Vikings Special Teams Give Strong Showing

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2011 – 7:11 am

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.

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Intensity Picking Up At Training Camp; Notes From Practice #3

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 3, 2011 – 11:14 am

An offseason void of minicamps and OTAs and then rules in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits players with new contracts from practicing and also prohibits contact during the first few days of camp created an unusual environment at NFL training camps.

But things are starting to feel a bit more normal now after the Vikings strapped on shoulder pads and helmets for Practice #3.

The intensity rose a notch on Wednesday morning at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the team worked for roughtly two hours and 15 minutes on the outdoor practice fields under sunny skies and balmy temperatures. Vikings fans took advantage of the day, too, by packing both sets of bleachers and lining the fences surrounding the three practice fields.

Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer both held press conferences following practice and we’ll have those in on-demand format for you to view, so stay tuned for that. Until then, here are a few notes from practice…

– My favorite drill to watch is the 9-on-7 drill, in which nine offensive players go against seven defensive players (four down linemen and three linebackers) in a drill that features only running plays. The drill is a full-contact drill that focuses on blocking for the offense and filling gaps on defense. LBs Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson looked the best in the drill.

– Another LB – Heath Farwell – got his hands on an INT. QB Joe Webb tried to force a pass into coverage and Farwell was there to take advantage of the miscue. Farwell was playing outside LB with the first team during some portions of practice.

– Catch of the day goes to WR Stephen Burton, who was drafted by the Vikings this past April in the 7th round. He went full extension and dove for a pass along the right sideline during a team drill. He was able to get his hands on the ball, secure it, go to the ground and maintain possession through the play.

– Passing the eye test today: Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin and Percy Harvin

– I’ll have more notes from the Musgrave and Priefer press conferences later. Stay tuned…

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Thoughts From Vikings Players On Moving Game To Tuesday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2010 – 1:18 pm

As you know by now, tonight’s Vikings-Eagles game has been postponed due to weather and is not scheduled for Tuesday night. The Vikings gathered as a team earlier this afternoon to go over details and we were able to catch up with a bunch of players following that meeting to hear their thoughts on the situation.

Here’s what they had to say…

Adrian Peterson: “Hey, at least it’s another couple of days to heal. We just have to handle this like we have everything else that has gone on this season. Coach Frazier told us to continue to stick together, to stay focused, and that’s what we’ll do. This is just another bump in the road.”

Jared Allen: “What else can you say? Just add this to the list for the 2010 season. But you know what, we have to remain together as a team and keep a positive mind frame. It’s important to be a professional and be ready to play on Tuesday night.”

Chad Greenway: “It’s just another interesting twist to our season. It’s been tough to deal with all the distractions and this just adds to it. We’ll be staying here for a couple nights, so we’ll treat it like a (college) bowl game. In a bowl game you’re typically there for about a week and we’ll be here for about three days. But it has that feel. Everybody is here together; we’ll be hanging out. I’ll probably go get a cheese steak tonight and just hang out.”

“At this point, there is so much time. We have to take some time just to relax, watch a couple movies and hang out. When it comes down to it, tomorrow we’ll get back into our game planning. We’ll watch some more film and keep interested in what’s going on instead of getting lost in the craziness.”

Ryan Longwell: “It’s tough, especially in a season that you didn’t think any more curve balls could happen. This is a rough one being away from our families during Christmas and being stuck in Philly. At the same time you realize that you’ve got to reconfigure the mind for Tuesday night and show up ready to play.”

On what the leadership committee discussed with Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier: “A couple different angles. One is the logistics of being stuck in a hotel. Usually we’re a hotel for one night so guys bring one change of clothes and that’s it. Now we’ll be here for three days and we have to figure out how to take care of guys. So the logistics is one thing. Two is keeping your mind right. We have every reason, because of the season, to say ‘this is the last straw and I’m checking out.’ But this is the NFL and you can’t do that. You have to show up ready to play Tuesday night and that’s what we’re trying to get the young guys and everybody to understand.”

Percy Harvin: “Football is football, no matter what day you play it. They’re accommodating us very well at the hotel. We get to wash our clothes, there are movies to watch and we can eat. It’s just like being at home; we’ve just got to stay here, relax and then be ready when it’s time to play.”

Visanthe Shiancoe: “As a professional athlete, as coach (Leslie Frazier) said, you can only control your attitude and your approach to it. So we have to have a positive approach to it. We get a little extra time to rest, a little extra time to be in the playbook and we’re still going to be on a national stage. We still have a chance to showcase the Vikings. We need to stay ready, no matter the circumstances.”

Joe Webb: “It’s another situation you can’t control. The only thing we can control is keeping our focus and staying composed. We need to fight through this adversity. It’s important to not check out mentally and stay in the playbook studying so we are prepared for the game.”

Heath Farwell: “We’re just going to roll with it, that’s what we have to do. We’ve had a lot of adversity this year and this is another example of it. We are professionals and we have to adapt to what’s given to us.”

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Player Reaction To Coaching Change

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 22, 2010 – 3:42 pm

Several Vikings players have provided their thoughts on the Vikings coaching change. Here’s what they had to say…

DE Jared Allen
“Today is really a mix of emotions. I’m going to miss Coach Childress. Brad brought me here back in 2008, and I’m thankful for that. I wish him nothing but the best. At the same time, Leslie is a stand-up guy who has our respect. He helped turn this defense into a top ten unit year in and year out. Now this will be a chance for him to lead the organization. Leslie’s great at managing players and coaches, and I know the guys will play hard over the next six weeks.”

LB Heath Farwell
“Coach Frazier is very capable of stepping into this role. He’s an even-keel type of guy who has the respect of the locker room. This is a great opportunity for him to showcase his skills as a head coach, and I support him 100%. I feel bad for Coach Childress. Unfortunately he’s the guy that took the fall for us as players who haven’t been playing as well as we should. I have a lot of support for Brad and I wish him and his family the best moving forward.”

QB Brett Favre
“Leslie is a respected, knowledgeable coach and a quality person. I’ve enjoyed being around him the past couple years and I know he’s going to take this opportunity and make the most of it. What you see is what you get with Leslie. He has a background of winning Super Bowls as a player and coach and he knows what it takes to win in the NFL. He can relate to players having been in their shoes himself and will prepare the team well. Brad Childress is a good guy, a man with strong faith and a great family; I wish him the best in the future. I think we all, starting with me, could have done more to make this a successful season.”

LB Chad Greenway
“I’m saddened and humbled by the firing of Coach Childress. He gave me the opportunity to play for this organization and was responsible for bringing me into the NFL. He shouldn’t have to take the fall for our performance on the field, but now we have to move on. I have a lot respect for Coach Frazier. Leslie is a guy we’re very comfortable with. He’s never too up and down, and he does a good job with game-planning and preparing for opponents. He deserves the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL.”

G Steve Hutchinson
“It’s a tough day because I respect the work that Brad Childress put into this team. Nobody in this locker room would have thought we would be in this position at the start of the season but we have to try to make the most of it now. Brad wanted to win more than anybody, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. I have confidence that Leslie will do a great job moving forward. He’s a standup guy and has a great demeanor.  I know Leslie will be a positive presence for the guys on the team and we’re going to be behind him.”

K Ryan Longwell
“I’m excited for Coach Frazier to have an opportunity to be a head coach. At the same time, it’s disheartening to see Coach Childress go. Ultimately this game comes down to players playing, and we weren’t getting the job done.”

RB Adrian Peterson
“Leslie is a good man and will do a great job as the interim coach. He’s got great football smarts and players can relate to him and vice versa. He has a certain vibe and energy that everyone can feel when they’re around him. When he speaks, guys perk up and tune in. I feel for Coach Childress today. I’ve got the utmost respect for him and I will always owe him. One of my goals when I was drafted here was to win a championship with Coach Childress. He took a chance on me and I’ve always wanted to accomplish our ultimate goals together; I’m sad it didn’t work out that way.”

DT Kevin Williams
“We’re excited to go into the rest of the season with Leslie. We’re ready to roll from here and get back on the field. I wish Brad the best in the future. He and his family were always great to me and my family. As players, we’ve got to move forward from here with a new focus.”

DT Pat Williams
“I’m sad to see Coach Childress leave. I respect him as a coach and a person, but we have to keep fighting as a team for the remainder of the season. Leslie has my full support. He’s a good person and a good coach. He deserves to be a head coach in this league. Whether it’s here or somewhere else after this season, he deserves the opportunity.”

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Programming Note For The Jared Allen Show

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 4, 2010 – 2:41 pm

Vikings DE Jared Allen hosts a weekly radio show called The Jared Allen Show presented by Cadillac Ranch at Mall of America and tonight there’s a programming note regarding the show.

Heath Farwell will be filling in for Allen as co-host of the show, which airs live at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Allen will be back next week, same time and same place.

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Patriots-Dolphins Illustrates The Importance Of Special Teams Play

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 5, 2010 – 1:58 pm

Unless you are a New England Patriots fan or you have the Patriots defense/special teams on your fantasy football roster, this week’s Monday Night Football game surely made you cringe on behalf of the Miami Dolphins special teams unit. New England came away with a resounding 41-14 win and registered 3 momentous special teams plays in the 2nd half along the way to the route.

Patriots WR Brandon Tate began the 2nd half by returning Miami’s kickoff 103 yards for a TD. Miami’s ensuing possession was a 3-and-out and Patriots S Patrick Chung broke through the Dolphins special teams unit to block the punt. That setup New England for another TD 2 plays later. Then, early in the 4th quarter, the Patriots blocked a Dolphins FG attempt, which Kyle Arrington returned for yet another New England TD.

While it was entertaining to see so New England’s special teams unit play so well, it was just as unnerving to watch the Dolphins special teams unit play so poorly. The most unfortunate part of the whole deal is that Miami moved to fire its special teams coordinator on Tuesday.

“A lot of times special teams gets overlooked until a game is changed, win or lose, by special teams,” Heath Farwell said after practice on Tuesday. “This is a field position game. If we can get good returns and shorten the field for our offense, and then as a kickoff unit and punt coverage unit if we can pin them deep, not a lot of teams can drive 80 or 90 yards against our defense.”

Farwell is right in that the Vikings defense rarely allows drives of 80+yards. In 3 games so far in 2010, no team has driven that far against the Vikings. The longest drive surrendered by the Vikings to this point is 77 yards to the Saints on the 1st possession of the game. The Vikings defense has faced 34 drives and according to my calculations 21 of those drives have been 30 yards or shorter.

A standout on special teams to this point has been P Chris Kluwe. He ranks tied for 4th with a 43.3 net punting average and he’s placed 6 of his 14 punts inside the opponent’s 20; Kluwe also has just 1 touchback. When opponents are able to return one of Kluwe’s punts, the Vikings punt coverage team is holding them to just 1.8 yards per return.

“Kluwe is doing a good job with a lot of hang time and the gunners are doing a great job of flying down the field and pressuring returners into a lot of fair catches,” Farwell explained. “It’s a combination of Kluwe doing a great job and our guys covering the field well.”

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Vikings LBs Play Well In Season-Opener

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 10, 2010 – 3:15 pm

We heard earlier on the Blog from TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who said the Vikings offense left a lot of plays on the field against the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night’s season-opener. While I’m sure the Vikings defense has a handful of plays they’d like to have back as well, one strong-point of the defense’s effort was the play of the LB corps.

Leading the charge was the man in the middle of the Vikings defense – E.J. Henderson. Coming off a severe leg injury that ended his 2009 season early, Henderson aggressively rehabbed all offseason and remained ahead of schedule in his return to the field. The latest step in Henderson’s return was his performance on Thursday night.

Henderson led all tacklers with 12, with 9 of them being unassisted tackles. One play in particular that stood out to me came late in the 2nd quarter when he filled a gap and ran through Saints RB Pierre Thomas to register a tackle for a loss. New Orleans eventually missed a FG to end the drive, eventually allowing Brett Favre to hook up with Visanthe Shiancoe for a 20-yard TD just before halftime.

“I thought E.J. played exceptionally,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said. “He showed up in a lot of different spots. I can think of one or two instances where you’d liked him to play something a little bit differently, but I thought he was very active.”

It wasn’t just Henderson who played well among the Vikings LB corps. Chad Greenway, with 9 tackles, was the game’s 2nd-leading tackler (Antoine Winfield also had 9 stops) and Ben Leber tallied 4 stops and 1 pass break up (PBU). Each of the 3 starting LBs had a tackle for a loss in the game.

“All three of those linebackers, and don’t leave Ben Leber out of the mix, he played very well last night,” Childress said. “Those three guys had an active night among all of them and Ben’s not taking back seat to any of them right now.”

Speaking of Leber, he saw several snaps in the Vikings nickel package and has been rotating in and out of that alignment with Henderson; Greenway is a staple at LB in the nickel package.

Finally, one more LB stood out to me as well, except it wasn’t with a performance on defense. Heath Farwell, a reserve LB who is a leader on special teams, tallied 2 special teams tackles and was a key aspect in the Vikings ability to hold punt returner Reggie Bush in check. Bush had just 7 punt return yards on 3 attempts.

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Final Audition For Some As Roster Deadline Nears

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 2, 2010 – 7:37 am

Tonight’s preseason finale against the Denver Broncos represents a final audition for several players as they hope to make the Vikings 53-man roster. The Vikings began training camp back on July 30 with 80 players and tonight training camp officially comes to an end and the Vikings will trim the roster to 53 players by the end of the day Saturday.

For some, such as DE Jared Allen or RB Adrian Peterson, tonight’s action isn’t so dramatic. But for others, tonight could mean everything. Let’s take a look at a few position battles that are still up in the air…

Offensive Line: All 5 starters from last year will return in 2010, but beyond that the Vikings OL situation is uncertain. Rookie Chris DeGeare has performed well to this point and could be anywhere from the Week 1 starter at RG to the team’s #1 reserve. And what about Ryan Cook? He can play all 5 positions along the line but might have to hold off others, such as Patrick Brown and Drew Radovich, to make the team.

Wide Receiver: Last year’s breakout WR – Sidney Rice – is on the mend with a hip injury and won’t be active until midway through the season, so that opens up another spot on the roster. The Vikings brought in Greg Camarillo and Javon Walker last week to fortify depth, but there are others, such as Logan Payne and Greg Lewis, who are vying for playing time as well. All of these players have a chance tonight to step up and stand out.

Defensive Line: It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings hold onto an extra defensive lineman or 2 given how well the unit has played in training camp and the preseason. Aside from the usual suspects, there have been a few standouts during training camp, including DT Letroy Guion and DE Jayme Mitchell. They’ll have a chance to solidify their positions tonight but others on the depth chart, such as DT Fred Evans and DE Everson Griffen, will try to use tonight as another stepping stone.

Linebacker: They might slide a bit under the radar, but the Vikings LB corps might be the deepest spot on the entire team. The team’s 3 starters are outstanding, and LB coach Fred Pagac has done a great job of shoring up depth behind those starters with players such as Jasper Brinkley, Heath Farwell and Erin Henderson. Given the importance of LBs to the special teams unit, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a couple more LBs (Kenny Onatolu, Nate Triplett) on the final 53-man roster.

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Undrafted Doesn’t Mean Unimportant

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 13, 2010 – 9:29 am

Later this month, former Vikings DT John Randle will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Any Hall of Fame career is remarkable, but it’s especially remarkable when a player – such as Randle – turns out to be a Hall of Famer after entering the NFL as an undrafted player.

For as much attention as the NFL draft receives annually, it’s easy to forget how important undrafted players are to every NFL team. With teams required to fill out 53-man rosters and also limited by the salary cap each season, there is only so much room for high-priced players with 1st-round pedigree. This is where the importance of finding productive undrafted players comes in.

With that in mind, Pro Football Weekly recently pointed out some of the league’s best undrafted players currently on NFL rosters. And 2 Vikings made the list – LB Heath Farwell and DT Pat Williams. If you click on the link above it’ll take you to a page that lists PFW’s 2010 All-Undrafted Team.

Making the Vikings roster this season as an undrafted rookie is a tough task, largely because the Vikings return 22 starters from last year and also selected 8 players in this year’s draft. But let’s take a quick look at 3 undrafted players currently on the Vikings roster who might have a shot at coming out of training camp with a job.

OT Bill Noethlich – A 6-7, 308-pound OT, Noethlich will enter camp as 1 of 14 OL, but the Vikings will be looking for versatile players who can fulfill reserve rolls. If Noethlich can display an ability to play both LT and RT, perhaps he’ll carve a niche for himself on this roster. Noethlich’s story of making the roster would be a good one because he’s a native of Doland, SD and he played college football at Southwest Minnesota State.

S Terrell Skinner – College football fans may find this name familiar because Skinner played for the University of Maryland, beginning his career there as a redshirt freshman in 2005 and playing all the way through his senior season in 2009. I’m not familiar with his injury history and I haven’t spoken in-depth with any coaches or scouts regarding Skinner, but he strikes me as a player with a chance. He was converted from WR to DB at Maryland and stands at 6-2, 214 pounds. So his size is great and his ball skills should be solid. But if Skinner is going to make the Vikings coming out of training camp, his best bet might be to prove his worth as a special teams contributor first.

WR Ray Small – The Vikings have 3 solid starting WRs and because of the NFL’s graduation rule Small was unable to attend much of the Vikings offseason program. But even given all of that, Small should come to training camp with an ambitious mindset. Although the top 3 spots on the WR depth chart are locked up, there could be a couple more openings on the roster AND I believe Small will have a chance to win either the kick or punt return job.

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OTA #11 Observations; Teaching/Learning Environment Important At OTAs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 3, 2010 – 12:20 pm

Often times I mention weather conditions in the OTA observations and it’s not because I’m a native Minnesotan – weather seems to be a common conversation topic in our great state. The weather is a relevant factor because these OTA sessions are as much about teaching/learning as they are skill sets and physical activity.

“There is a lot of teaching going on here,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said on Wednesday while meeting with reporters. “Coaches are being intentional about that. (There are) a lot of bright-eyed guys so we will have some good competitions at a number of positions.”

On Thursday, the Vikings practiced under ideal weather – and teaching – conditions as they completed OTA #11. Although these OTAs are non-contact exercises at all times, I’ve definitely sensed a pickup in the intensity and competitive environment as the OTA schedule has progressed. Thursday’s action, especially near the end of practice, was no exception and served as a prime example of the good competitions Childress referenced on Wednesday.

Let’s go over a few observations/highlights from Thursday’s practice…

– S Husain Abdullah tallied an INT during the first team portion of practice, picking off a Sage Rosenfels pass near the sideline.

– Childress mentioned during Wednesday’s press conference that the team is working a lot on situational football, and they did so again on Thursday. I noticed during both team drills and 7-on-7 work that 3rd downs, red zone and zero-blitz/zero-pressure scenarios were presented.

– The best offensive play of the day came during 7-on-7 work, when Tarvaris Jackson floated a pass in the back right corner of the endzone for TE Visanthe Shiancoe. LB Heath Farwell was in on the coverage and actually was in a great position, but Shiancoe jumped and got both hands on the ball. My view of the ground was blocked, so I could tell if the TE got both feet in bounds. Farwell came away from the play waving his arms as if to say “incomplete” but Shiancoe had both hands in the air to say “touchdown.”

– Rookie 6th round QB Joe Webb got in on the action with a sharp throw to RB Darius Reynaud on 3rd and goal from the 8.

– The best part of practice came on the final 3 plays, where it was offense vs. defense inside the 10-yardline. Jackson hit Shiancoe on a quick slant for a score and then the QB followed that effort up with another TD on a quick slant to WR Jaymar Johnson. On the final play, though, Leslie Frazier’s defense came with a blitz and forced an incompletion. Jackson called an alert and made an adjustment to the play. S Jamarca Sanford came on the blitz and Jackson’s pass was batted down by a wall of defensive linemen.

– Childress hosted a contingent of Minnesota high school football coaches at practice, something he’s done in the past as he continues to cultivate a relationship with members from every level of football in the state.

– Mike Grant, the son of former Vikings Head Coach Bud Grant, heads a group of students from Eden Prairie High School called The Brotherhood. The group meets weekly and is comprised of primarily black, male student athletes who have committed to improving themselves both academically and personally.

The students were able to watch Thursday’s practice from the sidelines and then were joined by several members of the organization following practice. Along with a big group of players, individuals who visited with Grant’s group included Childress, Frazier, VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman and WRs coach George Stewart.

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