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Special Teams Sets Tone For Practice; OTA #7 Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2012 – 2:51 pm

The Vikings opened up their final week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at Winter Park on Monday under partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures and a brisk wind. After near-perfect weather a week ago, the windy conditions for OTA #7 added a challenging element for many phases of practice.

The first phase to deal with the wind was the Vikings special teams group, specifically the punt returners. Catching punts is difficult enough, but add in winds that gusted from 15-20 mph and the task becomes increasingly difficult. It didn’t faze the Vikings returners, though, as CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright fielded kicks gracefully.

The special teams’ performance in the first period of practice was an indication of what was to come, as the Vikings conducted a crisp and clean approximately 90-minute practice. The special teams setting a positive example for the rest of practice is something in which Mike Priefer, entering his second season as the Vikings special teams coordinator, takes pride.

“I’m very fortunate to work for a head coach like Coach Frazier,” Priefer told Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen and yours truly during last week’s episode of Vikings Tonight on the Vikings Radio Network. “He gives me meeting time, he gives me practice time, he gives me individual time with guys. I like the fact that we start practice with special teams because, to me, we set the tone for the rest of the practice. We’re a high energy, high motor type period. We get a lot done in a fifteen- or twenty-minute period of time that we have. The fact that we get to start practice and get to set the tone for the rest of the day is exciting for me.”

A few other observations from OTA #7…

Who can, not who can’t
There have been no shortage of punt returners during OTAs. The four who caught punts on Monday are listed above, but several others have also been in the mix over the past two weeks. While fans are curious to know who will win the job after the position battle, Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White are still figuring out who will be in that position battle.

“We have eight or nine guys catching punts right now and you have to pull them out of a hat,” Priefer said on last week’s Vikings Tonight. “But the great thing is we have a lot of competition there. I’ve been at places where we have one guy, maybe two, that can even catch a punt. Here we have seven or eight guys who can catch punts.”

Sherels stands out
It was a good day of practice for CB Marcus Sherels, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher who made last year’s Vikings squad as an undrafted free agent. If Sherels has more days like he had on Monday, he’ll once again be on the Vikings roster and in position to make an impact.

Sherels tallied a pair of pass breakups (PBUs) against what’s been one of the best QB-WR combinations during OTAs – Christian Ponder and Jerome Simpson. The first PBU came during a team offense vs. team defense period when Sherels jumped in front of Simpson on a short curl route, and the second PBU came during a 7-on-7 period of practice on a deep pass down the left sideline. On each play, Ponder placed the ball well and Simpson ran a good route, but Sherels was just able to make a great play on the ball.

Living on the edge
Ponder and fellow QB Joe Webb put their athleticism on display during a team offense vs. defense period. Both plays were similar in that the QBs were sprinting right to avoid a pursuing defender. DE Brian Robison was chasing Ponder, and the QB was able to buy just enough time to find WR Stephen Burton along the right sideline for a tip-toe completion before falling out of bounds. Moments later, Webb executed a similar play, sprinting right to avoid DE Eric Lattimore and completing a pass to TE Kyle Rudolph. The pass was thrown slightly behind Rudolph, but the second-year TE was able to reach back and make the catch before turning upfield to complete the play.

Good hands Griffen
Defensive linemen such as Everson Griffen spend much of their time rushing the passer. On Monday, though, Griffen showed off his pass-catching skills, grabbing a tipped pass to tally an INT.


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Ponder, Simpson Steal The Show At OTA #5

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 6, 2012 – 2:07 pm

Wednesday was a good day of work for the Vikings as they continued their series of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park. The team worked in ideal conditions for a second consecutive day, and this time the approximately 90-minute practice was conducted in front of a full contingent of media.

Following practice, several Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier took part in a Special Olympics Minnesota Punt, Pass & Kick clinic.

“We tried to put our guys through the paces today and hit a few different situations,” Frazier said. “It’s so good to be able to come out here and practice and you plan things, and now you get to see it (the plan) come to fruition. It’s good for our football team, the attitude has been great and when you have guys on our team working as hard as they’re working, and then to take time out and go and do what they did after practice to help other people, it just shows you the type of integrity and character you try to develop on a team.”

There were a lot of good things happening on the field both offensively and defensively on Wednesday, but there’s no doubt that QB Christian Ponder and WR Jerome Simpson stole the show about half-way through practice during a team offense vs. team defense period. Ponder dropped back and launched a pass deep down the right sideline, and Simpson used his speed to track the ball and make an acrobatic leaping catch over a defender before falling to the ground and securing the ball for a completion.

“That’s what he’s been doing for five practices,” Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph said after Wednesday’s workout.

Said Frazier: “Whoa, what a catch. We’ll be looking forward to seeing that on Sundays! I mean, all of his teammates were going, ‘Wow, now I understand why he’s here.’ So that was impressive.”

Click here to see video of the Ponder-to-Simpson circus-style catch and click here to listen to this week’s Wobcast, with Simpson joining as the guest.

The connection with Simpson was Ponder’s best completion of the day, but he also made impressive throws to WRs Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright. The completion to Wright came on a deep out route along the right sideline, and the completion to Burton came on a slant pattern across the middle of the field with Ponder placing the football where only Burton had a chance to catch it, and Burton fully extending to dive and make the catch.

The Vikings concluded practice with a competitive period in which the team worked in a backed up situation (offense on their own 2-yardline) and in the no-huddle.

“So far, we’re making some progress, but we still have a long ways to go to come together as a team,” Frazier said. “That’s why we have these OTAs and that’s why we’ll have minicamp and the preseason as well. We’re making progress, but we definitely have a ways to go.”


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Vikings Get 6 Draft Picks Under Contract

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 22, 2012 – 1:31 pm

NFL teams have begun the process of signing their draft picks over the past few weeks and the Vikings have jumped into the mix as well. On Tuesday the team made official the signing of 6 selections from last month’s NFL Draft.

The players who’ve signed contracts are: 4th-round WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, 5th-round DB Robert Blanton, 6th-round K Blair Walsh, 7th-round LB Audie Cole and 7th-round DT Trevor Guyton.

Signing this year’s draft class is a tall task because, for the second consecutive year, the Vikings have 10 selections. Tuesday’s news that six are now under contract leaves four players who’ve yet to sign their deals. They are: 1st-round LT Matt Kalil, 1st-round S Harrison Smith, 3rd-round CB Josh Robinson and 4th-round TE Rhett Ellison.

Click here to read more about the Vikings 2012 draft class.


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Fan Email: Is Jabar Gaffney A Good Fit For Vikings?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 3, 2012 – 6:30 am

Whenever a recognizable name becomes available, whether it is via trade rumors or free agency – the first thing that comes to mind for many fans and football observers is, “Is he a good fit here?” And so, with the Washington Redskins releasing WR Jabar Gaffney earlier this week, I’ve received several emails from fans asking if the Vikings would be a good match for his services.

It appears the answer is no.

As they do with every player who becomes available, the Vikings will likely discuss Gaffney’s availability and evaluate whether or not he’s a good fit here. It appears Gaffney has plenty of gas left in the tank. He may be 31 years old, but he’s coming off a season in which he recorded career highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (947), and tied a career high with 5 TDs.

But I’m just not sure he’s a good fit here. The Vikings signed 4-year veteran Jerome Simpson last week, they have veterans Devin Aromashodu, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins set to return, and they selected two WRs in the 4th round of last weekend’s draft (Greg Childs and Jarius Wright). That’s not to say any of those receivers are superior to Gaffney – they may be, they may not – but it does yield the conclusion that Minnesota may not be a great fit for Gaffney.

The other factor to keep in mind is that for a team and a player to join forces, there must be mutual interest. This is something many fans didn’t consider with regard to the Asante Samuel situation. Yes, the Atlanta Falcons acquired his services for a moderate price from the Philadelphia Eagles, but not every team had the same opportunity as Atlanta. Samuel identified Atlanta has a desirable destination, and he was therefore willing to talk turkey with them in terms of restructuring his contract.

Gaffney will now be in a similar situation. There will be a demand for his services, so Gaffney will choose his next team among multiple options. The smart money should be on the New England Patriots, the team for which he played from 2006-08, especially after ESPN’s Josina Anderson tweeted this. While there is a deep crop of WRs in New England, Gaffney will likely begin his next stint with the Patriots as one of the preferred pass-catchers given his familiarity with the organization and Tom Brady from his first stint with the team, as well as his familiarity with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after their time together with the Denver Broncos from 2009-10.


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Pick-By-Pick Summary Of Vikings 2012 NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2012 – 10:56 am

A quick pick-by-pick analysis of the Vikings 2012 draft…

LT Matt Kalil – 1st round
Projected to be a cornerstone LT for the next decade and allows the Vikings to solidify their offensive line by moving Charlie Johnson to LG and holding a robust competition at RG among Joe Berger, Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz.

S Harrison Smith – 1st round
A 2-year captain at Notre Dame who is known for his intelligence, leadership, consistency and tackling ability, Smith will start from Day 1 at safety.

CB Josh Robinson – 3rd round
The fastest player at the Combine, Robinson has explosive athletic qualities and will compete for time at both CB and punt returner in his rookie season. If he can be the 4th CB and contribute on special teams as a rookie, this pick is a success. From a long-term perspective, Robinson could compete for a starting spot at CB some day.

WR Jarius Wright – 4th round
One of my favorite moves of the draft. Wright provides depth behind Percy Harvin at slot receiver should he sustain an injury or should the Vikings chose to deploy Harvin in the backfield or as an outside receiver on occasion. Wright, a First-Team All-SEC WR in 2011, is an explosive athlete with big-time production at Arkansas.

TE Rhett Ellison – 4th round
Seems to be a player who can fulfill the role of blocking TE and FB. No one can replace Jim Kleinsasser, but that’s the thinking behind this pick perhaps. Ellison is a blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player who will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

WR Greg Childs – 4th round
A great value pick here, as a knee injury caused Childs to fall from a 1st- or 2nd-round prospect last year to a mid-round prospect this year. Childs has prototypical size for an outside WR at 6-3, 219 pounds, and he also has great speed and ball skills.

CB Robert Blanton – 5th round
Blanton will likely move from CB to safety with the Vikings and perhaps even join Smith, his college teammate, as a starter in 2012. Good position flexibility here for Blanton, plus he can be a special teams contributor right away as well.

K Blair Walsh – 6th round
Walsh has a very strong leg and was one of just three kickers with a draftable grade on the Vikings board. His accuracy dipped in 2011, but also consider he was 40 of 46 as a sophomore and junior. His accuracy dipped last year because he had so many attempts (led nation in FG tries) and because he had a high number of long attempts. A good selection here because it adds competition to the kicker position with the ever-steady and reliable Ryan Longwell also still in the fold.

LB Audie Cole – 7th round
Cole adds competition to his position, and his best attribute may be position flexibility, as he can play all three LB spots in the Vikings defense.

DL Trevor Guyton – 7th round
Similar to Cole, Guyton is a late-round selection who has a chance to stick around because of his position flexibility. Guyton can play DE or DT, will add competition to the defensive line, and could contribute as a special teams player as well.


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Vikings Utilize Draft, Free Agency To Upgrade WR Position

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2012 – 6:27 am

The Vikings entered the offseason with several items on their to-do list, and one of those items was “upgrade the WR position.” Over the past week or so, the Vikings have done a nice job of utilizing the draft and free agency to do just that.

A week ago, the Vikings returning receivers with significant playing time under their belt from the 2011 season were limited to: Devin Aromashodu, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins. Several young players, including Manny Arceneaux and Stephen Burton, were also in the fold, but none of them contributed significantly a season ago.

Fast-forward to now, though, and you see improvement. No one will characterize the Vikings WR position as an embarrassment of riches at this point, but there is plenty of reason for optimism about what the Vikings have added.

It started prior to the draft, when the Vikings reached agreement on a free agent contract with veteran Jerome Simpson. A 2nd-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Simpson had his best season a year ago when he hauled in 50 receptions for 725 yards and 4 TDs. He brings good size and elite athleticism to the Vikings WR corps, and will provide the Vikings offense with the outside, field-stretching presence it needs.

Then during the draft, the Vikings used two 4th-round selections to add even more talent to the group. Jarius Wright, an explosive and ultra-productive slot receiver for Arkansas, was added first. Just minutes later, the Vikings also added Greg Childs, a childhood friend and college teammate of Wright’s. Childs is the prototypical outside WR because of his great size (6-3, 219 pounds) and speed (4.54 in 40-yard dash) combination along with his ability to make acrobatic catches and win versus coverage down the field.

Again, let’s not put the cart before the horse and declare mission accomplished when it comes to improving the passing game. But there’s no question the Vikings added 3 talented players to their WR corps over the last week, and that’s an exciting development for Vikings fans and surely for Vikings QB Christian Ponder.


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Vikings Add CB Blanton To Collection Of Former Notre Dame Standouts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2012 – 12:18 pm

The Vikings collected a pair of former Arkansas Razorbacks in the 4th round with the selections of WRs Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, but in the 5th round they added another former Notre Dame standout in CB Robert Blanton. With Blanton in the fold, the Vikings now boast five former Notre Dame players, two of which will help bolster the team’s secondary (Harrison Smith).

Blanton stands at 6-1, 208 pounds and improved his draft stock as a senior at Notre Dame. He is an experienced and productive college player, having contributed significantly even as a true freshman in 2008 with 33 tackles, 3 PBUs and 2 INTs in 12 games played with 4 starts. As a senior, Blanton stepped up his game and recorded 70 tackles, 6 PBUs and 2 INTs in 13 starts at CB.

Some will question Blanton’s explosiveness and strength, which is fair, but he comes to the Vikings with experience and production at a top-tier college program. Plus, he fits a position of need and some say he could transition to safety. It’s also fair to expect Blanton to become a solid special teams contributor as a rookie.


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(Razor)Back For More: Vikings Select Arkansas WR Greg Childs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2012 – 12:05 pm

With a stockpile of selections in the 4th and 5th rounds, the Vikings could’ve found a way to package those picks and move up. Instead, Vikings GM Rick Spielman chose to retain those selections and he continues to attack areas of need on the roster.

The latest selection is another former Arkansas WR, with the selection this time being 6-3, 219-pounder Greg Childs. The selection of Childs follows the selection two picks earlier of Jarius Wright. Vikings WRs coach George Stewart, an Arkansas alum, must be a happy man.

Childs is a big, physical receiver with long arms who can play on the outside and does a nice job of high-pointing the football and plucking throws away from defenders. He clocked a 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, and the main reason he lasted this long in the draft, in my view, is he’s coming off a knee injury from last year.

We’re moving fast and furious here, so we’ll have more on this pick and all the other selections soon, so stay tuned to vikings.com.


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Vikings Grab WR Jarius Wright In 4th Round

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2012 – 11:19 am

Needing a young, field-stretching WR at some point in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Vikings went other directions in the first three rounds and chose to rely on the draft’s WR depth to address that need at a later point. The plan worked, as the Vikings choose former Arkansas WR Jarius Wright with their first of three 4th-round selections on Saturday.

Wright measures in a 5-8, 182 pounds and clocked an impressive 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash. He is an experienced and productive receiver, appearing in all 12 games and starting 7 times as a true freshman in 2008. In 2009 he started 12 of 13 games, in 2010 he started all 13 games and in 2011 he started 12 times, missing the first and only game of his career. Wright was a team captain at Arkansas and fumbled the ball just one time during his career.

“He is a great addition to our team,” Vikings WRs coach George Stewart told me just after the selection was made. “He was one of the most explosive players in the country.”

As a freshman, Wright had 19 receptions for 348 yards and 2 TDs. He followed that season up with campaigns of 41-681-5, 42-788-5 and 66-1,117-12. He was Arkansas’ leading receiver in 2011 and was also chosen as a First-Team All-SEC performer.

Wright isn’t the biggest receiver in the world and he might be best in the slot. Of course the Vikings have one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in Percy Harvin, but having Wright in the fold allows the Vikings to be more creative in how they deploy Harvin within the offense.

We’ll have more on this selection and the rest of the Vikings picks later, so stay tuned to vikings.com.


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