Blogs

Monday Morning Mailbag Extra: Free Agency Primer

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 6, 2013 – 7:54 am

While putting together a few questions and answers for next week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I came across a good question that required a thorough answer. The answer became complicated enough that I thought it would be too long-winded for the Mailbag. So, I thought we could make a blog entry out of it and let the readers take it from there.

Take a look at the question and my answer. Then be sure to leave your thoughts on the matter by utilizing the comments section below the blog entry.

I know the Vikings new direction is to draft players instead of pick them up from free agency. I agree wholeheartedly with their direction. However, what type of contract deal does Mike Wallace want? What are the chances of the Vikings picking him up? Are there any free agents that you would personally like the Vikings to go after?
– Derek P.
Pearl Harbor, HI

Building the team through the draft as opposed to free agency is not a new direction for the Vikings. This has been GM Rick Spielman’s philosophy during his tenure in Minnesota. It may feel new to some fans because they are starting to see the wisdom in that philosophy given the Vikings recent success in the draft, but it’s nothing new for veteran NFL GMs.

I’m not sure what kind of contract Wallace will demand once free agency opens on Tuesday, but my sense is his camp will be seeking top-end type of money – something in the neighborhood of what Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson are making. Whether that’s what he deserves or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is what the market bears. That’s why free agency can be dangerous, and that’s why teams prefer to use the draft as the primary tool to build their roster. In free agency, you’re not paying players based on their ability to perform. Rather, you’re paying them based on supply and demand. Those are two entirely different propositions.

The Vikings are a run-oriented team that features the NFL’s best running back and one of the League’s top run-blocking offensive lines. As such, it’s fair to wonder whether it makes sense then for the Vikings to invest such a large amount of money in a single receiver. If you’re a team that can run the ball effectively up to 30-35+ times per game, are you also a team that wants to pay a free agent wide receiver upwards of $15 million a season? I’m not saying the answer is yes or no in the Vikings particular case, I’m just suggesting it’s a question every team must ask itself when it comes to drawing up a plan for free agency.

As for free agents I’d like to see the team pursue, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind. Of course it’d be great to add a receiver the caliber of Wallace or Greg Jennings. But to me, the Vikings had a good plan in free agency last season. Spielman and Co. waited for the high-priced free agents to fly off the shelf early in free agency, and then once the second and third wave of free agency came along the Vikings picked up a few. While the additions of tight end John Carlson and Jerome Simpson didn’t work out as planned, the book on both of their Vikings tenures may not be over yet. Also, the signing of fullback Jerome Felton was brilliant. At the time, the Felton signing was an under-the-radar move that didn’t yield much more than a sentence or two buried at the bottom of the lead story. In the end, though, it turned out to be one of the better offseason additions and it resulted in a Pro Bowl berth for Felton following the best season of Adrian Peterson’s career.

Long story longer, the key to free agency is not making the biggest splash or identifying the best players at each position and then pursuing them. The key to free agency is identifying and signing players who fit the scheme and can be obtained with reasonable salaries. That leaves cap space and cash for the best kind of free agent signing – the re-signing of your own free agents whom you know fit with your team, which in the Vikings case could be players such as right tackle Phil Loadholt, safety Jamarca Sanford and even a future free agents such as Everson Griffen.


Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 172 Comments »

WR Status Check: Percy Harvin (Ankle) And Calvin Johnson (Knee)

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 9, 2012 – 7:58 am

Earlier this week we listed the 7 Vikings-Lions storylines we’d be following this week, so with Friday upon us and kickoff just two days away, let’s check in on the #1 storyline: Harvin’s Ankle, Megatron’s Knee. Percy Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 62 and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is arguable the NFL’s best player at the position. But neither has practiced this week due to injuries, and it will have a profound impact on Sunday’s game.

Of the two receivers, Johnson stands the best chance to play. He’s dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of practice all of last week. The time away from practice didn’t seem to bother the All-Pro, as he came down with 7 receptions for 129 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Johnson has been held out of practice this week, too, but the smart money is on him playing. And if he’s playing, he’s dangerous.

There’s been another element added to this mix of late, though. According to a report from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Johnson told reporters on Thursday that he’s dealing with nerve damage that is making it harder for him to grip the football. Johnson pointed to a pair of hits from the Lions Week 4 game against the Vikings that is causing the issue.

As for Harvin, he has not been ruled out but he did call himself a “longshot” to play. Harvin suffered an ankle injury last week in Seattle, but was able to finish the game. Harvin spoke with reporters earlier in the week while leaning on crutches, causing many to speculate that the NFL’s leading receiver will be unavailable for Sunday’s game.

I’m not in the business of speculating whether or not a guy will play despite an injury. The Vikings have a bye following this Sunday’s game, so keeping Harvin out of this week’s game would essentially give him nearly three full weeks between his injury and the next ball game. But Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice on Thursday that if Harvin is healthy enough to play, he’ll play. Also keep in mind that Harvin is as tough a player as there is, so if there’s even the slightest bit of chance he can play, Harvin will be angling to get out there.

If he plays, that’s great news for the Vikings. If he doesn’t play, the Vikings will have about 11 touches to distribute to other players. Harvin has 100 touches through 9 games this season, which averages out to 11.1 touches per game. In this week’s Wobcast – where Cris Carter is featured as the guest – I pointed to three players who could see a few more touches if Harvin doesn’t play: WR Jarius Wright and TEs John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph.

Harvin also has a role on special teams as the Vikings kickoff returner, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Priefer said a number of guys could step into that role if Harvin is unable to play. Marcus Sherels, the Vikings starting punt returner, can do it, as can Wright, WR Stephen Burton and CBs A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 375 Comments »

8 Vikings-Seahawks Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 6:39 am

Wednesday is finally here, which means the NFL calendar flips from last week to this week. For the Vikings, who are coming off a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home last Thursday night, that’s a good thing.

This weekend the 5-3 Vikings travel to Seattle for a contest against the 4-4 Seahawks. Both teams are hungry for a win after losses in Week 9. Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week…

1. Can Vikings Contain “Lynchpin” of Seahawks Offense?
Ordinarily the Vikings are a great run-stopping defense. Over the last three games, though, poor gap integrity and shoddy tackling have plagued the Vikings. The Vikings will have serious problems on Sunday if they don’t fix those issues because Marshawn Lynch will have no mercy. Lynch is the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson and he’s not an easy guy to tackle. At 5-11, 215 pounds, Lynch has a combination of speed and power that causes defenses fits.

2. All Eyes on Ponder
Fair or not, the blame for the Vikings recent woes in the passing game has generally fallen on the shoulders of QB Christian Ponder. After opening the season with 0 INTs through four games, the 2nd-year passer now has 7 INTs in his last four outings and he’s completed just 51.9% of his passes for 309 yards in his last two games. We know Ponder can get the job done by playing well and moving the ball through the air, and now all eyes will be on Ponder to see if he can get things turned around after a few extra days off following the Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay.

3. Familiar Foes
Both the Vikings and Seahawks have players on their team who were significant figures with the other franchise. A trio of former Vikings – Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, LB Heath Farwell and WR Sidney Rice – will face their former team in the regular season for the first time since leaving the team after the 2010 season. The three helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season and both Farwell and Rice were named to the Pro Bowl that season.

On the flip side, TE John Carlson left Seattle to come home and join the Vikings via free agency in 2012. In Seattle, Carlson caught 106 passes and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and in 2010 he helped the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of touchdown catches.

4. Defending Russell Wilson
Speaking of familiar faces, the Vikings will see one under center for Seattle. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in the NFL. The 3rd-round pick in last April’s draft beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job coming out of training camp and he’s played well in the first half of the season. Vikings coaches are familiar with Wilson because he was the starting QB for Frazier’s North squad down in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. In order to win the game, the Vikings will now need their defensive linemen to become familiar with Wilson by pressuring him constantly and bringing him to the ground.

5. Overcoming the Loss of CB Chris Cook
The Vikings improvement in pass defense was a big reason they jumped out to an impressive 5-3 start in the first half of the season. The presence of Chris Cook, who missed 12 games last year, was a big reason for that improvement. But now, with Cook expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken arm, the Vikings will rely on their depth to overcome his loss. Expect Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to get most of the looks, and expect them to play well in Cook’s stead.

6. Strength vs. Strength: Battle For Field Position
CenturyLink Field in Seattle is known as one of the toughest places to play for visitors. A big part of overcoming the disadvantage this week for the Vikings will be to win the field position battle. Both the Vikings and Seahawks do things to help them win the field position battle. Percy Harvin (35.7) and Seattle’s Leon Washington (29.8) rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in kickoff return average. Also, the Vikings rank 2nd in average starting field position after kickoff (25.3-yardline) and K Blair Walsh is tied for 1st in touchbacks with 31.

7. What a Rush!
A sneaky-good subplot to this Vikings-Seahawks matchup is a pair of battles that will happen between very good LTs and very good DEs. Vikings DE Jared Allen has a sack in six straight games, and on Sunday he’ll go against Seattle LT Russell Okung. The Seahawks took Okung 6th overall in 2010 and he’s rounding into a great player on their offensive line. Another outstanding performer for Seattle has been DE Chris Clemons. The 6-3, 254-pound pass-rushing ace has 7.0 sacks this season and had 11.0 sacks in each of the last two years entering 2012. He’ll go against 4th overall pick Matt Kalil, who has made a rookie mistake here and there but has generally played extremely well for the Vikings.

8. Second Half of the Season Begins
The Vikings were a surprise team in the NFL through the first half of the season, winning five of eight games and upsetting a pair of playoff teams from a season ago – Detroit and San Francisco. The second half of the season begins for the Vikings, and the attitude inside Winter Park should be that there’s no reason they can’t be a surprise team in the second half of the season, too. Sure, four of the Vikings final six games are against division opponents and are on the road, but the Vikings have proven they can play with anybody when they play well.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 93 Comments »

Carlson To Become A Bigger Factor This Week?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2012 – 12:33 pm

Signing TE John Carlson to a free agent contract this offseason was billed as one of the Vikings more significant additions this offseason. Carlson, at 6-5, 251-pounds, has prototypical size for his position in the NFL and the theory was that he’d provide the Vikings with another athletic, pass-catching option – along with Kyle Rudolph – who could create mismatches with LBs and safeties in the middle of the field.

An injury during training camp slowed Carlson’s progression during the preseason, and he’s yet to make a difference during the regular season in terms of catching passes. But it sounds like the Vikings are committed to changing that very soon.

“We’re overdue in getting John involved,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Thursday. “We had some plays in for him being on the field with Kyle last week, and it didn’t materialize. We’re looking forward to making up for lost time.”

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned something similar in his Monday press conference.

“We do want to expand it as we go,” Frazier said of Carlson’s snap count. “He got more snaps in this ball game (last week at Indianapolis) than he did in the first ball game, and we’ll probably do the same next week (against San Francisco), just try to continue to increase.

“We do want to make him a little bit more of a focal point. We had some things they took away that we had for him but we’ll keep exploring. We think he has the potential to really be an explosive player for us in our offense.”

Minnesota football fans are familiar with Carlson because of his accomplishments at the local high school level. He was a 3-sport standout as a prep at Litchfield High School, starring in football, basketball and baseball. Along with his brother, Alex, Carlson helped Litchfield win 3 state basketball titles. Carlson was also an all-state tennis player.

“I’m really excited to be here and be around family and friends,” Carlson said after he signed with the Vikings. “It’s a great place to live. I know that, and I’ve been gone for nine years. So that’s fantastic. But that’s not the reason I came back. It was a football decision. It was a business decision, and I’m just really excited and feel very fortunate to be back here where I grew up.”

Now, Carlson is looking to grow within the Vikings offense. A big step in that process could take place this week against the 49ers.


Tags: , , ,
Posted in All | 40 Comments »

From The Ground Up: Vikings Offense Paced By Ground Attack

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 14, 2012 – 6:42 am

It’s no secret. The NFL is a passing league. In 2011, only 3 teams (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) ran the ball more frequently than they passed it, and nearly 33% of NFL teams threw the ball in excess of 60% of the time. Also in 2011, 3 NFL QBs (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford) threw for 5,000+ yards and 3 had (Brees, Stafford, Aaron Rodgers) 40+ TD passes.

While it’s no question the preferred method of moving the ball in the NFL is through the air, there are still teams and coaches who place a tremendous value on running the ball. The Vikings and Head Coach Leslie Frazier fall into that category. And it’s for good reason. Since 2007 when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and hired Frazier as defensive coordinator, the Vikings have been the NFL’s best rushing team. They rank first over that span in total rushing yards (11,272), per-carry average (4.7), rushing TDs (92) and runs of 10+ yards (333).

“It’s big for our team,” Frazier said of the running game. “In a League where passing the football has become first for so many teams, we’ve taken a little bit different approach and featuring a guy who we think is the best running back in pro football in Adrian Peterson and because of that, it takes a lot of pressure off our young quarterback as well as our passing game.”

The Vikings understand the importance of being able to move the ball through the air, too. That’s why they signed free agents such as TE John Carlson and Jerome Simpson, and that’s why they used draft picks on the likes of LT Matt Kalil and a pair of WRs in the 4th round (Jarius Wright, Greg Childs). The development of young QB Christian Ponder was priority A for the Vikings this past offseason, and everyone at Winter Park knows Ponder’s progress will be key to future success. Frazier’s contention, though, is that the presence of a productive running game will ease the pressure on Ponder because opponents are forced to figure out a way to contain Peterson and Gerhart before they think about defending the Vikings passing attack.

“Having a guy like the guy that we do have makes us very unique from an offensive standpoint,” Frazier explained, “but it helps us to achieve our goals as a football team, having a good running game and establishing the run for us to run our offense and really win the way we want to win.”

As he’s explained, Frazier wants the Vikings running game to set the tone and allow Ponder and Co. to operate with more freedom. Additionally, being able to run the ball well can shorten a game for a team when it has the lead. But Frazier also explained that his desire to run the ball well is not about being a conservative team that looks to shorten the game and win close contests. Frazier sees the Vikings running game as one with explosion and scoring capability.

“For us, that’s exactly the approach we take but we also believe that we can also get explosive plays through the running game because of who we have at the halfback position,” Frazier said. “It’s not just ground and pound. We have a guy who can break the 20-yard run, the 60-yard run. Most people have to get that throwing the football down the field, and we want to be able to do the same. That’s one of the reasons we made the offseason acquisition of Jerome (Simpson) and try to feature Percy the way we do. But being able to have a balanced attack and still feature our run game is who we are.”

Side Note
Peterson and Gerhart get most of the credit for the Vikings productive running attack. On Sunday in the season opener, though, another member of the backfield was key to the Vikings ground game – FB Jerome Felton. Both Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave mentioned how well Felton played in his first regular season game as a Viking.

Said Frazier: “He played extremely well and that was a lot of snaps for him. There wasn’t one time a season ago we had that many snaps with our fullback on the field and a lot of it had to do with the way he played and what’s happening when he is on the field. It was really encouraging for all of us to see him dominate the way he did. There may be more opportunities for him as we go forward.”

Said Musgrave: “Jerome Felton played really well. He was a presence out there. He was also a presence on the sideline in terms of being the leader. He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half.”


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 46 Comments »

Peterson (Questionable) A Game-Time Decision; Other Injury Report Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2012 – 12:39 pm

The Vikings and Jaguars released their final injury reports of the first week of the season today, a requirement of teams who have Sunday games. Here are the details…

Vikings
RB Adrian Peterson (knee) is listed as questionable, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he’d be a game-time decision.

S Robert Blanton, TE John Carlson (knee), DT Letroy Guion (knee), OL Geoff Schwartz (abdomen) and CB Marcus Sherels (ankle) are listed as probable.

LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and WR Jarius Wright (ankle) are listed as out.

Jaguars
DE Austen Lane (foot), DE George Selvie (knee) and LB Daryl Smith (abdomen) are listed as out. Lane and Selvie are reserves, so there absence means the Jaguars could slide DTs Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith outside to play DE at some points in the game. Smith is a starting outside LB, and it’s likely that Kyle Bosworth will get the start.

CB Derek Cox (hamstring) was listed as doubtful. He’s a starter, so expect Will Middleton to get the start at CB along with Aaron Ross. Rashean Mathis will be the Jaguars nickel CB. Also, CB Mike Harris (hamstring) is questionable.

WR Justin Blackmon (ankle), C Brad Meester (not injury-related), DE Aaron Morgan (not injury-related) and G Uche Nwaneri (ankle) are listed as probable.

Finally, expect RB Maurice Jones-Drew to play.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 125 Comments »

10 Vikings-Jaguars Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 5, 2012 – 6:50 am

Wednesday of Week 1 has finally arrived, which means it’s time for the Vikings to put the pedal to the metal in their preparations for Sunday’s season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ll have a busy day at Winter Park today, with a morning walk-thru followed by a Leslie Frazier press conference, and then an afternoon practice with players available afterwards.

It all gets going later this morning. While you’re waiting for all of that, though, here are 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…

1. Vikings Open Season At Home
For the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 2005, the Vikings will open the regular season at home. The Vikings logged a 24-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons and Adrian Peterson scored the first TD of his career the last time the Vikings opened a season at home. It’s a treat for the fans to open a season at home, and it’s a nice advantage for the team, too, after opening on the road the past four seasons. Expect Mall of America Field to be a loud and fun environment on Sunday.

2. Will Adrian Peterson Play?
The biggest talker surrounding this game all week will be the status of RB Adrian Peterson. He’s been determined to play in Week 1 throughout his entire rehab, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has not ruled his star RB out. Frazier said on Monday that Peterson will be a game-time decision. If Peterson can’t play, the Vikings will place the ball in capable hands, with Toby Gerhart set to handle the job. If Peterson can play, the Vikings will have an outstanding one-two punch at RB.

3. How Much Will Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew Play?
Jacksonville has an issue of their own at RB. Their star – Maurice Jones-Drew – was a training camp holdout and didn’t report to the team until this week. Jones-Drew is one of the best RBs in the NFL, so the Jaguars likely aren’t too concerned about his readiness. But the fact remains Jones-Drew has been away for quite a while, and there will be somewhat of a learning curve for him as he gets back into football shape and learns the Jaguars new offense. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, a former Vikings TE, has said that Rashad Jennings will start the game, but he also disclosed that Jones-Drew will play.

4. First-Rounders Kalil, Blackmon And Smith Debut
Both the Vikings and Jaguars were active in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and now both the Vikings and Jaguars hope their 1st-rounders will be active during the season. The Vikings originally held the #3 overall pick, but they traded with the Cleveland Browns and dropped back one spot. With the #4 overall pick, the Vikings selected LT Matt Kalil. The Jaguars originally held the #7 overall pick, but they moved up to the #5 position in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select WR Justin Blackmon. Then later in the 1st round, the Vikings moved up to the #29 position to select S Harrison Smith.

This week, those three 1st-rounders will prepare for their NFL regular season debuts. Kalil will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector, while Smith looks to help the Vikings secondary make big-time improvements from last season. Blackmon figures to play a key role in the Jaguars offense all season, as he’s coming off a productive preseason in which he showed the transition from college to the NFL will be no problem for him.

5. Clash Of 1st-Round QBs From Class Of 2011
Entering his second season, Vikings QB Christian Ponder is determined to show he can lead an NFL franchise to prominence. It’s only fitting, though, that Ponder begins that quest on Sunday against another QB looking to accomplish the same task for his franchise. While the Vikings selected Ponder with the #12 overall pick in 2011, the Jaguars moved to select Blaine Gabbert with the #10 overall pick.

As rookies last year, neither opened the regular season as their team’s starter. But both eventually ascended to the top of the depth chart. Gabbert got the nod in Week 3 after the Jaguars began the season 1-1, losing their Week 2 contest to the NY Jets by a score of 32-3. Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb in Week 6 during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, and then the next week was named the Vikings starter for the remainder of the season.

All of that is in the past. Sunday represents the future, as Ponder and Gabbert will open the 2012 regular season as their teams’ starting QBs. Ponder enters the season coming off an offseason in which he displayed big-time improvement from his performance as a rookie and Gabbert enters the season coming off a preseason in which he also displayed significant improvement from his rookie performance.

6. Will A Vikings WR (Besides Percy Harvin) Step Up?
Jerome Simpson has impressed every step of the way since joining the Vikings this spring, but he’ll be unavailable to the team for the first three games of the season. That opens up an opportunity for another WR to step up and produce in Simpson’s absence. Granted, the vertical, field-stretching WR is not going to represent the bread-and-butter of the Vikings offense. Still, though, having that threat adds another element to game-planning for the opposing defense. Michael Jenkins is the reliable veteran; Devin Aromashodu impressed in the preseason finale and has good speed to stretch the defense; Stephen Burton is good after the catch and continues to progress; Jarius Wright looks more natural in the slot, but he impressed with a long reception in the preseason finale as well.

Will one (or more) of these guys step up? The opportunity is there.

7. John Carlson Making His Way Back
The Vikings moved this offseason to acquire TE John Carlson, giving them an athletic pass-catching TE to pair with another athletic pass-catching TE in Kyle Rudolph. The tandem of Carlson and Rudolph will allow Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave to draw up designs that will create mismatches in the middle of the field.

Unfortunately, Carlson injured his knee during training camp and wasn’t able to play in the preseason. Carlson has been making steady progress, though, and is getting closer to a return. On Monday, Frazier could not say if Carlson would make back to the field by this weekend, but the MN native has a chance. If he can play, the Vikings offense will have an added dimension and Ponder will have another talented target in the passing game.

8. Healing Ankles
Outside of Carlson, the Vikings stayed quite healthy all of training camp and the preseason. Until the fourth preseason game, that is. In that game, LB Marvin Mitchell, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels and WR Jarius Wright all injured their ankles. It’s unknown if any of them will be able to play on Sunday, so it will be worth monitoring their status leading up to the game. Sherels is the Vikings punt returner and he’ll be involved in sub packages on defense, while Mitchell and Sendejo figure to be core special teams players. Wright has the makings of a dynamic playmaker, both on offense and as a returner, so the Vikings are hopeful he’ll be able to suit up in the season-opener.

9. Doleman To Receive Hall Of Fame Ring
Former Vikings DE Chris Doleman was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012 last month, and on Sunday the Vikings will present him with his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.

10. Looking To Restore Home-Field Advantage
The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982. The team now has a combined record of 157-88-0 (.641) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 6-4 mark in postseason games. The Vikings have gone undefeated 3 times at Mall of America Field (‘89, ‘98, ‘09) and have finished the season undefeated at home 8 total times in team history.

Unfortunately, the Vikings have gone just 5-11 at home the past two seasons. It’s time to turn that home record around, and this Sunday against the Jaguars in the season-opener is a good time to do it.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 44 Comments »

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.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 130 Comments »

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.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All | 11 Comments »

Roster Rundown: Safeties And Tight Ends

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 19, 2012 – 6:40 am

The Vikings made key additions to the safety and tight end positions this offseason, but they utilized different methods in doing so. At safety, the Vikings looked to the draft to add young talent and infuse the position with competition. At tight end, the Vikings turned to free agency to bolster the position.

Safeties and tight ends are the subject of today’s Roster Rundown. Let’s begin with the safeties…

Four players listed as safeties will return from last year’s team. Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games in 2011 and is entering his fourth season, has the most experience playing defense of the bunch. Eric Frampton, entering his sixth season, has been a core special teams player for the Vikings since 2007 and should retain at least that role in 2012. The two other returning players are Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo. Raymond started five games last year and Sendejo was added to the active roster via free agency in late November 2011.

The Vikings added two safeties to the roster via the draft, using a 1st-round pick to select Harrison Smith and a 5th-round pick to select Robert Blanton. As a 1st-round pick, the expectation for Smith is that he’ll emerge from training camp with a starting role. Blanton is converting from cornerback to safety and will compete for time at the other safety position. Others who will compete for time at safety are Reggie Jones and perhaps Zack Bowman (he could rotate between cornerback and safety).

Safety is a position to watch during training camp and the preseason. The assumption is that Smith will hold down one starting spot while Blanton, Raymond and Sanford compete for the other position. But don’t be surprised to see others insert themselves into the mix, including Bowman and Sendejo.

—————————————————————————————————————————

The Vikings shed a fair amount of experience at tight end this offseason, with 13-year pro Jim Kleinsasser retiring and nine-year pro Visanthe Shiancoe not returning. But now the position is full of youth and play-making athleticism. Not many teams used more multiple-TE formations than the Vikings a season ago, so this will be an important position to watch develop during training camp and the preseason.

Kyle Rudolph was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings last year and he came on strong at the end of the season. He and QB Christian Ponder clearly have a good rapport, so it won’t be a surprise to see Rudolph take a huge step forward in 2012. As if one athletic, field-stretching TE from Notre Dame wasn’t enough, the Vikings added John Carlson to the mix during free agency. A Litchfield, MN native, Carlson is a proven talent in the NFL with a pair of 50+ reception seasons and a per-catch average of 11.1 yards for his career.

Behind Carlson and Rudolph, the Vikings have a pair of former Big Ten tight ends who are also talented pass catchers in Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler. Both have two years of experience and both will have to display an ability to help on special teams as well as on offense to earn a roster spot.

The last player we’ll mention in this space is Rhett Ellison, even though he may eventually be listed as a FB. The Vikings selected Ellison in the 4th round of this year’s draft and he could be asked to fulfill a variety of roles on the Vikings offense, including as a tight end. Billed as a big, physical blocking-type of tight end entering the draft, Ellison displayed fluid route running and pass receiving skills at the Vikings rookie minicamp in May. A blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player, Ellison will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

Carlson and Rudolph will be the main threats at TE for the Vikings in 2012. While both are capable blockers, that is not their forte. That leaves opportunity for Reisner and Shuler to prove their worth during training camp; it will also be important for Reisner and Shuler to perform well on special teams during training camp and the preseason.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 278 Comments »