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Five Vikings Poised For Breakout Seasons

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 22, 2013 – 5:57 am

Every NFL team has star players who are relied upon year-in and year-out to perform at a premium level. But on a year-in and year-out basis, successful NFL teams also have players who take huge steps in their development to push their team to the next level.

That is what you call a breakout season, and if the Vikings are to follow up last season’s success with another playoff-caliber campaign, they will need breakout seasons from several players. So with the offseason program launching today, what better time to identify candidates for breakout seasons in 2013.

DT Christian Ballard
Career games played/started: 32/2
2012 Role: Reserve DT, part of regular rotation
2013 Outlook: A reserve player as a rookie in 2011, Ballard became part of the rotation in 2012 and saw his production increase – he even registered his first career sack. In 2013, though, Ballard has an opportunity to take an even larger leap than he did from 2011 to 2012. Perhaps Ballard’s best trait is his versatility, as he can line up at DE or DT and he’s also been a special teams contributor for Mike Priefer’s group. It won’t be a surprise to see the Vikings address the DT position in the draft, but it also won’t be a surprise to see Ballard perform at a level that will make it hard for that rookie DT to walk into a starting spot.

RG Brandon Fusco
Career games played/started: 19/16
2012 Role: Starter/split time with Geoff Schwartz
2013 Outlook: A 6th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Fusco came to the Vikings from Division II school Slippery Rock and over a year earned a starting role blocking for the best RB in the NFL. The reason Fusco was able to overcome the small-school stigma and crack the starting lineup in his second season is because of his toughness and determination. Those are the same traits he’s going to need in 2013 to prevent this year’s version of Brandon Fusco (whoever that may be) from supplanting him in the lineup. We talk a lot about unknown commodities coming out of college and becoming house-hold names in the NFL – Fusco has the work ethic and desire to be another example of this.

S Mistral Raymond
Career games played/started: 20/8
2012 Role: Opened season as starter, injured, rotated with Jamarca Sanford
2013 Outlook: The Vikings are poised to once again hold a robust competition for a starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith. In 2012, Raymond won this competition over Sanford and rookie Robert Blanton, but an injury early in the season derailed his season for a bit. Fortunately, Raymond returned to action in 2012 but not as the full-time starter. The same cast of characters will return in 2013 to battle for a starting spot, and there may even be more names added to the mix once the NFL draft begins later this week. As a 6th-round pick who has battled and defeated personal and professional adversity before, expect Raymond to shine this offseason and training camp.

CB Josh Robinson
Career games played/started: 16/6
2012 Role: Rotational CB
2013 Outlook: After making all the dances and starting 6 of them as a rookie and intercepting 2 passes along the way, Robinson, a 3rd-round pick, turned out to be one of the draft’s better value selections for the Vikings. His performance in 2012 will likely land him in a starting position on the depth chart to begin the offseason program. But his development is not done. There are still improvements Robinson can make to his game, and there will also be plenty of competition added to the position before the team heads to Mankato for training camp this summer.

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WR Jarius Wright
Career games played/started: 7/1
2012 Role: Inactive until Week 10, regular contributor over final half of the season
2013 Outlook: The diminutive Arkansas product showed flashes of potential in training camp and the preseason last year, but a high ankle sprain limited him in the first half of the regular season. Wright hit his stride at just the right time, though, as an ankle injury to Percy Harvin opened the door for him to step in. Wright finished the season with 22 receptions for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns, and now he’s poised to earn a spot in the starting lineup and continue in 2013 where he left off in 2012 as a versatile receiver who can play inside or outside but who excels from the slot.


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(Re)Making The Grade: Looking Back At 2012 Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 8, 2013 – 7:12 am

We will talk a lot about the 2013 NFL Draft on vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog over the next 2.5 months. But right now, let’s take a look back at how the Vikings fared in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The impetus behind this idea is a piece put together by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. Immediately following each year’s draft, he applies a grade to each team’s effort by reconciling the selections made by each team against that team’s draft positions and specific roster needs. Anyone who does this will tell you there’s a high degree of error involved because it’s typically a 3-year process before you can complete the evaluation of a draft-class. But in order to be fair and to hold himself accountable, Kiper has decided to revisit his post-draft grades for each team and hand out new grades based on how the draft picks and teams fared during the 2012 season.

The Vikings efforts in the 2012 NFL Draft were applauded immediately after, as they came out of the event with a pair of 1st-round picks at positions of need and also peppered the roster with 8 other selections after that. Kiper gave the Vikings a post-draft grade of a “B” and said the following: “The Vikings did pretty well. They got the left tackle they coveted in Matt Kalil, and they moved up to get a safety. Both Kalil and Harrison Smith, their two first-round picks, should be starting in Week 1. Josh Robinson adds speed, if not a lot of polish, at corner, and has the chance to develop into a good player.”

A pretty spot-on post-draft evaluation. Kalil and Smith both started all 16 games this season, and Robinson indeed has the look of a developing player after playing in all 16 games and starting 6 in his rookie season. Plus, he was 3rd on the team with 2 INTs and 7th on the team with 61 tackles.

In revisiting the draft and handing out new grades, though, Kiper has increased that grade by changing it to an A-. Kalil, Robinson and Smith fulfilled his expectations, and then others, most notably Blair Walsh, add significant contributions to cause Kiper to upgrade his evaluation. Here’s what he provided as new commentary:

“Kalil not only started 16 games at left tackle, played well at a significant position and if his run-blocking catches up with his pass-blocking, he’ll become among the league’s best. Smith became exactly what the Vikings had hoped, started all 16 games at free safety and should be there for years to come. The instincts he showed at Notre Dame were on display, and he’ll continue to get better. Robinson is raw, but could ultimately take over for Antoine Winfield. And don’t overlook one of the steals of the draft. Blair Walsh was taken at No. 175 overall, and was the best kicker in the league in 2012. A year later, a pretty good draft looks even better.”

And that’s not even to mention WR Jarius Wright coming on in the second half of the season, Rhett Ellison well on the way to providing the offense with gritty blocking and sneaky-good production in the passing game, and late-round picks Robert Blanton and Audie Cole poised to take on increased roles after serving on special teams from time-to-time in 2012. Including the injured Greg Childs, 9 of the Vikings 10 draft picks from last year are still on the team.

The news gets better from here, too. The Vikings are currently slated to have 8 draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which provides GM Rick Spielman and Co. with plenty of ammunition and opportunity to add even more young talent to an already young and talented roster that will continue to get better.

 


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Vikings CBs A Hot Topic This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 13, 2012 – 7:36 am

Not making an appearance in Wednesday’s “8 Vikings-Rams Storylines To Follow” blog entry was the topic of Vikings CBs, but they were a hot topic during Leslie Frazier’s meeting with local reporters. The first five questions of Frazier’s Wednesday press conference focused on various issues surround Vikings CBs, so let’s go over a few things we learned…

A.J. Jefferson could play on Sunday
Since Chris Cook went down with a broken arm during the Vikings Week 8 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, A.J. Jefferson has stepped into an increased role on defense. Near the end of last week’s win over Chicago, though, Jefferson also was injured. He suffered a concussion and was forced out of the game and into the NFL’s return-from-concussion protocol.

On Wednesday, Frazier said Jefferson was “getting closer” to passing all of his tests. The Vikings expect to have a much better idea of Jefferson’s chances to play this Sunday in St. Louis after Thursday’s work.

Next man up
In the event that Jefferson is not able to return in time for Sunday’s game, a few players would be asked to step up. Rookie Josh Robinson would be first on the list, although he’s seen plenty of the field this season while playing in the Vikings nickel package. On Monday, Frazier also mentioned Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels as guys who may see increased roles on defense should Jefferson sit out.

Sherels to resume kickoff return duties
With Percy Harvin unavailable because of his ankle injury, the Vikings kickoff return role is open for business. Sherels was the first to fill the void and he’s done so adequately. More recently, though, Jefferson took a turn returning kicks. With his availability now in question because of the concussion, Frazier indicated earlier in the week that Sherels will reassume the kickoff return roles. Even if Jefferson does play on Sunday, expect Sherels to take the reps so the Vikings can reduce Jefferson’s exposure to another concussion.

Chris Cook on track
Chris Cook has returned to practice for the Vikings and appears to be on track to return to game action as soon as next week against the Houston Texans. Frazier has been asked about the chances of Cook returning this season and hasn’t been specific about if or when it could happen, but the fact that Cook has returned to practice is a sign of good progress.

The Vikings have done a nice job of covering up his absence with Jefferson and Robinson, but having Cook return to action would be a big plus for the Vikings in terms of their ability to cover bigger receivers and in terms of their depth both on defense and on special teams.

Winfield held out of Wednesday practice
Veteran Antoine Winfield did not practice on Wednesday, but that is not worthy of alarm. The Vikings have been diligent about monitoring Winfield’s reps, and it is paying big dividends this season. Winfield, in his 14th season, is having another stellar campaign and his health is a big reason for the Vikings increased performance against the pass. Frazier did mention that Winfield’s knee was bothering him a bit, and that added to the team’s decision to hold him out on Wednesday. It’s expected that Winfield will return to practice on Thursday.


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Immediate Impact: Robinson, Smith Making Plays For Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 10, 2012 – 7:57 am

Lost in the shadow of Adrian Peterson’s historic season and the weekly hyper-analyzing of Christian Ponder’s performance is the drastic improvement the Vikings have made in pass defense. Under first-year coordinator Alan Williams, the Vikings rank 10th in yards per attempt allowed (6.8), 19th in yards per game allowed (237.0) and 21st in passer rating allowed (90.3).

Those rankings may seem modest at first glance, but considering the Vikings ranked 30th in yards per attempt, 26th in yards allowed and 32nd in passer rating allowed a season ago, the improvement is considerable. That begs the question: What has led to the improvement?

There are several factors that have contributed to the improvement, but perhaps none more important than the young talent the Vikings added during last year’s draft. The selection of S Harrison Smith in the 1st round and then CB Josh Robinson in the 3rd round has made a profound impact on the defense’s ability to defend the pass. The additions of Smith and Robinson will pay dividends for years to come because they both figure to be foundational players for the Vikings defense. But those additions are paying immediate dividends as well, and Sunday’s win over the Bears is just the latest illustration.

Both Smith and Robinson grabbed INTs on Sunday, and both led to scores for the Vikings. Robinson’s came in the 1st quarter, and he returned the INT 49 yards for a TD. The play was later overturned and Robinson was ruled out of bounds at the 5, but Adrian Peterson scored moments later to put the Vikings up 14-0. Smith’s INT came in the 3rd quarter, and he dodged and weaved his way to the end zone for a 56-yard score to give the Vikings a 21-7 lead that would prove insurmountable for the Bears. It’s the second INT-returned-for-TD by Smith of the season.

Both plays are certainly notable in the aftermath of the Vikings win because the directly led to points for the Vikings. That both plays were made by first-year Vikings is notable as well because one could argue that a season ago those plays would not have been made.


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Revenge Is Sweet: Vikings Beat Bears 21-14

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 9, 2012 – 4:33 pm

After nearly a month away from home, the Vikings returned to Mall of America Field on a snowy Minnesota Sunday and got back on the winning track. Using an early dose of Adrian Peterson and a heavy dose of defense, the Vikings powered their way to a 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, avenging a loss to their division rivals just two weeks ago at Soldier Field.

The Vikings got out of the gates gracefully, handing the ball to Peterson and watching him rip off a 51-yard gain on the first play of the game. Five plays later, Peterson plunged in from a yard out to put his team ahead 7-0. Then, five plays into the Bears ensuing drive, rookie CB Josh Robison picked off a Jay Cutler pass and returned it 49 yards for a TD, whipping the home crowd into a frenzy. Officials eventually overturned the TD, ruling that Robinson had stepped out of bounds at the Chicago 5, but Peterson took care of business on 3rd and goal from the 1 to put the Vikings ahead 14-0.

Peterson has been a near unstoppable force since returning from a knee injury in time for the season-opener against Jacksonville. And that continued to be the case on Sunday against Chicago, as he topped the 100-yard mark before the 1st quarter even ended. By halftime, Peterson had 125 yards rushing and 2 rushing TDs on 18 carries.

The Bears were able to add a Cutler-to-Alshon Jeffery TD late in the 1st half to make the score 14-7 as the teams headed for the locker rooms at intermission.

The teams exchanged two punts each to open the 2nd half, and that set the stage for the Vikings defense to strike once again. Facing a 3rd and 2 from his own 39, Cutler dropped back and threw a pass to his top target – Brandon Marshall. The pass sailed on Cutler, though, and rookie S Harrison Smith was there to collect the INT. Smith, a high school running back, used good vision and plenty of solid downfield blocking to weave his way to the end zone, tallying a 56-yard INT return TD to give his team a 21-7 lead.

Forced to come right back onto the field following the return TD, the Vikings defense surrendered a 36-yard run to Bears RB Matt Forte. A personal foul penalty against Jared Allen tacked on 15 more yards, and the Bears were set up with a 1st and 10 from the Vikings 34. But that’s all the further they would get, as the Vikings defense held from there and eventually forced a punt (thanks to a holding penalty against Chicago). The Vikings then embarked on a drive that didn’t result in a score, but took over 6 minutes off the clock. When Chicago got the ball back, they trailed by 14 with 9:13 to play.

Chicago turned the ball over on downs, forced a Vikings punt, and then scored a late TD on a pass from Jason Campbell to Brandon Marshall. Campbell came into the game to replace Cutler, who took a shot to the head from Vikings DE Everson Griffen on an earlier series. After the Marshall TD, the Bears attempted an onside kick. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph recovered the desperation try, however, and the Vikings were able to kneel on the ball from there.

The win was a crucial one for the Vikings as they look to remain alive in the NFC playoff hunt. The Vikings now trail the Bears by one game in the NFC North standings and they’ll await tonight’s Packers-Lions game to see where they stand in relation to Green Bay. The win also moved the Vikings ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lost at home to the Philadelphia Eagles. Both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins also won on Sunday, so the Vikings were able to keep pace with both of those playoff-hopefuls as well.

Up next for the Vikings is a contest on the road against the St. Louis Rams, a team that also won on Sunday and is trying to keep its playoff hopes alive.


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A Closer Look: How To Slow Down Bears WR Brandon Marshall

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 6, 2012 – 7:25 am

The Bears acquired WR Brandon Marshall this past offseason, thinking he was the missing link in a passing game that needed a big-time WR to complement the strong arm and gunslinging mentality of QB Jay Cutler. Through Marshall’s first 12 games in the Windy City, the Bears thinking is right on.

Marshall ranks 2nd in the NFL with 91 receptions and 1,182 yards, and he’s on pace to break the Bears single-season record for receptions and yards. No other Bears player has more than 30 receptions, and Marshall has been targeted by Cutler 95 more times than the next Bears receiver. Against the Vikings in Week 12, Marshall was targeted by Cutler 17 times and he came away with 12 receptions for 92 yards. While he didn’t get into the end zone against the Vikings, he was still a crucial factor in the game. Several times the Vikings had Chicago in unfavorable 3rd-down spots, and several times Marshall bailed the Bears out with a great grab in traffic or a few extra yards after the catch.

Adding to the frustration of Marshall’s production that day was the fact that often times he was guarded to near perfection by Vikings DBs, but he still came away with the catch. Cutler was able to fit the ball into tight windows, and even when a Vikings defender was in position to make a play, Marshall was able to make the better play.

So, what can the Vikings rely on to slow down the Cutler-to-Marshall tandem on Sunday at Mall of America Field? Let’s take a closer look at three things that should work…

Pressure the passer
Perhaps the best way for the Vikings to keep Marshall in check is to disrupt the man charged with delivering the ball to the tall, fast pass-catcher – Cutler. To do that, the Vikings must re-energize their pass rush to take advantage of a Bear defensive line that is missing starters and has dealt with inconsistent play. As Leslie Frazier explained on Wednesday while meeting with reporters, pressuring the passer isn’t all about sacks. Even if a defender doesn’t register a sack, hitting the QB and disrupting his timing can be just as good.

“They’ve changed their philosophy offensively to cut down on the sacks. They realized what their problems were and they made a smart move. We have to offset that with some of the things we’re going to try to do,” Frazier explained. “We may not get the sacks, because of what they’re doing now with the short passing game, but we have to hit that quarterback. We have to find a way to hit him and make him aware that our defense is on the field. Might not get the sack numbers, but we have to find a way to hit him.”

The ball will bounce your way
It’s important for a defense to maintain its aggressiveness. But it’s also important for a defense to trust itself and know that if they keep doing the right thing at the right time, the ball will eventually bounce the right way. It actually happened that way for the Vikings secondary in Soldier Field a couple weeks ago. Yes, Marshall kept finding ways to make plays even though AJ Jefferson, Josh Robinson and Antoine Winfield were constantly in the right place at the right time. Finally, though, the Vikings caught a break when one of Cutler’s passes to Marshall was tipped and wound up in the hands of Winfield.

The Vikings finished last season with a total of 64 passes defensed. This season through 12 games, they’ve already surpassed that total by 14 – they have 78 passes defensed heading into Sunday’s game. If the Vikings continue being sound in coverage, and especially if the Vikings can put pressure on Cutler while he’s in the pocket, the ball will bounce the Vikings way eventually.

Forcing fumbles
More than most other teams in the NFL, the Vikings have proven that the play isn’t over once an opposing runner breaks through the line of scrimmage or an opposing receiver secures a catch. The Vikings rank tied for 6th in the NFL with 27 forced fumbles and 3rd in the NFL with 23 fumble recoveries dating back to the start of the 2011 season. So even once Marshall hauls in a pass from Cutler, watch for Vikings DBs to try and strip the ball from the receiver as he’s trying to gain extra yardage.

 


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Harvin Listed As Doubtful; Jarius Wright Will Be Active Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 23, 2012 – 1:06 pm

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met briefly with reporters after practice on Friday and provided an update on the probability of WR Percy Harvin returning from his ankle injury in time for this Sunday’s game in Chicago. The chances are not good that Harvin will play, as Frazier said his star WR will be listed as doubtful on the week’s final injury report.

Harvin injured his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9 and has been rehabbing and recovering since. The ankle has improved, but he’s yet to be able to participate in a practice since the injury. Harvin’s final status for the game likely won’t be declared until 90 minutes prior to kickoff, which is when teams are required to submit their list of inactive players.

Regardless of what happens with Harvin, Frazier did say that WR Jarius Wright will be active. The rookie 4th-rounder played in his first NFL regular season game two weeks ago against Detroit with Harvin sidelined. Wright responded with 3 receptions for 65 yards and 1 TD. He’ll have another chance to contribute in Chicago this weekend.

Frazier said Wright does not figure to fill in for Harvin in the kickoff return role. Marcus Sherels, AJ Jefferson and Josh Robinson (in that order) are listed as backups to Harvin in the kickoff return role.


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10 Takes Through 10 Games

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 20, 2012 – 11:36 am

On Wednesday we’ll throw our entire focus toward Sunday’s contest against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Before we do that, though, let’s take one last chance to reflect on what’s happened over the first 10 games of the Vikings season.

This was the topic of last week’s Wobcast, as I explained my 10 takes through 10 weeks…

10. Vikings are in the playoff hunt!
A strong 4-1 start and a key win against Detroit heading into the bye has placed the Vikings in the mix for a playoff spot in the NFC. It’s quite a treat for Vikings fans to be in this position after watching their team go 9-23 the past 2 seasons. Kudos to GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier for turning this organization around and heading in the right direction. The Vikings are 6-4 overall, 2-0 in the division and 4-3 in the NFC. If the playoffs started right now, the Vikings would miss it because of tie-breakers to Seattle and Tampa Bay. But the playoffs don’t start right now, so we’ll get to see if the Vikings can overcome a few teams over the next 6 weeks.

9. Dome-field advantage has returned
The Vikings were just 1-7 at home last year and suffered to a 3-13 season. This year, the Vikings dome-field advantage has returned. They are 4-1 in home games, and a big reason for that is the Mall of America Field crowd. Frazier compliments Vikings fans after each game and is genuine in his praise. He’s coached against and played against the Vikings in that building and respects the difference the home crowd can make. Good job, fans. Thanks for helping us gain that incredible dome-field advantage.

8. Youth, health has led to improvement in pass defense
The Vikings pass defense has taken a huge step forward in 2012. They were 26th in yards allowed last season and were 14th in that category after 10 games this season. What’s been the key? It’s been health and youth. CBs Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook missed 21 games combined last season, but this year they both started and remained healthy for most of the team’s first 10 games. Cook is dealing with an arm injury now, but young guys are stepping up in his absence. AJ Jefferson and this year’s 3rd-round pick – Josh Robinson – have filled the void well. Also, Harrison Smith is playing the safety position like we haven’t seen in years from a Vikings safety.

7. Percy has no mercy on opposing defenses
Simply put, I think Percy Harvin is the most dangerous offensive weapon among non-QBs in the NFL. He has 100 touches through 10 games – that’s receptions, rushes and returns – and he’s averaging 13.4 yards per touch with 5 TDs. Harvin is the best kickoff returner in the NFL, one of the best receivers in the NFL, and a good runner. There are not many (any?) better all-around threats in the NFL.

6. Vikings special teams have been outstanding, and deserve more credit
– Often times special teams is the neglected phase of football. But special teams has not been neglected by the Vikings, and in fact I’d submit that special teams has been key to the Vikings success this year. Heck, the Vikings special teams basically single-handedly won a game this year – Detroit – Week 4. A bunch of credit goes to Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White for the work they’ve done together over the past two seasons. Through 10 games, the Vikings ranked 2nd in average drive start, 4th in kickoff return, 2nd in touchbacks on kickoffs and 9th in punt return. Special teams is something fans complain about when it’s going poorly, but forget about when it’s going well. Let’s take a moment during to appreciate the Vikings special teams play to this point. Bravo, guys.

To see the final 5 takes, which includes bold talk about Adrian Peterson and Blair Walsh, check out last week’s Wobcast.


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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.


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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.


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