Trio Of 1st-Round Picks Set To Debut In Vikings-Jaguars Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 6, 2012 – 6:43 am

The 2012 regular season is now underway, as the Dallas Cowboys and NY Giants kicked things off at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday night. The game provided a glance at a few important factors, such as the importance of depth in the secondary (injuries are hurting the Giants), continuity along the offensive line (Dallas committed a countless number of procedural penalties), and life with replacement officials (they fared quite well).

Digging down a bit deeper, though, a fun subplot to watch was the performance of each team’s 1st-round pick.

The Cowboys moved up in the 1st round from the 14th overall selection to the 6th spot in order to select CB Morris Claiborne out of LSU. Claiborne certainly looked the part against New York, as he teamed with free agent acquisition Brandon Carr to provide the Cowboys with great coverage on the edge of the defense.  The Giants, holding the 32nd overall choice after winning the Super Bowl last year, selected RB David Wilson in the 1st round. Wilson had a less spectacular debut, but he did return kickoffs for the Giants and he displayed some ability as a runner, too (his fumble notwithstanding).

Sunday’s Vikings-Jaguars game at Mall of America Field could provide an even better look at 1st-round talent. Three 1st-round picks from last April’s draft will be on the field, with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith slated to start for the Vikings and WR Justin Blackmon ready to go for the Jaguars.

The consensus top receiver in the draft, Blackmon appealed to the Jaguars so much that the team moved up to the #5 spot from #7 to ensure they could select him. Blackmon had a brief holdout before reporting to Jaguars training camp, but since joining the team he’s constantly impressed. Reports out of Jaguars training camp were overwhelmingly positive, and then Blackmon performed well on the field during the preseason, hauling in 10 receptions for 136 yards with 1 TD.

Blackmon is a player to watch for the Vikings defense on Sunday. He can win versus coverage down the field, but he might be most dangerous after the catch on short and intermediate routes. He’s hard to tackle and is a skilled runner with the ball.

In the proverbial poker game that is the NFL draft, Spielman and the Vikings strolled up to the table with a pretty big chip – the 3rd overall pick – and parlayed perfectly timed subterfuge with a tremendous working knowledge of other teams’ needs to turn that chip into a pair of immediate impact starters –Kalil at LT and Harrison Smith at safety. Coming away with Kalil and Smith in the first round was a win for the Vikings, a team coming off a 3-13 record and looking for players to plug into the starting lineup.

Kalil, who measures in at 6-7, 308 pounds, will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector from the get-go and projects to be 10-year starter at one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to providing pass protection, Kalil will also be a road-grading run blocker for the team’s talented RB duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.

Earlier this week, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked if he and GM Rick Spielman considered selecting Blackmon instead of Kalil. The Vikings had a need at both positions, and obviously ended up taking the LT instead. But a sound case could be made for the Vikings to consider Blackmon, a playmaking receiver who could’ve been a great weapon for the team’s passing game.

“For us, Matt Kalil, from early on in the process, was extremely high on our list as a priority,” Frazier said. “With our left tackle position being what it was coming out of the season, we had targeted that area if the right guy was there, to try to solidify that position and knowing how important it is for our team, for every team, but in particular when you have a young quarterback like we have, to solidify that left tackle position. Very excited about what he has done thus far and looking forward to him being a cornerstone for us at that left tackle position for a long, long time to come.”

In addition to acquiring Kalil after moving back one spot to the 4th overall position, the Vikings also netted 4th-round (#118 overall), 5th-round (139 overall) and 7t-round (#211 overall) choices from Cleveland. With that additional draft ammunition in the fold, the Vikings felt compelled later in the 1st round to send 2nd-round and 4th-round picks to Baltimore in exchange for the Ravens 1st-round pick (#29 overall) in order to address the secondary and select Smith.

Billed as an intelligent and instinctive defender with sound coverage skills and exceptional tackling ability, Smith will also be a starter beginning in Week 1. He brings an aggressive style to the Vikings secondary and could develop into the kind of player who is stout in coming up to defend the run and is territorial in defending the middle of the field against the pass.

As we detailed in an earlier entry highlighting 10 storylines to chase this week, there are many interesting subplots in this week’s Vikings-Jaguars matchup. The debut of three talented 1st-round picks is certainly near the top of the list.

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10 Vikings-Jaguars Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 5, 2012 – 6:50 am

Wednesday of Week 1 has finally arrived, which means it’s time for the Vikings to put the pedal to the metal in their preparations for Sunday’s season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ll have a busy day at Winter Park today, with a morning walk-thru followed by a Leslie Frazier press conference, and then an afternoon practice with players available afterwards.

It all gets going later this morning. While you’re waiting for all of that, though, here are 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…

1. Vikings Open Season At Home
For the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 2005, the Vikings will open the regular season at home. The Vikings logged a 24-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons and Adrian Peterson scored the first TD of his career the last time the Vikings opened a season at home. It’s a treat for the fans to open a season at home, and it’s a nice advantage for the team, too, after opening on the road the past four seasons. Expect Mall of America Field to be a loud and fun environment on Sunday.

2. Will Adrian Peterson Play?
The biggest talker surrounding this game all week will be the status of RB Adrian Peterson. He’s been determined to play in Week 1 throughout his entire rehab, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has not ruled his star RB out. Frazier said on Monday that Peterson will be a game-time decision. If Peterson can’t play, the Vikings will place the ball in capable hands, with Toby Gerhart set to handle the job. If Peterson can play, the Vikings will have an outstanding one-two punch at RB.

3. How Much Will Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew Play?
Jacksonville has an issue of their own at RB. Their star – Maurice Jones-Drew – was a training camp holdout and didn’t report to the team until this week. Jones-Drew is one of the best RBs in the NFL, so the Jaguars likely aren’t too concerned about his readiness. But the fact remains Jones-Drew has been away for quite a while, and there will be somewhat of a learning curve for him as he gets back into football shape and learns the Jaguars new offense. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, a former Vikings TE, has said that Rashad Jennings will start the game, but he also disclosed that Jones-Drew will play.

4. First-Rounders Kalil, Blackmon And Smith Debut
Both the Vikings and Jaguars were active in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and now both the Vikings and Jaguars hope their 1st-rounders will be active during the season. The Vikings originally held the #3 overall pick, but they traded with the Cleveland Browns and dropped back one spot. With the #4 overall pick, the Vikings selected LT Matt Kalil. The Jaguars originally held the #7 overall pick, but they moved up to the #5 position in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select WR Justin Blackmon. Then later in the 1st round, the Vikings moved up to the #29 position to select S Harrison Smith.

This week, those three 1st-rounders will prepare for their NFL regular season debuts. Kalil will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector, while Smith looks to help the Vikings secondary make big-time improvements from last season. Blackmon figures to play a key role in the Jaguars offense all season, as he’s coming off a productive preseason in which he showed the transition from college to the NFL will be no problem for him.

5. Clash Of 1st-Round QBs From Class Of 2011
Entering his second season, Vikings QB Christian Ponder is determined to show he can lead an NFL franchise to prominence. It’s only fitting, though, that Ponder begins that quest on Sunday against another QB looking to accomplish the same task for his franchise. While the Vikings selected Ponder with the #12 overall pick in 2011, the Jaguars moved to select Blaine Gabbert with the #10 overall pick.

As rookies last year, neither opened the regular season as their team’s starter. But both eventually ascended to the top of the depth chart. Gabbert got the nod in Week 3 after the Jaguars began the season 1-1, losing their Week 2 contest to the NY Jets by a score of 32-3. Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb in Week 6 during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, and then the next week was named the Vikings starter for the remainder of the season.

All of that is in the past. Sunday represents the future, as Ponder and Gabbert will open the 2012 regular season as their teams’ starting QBs. Ponder enters the season coming off an offseason in which he displayed big-time improvement from his performance as a rookie and Gabbert enters the season coming off a preseason in which he also displayed significant improvement from his rookie performance.

6. Will A Vikings WR (Besides Percy Harvin) Step Up?
Jerome Simpson has impressed every step of the way since joining the Vikings this spring, but he’ll be unavailable to the team for the first three games of the season. That opens up an opportunity for another WR to step up and produce in Simpson’s absence. Granted, the vertical, field-stretching WR is not going to represent the bread-and-butter of the Vikings offense. Still, though, having that threat adds another element to game-planning for the opposing defense. Michael Jenkins is the reliable veteran; Devin Aromashodu impressed in the preseason finale and has good speed to stretch the defense; Stephen Burton is good after the catch and continues to progress; Jarius Wright looks more natural in the slot, but he impressed with a long reception in the preseason finale as well.

Will one (or more) of these guys step up? The opportunity is there.

7. John Carlson Making His Way Back
The Vikings moved this offseason to acquire TE John Carlson, giving them an athletic pass-catching TE to pair with another athletic pass-catching TE in Kyle Rudolph. The tandem of Carlson and Rudolph will allow Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave to draw up designs that will create mismatches in the middle of the field.

Unfortunately, Carlson injured his knee during training camp and wasn’t able to play in the preseason. Carlson has been making steady progress, though, and is getting closer to a return. On Monday, Frazier could not say if Carlson would make back to the field by this weekend, but the MN native has a chance. If he can play, the Vikings offense will have an added dimension and Ponder will have another talented target in the passing game.

8. Healing Ankles
Outside of Carlson, the Vikings stayed quite healthy all of training camp and the preseason. Until the fourth preseason game, that is. In that game, LB Marvin Mitchell, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels and WR Jarius Wright all injured their ankles. It’s unknown if any of them will be able to play on Sunday, so it will be worth monitoring their status leading up to the game. Sherels is the Vikings punt returner and he’ll be involved in sub packages on defense, while Mitchell and Sendejo figure to be core special teams players. Wright has the makings of a dynamic playmaker, both on offense and as a returner, so the Vikings are hopeful he’ll be able to suit up in the season-opener.

9. Doleman To Receive Hall Of Fame Ring
Former Vikings DE Chris Doleman was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012 last month, and on Sunday the Vikings will present him with his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.

10. Looking To Restore Home-Field Advantage
The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982. The team now has a combined record of 157-88-0 (.641) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 6-4 mark in postseason games. The Vikings have gone undefeated 3 times at Mall of America Field (‘89, ‘98, ‘09) and have finished the season undefeated at home 8 total times in team history.

Unfortunately, the Vikings have gone just 5-11 at home the past two seasons. It’s time to turn that home record around, and this Sunday against the Jaguars in the season-opener is a good time to do it.

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What 2 Watch 4 In Tonight’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 30, 2012 – 9:37 am

After an entire offseason of waiting for training camps to begin, and then three weeks of training camp with no games, and then three preseason games, many fans regard the fourth and final preseason game as a mere formality that is more scrimmage than it is game. But for many NFL players, the fourth and final preseason game means the world.

The Vikings fourth and final preseason game of the 2012 season is tonight against the Houston Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT. Following the game, the Vikings will have tough decisions to make as they whittle the roster down to 53 players and then scan the waiver wire to see if any players discarded by other teams can make a difference here.

Before that process begins, though, that final preseason game must be played. Below are a few aspects of tonight’s game that I’ll pay quite a bit of attention. Check them out, and then in the comments section below this entry let us know what you think about them and let us know what you’ll be watching for tonight…

Quarterback rotation
At this point it’s hard to know how the Vikings QB situation will shake out. There are four QBs in camp, and only Christian Ponder’s status is secure. Expect Joe Webb to start tonight, and then we’ll see some combination of Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Each QB brings a different skill set to the table, and each QB would play a distinct role on the team.

Opportunity at WR
Percy Harvin is a game-changer, Michael Jenkins is a reliable veteran, and Jerome Simpson will make an impact for the team once we get past his 3-game suspension. But after those three, there is room for a couple other WRs to make the team and help the passing game. Rookie Jarius Wright is coming along well as the preseason rolls along, and now it appears he’ll have a chance in the punt return role as well (more on that later). Three others – Manny Arceneaux, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton – will get significant looks tonight as they try to make a final positive impression on the coaching and scouting staffs. All three players have the capability to play the X receiver spot while Simpson is away, now the question is which players will display that ability in a game. We’ll find out tonight.

Blanton makes his debut
The Vikings 2012 draft class appears to be promising, but one member of that class has not been on the field yet – S Robert Blanton. That will change tonight, as Blanton figures to see extended playing time. He’ll likely start the game, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him play well into the 2nd half. Furthermore, Blanton could even be joined by fellow Notre Dame product Harrison Smith in the starting lineup, giving us a look at an intriguing starting combination.

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.

Filling out the RB stable
There aren’t many – if any – teams in the NFL with a better one-two punch at RB than the Vikings combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. But you need more than two RBs, and the Vikings have a few options on the roster. Matt Asiata has impressed once again this preseason (he impressed me last preseason, as well), and has shown he’s more than just a plodding, blocking FB. Veteran Lex Hilliard was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he’ll get plenty of looks tonight. Rounding out the competition is Jordan Todman, a young speedster who has battled a leg injury during camp but appears to be getting healthier. They will all get a chance to prove their worth tonight.

What else are looking for tonight? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…

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Blanton Figures To See Extended Time In Thursday’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 25, 2012 – 1:03 pm

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.

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5 Positives To Watch For Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 2:14 pm

The Vikings will open up the home part of their preseason schedule tonight by hosting the AFC East’s Buffalo Bills, with kickoff at Mall of America Field slated for 7:00 p.m. CT. If you aren’t able to watch the game on TV, be sure to go to the home page to find alternative ways of catching the action. You can subscribe to Preseason Live and watch all preseason action for a small fee, and/or you can join us in the live game chat that will be held right here on during the game.

As for tonight’s game, kickoff is fast-approaching. While you’re waiting for the game to begin, though, here are 5 positives to watch for tonight as the Vikings and Bills battle at Mall of America Field…

Finish Drives With Touchdowns
The Vikings 1st-team offense did a nice job of moving the ball against the vaunted San Francisco 49ers defense last week, but a pair of drives stalled and had to be salvaged by K Blair Walsh with FGs. It was great to see Walsh come on and finish the job, but it’d be even greater to see Christian Ponder and Co. finish drives tonight on their own with TDs. When the Vikings get into scoring range, keep your eye on TE Kyle Rudolph. He’s one of the Vikings best offensive weapons, and he becomes especially lethal in crucial situations such as 3rd downs, in the red zone and near the goal line.

Remain Gap Sound On Defense
The Vikings have long been one of the NFL’s premier run defenses, but they didn’t look the part last week against the 49ers. That has to change this week against Buffalo. Lots of talk this offseason was about the Vikings improving against the pass, but any improvements the secondary has made the past several months will be negated if the defense can’t first stop the run. Watch for the Vikings 1st-team defense to perform much better tonight than they did a week ago at Candlestick Park.

Big Return On Special Teams
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has seen his groups have a solid offseason program and training camp for the most part. Now it’s time to take the step from being solid to being spectacular. Expect Walsh to be as good or better than he was last week and expect P Chris Kluwe to take a major step forward this week as the Vikings play in the controlled environment of Mall of America Field. Beyond that, though, I’m looking for a big return, either on kickoff or punt (both would be nice, though). It’s appeared during training camp practices that the kickoff return and punt return blocking units have done a nice job, so now it’s time for one of the Vikings returners to stick their foot in the ground and rip off a big return.

Debut Of CB Josh Robinson
There has been lots of talk about Josh Robinson’s speed (he was the fastest player at the Combine this year), but now it’s time for the talk to give way to the action. Robinson was held out of last week’s preseason game, but he should be on the field tonight and see an expansive role. I expect he’ll see quite a few snaps on defense and I also expect he’ll be involved in the return game. Robinson has big-time upside and it’d be great to get a look at it tonight.

Harrison Smith A Starter?
I won’t be surprised if rookie Harrison Smith lines up as a starter tonight at safety. He’s had a good training camp and played very well last week against San Francisco. He did not start last week, though, and since last week he’s seen even more time with the 1st-team defense. This leads me to believe that he’ll be a starter in tonight’s game – just a guess. If he does start, I expect Smith to be a standout. He strikes me as a player who gets better as the game goes along because he’s a cerebral player who picks up on patterns and tells in the offense’s attack. Smith is not the kind of ballhawk who will grab a bunch of INTs, but he is the kind of player who is not afraid to mix it up in the run game or punish a receiver coming across the middle.

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Safety First Continued: Harrison Smith Continues Progression

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2012 – 5:56 pm

Mistral Raymond: He’s Got The Look
Harrison Smith: Progression Continues

Our daily look at three players vying for starting safety positions continues today with analysis of Harrison Smith.

The Vikings came into the 2012 NFL Draft with one first-round pick, but after some wheeling and dealing they emerged from the first-round with a pair of selections. The second first-round pick was S Harrison Smith, an instinctive tackling machine out of Notre Dame who will improve the Vikings safety position.

Smith is a mild-mannered individual around Winter Park and in the locker room, but he’s entirely different on the field. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier saw that edge from Smith during the offseason program, and he liked it.

“I saw a play where he really got angry,” Frazier said. “He got pretty fired up and you kind of need that out of your defensive backs. You need them to have a little something about them. It was good to see.”

Alan Williams, the Vikings new defensive coordinator, agreed that Smith has an edge to him and also commented that the rookie is an intelligent player

“I love that, Williams said. “You want your safeties to be quarterbacks and smart, but you want some nastiness to them too. And he has that.”

As a first-round pick, the expectation is for Smith to begin the season as a starter at safety. Smith could be the opening-day starter at one safety spot, but one sure thing is he won’t be handed that responsibility. Williams wants Smith to ascend to the top of the depth chart on the strength of his on-field performance rather than the label of a first-round pick.

“When guys come in and they’re new, especially rookies, I like to have them earn their spot,” Williams said. “Even though Harrison (Smith) is doing well and some of the other guys are doing well, it’s important that guys earn the spot, that I don’t make the decision, the decision is made based on what we see on tape. When he earns a spot, that’s when he’ll play.”

Judging by Smith’s performance so far, that won’t be long from now. He played well in the Vikings preseason debut against San Francisco last week, and that might lead to increased playing time in this Friday’s preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.

“He played well,” Williams said. “The game wasn’t too big for him. He looked like he belonged out there. Again, we want to see that same thing (Friday night). Can he get lined up? Can he communicate to the defense? Can he operate within the defense and can he do that on a consistent basis? When a play comes at him can he make the play?”

If Smith’s performance on Friday night causes the Vikings coaching staff to answer those questions in the affirmative, then Smith will be in a position to help the Vikings defense answer their biggest question – can the pass defense improve from last year?

After ranking 26th in overall passing defense and 32nd in passing touchdowns allowed in 2012, it can’t get much worse. But with Smith in the fold, the Vikings passing defense figures to be much, much better.

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Safety First: Competition Continues In Vikings Secondary

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2012 – 12:40 pm

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.”

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Harrison Smith To Get More Work With First-Team Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2012 – 5:22 am

Harrison Smith is one of the Vikings two 1st-round picks from last April’s draft. But so far during his short Vikings career, Smith has been running more with the second-team and third-team defenses than with the first team. According to Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier, though, that could be changing soon.

“One of the things when we went back to look at the tape, and we felt this way going in, [was] Harrison was really making a push,” Frazier said on Sunday. “He’s going to get a chance to work in that first group, and he did on Friday night as well, he just didn’t start the game. It will be the same this week, although we’re going to do some things a little bit different with the starting rotations on Friday night. He’s done enough now where we feel confident that he can go out there in a starter’s role and we want to see how he performs in that role. He very well could start (this) Friday, he’s did some good things when he was in there (last) Friday night.”

Those comments are great news for the Vikings. As a 1st-round pick, the expectation is for Smith to emerge from 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, and it sounds like Smith is on track to do just that. Billed as an intelligent and instinctive defender with sound coverage skills and exceptional tackling ability, Smith should upgrade the Vikings at safety and help improve a pass defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed and last in TDs allowed in 2011.

All along, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams defended putting Smith with the second and third team defenses by saying he wanted players to earn their spots as starters rather than be given starting positions based on draft position or pedigree. It sounds like Smith is doing everything the coaches are asking of him, including earning a spot as a starter on defense.

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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 1, 2012 – 7:15 am

On Tuesday as I walked out to afternoon practice here at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, I asked followers on Twitter if there were any players they’d like me to pay special attention. We received many responses, so instead of responding to each person individually, we decided to put all the responses together and share it that way so everyone can read about the players that are tipping the curiosity of the fans.

And to make it as Twitter-realistic as possible, each comment below is in 140 characters or less (that is the character limit for a Twitter message). Here we go…

DL Christian Ballard: Second-team DT on Tuesday. Looks significantly bigger and better this year compared to last year. Will contribute.

S Robert Blanton: Sat out practice on Tuesday. Has been good to this point. Still learning defense obviously.

LB Audie Cole: Best I’ve seen him look on Tuesday. Great swim move during pass rush drill. Strikes well.

CB Bobby Felder: Had impressive INT during 1-on-1 drill. Won’t surprise me if he impresses during preseason. Plays with energy.

FB Jerome Felton: Was running with the first team at FB. Solid blocker. Also a special teams contributor.

LB Everson Griffen: First-team kickoff coverage; third-team LB. Explosive rushing passer off edge. Plays with energy.

DT Letroy Guion: First-team DT. Having a great camp. Good movement skills, very good strength. Anchors well.

DT Trevor Guyton: Third-team offense. Also plays special teams. Good movement. Role TBD.

LB Tyrone McKenzie: Big jump up from last year. Plays second-team MIKE LB. Impressive INT on Tuesday. Vocal on field.

S Mistral Raymond: Mostly first-team reps, some second-team. Seems better-versed in defensive scheme this year.

DE Brian Robison: Same ‘ol B-Rob. Plays with passion. Exclusively first-team left DE. Good inside pass rush moves.

OL Geoff Schwartz: Plays multiple positions with second and third teams. Role still TBD.

WR Jerome Simpson: Great speed. Gets open a lot. Love him on comeback routes. Good after the catch.

S Harrison Smith: Opened camp with the second team, but has begun to take some reps with first team. Looks the part. Plays bigger than listed.

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