Blanton The Latest To Thrive In “Next Man Up” Philosophy

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 12, 2012 – 6:11 am

The Vikings defense has played a prominent role in the team’s current three-game winning streak. Over the past three games, the Vikings have allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and just 11.0 points per game. Big-time performances from big-time defenders such as Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield have paced this impressive string of defensive performances.

There’s another factor that has played a significant role as well: depth at several positions.

Starting S Mistral Raymond went down with an ankle injury early in Week 2, so Jamarca Sanford stepped in and the defense didn’t miss a beat. Starting LB Erin Henderson missed 2 games due to a concussion, so Marvin Mitchell stepped in to start in the base defense and Jasper Brinkley assumed a role in the team’s nickel package. Jared Allen was forced out of action for one play deep in Vikings territory during the 4th quarter at Detroit, so Everson Griffen answered the bell and registered a key sack of Matthew Stafford.

“We tell all the guys, ‘You’re a play away from being in there starting and starting for a long time and playing for a long time.’ All the coaches get their guys ready to play and we’re not going to make excuses for rookies or first-year, second-year players going in,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said. “We still have to play winning football and I think that’s the mentality of the team, of the guys and of the coaches, that no matter who’s in the ball game, we’re not going to dumb it down, we’re not going to water it down.”

The latest example of this for the Vikings? Robert Blanton, who was suddenly thrust into action during last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans when starting S Harrison Smith was ejected from the game. Previously, the reserves who stepped into a more prominent role were veterans. Williams was asked if he had to say anything in particular to Blanton before sending him into the game because he’s a rookie.

“Not a word,” Williams said. “Our expectations are the next guy, if one guy’s down, the next guy goes in, nothing needs to be said. There’s nothing that’s needed to be said, guys are expected to go in and not do anything special. Do your job. There’s no extra pressure, you don’t have to be the guy that you’re replacing. Do your job and that’ll be good enough for us to win.”

And that’s what Blanton did. He jumped right into the action and, once again, the Vikings defense didn’t miss a beat. The Vikings held Tennessee scoreless until the 4th quarter and came away with a resounding 30-7 victory. Blanton finished with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass break up.

Asked what stood out to him about Blanton’s performance, Williams said: “The poise, the calmness, the plays that he made. He didn’t look like a rookie, but that’s a credit to him as well as Coach [Joe] Woods, in terms of getting Blanton ready.

“We’re going to keep moving and guys are going to have to do what they’re capable of doing and that’s what Blanton did.”

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Don’t Blink; Vikings Select CB Robinson, Draft’s Fastest Prospect

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 27, 2012 – 8:39 pm

The Vikings continued to navigate through the 2012 NFL Draft with efficiency and grace on Friday night, addressing another position of need with the selection of speedy CB Josh Robinson in the 3rd round (66th overall). The selection of Robinson represents the second likely impact player the Vikings have added to their secondary is as many days.

“Josh is a very athletic player with dynamic speed and outstanding quickness, burst and change of direction skills,” Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods told me on Friday night. “His best football is ahead of him. His man coverage skill is a plus for us, and at 5-10, 199 pounds he’s a solidly-built guy.”

Robinson, the fastest player at this year’s Combine with a 4.29 time in the 40-yard dash, will compete for time at CB and he will also be an option for the Vikings as a punt returner. Asked if he minded sharing Robinson with special teams coach Mike Priefer, Woods quickly said: “The more you can do, the more value you have.”

An experienced and productive player out of the University of Central Florida, Robinson started the final 11 games of his true freshman season in 2009 and then started 25 games over his final two seasons at UCF. As a freshman Robinson recorded 69 tackles, 8 passes broken up (PBU) and 6 INTs. In 2010 Robinson tallied 59-13-2, and in 2011 he recorded 48-15-2. Robinson led the team in PBUs in both 2010 and 2011.

Many draft observers listed Robinson as a 2nd-round prospect, but the Vikings sat tight in the early stages of the 3rd round and didn’t hesitate to put his name on their card.

“The 38 1/2 vertical, the 4.29 speed, what you see on tape, we had one of our coaches who did work down at Central Florida, we had a lot of contacts down there,” Vikings GM Rick Spielman said. “The kid is an outstanding character kid, fitting into the bill what we’ve been trying to do. Excellent work habits, everything you’re looking for in a young player that’s going to continue to have tremendous upside.

“We’re excited to get Josh. Extremely talented athlete. He’s a junior that’s coming out early. When you look at his tape, he has some unique cover skills. He’s more than willing enough to come up in support. Just like in most of the juniors, they’re going to have some flaws that can get corrected with coaching but just tremendous upside with Josh.”

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Senior Bowl Update: Vikings Coaches Taking Advantage Of Opportunity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 25, 2012 – 4:55 pm

All of the attention this week in Mobile, Alabama during Senior Bowl practices is on this group of senior football players, as it should be. This is their time to shine, in front of hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and GMs, and with no underclassmen present to steal the spotlight.

But given that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and his staff are heading up the North squad this year, and given the intensity with which the Vikings staff is coaching, I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge the effort and hard work Coach Frazier’s group has committed to this week and to this North squad.

I wrote a full piece on this subject, which you can view by clicking here. But I also wanted to share one highlight of the story here with Blog readers.

An example of a Vikings coach taking advantage of the opportunity to coach in the Senior Bowl and get the most out of these senior football players with the NFL draft just 3 months away is DBs coach Joe Woods, who has been with the club since 2006. Some coaches motivate and instruct subtly, some are more vocal and boisterous. Woods doesn’t blur the line – he’s one of the team’s most vocal coaches, and that makes it easy and fun to watch him at work with his players.

Woods actually was in quite the fish bowl during Wednesday’s practice as he worked with the North squad’s DBs during the individual drills portion of the workout. He was working with his players on changing direction, especially on the art of players shifting their body weight from one direction to the other as they responded to instructions from Woods during the drill. As Woods barked out instructions and his players labored through the drill, a rather large crowd of distinguished NFL personalities gathered to watch.

To one side was Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who worked with Woods in 2006 on the Vikings staff and before that in Tampa Bay. Standing next to Tomlin was Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff. On the other side of the drill was Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll, a former Vikings defensive backs coach as well. And standing behind the drill watching from the NFL Network set was Mike Mayock, a former defensive back himself and one of the top NFL draft and college football analysts in the country.

Certainly these individuals were not gathered to watch how an assistant coach conducted the drill, that’s not the point. They were gathered to watch the talented crop of individuals that comprise the North squad’s DBs group. But while Tomlin, Dimitroff, Carroll and Mayock watched those players, they were also subjected to the passionate style with which Woods coaches, not just here in Mobile but also back with the Vikings on a daily basis during the season and during the offseason program.

I’m not the only one noticing the excellent job Frazier and his staff are doing with this year’s North team.

“The Minnesota coaches are real,” Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Denard told the Star Tribune’s Dan Wiederer earlier in the week. “Coach Frazier put a lot of fire in our eyes. I like the way he talks. He let us know this was a big step and that we need to go hard every play all day long to stand out.”

The North squad players are not the only individuals standing out. Frazier and his staff are standing out as a passionate and talented group of coaches. Coming off a 3-13 season, the Vikings have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and a lot of improvement to make overall during the offseason.

If their performance during Senior Bowl practices this week is any indication, the Vikings coaching staff is already hard at work.

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DBs Coach Joe Woods Talks About CB Brandon Burton

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2011 – 1:16 pm

The Vikings addressed the front of their defense in the 4th round by selecting DL Christian Ballard, surely putting extra pep in the step of DL coach Karl Dunbar. In the 5th round, Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods found the same extra pep in his step because the Vikings decided to select CB Brandon Burton in the 5th round (#139 overall).

Burton stands at 6-0, 190 pounds and is described as a good fit in the Vikings Cover 2 scheme because of his ability to re-route WRs at the line of scrimmage. But in speaking with Woods this afternoon, the Vikings decision to select Burton was more about him just being an overall good football player as opposed to being a great fit in the defensive scheme.

“It’s not really about scheme when you’re looking at players right now,” Woods explained from his perspective. “He’s just a good overall player. Solid in coverage, willing in run support, and he really just understands what he’s doing on the field. That’s really what stands out the most.”

It was actually refreshing to hear Woods explain that a player the team selected wasn’t necessarily chosen because he’s a great fit for the scheme or because of some other rubber-stamped, generic reason that no one can refute. Woods put is simply, saying Burton was just a flat-out good athlete who loves football, will be a smart player and understands how to play defense.

“He’s a big corner, a good athlete and smart,” Woods said. “He’s going to be a student of the game.”

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All Defensive Coaches Will See Role Increase

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 24, 2010 – 12:08 pm

We mentioned this morning that one topic sure to arise in interim head coach Leslie Frazier’s first weekly Wednesday press conference was that of the role of defensive coordinator. Since Frazier was the team’s coordinator prior to the change, that role is now technically vacated and it’s a pivotal role as the team prepares a game plan for its opponent each week.

When asked about it this morning, Frazier said that no titles will officially change but that LBs coach Fred Pagac will become the “lead guy.” At the same time, though, Frazier stressed on multiple occasions that all of the defensive coaches’ roles – specifically those of DL coach Karl Dunbar and DBs coach Joe Woods – will increase.

“Fred will handle the brunt of things,” Frazier explained, “but he’ll get input from Joe, he’ll get input from Karl, obviously I’ll have some input on what they’re doing. But he’s going to be the lead guy; he’ll give direction. He’ll give direction in meetings [and] on the field; he’ll be the lead guy.”

In terms of actually making calls and communicating those calls to players on the field, Frazier indicated that Pagac will fill that role and also that the entire process will be more inclusive than when Frazier was the coordinator.

“Yes, with some assistance from our secondary coach and d-line (coach),” Frazier said of whether Pagac will call defensive plays. “They’re (assistant coaches) going to see some things and say ‘Hey think about this.’ It’ll be probably a little more inclusive than it was when I was doing it on game day.”

Speaking of game day, that’s where Frazier’s role will obviously change the most. He’ll be responsible for all game management issues, from guiding all 3 phases of the team to challenging plays to making decisions on whether to punt or go for it on a 4th-and-short situation. As a result, Frazier will rely on his defensive staff to take care of extra responsibilities so he isn’t tied to one side of the ball.

“Between Fred, Joe and Carl, they’ll handle those calls and put our defense in the best position to be successful,” Frazier said. “I have complete faith and trust in them, just like I do with Bev (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell). And we’ll get it done.”

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Johnson Ready To Control The Secondary

Posted by cjsiewert on August 3, 2010 – 6:34 pm

With oppressively humid conditions lingering throughout this Tuesday afternoon’s practice, the Vikings were able to complete Day 5 of training camp without any hiccups. As promised, I kept a close eye on the young core of safeties and each individual looked solid once again during 7-on-7 and team drills.

Just as the case was throughout the first 4 days of camp, 7-year veteran Madieu Williams along with youngsters Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford found most of their time with the 1st team defense by rotating with each other often.

The big play of the day for the group of safeties occurred during 7-on-7 drills. First-year WR Logan Payne ran a deep post route down the middle of the field with CB Antoine Winfield covering the right side of the field. On the deep pass from QB Sage Rosenfels, Payne made his way into Johnson’s zone, but Johnson was able to outrun Payne on the over-thrown pass to make an impressive over-the-shoulder catch for the INT. Even though the play was whistled dead half way through, both Johnson and Payne made an effort on the football with Johnson hauling in the INT.

Once practice was over, Johnson and 4-year veteran Eric Frampton stayed late to get in extra reps on various coverage moves. Staying after practice has been a common occurrence for many of the safeties over the first 5 days of training camp and is a testament to their goals of improving.

After speaking with Johnson on his way to the locker room, the 3rd-year S out of Arkansas State felt that the Vikings secondary, especially the group of safeties, has great depth and experience.

“The more depth, the more things you can do,” Johnson said. “A lot of good players out there. One person go down, another can fill in and be just as good with no drop off.”

In regard to his own play, Johnson credited veteran Williams and former Vikings S Darren Sharper for offering advise to help improve his game over the past 3 years.

“One thing I picked up from Madieu is to be a student of the game,” Johnson said. “I also learned a lot of cover skills from Madieu because of his quickness. Sharp [Darren Sharper], he was a wise, savvy guy. I picked that up from him.”

Defensive Backs Coach Joe Woods was also given credit by Johnson to help him understand the game and progress in the league.

“Just calm down and play football,” Johnson said of Woods’ advice. “Sometimes you worry about too much that’s going on around you, and what’s not going your way and what is going your way. Just reminds me to chill out and play football. Just control what you can control and go out and do your best.”

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