Childress: Backup LB Battle “Neck and Neck”

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 26, 2009 – 2:42 pm

We mentioned yesterday in this space that the 3rd CB/nickel back position battle is still up in the air. Another position battle that’s been hotly contested since OTAs and through both training camp and the preseason is the backup LB position.

Reserves Jasper Brinkley, Heath Farwell, Erin Henderson, David Herron and Kenny Onatolu are the candidates to backup starters Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber, and at this point Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress characterized the position battle as “neck and neck.”

“It’s a hell of a battle; it’s neck and neck,” Childress said after preactice on Wednesday. “That’s what makes you a good football team. We’ve got guys striving at the linebacker position and striving at the special teams positions. It makes you better.”

As Childress mentioned, a big factor in determining who makes the final 53-man roster heading into Week 1 of the regular season will be special teams and which of the candidates can best display their ability to contribute in multiple phases of the game.

Childress also said on Wednesday that he has yet to decide on a 2nd-half QB rotation for Monday night’s game at Houston; he already said earlier in the week that Brett Favre will play the 1st half.

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Farwell Will Help the Vikings Special Teams Fare Well

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 4, 2009 – 3:15 pm

The Vikings conducted a special teams practice on Tuesday afternoon, a standard procedure for the team during training camp. An exclusive special teams workout serves several purposes, including the opportunity for special teams coordinator Brian Murphy to conduct specific drill work with prospecitve special teams players and also give non-special teams players a bit of a breather during 2-a-days.

We heard Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress explain yesterday why he was confident the special teams unit would improve from 2008 to 2009. One of those reasons was the return of LB and special teams ace Heath Farwell.

Farwell missed all of 2008 with a knee injury, and his loss was felt across all phases of the Vikings special teams. Entering his 6th NFL season, Farwell has earned a reputations for being an outstanding special teams player. He was selected by teammates as the Special Teams Player of the Year for the Vikings in 2006 and 2007, and performances like his 7-tackle effort on special teams against the Giants in 2007 are how he’s earned such a solid reputation. Farwell had 57 special teams tackles in 2006 and 2007.

So just how important is Farwell to the Vikings special teams unit in 2009?

“Tremendously important,” Murphy said. “I think in the kicking game, you need guys to be leaders and the more guys you can cultivate and recruit to be leaders in the kicking game, the rest of the team follows along and I think Heath is one of those guys. He’s smart and he plays hard. I think the kicking game is important to him and he rubs off on other guys.”

Farwell’s return will link him up with backup safeties Husain Abdullah and Eric Frampton, a pair of former Washington State players who’ve become versatile and valuable special teams contributors in their own right. Now they will be on the field together with Farwell. On top of that, 2 of the Vikings 2009 draft picks – LB Jasper Brinkley and S Jamarca Sanford – appear to be willing and worthy special teams contributors this season.

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Childress Confident in Special Teams Improvement

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 3, 2009 – 4:59 pm

At 1st glance, there may be only 2 sides to a figurative football – the offensive side and the defensive side. But any football coach worth his salt will tell you there are actually 3 sides to a (figurative) football.

The special teams unit comprises that 3rd side, and Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said after Monday’s afternoon practice that he is confident his special teams unit will improve from last year, when the Vikings ranked near the bottom in some statistical categories.

“I am confident that it’s going to be improved,” Childress told reporters. “I think that our guys, throughout the offseason, have spent a lot of time on what we’re doing schematically and the understanding of what we’re trying to do.”

After Paul Ferraro left his post as special teams coordinator to join the St. Louis Rams as LBs coach, Childress decided to promote Brian Murphy, who served under Ferraro, to the position. Other changes to the special teams unit include the return of special teams ace LB Heath Farwell and an influx of young talent battling for a limited number of roster spots.

“I think Murph has done a great job of putting good drill work with it and making them understand and see some things,” Childress explained. “I think there’s some enthusiasm. I also think that younger athletes have all bought in and jumped in at an early age. When you have competition for roster spots like we’re going to have, then that tends to elevate (their special teams play) as well.”

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Vikings Conclude Practice No. 1

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2009 – 12:31 pm

The 1st practice of 2009 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is officially in the books. All 79 players who’ve reported to camp were on the field in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts for the 120-minute practice. To begin camp, the offensive players are wearing white jerseys and the defensive players are in purple jerseys.

 With temperatures in the mid-70s, minimal wind and plenty of sunshine, conditions were near ideal for players and fans alike. Vikings fans filled both sets of tall bleachers located adjacent to the practice fields and on several occasions were stirred to cheers by a long completion or impressive interception.

“We always enjoy coming here to watch training camp,” said Dan, a citizen of Mankato who enjoys bringing his 2 kids to camp every year. “These are the guys we watch on TV all year long, so to get an up-close look at them like we can here is really fun.”

After speaking with the media on both Wednesday and Thursday, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress didn’t have much to say following today’s morning practice. He did meet with the media several minutes after practice, however, and seemed even-tempered about his team’s work during the 1st practice.

“First day, not a lot to report,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said immediately after practice. “It’s good to get those guys out there and getting used to their pads. It’s always interesting for me to go and look at the tape and see how guys move around and how they’re carrying their pads, particularly interested to look at some of those rookies to see how they did. We’ve got a lot to work on but we’ve got a little time to do it.”

The Vikings will get back to work this afternoon, as they have a 2nd practice scheduled for today at 3:00 p.m. In between the morning practice and afternoon session, the players will grab lunch, head to meetings and replenish their bodies. Following today’s afternoon practice the entire team will be introduced to fans at Blakeslee Stadium. The event is scheduled to begin around 5:00.

Several other players spoke after practice today, including both Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels. We’ll have updates of what they had to say posted here on the Blog in a little while.

A few highlights from today’s practice included:

– CB Karl Paymah playing tough press coverage against WR Nick Moore. Paymah brought Moore to the ground during 1-on-1 drills this morning, but then Moore got back up and hauled in a reception against Paymah on the next snap.

– LB Heath Farwell surged through the offensive line to make what would’ve been a huge hit on the RB during the 9-7 inside running drill.

– Rookie LB Jasper Brinkley also found a way to break through the line to make what would’ve been a jolting stop on rookie RB Ian Johnson.

– I didn’t see, but the crowd broke out in ovation after CB Derrick Roberson made an interception during 1-on-1 drills.

– CB Cedric Griffin made an outstanding play during 7-on-7 drills when he dove and deflected a pass from Sage Rosenfels to Bernard Berrian.

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Analyzing Position Battles – Backup LB

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2009 – 8:59 pm

We set out to analyze a few position battles right here on the blog before training camp began. The good news is that we’ve already done the RTWRs, nickel back and backup DT positions. The bad news is we still have the backup LBs and starting QB to finish. And the 1st training camp practice is roughly 2 hours from the time of this post.

So we’ll compromise. The backup LB spot will be broken down right here and then we’ll analyze the battle between Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels after Day 1 of practices.

When evaluating the importance of the backup LB spot on the Vikings roster, the same theory that applied to the importance of the backup DT position applies here: given how important the position is to the Vikings defense, it’s important for the Vikings to have solid backup options in the event of injury.

Right now it looks as if the Vikings will have a good opportunity to fill their depth chart with quality backup LBs. There are currently 9 LBs on the Vikings roster, and we know that Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber will comprise the starting group (barring injury). That leaves the squad with 2 returnees from last year, 1 guy coming back from injury and a trio of new faces.

The 2 LBs returning from last year are Erin Henderson and David Herron. Herron is more of an inside linebacker while Henderson is more of a versatile player who can play in the middle or slide outside. The main thing for these 2 players is their ability to contribute on special teams as well. If they can fend off other young players and cement roles on special teams, they will be more likely to be relied upon as reserve linebackers as well.

Speaking of special teams, the Vikings best special teams player over the past few seasons also happens to be a LB. Heath Farwell was lost for the 2008 season during the Vikings 1st preseason game, and both the depth of the LBs and the Vikings kick coverage units suffered as a result. Farwell has battled back from his knee injury and seems poised to re-insert himself in both of his former roles.

The 3 new faces in the LB corps are Jasper Brinkley, Robert Francois and Kenny Onatolu. Brinkley, a 5th round draft choice this year, is the one to watch in this group. He was a star at South Carolina after his freshman season, but then a knee injury sidelined him and hurt his draft stock. The Vikings selected him in the 5th round, and if he can fulfill his potential the Vikings may have found a real steal in the draft. Brinkley’s upside is good enough that he could be a key contributor on special teams this year and somewhere down the line become a starting LB for the Vikings.

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