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Brinkley Shows More Improvement As Regular Season Approaches

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 26, 2012 – 10:56 am

We mentioned late last week that Vikings coaches were pleased with the progress starting middle LB Jasper Brinkley has made in training camp and the preseason. We may be talking more about that progress this week, as Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier once again praised Brinkley after Friday’s exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers.

“Jasper seemed like he played a lot better,” Frazier said. “He was more aggressive, he seemed like he was out there having fun, kind of letting go a little bit. His play was encouraging just watching from the sideline. He made a lot of plays tonight so that should help his confidence. It was inspiring to see him play as aggressive as he did.”

Brinkley had 2.0 sacks and 3 QB hurries on the night, as he was a part of suffocating performance by the Vikings first-team defense. Granted, San Diego was missing several starters, but the Vikings defense did what they should’ve done given their matchup. The Chargers had just 80 net yards of offense and 5 first downs in the 1st half versus the Vikings starters, and the visitors were just 22% on 3rd downs and averaged only 2.5 yards per carry.

That’s the kind of performance coaches and fans want to see from Brinkley. His injury history has been well-publicized, but after great improvement since training camp began in late July and a couple of encouraging preseason outings, it will be Brinkley’s solid play that gets the publicity soon.


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Too Many Turnovers Lead To Vikings Loss vs. Chargers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 10:28 pm

Hoping to ride the momentum generated from a strong showing against the Buffalo Bills a week ago, the Vikings offense opened Week 3 of the 2012 preseason with the ball and designs of setting the tempo for their exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers. Instead of creating tempo, the Vikings offense generated too many turnovers and wasn’t able to gain any rhythm in a 12-10 loss at Mall of America Field on Friday night.

“We never really got a rhythm,” Vikings QB Christian Ponder said. “When we get the ball first in a game, it’s always important for us to set a tone. Not only did we go three-and-out on the first drive, but on the second drive as well. It started off with an incompletion on the very first play, and that set a tone for the rest of the game.”

There were flashes of efficiency for the Vikings. Ponder found WR Percy Harvin deep down the right side for a gain of 40 yards and FB Matt Asiata flashed a bit in the 2nd half, but overall the offense didn’t perform up to par after a standout performance last week that left many optimistic in the young group’s potential.

“We made plays,” Ponder explained. “We ran the ball well. Just four turnovers, and penalties at inopportune times make it tough to overcome. It’s frustrating when we only put, for us (first-team offense), three points on the board. We ended up scoring a touchdown at the end, so ten points. It was a little disappointing, but it shows us that we have a lot to work on. We wish we would’ve performed like we did the first two weeks, but we know we have the capability to do so, we just gotta get better.”

Ponder is the first to claim responsibility for the offense’s shortcomings. Asked if pressure was getting to him – he was sacked three times in the 1st half and five times overall – Ponder was quick to point out he shared some of the blame for the pressure.

“I got myself in trouble. We talked about it on the sidelines,” Ponder said. “I was getting back on the top of my drop and just sitting there. That puts a lot of pressure on our (offensive) tackles. I could do a lot better job of stepping up, moving forward…It’s on me. I’ve got to get better in the pocket. Usually I don’t do that. I don’t know why it happened this game. It’s something to work on in practice and get better at.”

Ponder is likely too hard on himself, but the Vikings can take solace in the fact they have a QB who takes pride in his on-field work, takes blame when things don’t go right and is determined to fix them the next week in practice. Expect Ponder and Co. to do just that and have a solid week of practice leading up to their Week 1 home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In addition to too many sacks allowed, the Vikings also committed too many turnovers. The Vikings saw three drives end in San Diego territory, including two inside the red zone and one inside the 5. Another drive ended via an INT after the offense had driven 47 yards in just 4 plays. Those turnovers will cover up many of the stretches in which the Vikings offense was moving with efficiency and explosion.

“Probably the thing that defines (the game) the most for us were the mistakes,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. We turned the ball over four times. Whether it’s the preseason or regular season, it’s hard to win in our League when that happens.”

It looked as if the Vikings would be able to overcome their turnover-riddled performance and emerge with a victory after QB Sage Rosenfels drove the offense down the field and found Asiata for a 1-yard TD. That score and the resulting PAT by K Blair Walsh gave the Vikings a 10-9 lead with 1:54 to play. But Chargers reserve QB Jarrett Lee put together a drive that was aided by a Vikings personal foul penalty and ended with a 45-yard game-winning FG as time expired by Nick Novak.

The highlight of the night for the Vikings was the performance by their first-team defense, which suffocated the Chargers offense. Granted, San Diego held out many of its starters, but the Vikings did exactly what they should have done under the circumstances. San Diego was just 3 of 16 (19%) on 3rd downs, they gained just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt and the Vikings sacked Chargers QBs six times.

LBs Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson clearly had their best performances of 2012, combining for 9 tackles. Brinkley had 2.0 sacks and Henderson was a disruptive force on multiple occasions. DE Jared Allen was up to his old tricks with a pair of sacks and three of his four tackles resulting in a loss of yardage for San Diego. The Vikings also got a sack from DT Fred Evans, who started in place of an injured Letroy Guion.

“Our first defense, they played extremely hard,” Frazier said. “They kept us in the game. Real good on third down. Didn’t come up with the turnovers that we would like. But I thought our first unit did everything that we asked.”

The Vikings move to 1-2 this preseason and will conclude their exhibition struggle on Thursday by traveling to Houston for a contest against the Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT.


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Defense Clamps Down On Chargers In 1st Half

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 7:28 pm

The Vikings offense mustered just seven 1st downs and 102 net yards of offense in the opening two quarters of play on Friday night at Mall of America Field. But because of a stout performance from the first-team defense, the Vikings entered the locker room at halftime of their third preseason game trailing by just a FG – 6-3.

San Diego’s offense has not fared much better than the Vikings group, picking up just five first downs and accumulating just 80 yards of offense on 34 snaps. QB Charlie Whitehurst, who started the game because San Diego chose to rest Philip Rivers (and plenty of other starters, too), has completed 7 of 16 attempts for 72 yards. The Chargers have gained 35 yards rushing on 14 carries and have converted just 2 of 9 third-down attempts.

Several Vikings defenders are standing out in the 1st half, including All-Pro DE Jared Allen. Last year’s sack king has 2.0 tonight, and both LB Jasper Brinkley and DT Fred Evans have gotten to Whitehurst as well. LB Erin Henderson is having a solid game and S Jamarca Sanford has collected 4 tackles while starting alongside Harrison Smith.

San Diego will open the 2nd half with the ball, as both they and the Vikings first-team offense will look to turn things around in the 3rd quarter. The Vikings defense will look to keep things the same.


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6 Keys To Vikings-Chargers Preseason Tilt Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 24, 2012 – 3:40 pm

The Vikings welcome the San Diego Chargers to Mall of America Field tonight for each team’s third preseason contest of 2012. While we wait for kickoff, let’s go over a few keys to the game…

– Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier indicated all week that his offensive starters will play into the 3rd quarter. That gives the Vikings offensive staff an opportunity to go into the locker room at halftime knowing they’ll have a drive with their starters in the 2nd half. If the Chargers are able to slow a particular area of the Vikings offense in the 1st half, look for the Vikings to come out in the 2nd half with an answer. It would be a significant positive sign for the Vikings first-team offense if they can have a productive drive to open the 3rd quarter before giving way to the backups and reserves.

– One more offensive key – no sacks allowed. This is on Vikings receivers and QB Christian Ponder as much as it’s on the offensive line. Receivers need to wiggle open – especially important since starting WR Jerome Simpson won’t be as heavily involved tonight – and the QB needs to get rid of the ball on time. And of course the offensive line needs to provide a pocket in which Ponder can step up and deliver.

– It’s a big night for Jasper Brinkley. Since missing all of last season and some of the offseason program with an injury, Brinkley has made progress as the man in the middle of the Vikings defense. Tonight Brinkley has a chance to accelerate that progression and instill confidence in coaches and fans that he can be the type of LB the Vikings defense needs. You’ll know Brinkley is playing well if you see him in the backfield early on run plays and if San Diego has trouble passing on early downs.

– The Chargers will have several starters out of action, including RB Ryan Mathews, giving the Vikings defense an opportunity to clamp down on an opponent and build some confidence. The Vikings run defense, specifically, took a huge step forward last week and I think they’ll do so again tonight. Add in home field advantage, and you can expect a sharp performance from the Vikings defense against San Diego tonight.

– The Vikings special teams units have performed well all of training camp and the preseason, but there’s still one missing element that would be nice to see before the regular season opens – a big kickoff or punt return. Kickoff and punt coverage has been solid and the Vikings return units have had sound blocking, so now it’s time for a returner to stick his foot in the ground, make a cut and rip off a big return.

– Rookie K Blair Walsh has had a nice preseason, hitting on 7 of 8 FGs and all of his PATs, along with booming 5 touchbacks. Another quality outing from Walsh is to be expected tonight as his confidence grows and the team’s and fans’ confidence in him grows as well.


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Tentativeness Leaving, Confidence Building For Brinkley

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 22, 2012 – 10:30 am

The Vikings are relying on Jasper Brinkley to hold down the middle LB job this season (and many seasons in the future), which is an important position in the team’s 4-3 scheme. After missing all of last season and some of this year’s offseason program, some grew concerned about Brinkley’s durability and, subsequently, his ability to handle the task.

But after the first part of training camp and two preseason games, the Vikings coaching staff doesn’t seem to be sharing that concern.

The Vikings allowed too many rushing yards in their preseason debut against the San Francisco 49ers, surrendering 198 yards and 1 TD in the 1st half. As the middle LB, Brinkley encountered external criticism in the aftermath. Brinkley and the Vikings defense were much better the following week, though, as they surrendered just 68 rushing yards on 20 carries to the Bills in a 36-14 win. A big reason for the Vikings improvement against the run was the big step forward in performance by Brinkley.

“I thought he made tremendous leaps from the week before in game action against San Francisco,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And what he did against Buffalo, you could see him begin to get his legs back under him. You could see the quickness and the burst that we’ve been wanting to see.”

As the Vikings work in a new middle LB, they’re also welcoming a new defensive coordinator in Alan Williams. And Williams liked what he saw from Brinkley last week, too.

“He played well,” Williams said. “He hustled, he ran around. I think Jasper is getting more comfortable with having to command the defense, making calls, making checks, getting people lined up. He is running extremely well, he played downhill a little bit better. We’re looking to see if he can do that in more of a consistent basis.”

Becoming a more consistent player comes with reps. After missing all of last season and parts of the offseason program, Brinkley is still working his way back into game form.

“When he tried to practice in the OTAs (Organized Team Activities) in the offseason, to have trouble then, that will plant a seed in your mind that, ‘I could be a guy that is going to struggle with injuries,’ and to see some of the tentativeness early on wasn’t a surprise,” Frazier explained. “But the more he has played, the more comfortable and the more confident he has become. We just have to keep putting him in those situations so he can just turn it loose and not be worried about getting injured.

“We’ll get him hopefully quite a few reps in this San Diego game so he can gain confidence and his teammates will continue to gain confidence in him as well but this preseason is a big deal for him with all of the time he has missed. They’re big for all of us because we’re counting on him to do a good job.”


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Frazier Says CB Robinson Back Soon, TE Carlson Has Knee Sprain

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 1, 2012 – 11:20 am

The Vikings conducted their customary morning walk-thru on Wednesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and head coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters afterward to give an update on his team through the first half-week of work. We’ll post the video in on-demand format soon, but until then I’ll go over a few notes I took from the press conference.

– Frazier said the new practice schedule of walk-thrus in the morning and practices in the afternoon is working well for the team so far. In year’s past, the Vikings conducted their practice in the morning and then a walk-thru in the afternoon. But being able to watch the walk-thru prior to practice to learn which mistakes to correct during the padded practice has been an advantage for the team, Frazier explained.

– TE John Carlson injured his knee on Tuesday and Frazier confirmed that the injury is a Grade 2 MCL sprain that will sideline the Minnesota native for 1-2 weeks. The good news on the injury front, though, is that CB Josh Robinson is expected to take a step forward in his recovery from a hamstring injury today. Frazier said that Robinson might begin working out on the side during practice with the training staff.

– Frazier spoke in glowing terms about rookie TE Rhett Ellison. The Vikings selected Ellison in the 5th round and based on early observations it looks like Rick Spielman and Co. found a good deal. Ellison will likely fulfill multiple roles in the Vikings offense and is the kind of player that will remind Vikings fans of Jim Kleinsasser. Frazier said Ellison’s maturity is notable, and he also said that the rookie has great preparation habits, attention to detail and a work ethic you don’t typically see from a first-year player.

– Antoine Winfield looked to be in tip-top form during the offseason program, and that form appears to have carried into training camp. Frazier said that the coaching staff discussed on Tuesday night the fact that Winfield looks “invigorated” on the field and is showing no signs of slowing down. Frazier noted that is very good news on a number of fronts, not the least of which being that Winfield is a good mentor for the team’s young secondary.

– Frazier was asked about S Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games for the defense last year and is in the middle of a competition for playing time this year. The area of Sanford’s game that the team is looking to improve is his ability to make plays on the ball down the field. Sanford is built compactly and is an excellent tackler, Frazier said, but now the team is looking for an improvement in his pass coverage. Frazier called Sanford one of the NFL’s premier special teams players, and credited his strength, speed and passion for the game as reasons why he excels in that area of the game.

– On Tuesday Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams spoke about his philosophy of wanting a “hockey lineup” along the defensive line, drawing an analogy to one of Minnesota’s past times in order to illustrate the point that he wants to rotate the defensive line as much as possible to keep players fresh throughout games and the season. Frazier said that he subscribes to his new coordinator’s theory and is pleased with the depth they have along the line.

– Everson Griffen has made the switch from DE to LB in camp, but Frazier noted that there may be certain situations where they ask Griffen to move back to DE. The focus is still on getting Griffen rote at outside LB to improve that position, but the goal is to make the entire defense better and the team can do that by getting Griffen on the field more frequently.

– For the first time in a long time, E.J. Henderson is not playing middle LB for the Vikings. It’s Jasper Brinkley’s job now, and some are concerned about Brinkley’s injury history. Frazier noted that Brinkley has done well so far in camp, has not been to the training room and made a bit hit in practice on Tuesday. “So far, so good,” Frazier said about Brinkley.


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Greenway, Rudolph, Walsh Stand Out On Tuesday; Other Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2012 – 5:33 pm

The competitive spirit was as thick in the air as the sweltering humidity on Tuesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the Vikings conducted their second padded practice that included a couple periods of live, tackle-to-the ground work. Those periods featured short-yardage and goal line situations, perfect opportunities to jot down some notes.

Here are a few of them from Tuesday’s practice…

One-On-One
A large crowd of scouts, special guests and members of the ownership group gathered around one end of Field #2 to watch the RBs, FBs and TEs go one-on-one against the LBs. The drill is competitive as it is, but the unusually large crowd that gathered near the drill only intensified the atmosphere.

The first part of the drill required the offensive players to pass protect against the defensive players. LB Jasper Brinkley got home on his first three rushes and RB Jordan Todman jumped up and displayed some striking pass protection. Rookie LB Audie Cole got in the mix with a great swim move to get past his blocker in a flash and LB Everson Griffen showed his explosion by winning two of his three matchups.

The offense saw much more success in the pass receiving/coverage portion of the drill. The star of the show was TE Kyle Rudolph, who had no trouble wiggling open and hauling in receptions. He made an inside move on LB Chad Greenway and then broke to the outside, creating plenty of separation for Christian Ponder to loft a pass toward the TE. John Carlson got in on the action, too, utilizing an out-breaking route to separate from Griffen and haul in a pass. Todman also flashed once again, shaking free from Cole to win his matchup.

Goal Line Battles
There was outstanding back-and-forth between the offense and defense in the team’s goal line drill. The drill was setup for the offense to have it 1st-and-goal from the 2-yardline. In all three matchups (first team, second team, third team), the defense stymied the offense on 1st and 2nd down, but yielded a TD on 3rd down.

Greenway made one of the better defensive plays of the day when he registered a pass breakup (PBU) on a fade route from Ponder to Rudolph. On the next play CB Chris Cook, DT Letroy Guion and Greenway combined to stuff RB Lex Hilliard short of the goal line. On 3rd down, though, Hilliard burrowed his way into the end zone.

The second team offense threw an incomplete pass on their 1st down try and then saw Todman get stuffed. On 3rd down, RB Derrick Coleman surged past the defense and into the end zone for the score.

Coleman took a handoff on 1st down for the third team, too, and was stopped by a trio consisting of Cole, Griffen and DE Ernest Owusu. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and then he hit FB Ryan D’Imperio for a TD on 3rd down.

Booming Blair Walsh
It’s standard for the Vikings begin practice with a special teams period or two, and today practice began very well for the Vikings. And it was largely because of K Blair Walsh, whose leg strength was on full display. Of the kicks I saw, Walsh booted touchbacks on six of six tries, with two of those kickoffs flying over the goal post and through the uprights.

Walsh also ended practice on a solid note, hitting a 43-yard FG to close the final period.

Fans have expressed concern to me about the potential for Walsh to struggle on FG accuracy during his rookie season. Nothing that I’ve seen suggest Walsh will have that struggle, but even if he does I expect the increase in field position the defense will see this year because of Walsh’s touchbacks will counterbalance the loss in points from missed FGs. The Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ drive start last season (24.4-yardline), and that statistic will only improve for the Vikings this season with Walsh in the fold. Missed FGs show up in the stat sheet and are directly reflected on the scoreboard, while average drive start for your opponent is a much more subtle influence. But both are equally important to the outcome of a game, and Walsh has shown that he has the ability to improve the Vikings in both areas.


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Monday’s Top Plays

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 7:57 pm

The energy level picked up a notch at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday, as the Vikings donned pads for the first time and guys were flying around making plays. With 90 players and roughly 120 minutes of practice time, it’s hard to catch all of the best action. But here’s a quick review of the top plays I saw on Monday…

– We’ll begin at the end of practice, where the Vikings offense and defense went toe-to-toe in a goal line drill. The situation was 1st and goal from the 1-yardline with 8 seconds remaining on the clock and the offense needing a touchdown to win the game. The best action came when the third teams were on the field. QB Sage Rosenfels took the snap and lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone for rookie Jarius Wright, who made an acrobatic catch over CB Corey Gatewood and tried to tap both feet in bounds before being shoved out of bounds. The official signaled touchdown, which prompted a celebration from the offense and heavy protest from the defense, all in good fun. The best protest – or at least the most comical protest – came from DE Jared Allen, who wasn’t involved in the play. “This is not college! This is not college! This isn’t high school,” Allen bellowed with a huge smile on his face. “You gotta have two feet in!” Allen was in the official’s face as if he were a baseball manager arguing a call with an umpire, and the entire display was a moment of levity to conclude what was the team’s most intense practice of camp so far.

– The Christian Ponder-to-Kyle Rudolph connection was as strong as ever on Monday, with Rudolph being a popular target of Ponder’s yet again. Midway through practice Ponder rifled a pass down the middle of the field to the goal line, leading Rudolph perfectly and putting the pass just out of the reach of LB Chad Greenway. Despite a gamely attempt by Greenway to deflect the pass, Rudolph was able to haul in the reception for a TD. “Kyle’s got like four or five inches on him in height, let alone wingspan. If you just get the ball up, he’s going to get it.”

– WR Devin Aromashodu is good for a flashy play or two each practice, and that was the case on Monday. Aromashodu ran a go route down the left sideline and made what turned out to be an excellent back shoulder reception while leaping over a defender. The pass came from QB Joe Webb.

– LBs Jasper Brinkley and Everson Griffen delivered a couple big-time hits. Brinkley met RB Lex Hilliard near the line of scrimmage during the second-to-last team period of practice and came out on top of the confrontation. Griffen saw FB Ryan D’Imperio make a reception in front of him and then saw fit to end the play abruptly by putting a big hit on the FB.

– Veterans Chris Carr and Tyrone McKenzie combined to force a turnover during a 7-on-7 drill. Carr tipped a pass and McKenzie, playing middle LB, got underneath the deflection to collect the INT and run the other way with a convoy of blockers in front of him.

– RB Jordan Todman flashed his greatest asset – speed – during the second-to-last team period of practice. Todman took a handoff that appeared to be designed to go inside and bounced out wide left. Todman gained the edge on the defense and raced down the left sideline for what would’ve been a TD run of at least 65 yards.

– Rosenfels displayed some athleticism near the end of practice during a team period. On the play, Rosenfels sprinted right after feeling pressure from his left and bought just enough time to hit rookie receiver Greg Childs near the sideline. Childs tapped both toes in bounds to complete the play, making up for a drop on a deep pass he had earlier in the day.


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Here’s The Story: 10 Camp Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 7:00 am

There is never a shortage of storylines heading into training camp, and this year is no exception for the Vikings. As the team embarks on 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today with a morning walk-thru and afternoon practice, let’s take a brief look at 10 of the most notable stories to chase during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp…

Will Adrian Peterson begin on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list?
There’s no question Peterson has made tremendous strides in his recovery from major knee surgery, and there’s also no question that Peterson feels confident in his knee and is eager to display just how ready he is. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the NFL’s best RB on the field of play unharnessed. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was non-committal when asked if Peterson would begin camp on the PUP list, instead saying the decision would be made after he spoke with Peterson and the team’s medical staff. If Peterson begins camp on the PUP list, the team can take him off the list at any time. Either way, Frazier and Peterson both said they expected the RB would be doing some kind of on-field work from the get-go.

Man in the middle – Jasper Brinkley’s opportunity
The Vikings selected LB Jasper Brinkley with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and he immediately became the understudy to E.J. Henderson. Now that Henderson is no longer with the team and Brinkley still sports the Purple and Gold, the time has come for Brinkley to display just how far he’s come in three-plus seasons with the club. Brinkley is expected to be the team’s starting middle LB, an important role in this defense especially considering how well Henderson fulfilled the role for so many seasons. There are questions about Brinkley’s durability because he dealt with an injury in college, missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed some of the team’s offseason program with injury. But he’s healthy now, and it’ll be fun to watch him prove that he can be the team’s man in the middle.

Christian Ponder’s development
You can have everything else buttoned up and the stars can align, but if you don’t have the QB situation squared away in the NFL it won’t matter. The Vikings believe they will have it squared away with Ponder at the helm, and we’ll find out if they’re right this season. Early indications will come from training camp and the preseason, though. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his crew have done a nice job of surrounding Ponder with weapons – both blockers and ball-handlers. The addition of Matt Kalil improves the offensive line tremendously, and then the additions of TE John Carlson, WR Jerome Simpson and a pair of draft picks in WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright give Ponder some weapons in the passing game. Add in guys such as Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and you can’t deny that the offensive weapons in place are much better this year than in previous seasons. That sets the stage perfectly for Ponder, a guy who knows how important he is to the team and a guy who relishes in that role.

Percy Harvin’s role on offense
Harvin was in the headlines a bit this offseason, and I’m guessing he’ll be in the headlines a bit more this season because he’s going to play a pivotal role in the Vikings offense. Harvin is as dynamic an offensive weapon as you’ll find because of his ability as a pass receiver and a ball carrier. You can line him up in the slot, out wide or even in the backfield. You can throw it to him, pitch it to him, hand it off to him, you can even snap it directly to him. Harvin is one of the best players on the team, and he’s going to get the ball a lot. It will be fun to watch how Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff plan to use Harvin.

Vikings look to improve pass defense
The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense a season ago and they yielded the most TD passes as well. So the team will look to improve in that area, and one big step in that direction was the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. In Williams’ decade working with the Indianapolis Colts DBs, the club ranked in the top six in NFL passing defense five times and finished out of the Top 15 only once. In that same span, the Colts allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (159), the fewest pass completions of 25+ yards (159) and the third-fewest passing yards (29,993). Aside from Williams, the team added a pair of safeties (Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith) and a CB (Josh Robinson) in the draft, and they signed a pair of veteran free agents (Chris Carr and Zack Bowman) to bring some experience to the group. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the Vikings will have their two top CBs back on the field after they missed significant time a season ago. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook played in a combined 11 games last year, and it’s tough to do well against the pass when you’re two best CBs are out of action. Expect a big jump in performance from the Vikings pass defense this season.

Kalil’s transition to the NFL
A dominant player at USC, Kalil enters the NFL as a starter on the Vikings offensive line. His first task? Block the best DE in the NFL for three straight weeks in Mankato. Kalil will go against Jared Allen on a daily basis at training camp, and we can all agree that it will only make the rookie LT that much better.

“It should be real good for Matt to go against maybe the best defensive end in the National Football League on a daily basis in practice and I think it will be good for Jared as well because Matt is going to challenge him,” Frazier said.

What to do with Everson Griffen?
Few players this offseason have been on the mind of Vikings fans more than Griffen. The consensus among fans is that Griffen is too talented to not be on the field, and there are a growing number of fans who want to see Griffen make the transition from DE to LB. Whether Griffen is asked to make that switch or not remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that Griffen is viewed by most as a player on the rise.

The Blair Walsh project
The Vikings used a 6th-round pick in April’s draft to select K Blair Walsh, a standout player at Georgia for four seasons and one of just three kickers the Vikings deemed worthy of selection. Walsh replaces Ryan Longwell, a beloved Vikings player who made plenty of big kicks and was reliable. But the team wants more touchbacks on kickoffs, and there’s no question Walsh has the leg strength to stretch the team’s FG range. There will likely be some growing pains with a rookie kicker, but Walsh’s talent should allow him to absorb those pains and quickly turn into a solid player. Walsh projects to be a long-term option for the Vikings at kicker, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a long-term starter out of a 6th-round pick.

Stepping up at defensive tackle
As we wrote about yesterday in the defensive line version of Roster Rundown, Kevin Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him at DT. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player. Will it be a veteran such as Letroy Guion or Fred Evans? Or will it be a youngster, such as Chase Baker, Christian Ballard or Tydreke Powell? Or will it be a rotational thing? We’ll find out soon.

Rick Spielman’s first camp as Vikings General Manager
Spielman has been with the club since 2006, but this is his first training camp with the Vikings as GM. In some respects, not much has changed because Spielman has made the transition from VP of Player Personnel to GM smoothly. On the other hand, the team’s organizational structure did change a bit with Spielman’s promotion. There’s no question now who is making the final decision on roster moves, and having a central voice such as Spielman who can work well with Frazier will improve how the team functions on a daily basis. We’ll start to see that even more during training camp and as the team gets closer to making decisions about the roster coming out of the preseason.


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Roster Rundown: Quarterbacks And Linebackers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 23, 2012 – 6:32 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Thursday and the team’s first practice is on Friday, which means we only have a few more days to complete our Roster Rundown series. We continue the series today by taking a look at the four quarterbacks and 10 linebackers the team will bring to training camp…

Head Coach Leslie Frazier has been clear this offseason that Christian Ponder is his starting QB. Ponder played in 11 games and started 10 during his rookie season, producing mixed results and battling injuries. But this offseason the results have not been mixed – Ponder made huge strides during the offseason program and is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Jobs are not handed out in the NFL, so Ponder will have to perform well enough to retain the starting job. Based on his performance in the offseason program, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.

After Ponder the Vikings will see Joe Webb battle Sage Rosenfels for the backup job. These two have contrasting styles and are at different points in their careers. Webb surely has designs on becoming an NFL starter one day, and he can continue that quest during camp. Whether he ultimately beats Ponder for the job or not is a separate issue from whether he continues his development as an NFL passer. Rosenfels is a 12-year veteran who is a great complement to the QB meeting room that includes three young players still learning the ropes.

Aside from Ponder and Webb, the other youngster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He joined the Vikings via a futures contract this past January after starring at Sacramento State and then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL and then the Miami Dolphins. Bethel-Thompson, an undrafted college free agent, has impressive arm strength and was clearly the best QB in the Vikings rookie minicamp. He was on the Dolphins practice squad to finish the 2011 season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the Vikings practice squad (at a minimum) after this year’s training camp.

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There are questions at linebacker for the Vikings as they head to training camp, but the good news is there also appears to be sufficient talent at the position as well. Chad Greenway is the best of the group and prepares to enter his seventh NFL season in 2012. Greenway has led the club in tackles the past four seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do it again this season. The other starting linebacker should be Erin Henderson, who returns to the club motivated after signing a one-year contract this past offseason. Last season was Henderson’s first as a full-time starter, and I’ve identified him as a player poised for a breakout season this year.

Jasper Brinkley enters training camp as the team’s middle linebacker, but there are questions about his durability. Those questions are fair because Brinkley missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed parts of the team’s offseason program this year as well. Brinkley has declared himself 100% healthy as we approach training camp, though, and once he’s able to stay on the field I see him solidifying the Vikings starting group of linebackers. When E.J. Henderson was lost for the season in 2009 with a leg injury, Brinkley stepped into the lineup and played capably as the Vikings made a run through the playoffs. That experience along with natural progression that comes from two complete seasons after that should have Brinkley prepared to fulfill expectations this season.

After the three starters, there will be great competition for reserve spots among the Vikings LB group. Only two of those players competing for reserve spots are returning veterans. They are special teams standout Larry Dean and two-year veteran Tyrone McKenzie. Dean made last year’s team as an undrafted free agent based on his special teams ability, and he’ll have to be a standout in the same way this preseason to make the roster. McKenzie was the player asked to step into the middle linebacker role this offseason when Brinkley was out of action.

Outside of Greenway, the most veteran NFL player in the Vikings LB group is Marvin Mitchell, a six-year pro the Vikings signed this offseason in free agency. Mitchell had been with the Saints, and with the Vikings he’ll provide depth at multiple LB positions and he’s expected to be a contributor on special teams as well.

The remaining LBs are 7th-round draft pick Audie Cole, former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian and undrafted college free agents Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes. At NC State, Cole led the team in tackles while playing both inside and outside LB. Nielsen was a standout at the University of Iowa and Paredes went undrafted out of the University of Hawaii.

Elimimian will be interesting to watch because he’s undersized but he’s also a player who clearly knows how to play the position. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and helped his club (BC Lions) win the Grey Cup in 2011. In two CFL seasons, Elimimian tallied 175 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 2 INTs and was voted the league’s “hardest hitter” by his peers.

After the three projected starters, LB jobs are wide open for the Vikings. An ability to contribute on special teams will be crucial for those looking to win a roster spot, but so too is demonstrating sound technique and knowledge of the defensive system. I expect most of the decisions to be made at this position to come down to the final two preseason games later in August.


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