent and was waived last week. A product of Liberty, Summers joins Gurley as former members of division rivals who are now on the Vikings practice squad.
RB Jordan Todman – Signed off the San Diego Chargers practice squad last December, Todman was injured for much of training camp but performed well once healthy this preseason, capping off the exhibition season with a 10-carry, 114-yard, 1 TD outing against the Houston Texans. He was originally a 6th-round pick of the Chargers in 2011.
Tags: Bobby Felder, Chase Baker, Chris Summer, Ernest Owusu, Jordan Todman, Kevin Murphy, Tori Gurley, Tyler Holmes
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The competitive spirit was as thick in the air as the sweltering humidity on Tuesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the Vikings conducted their second padded practice that included a couple periods of live, tackle-to-the ground work. Those periods featured short-yardage and goal line situations, perfect opportunities to jot down some notes.
Here are a few of them from Tuesday’s practice…
A large crowd of scouts, special guests and members of the ownership group gathered around one end of Field #2 to watch the RBs, FBs and TEs go one-on-one against the LBs. The drill is competitive as it is, but the unusually large crowd that gathered near the drill only intensified the atmosphere.
The first part of the drill required the offensive players to pass protect against the defensive players. LB Jasper Brinkley got home on his first three rushes and RB Jordan Todman jumped up and displayed some striking pass protection. Rookie LB Audie Cole got in the mix with a great swim move to get past his blocker in a flash and LB Everson Griffen showed his explosion by winning two of his three matchups.
The offense saw much more success in the pass receiving/coverage portion of the drill. The star of the show was TE Kyle Rudolph, who had no trouble wiggling open and hauling in receptions. He made an inside move on LB Chad Greenway and then broke to the outside, creating plenty of separation for Christian Ponder to loft a pass toward the TE. John Carlson got in on the action, too, utilizing an out-breaking route to separate from Griffen and haul in a pass. Todman also flashed once again, shaking free from Cole to win his matchup.
Goal Line Battles
There was outstanding back-and-forth between the offense and defense in the team’s goal line drill. The drill was setup for the offense to have it 1st-and-goal from the 2-yardline. In all three matchups (first team, second team, third team), the defense stymied the offense on 1st and 2nd down, but yielded a TD on 3rd down.
Greenway made one of the better defensive plays of the day when he registered a pass breakup (PBU) on a fade route from Ponder to Rudolph. On the next play CB Chris Cook, DT Letroy Guion and Greenway combined to stuff RB Lex Hilliard short of the goal line. On 3rd down, though, Hilliard burrowed his way into the end zone.
The second team offense threw an incomplete pass on their 1st down try and then saw Todman get stuffed. On 3rd down, RB Derrick Coleman surged past the defense and into the end zone for the score.
Coleman took a handoff on 1st down for the third team, too, and was stopped by a trio consisting of Cole, Griffen and DE Ernest Owusu. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and then he hit FB Ryan D’Imperio for a TD on 3rd down.
Booming Blair Walsh
It’s standard for the Vikings begin practice with a special teams period or two, and today practice began very well for the Vikings. And it was largely because of K Blair Walsh, whose leg strength was on full display. Of the kicks I saw, Walsh booted touchbacks on six of six tries, with two of those kickoffs flying over the goal post and through the uprights.
Walsh also ended practice on a solid note, hitting a 43-yard FG to close the final period.
Fans have expressed concern to me about the potential for Walsh to struggle on FG accuracy during his rookie season. Nothing that I’ve seen suggest Walsh will have that struggle, but even if he does I expect the increase in field position the defense will see this year because of Walsh’s touchbacks will counterbalance the loss in points from missed FGs. The Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ drive start last season (24.4-yardline), and that statistic will only improve for the Vikings this season with Walsh in the fold. Missed FGs show up in the stat sheet and are directly reflected on the scoreboard, while average drive start for your opponent is a much more subtle influence. But both are equally important to the outcome of a game, and Walsh has shown that he has the ability to improve the Vikings in both areas.
Tags: Audie Cole, Blair Walsh, Chad Greenway, Chris Cook, Christian Ponder, Derrick Coleman, Ernest Owusu, Everson Griffen, Jasper Brinkley, John Carlson, Jordan Todman, Kyle Rudolph, Letroy Guion, Lex Hilliard, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Ryan D'Imperio
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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…
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.
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.
Tags: Anthony Jacobs, Brian Robison, Chase Baker, Christian Ballard, D'Aundre Reed, Eric Latimore, Ernest Owusu, Everson Griffen, Fred Evans, Jared Allen, Jeff Charleston, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Nick Reed, Roster Rundown, Trevor Guyton, Tydreke Powell
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