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9 Vikings-Redskins Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 10, 2012 – 6:18 am

It’s Wednesday, and in the NFL you know what that means. The calendar flips from digesting last week’s win to previewing this week’s matchup. For the Vikings, that means preparing for the Washington Redskins. The Vikings will travel to the Beltway this weekend, marking their third trip to the Nation’s Capital in as many years.

This Vikings-Redskins matchup has several intriguing subplots, so we’ll get you started by briefly discussing nine of them right here…

RG3’s Status Unclear After Week 5 Concussion
This now marks the third consecutive week a team scheduled to play the Vikings begins its week of preparation not knowing if their starting QB will be available on Sunday. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, selected by Washington with the 2nd overall pick last April, took a nasty hit from Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon mid-way through the 3rd quarter last week that left the talented passer with a concussion. Per the NFL’s concussion protocol, doctors ruled Griffin III out for the remainder of the game, and now he’s required to undergo and pass a series of tests before he’s allowed to practice or play.

This is obviously a significant factor for both teams because Griffin III is the Redskins most dynamic offensive weapon. He’s the League’s 5th-highest rated passer (101.0) and ranks #1 in completion percentage (69.1%). Griffin III also has 8 total TDs – 4 passing and 4 rushing – and averages 5.7 yards per rush on 42 carries.

Since the injury, Washington has not released any information that lends an idea as to whether Griffin III will be ready to suit up on Sunday. The next indication of the rookie’s status will come Wednesday afternoon when the Redskins are required to submit their initial injury report of the week. If Griffin III is unable to play, the Redskins will turn to either rookie Kirk Cousins or veteran Rex Grossman.

Can Redskins Contain MVP Candidate Percy Harvin?
Yes, I said it. Percy Harvin is an MVP candidate – in my eyes anyway. He doesn’t play QB and he’s not leading the NFL in points or TDs. But can you name a player who produces as much and in as many ways as Harvin does for the Vikings? Harvin leads the NFL in total yardage (814) and yards after catch (242), he’s 2nd in receptions (38), and he’s just the 3rd player in NFL history – joining Gale Sayers and Timmy Brown – with a rushing, receiving and kick return TD in 3 consecutive seasons.

But this headline to watch is not an MVP campaign for Harvin. It’s to point out that, in order increase their chances of winning, the Redskins are going to have to find a way to contain Harvin. The Lions were able to do it, as Harvin had just 6 offensive touches for 34 yards. But the Titans, just one week later, were not able to duplicate it last week, as Harvin exploded for 116 yards and 2 TDs (1 rushing, 1 receiving) on 10 offensive touches.

How Serious is Jerome Simpson’s Injury?
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained the injury situation surrounding Jerome Simpson on Monday during his customary day-after-the-game press conference. While Frazier’s discussion of the situation provided some clarity on what happened over the course of last Sunday, the discussion did not provide clarity on Simpson’s status for this Sunday. In fairness, much was still to be learned even for the Vikings as of Monday, as Simpson was scheduled to undergo more tests.

So as the Vikings begin on-field preparations for the Redskins on Wednesday, there seems to be more ambiguity than clarity on Simpson’s status. Perhaps Frazier will clear the air after the team’s morning walk-thru on Wednesday. Or maybe not. That’s why it’s a storyline to watch this week.

Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris Pace Powerful Ground Attacks
One of the storylines to watch we identified in last week’s Vikings-Titans matchup was that of the pending showdown between Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, two of the most explosive and productive running backs of the past 5 seasons or so. As Johnson continues to labor through a second consecutive substandard season, including just 24 yards on 15 carries against the Vikings, it turns out that a better RB vs. RB matchup will unfold in Washington D.C. this Sunday.

We know who the Vikings have in their corner. Peterson says he’s still a touch shy of being 100% back to form, but he looks to be the same explosive, powerful and shifty playmaker he’s been for the Vikings since 2007. But it appears the Redskins have a star-in-the-making at RB as well in rookie Alfred Morris. Credit Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan for once again finding a diamond-in-the-rough runner in the late rounds of the draft. Morris, a 6th-round pick out of Florida Atlantic this year, ranks 2nd in the NFC and 4th in the NFL with 491 rushing yards, has topped 100 yards rushing in each of the last two weeks and averages an impressive 4.9 yards per carry for the season.

Expect the Vikings to make stopping Morris in his tracks their top priority on defense this week.

Can Vikings Find Continued Success With Defensive Line Rotation?
In somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion but also with a fair amount of sincerity, Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams compared his plan for a defensive line rotation to the liberal substitution patterns of hockey teams, where 3-4 players may come off the ice simultaneously to be replaced by players with fresh legs. It caused some consternation at the time, with the worry being that the Vikings best defensive linemen would be off the field at important times.

As it turns out, though, Williams’ strategy is working. The rotation has produced results, from starters as well as reserves. Yes, non-starters such as Christian Ballard, Fred Evans and Everson Griffen are playing more and are producing. But the Vikings four starters along the line are playing well, too. Jared Allen ranks tied for 1st on the team in sacks with Griffen and tied for 2nd on the team in tackles for loss with three others; Kevin Williams has a TFL, fumble recovery, 8 QB hits and 3 pass break-ups (PBUs); Letroy Guion has 2.0 sacks and 3.0 TFLs. The list goes on. And so will the rotation strategy. The question is: Will it continue to work this week against the Redskins?

Josh Robinson Earning More Playing Time
The record from last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans will show that Josh Robinson was a starter at CB for the Vikings along with Chris Cook. Are the Vikings phasing out CB Antoine Winfield? No, Winfield is actually in the midst of a productive season. The 14-year veteran is 2nd on the team in tackles with 41, he has 4.0 TFLs, 6 PBUs and 1 INT. Winfield is playing well and will remain a key part of the defense this season. But Robinson will, too. The 3rd-round rookie is proving to Vikings coaches and scouts that he belongs on the field.

The 5-10, 199-pound CB has 28 tackles on the season, including 15 in the last two games. Robinson also has 5 PBUs already – only 4 Vikings had that many PBUs all of last season. The Vikings pass defense is much improved from a season ago – they’ve improved 13 spots in passing yards allowed and 20 spots in passer rating allowed – and Robinson is a big reason for the improvement.

Don’t be surprised if he’s in the starting lineup again in Washington, and don’t be surprised if he continues to make a profound impact for the Vikings secondary.

The Vikings and Redskins Becoming Quite Familiar Foes
Sunday’s meeting between the Vikings and Redskins will mark their third in as many seasons during the regular season. It’s also interesting to note that these two organizations worked together at this year’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Leslie Frazier and his staff coached the North squad against a South squad that featured Shanahan and the Redskins staff.

Furthermore, Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave once coached for the Redskins (1995) and he played under Shanahan in San Francisco and Denver. Also, Redskins DBs coach Raheem Morris coached with Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods from 2004-05 in Tampa Bay.

The familiarity extends to the players as well. A pair of Redskins DBs – CB Cedric Griffin and S Madieu Williams – spent time with the Vikings. Griffin was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings in 2006 and played 80 games (70 starts) in 6 seasons. Williams played for the Vikings from 2008-10 and appeared in 39 games (38 starts). Vikings WR Devin Aromashodu spent the majority of the 2008 season on the Redskins practice squad.

Kicking Highs and Lows
The Vikings and Redskins are going through opposite experiences with their situation at kicker. The Vikings selected theirs with a 6th-round pick last April and he’s come through in a huge way, converting 12 of 13 FGs (3 of 3 from 50+ yards) and blasting 17 touchbacks in 27 kickoffs (Vikings had 19 touchbacks all of last year). The Redskins, on the other hand, just released their kicker – Billy Cundiff – after he went 7 of 12 on FGs to being the season. To replace Cundiff, the Redskins signed Kai Forbath on Tuesday. Forbath entered the NFL as an undrafted college free agent out of UCLA and spent time with Dallas and Tampa Bay before joining Washington.

One thing to keep in mind on this topic: this will be Walsh’s first regular season game kicking outdoors. The Vikings have played three games inside the friendly confines of Mall of America Field, and their two road games have been indoors as well – at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium and Detroit’s Ford Field.

Adrian Peterson Returns to Site of Knee Injury
This is a storyline that has no real practical implications on the Vikings-Redskins matchup, but I’m not sure that anyone close to Adrian Peterson or anyone who was watching these teams play last year can avoid thinking about it. The last time we saw Peterson at FedEx Field, he was writhing in pain on the playing surface like a wounded animal after a Redskins defender crashed into and severely injured his left knee.

The injury happened on Christmas Eve. Just over 8 months later, Peterson opened the 2012 regular season in the Vikings starting lineup, capping a remarkable rehabilitation that began immediately after the injury and wouldn’t have been possible without Peterson’s unmatched determination to improve and tremendous support from the Vikings medical staff. And 9 months later, Peterson is set to return to FedEx Field in an attempt to help his team record its 5th win on the young season.


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Rookie CB Robinson Earning Trust, Playing Time

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2012 – 6:42 am

Matt Kalil is dominating on a weekly basis at LT, Harrison Smith is reminding Vikings fans what a playmaking safety looks like and Blair Walsh continues to validate the team’s decision to select him in the draft. But there’s another rookie who has been just as impressive to Vikings coaches and scouts – CB Josh Robinson.

The Vikings selection of Robinson last April was notable because the Central Florida product was the fastest timed player at the Combine (clocked a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash). But from the moment the Vikings selected Robinson, Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained he was as enamored with other parts of Robinson’s skill set as he was with his straight line speed.

“Extremely talented athlete,” Spielman conceded to vikings.com last April. “But when you look at his tape, he has some unique cover skills. He’s more than willing enough to come up in (run) support, too.”

Robinson is proving Spielman prophetic. The 5-10, 199-pound CB has 28 tackles on the season, including 15 in the last two games. Robinson also has 5 pass break-ups (PBUs) already – only 4 Vikings had that many PBUs all of last season. The Vikings pass defense is much improved from a season ago – they’ve improved 13 spots in passing yards allowed and 20 spots in passer rating alloweed – and Robinson is a big reason for the improvement.

The record from last week’s win over Tennessee will show Robinson as a starting CB along with Chris Cook. This does not mean a demotion for Antoine Winfield, but it is another indication of the confidence the Vikings have in their rookie CB.

“I don’t know if that will eventually be the case in 2012,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said of Robinson potentially being a full-time starter at CB. “We know at some point, we’re hoping that Josh develops to the point where he can be our starting corner. That’s why we drafted him when we did. We want him to eventually be a starting corner for us.”

All the talk of Robison seeing more time on the field aside, make no mistake that Winfield is having another solid season. He ranks 2nd on the team in tackles with 41 and is tied for second in tackles for loss (TFLs) with 4.0. Winfield also has one of the team’s two INTs – Robinson has the other. Frazier explained that the Vikings know what they have in the veteran Winfield. The additional playing time for Robinson is about reducing the wear and tear on Winfield while also continuing the steady development of Robinson.

“We know what we’re going to get from Antoine,” Frazier explained. “He’s been playing great ball for us in these first five weeks of the season and we’re going to need him throughout the year. Part of what we’re doing is just trying to take some snaps off of Antoine, along with developing Josh and we’re hoping that Josh continues to come along. He’s been playing well for us.”


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Vikings Ride Defense, Harvin To 30-7 Win Over Titans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 7, 2012 – 6:58 pm

The Vikings used a consistent dose of body blows from their defense and several stunning jabs from Percy Harvin to knock out the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon at Mall of America Field, coming away with a 30-7 victory when all was said and done that moved them to 4-1 on the season. The win was the Vikings third of the season at home and it keeps them in a 1st-place tie atop the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.

Tennessee began the game with the ball, and used a 17-yard gain on 3rd and 5 followed by a 12-yard gain on the following play to push the ball inside of Vikings territory. After that, though, the Vikings defense bowed up and forced a Titans punt. That was as good as it would get for the Titans offense until it was too late. That first drive went 7 plays and 33 yards before stalling out, and the Titans were not able to run more than five plays or gain more than 26 yards in any of the next eight series. Tennessee’s first nine drives ended in the following ways: punt, punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt.

While the Vikings defense was pitching a shutout for three-plus quarters, the Vikings offense was slowly putting together an insurmountable lead, with WR Percy Harvin as the lynchpin and QB Christian Ponder as the triggerman. Harvin was up to his old tricks, serving as a lethal and versatile threat throughout the game. He had 2 rushes for 8 yards, including a 4-yard TD, and caught 8 passes for 108 yards and another TD. Ponder threw his first 2 INTs of the season, but he was able to bounce back in a big way. He finished going 25 of 35 for 258 yards with 2 TDs to go along with the INTs. His second TD went to Kyle Rudolph in the 4th quarter and essentially ended any thought of an improbable Titans comeback.

As they’ve been able to do during their wins, the Vikings ran the ball with enough effectiveness to keep the opposing defense off-balance. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 17 times for 88 yards while Toby Gerhart logged 41 yards on 6 carries. As a team, the Vikings gained 175 rushing yards on 31 carries, good for a 5.6-yard average and good enough to allow the play-action pass to be effective. The Vikings picked up 25 first downs during the game, with nine of them coming on the ground, 13 through the air and another three via penalty.

But make no mistake, the foundation of Sunday’s Vikings win was a suffocating defensive performance that kept RB Chris Johnson frustrated and QB Matthew Hasselbeck uncomfortable. Johnson was held to just 24 yards on 15 carries (1.6 yards per carry) and Hasselbeck was sacked twice while going 26 of 43 for 200 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Those numbers a bit deceiving, though, because Hasselbeck had just 83 yards passing by the end of the 3rd quarter and picked up the rest while the Vikings played a conservative defense that forced Tennessee to methodically march down the field instead of striking quickly.

In the 1st half, though, the Vikings defense was anything but conservative. They sacked Hasselbeck twice, Antoine Winfield intercepted him once and they forced two fumbles with fumble recovery. The Titans were just 1 of 7 on 3rd downs in the first two quarters and Johnson had just 12 yards rushing on 8 attempts. Behind the stellar defensive performance, Harvin’s rushing TD and 2 Blair Walsh FGs, the Vikings led 13-0 at halftime.

The Vikings pushed their lead to 23-0 after another Walsh FG – he was 3-of-3 on the afternoon – and Harvin’s 10-yard TD catch before the Titans finally got on the board with a 10-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck to TE Jared Cook. Ponder and Co. wasted no time responding to Tennessee’s only score, though, driving 43 yards in just 6 plays on the following drive to score on a 15-yard Ponder-to-Rudolph connection, giving the Vikings their final 30-7 advantage.

The Vikings defense didn’t collect a bunch of sacks on the afternoon, but they were constantly pestering Hasselbeck and forcing him to either throw too quickly or throw inaccurately. The Vikings defensive line was also credited with 3 passes defensed, an indication that even when they didn’t get to Hasselbeck they were still able to disrupt him. Unofficially, LB Chad Greenway was credited with 9 tackles to lead the team and CB Josh Robinson was second on the team with 6 tackles. Greenway had 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass defensed, while S Jamarca Sanford (2), DT Kevin Williams (2), LB Jasper Brinkley (1), Winfield (1), CB Chris Cook (1) and DE Jared Allen (1) had the other pass break-ups. LB Erin Henderson had 2 tackles for loss and DE Brian Robison and Allen each had 1.

We will have much more analysis and reaction to the Vikings win on Sunday, so stay tuned to vikings.com to stay on top of it all. The Vikings next game is Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field, where they will challenge the Washington Redskins in a game that is scheduled to kick off at 3:25 p.m. CT.

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Emptying Out The Vikings vs. 49ers Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 25, 2012 – 5:08 pm

First thing tomorrow morning we’ll begin previewing the Vikings upcoming matchup with NFC North rival Detroit. The Vikings and Lions will play at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, with kickoff slated for noon CT. Before we do that, though, let’s empty out the notebook from last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers…

Frazier credits Sanford, calls him the kind of guy “you want on your club”
Jamarca Sanford started 15 games for the Vikings defense a year ago. Through three games this season, Sanford has started none. Rookie Harrison Smith and second-year player Mistral Raymond emerged from training camp with starting jobs, leaving Sanford disappointed heading into the season.

But Frazier explained on Wednesday that Sanford didn’t let that disappointment adversely impact his attitude or preparation. And that attitude paid off for Sanford and the Vikings defense against the 49ers when Raymond went down with an injury in the 2nd quarter.

“Jamarca really had his heart set on being a starter this season,” Frazier explained. “He worked his tail off throughout the offseason. He was really looking forward to it and there’s no doubt there was disappointment when he wasn’t named one of the starters at safety.

“What he did on special teams, what he has done, in absence of being a starter, just a great example for the rest of our team. Those are the kind of guys you want on your club. Everybody wants to start but we talk to them all the time that everybody can’t start. You have to be willing to accept your role in order for our team to have a chance to be successful, and he’s an example of that.”

Sanford finished the game with 6 tackles on defense and, in what should come as no surprise, 1 tackle on special teams, too.

Vikings correct discipline, penalty issues from a week ago
In last week’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts (it hurts to even type that), the Vikings were uncharacteristically undisciplined. When all was said and done, the Vikings had 11 penalties enforced against them for a total of 105 yards, with several of them coming at inopportune times to extend Colts drives and/or negate positive plays by the Vikings offense. In his post-game press conference that day, Frazier was the first to acknowledge those mistakes, and was determined to correct them the following week.

It was mission accomplished on that front in the victory over San Francisco, as the Vikings were penalized just once for 10 yards. The next step in the discipline category is to keep the penalties down again this week against Detroit while also securing the ball much better. The Vikings had 4 fumbles (2 lost) against the 49ers and were fortunate that they didn’t come back to haunt them. Fumbling that many times on the road and giving the potent Lions offense extra chances will put a lot of pressure on the Vikings defense.

A good day’s work for rookie CB Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson did something we haven’t seen much of from the Vikings defense in the past year – he intercepted a pass. And Robinson’s INT against the 49ers came at an opportune time. Trailing 24-13 with 2:38 to play in the game, the 49ers advanced the ball across midfield to the Vikings 48. On 2nd and 10, 49ers QB Alex Smith dropped back to pass and lofted a pass toward Michael Crabtree. But Robinson was there to pick it off and return it 24 yards to the 49ers 44.

Also, San Francisco returner Kyle Williams broke loose a couple of times against the Vikings – once to open the 3rd quarter on a 94-yard kickoff return to the Vikings 14 and then again in the 4th quarter on a 50-yard kickoff return to the 49ers 43. Robinson, who possesses great speed, teamed with Sanford to chase Williams down on the 94-yard return and then it was Robinson who caught Williams in the 4th quarter before he could do even more damage.

A player is expected to pursue until the whistle, so we won’t give him credit for doing what he should be doing, but we will give him credit for having the speed to run down a very good returner and help save a TD at least once.

Red zone rushing
The Vikings put forth a clean performance offensively, so to point out any “concerns” here is nit-picking a bit. One area where the execution could’ve been a touch cleaner was red zone rushing. Keep in mind, though, that the Vikings were 2 for 2 in red zone scoring, so this concern is really not that significant.

According to my count, the Vikings ran 11 red zone plays – 6 rushes and 5 passes. Christian Ponder was 3 of 5 for 13 yards with 2 TDs through the air. On the ground, though, the Vikings weren’t as efficient. The Vikings 6 rushes were for 5, 1, 0, 9, -1 and 2 yards. Adrian Peterson ran 5 times for 7 yards and Percy Harvin had 1 carry for 9 yards. Given how the Vikings were able to stick with the running game all afternoon against a stout 49ers defense, I’m not concerned in the least with the rushing totals inside the red zone. In fact, the Vikings were balanced in the red zone and scored a pair of TDs when knocking on the door, so the positives far out-weight the negatives on this one.


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Vikings List 8 On Initial Injury Report, All Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 2:56 pm

The Vikings listed 8 players on their initial Week 2 injury report, and all of them participated in practice on Wednesday.

Listed as full participants in practice are RB Adrian Peterson (knee) and CB Josh Robinson (hip). Those who were limited in practice were: CB Chris Cook (biceps), LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle), C John Sullivan (ankle), WR Jarius Wright (ankle) and TE Rhett Ellison (ankle).

The Colts listed 6 players on their report. LB Pat Angerer (foot), LB Dwight Freeney (ankle), and G Joe Reitz (knee) did not participate in practice. OT Winston Justice (head) was limited and WR Austin Collie (head) and WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) were full participants.


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Rookie Report – Week 1 vs. Jacksonville

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 9:15 am

The calendar has flipped from Week 1 to Week 2 in the NFL. But before we get too far into discussing the Vikings Week 2 match-up with the Indianapolis Colts, let’s take a quick look back at how several Vikings rookies performed in the season-opening win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A few of the rookies played key roles in the victory, which is part of the reason we’ll have a rookie report this week. But I’m guessing a rookie report will be warranted most weeks given the important role several Vikings draft picks are going to have on this team, namely LT Matt Kalil, S Harrison Smith and K Blair Walsh.

Here’s the Week 1 Rookie Report…

Matt Kalil
Kalil logged 69 total snaps, with 59 coming on offense as the starting LT and 10 coming on special teams. He was solid in the run game and pass protection, but his most notable – or at least most visible – contribution was a blocked PAT in the 1st quarter. In a game that went to overtime, a blocked extra point is obviously huge.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he held his own in the run game, did a very good job in pass protection as well, just a lot of things that we can build on. There were a few errors that we want to correct. There are some things that he knows he has to get better at but that’s going to be a part of his maturing as an offensive tackle as well. But a lot of good things on tape by him.”

Harrison Smith
Smith led all Vikings in total plays with 91 (79 on defense, 12 on special teams), and he was one of the Vikings two starting safeties (Mistral Raymond). Perhaps his best play came in overtime, when he broke up a pass from Blaine Gabbert intended for WR Laurent Robinson on a 3rd and 2 from the Jacksonville 31. The game was over on the next play, also an incompletion. On special teams, Smith PBU in overtime or 4th.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he did a good job. He had maybe one missed tackle but his angles, he had a nice deflection there late in the game, moved around well, was in the right position, made some good plays. When I look at the tape, he brought a smile to my face a few different times because he was where he needed to be and that’s important when you’re a guy who plays in the secondary.”

Josh Robinson
Robinson logged 53 snaps, with 38 coming on defense primarily as the 3rd CB and 15 coming on special teams. He had a solo tackle on special teams and registered 4 more tackles on defense. Starter Chris Cook left the game for a brief period, bumping Robinson up to one of the top 2 CB spots. A.J. Jefferson, whom the Vikings acquired via trade a couple weeks ago, did not play. It will be interesting to see Jefferson’s progress with the team and also the impact his playing time has on Robinson’s. Robinson has shown plenty of signs that he can be an NFL CB, so I expect the Vikings to continue to put him on the field in order to develop his skills.

Rhett Ellison
Ellison played primarily on special teams, with 22 of his 25 total snaps coming with that group. He logged 1 solo tackle.

Blair Walsh
Walsh logged 12 plays and was spectacular from start to finish. He was 4 of 4 on FG tries, including a game-tying 55-yard FG as time expired and the game-winner in overtime from 38 yards. Walsh was good on kickoffs as well, tallying 3 touchbacks and helping hold the Jaguars average starting field position at the 19.5-yardline. Walsh was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance and he’s been named a finalist for Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week honors as well.

Frazier’s take: “Blair, there is no need to say it but it was outstanding to come away and kick the way he did at the end of regulation and then to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime. As a rookie, it doesn’t get much more pressure than that and to come through for us, it really improved the confidence of our players along with his confidence as time goes on.”

Robert Blanton
Blanton logged 7 total snaps, all of which came on special teams. I expect him to continue in that role for the short-term, but his long-term role will likely be much more significant. He’s still catching up from missing a big chunk of training camp and the preseason with an injury.


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3rd CB, RB Jobs Still To Be Decided

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 27, 2012 – 2:39 pm

Many starters are expected to sit out of the Vikings preseason finale against the Houston Texans later this week. But there is still a lot on the line Thursday night as Vikings coaches and scouts look to finalize the team’s 53-man roster.

Two spots yet to be decided are the 3rd CB spot and the 3rd RB position. Competition at both positions has been spirited in training camp, but as Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday, no one has taken the bull by the horns and taken a job.

At CB, veteran Chris Carr and rookie Josh Robinson are among those battling for position on the depth chart. Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams was asked about both players following Monday morning’s walk-thru.

“Josh is unbelievably fast, he runs as well as anyone in the NFL,” Williams said. “Josh has shown that he tackles well. Chris is an effective tackler. He gets guys on the ground. Really, Chris just has experience on him at this point.”

Others in the mix for spots at CB behind starters Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are: Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton, Bobby Felder, Reggie Jones and Marcus Sherels.

“This is another week that is important to the evaluation process to see how guys do,” Williams said. “We haven’t made any hard and firm rules in terms of who will make the team, who will start, who will be where. We’re still waiting to see after this ball game how guys play, and we’ll firm it up at that time.”

There aren’t as many players competing for the 3rd RB spot, but the race is just as close. FB Matt Asiata impressed on Friday night with 9 carries for 48 yards, including a long run of 18 as well as 2 catches for 6 yards and 1 TD. But he also lost a fumble, something a pair of other reserve RBs were guilty of as well. Undrafted rookie Derrick Coleman and veteran Lex Hilliard also lost fumbles.

“They all work tremendously hard and we’re going to give all three of them another opportunity on Thursday night,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Monday. “They did some good things. We put the ball on the ground the other night, which we don’t want to see. But other than that, their effort has been good and they’ve been working really hard.”

Asiata and Hilliard (Coleman was cut), along with Ryan D’Imperio, Jerome Felton and Jordan Todman are competing for position on the RB/FB depth chart. While the entire body of work from the beginning of the offseason program in April through last Friday’s preseason game will be considered, there’s no question that Thursday’s preseason finale will have a significant impact on decisions made up and down the roster, including at both RB and FB.


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Blanton Figures To See Extended Time In Thursday’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 25, 2012 – 1:03 pm

Through the offseason program, training camp and now three preseason games, it appears the Vikings have a promising class of draft picks from 2012. But one selection the team hasn’t seen much of to this point – at least in the preseason – is 5th-round pick Robert Blanton.

The Vikings selected Blanton with 139th overall pick last April and have converted him from a college CB to an NFL safety. Blanton’s transition to the NFL hit a speed bump in training camp, though, when he injured his hamstring. The Notre Dame product has missed the Vikings three preseason games because of that injury, but now the team is hoping to get an extended look at Blanton this week in practice and during Thursday’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans.

“We probably could have played him in this ball game, but we didn’t want to risk it because we want to play him in that next ball game,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday night. “We’ll get through these couple days, he’ll practice, and play quite a bit in that Houston game, which helps some of the injuries that we have at safety.”

Frazier disclosed those injuries following Friday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers, explaining that S Mistral Raymond’s back tightened up on him in pregame warm-ups, CB Marcus Sherels and S Andrew Sendejo suffered sprained ankles, S Eric Frampton injured his groin and CB Josh Robinson was evaluated for a concussion. While the Vikings will remain optimistic that none of those injuries will sideline players for an extended time, the team will also lean heavily on Blanton while the other DBs are on the mend.

Blanton stands at 6-1, 208 pounds and improved his draft stock during a solid senior season at Notre Dame, playing alongside Vikings teammate Harrison Smith in the Fighting Irish secondary. Regardless of where he opens the season on the defensive depth chart, Blanton figures to be a solid special teams contributor as well.


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5 Positives To Watch For Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 2:14 pm

The Vikings will open up the home part of their preseason schedule tonight by hosting the AFC East’s Buffalo Bills, with kickoff at Mall of America Field slated for 7:00 p.m. CT. If you aren’t able to watch the game on TV, be sure to go to the vikings.com home page to find alternative ways of catching the action. You can subscribe to Preseason Live and watch all preseason action for a small fee, and/or you can join us in the live game chat that will be held right here on vikings.com during the game.

As for tonight’s game, kickoff is fast-approaching. While you’re waiting for the game to begin, though, here are 5 positives to watch for tonight as the Vikings and Bills battle at Mall of America Field…

Finish Drives With Touchdowns
The Vikings 1st-team offense did a nice job of moving the ball against the vaunted San Francisco 49ers defense last week, but a pair of drives stalled and had to be salvaged by K Blair Walsh with FGs. It was great to see Walsh come on and finish the job, but it’d be even greater to see Christian Ponder and Co. finish drives tonight on their own with TDs. When the Vikings get into scoring range, keep your eye on TE Kyle Rudolph. He’s one of the Vikings best offensive weapons, and he becomes especially lethal in crucial situations such as 3rd downs, in the red zone and near the goal line.

Remain Gap Sound On Defense
The Vikings have long been one of the NFL’s premier run defenses, but they didn’t look the part last week against the 49ers. That has to change this week against Buffalo. Lots of talk this offseason was about the Vikings improving against the pass, but any improvements the secondary has made the past several months will be negated if the defense can’t first stop the run. Watch for the Vikings 1st-team defense to perform much better tonight than they did a week ago at Candlestick Park.

Big Return On Special Teams
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has seen his groups have a solid offseason program and training camp for the most part. Now it’s time to take the step from being solid to being spectacular. Expect Walsh to be as good or better than he was last week and expect P Chris Kluwe to take a major step forward this week as the Vikings play in the controlled environment of Mall of America Field. Beyond that, though, I’m looking for a big return, either on kickoff or punt (both would be nice, though). It’s appeared during training camp practices that the kickoff return and punt return blocking units have done a nice job, so now it’s time for one of the Vikings returners to stick their foot in the ground and rip off a big return.

Debut Of CB Josh Robinson
There has been lots of talk about Josh Robinson’s speed (he was the fastest player at the Combine this year), but now it’s time for the talk to give way to the action. Robinson was held out of last week’s preseason game, but he should be on the field tonight and see an expansive role. I expect he’ll see quite a few snaps on defense and I also expect he’ll be involved in the return game. Robinson has big-time upside and it’d be great to get a look at it tonight.

Harrison Smith A Starter?
I won’t be surprised if rookie Harrison Smith lines up as a starter tonight at safety. He’s had a good training camp and played very well last week against San Francisco. He did not start last week, though, and since last week he’s seen even more time with the 1st-team defense. This leads me to believe that he’ll be a starter in tonight’s game – just a guess. If he does start, I expect Smith to be a standout. He strikes me as a player who gets better as the game goes along because he’s a cerebral player who picks up on patterns and tells in the offense’s attack. Smith is not the kind of ballhawk who will grab a bunch of INTs, but he is the kind of player who is not afraid to mix it up in the run game or punish a receiver coming across the middle.


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CB Robinson To Get Extended Look On Friday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2012 – 1:40 pm

Josh Robinson looked good playing at the University of Central Florida, where he was a two-time All Conference USA first teamer with 10 INTs and 36 passes broken up in three seasons. Robinson looked good at the 2012 Scouting Combine, where he was the fastest player time in the 40-yard dash. And Robinson looked good during the Vikings rookie minicamp, Organized Team Activities and mandatory minicamp this spring at Winter Park.

But Robinson didn’t get any looks last Friday in the Vikings preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers. As a precaution, the team held him out of action because of a hamstring injury that hampered him earlier in camp.

This Friday should be a different story, however. Robinson is slated to see plenty of action against the Buffalo Bills.

“I don’t know if he’ll get first team reps, but we’ll try to get him a number of snaps so we can evaluate him and so he’ll be able to evaluate himself and find out what the pro game is all about,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “And he wants to win a starting spot, so we want to see him go out there and work and get some snaps against some good receivers and be able to gauge where he is at the end of this ball game. We’re looking forward to watching him play.”

Fans should be looking forward to watching him play, too. Robinson is speedy and quick. He can play defense and special teams. Whether he intercepts a pass or fields a kickoff or punt, Robinson has the explosiveness to be a playmaker for the Vikings.

“He can close and go from point A to point B as fast as anybody we have, or that I’ve seen,” Frazier said. “His closing speed is outstanding.

Of course, we all know he had the fastest time at the Combine, but it shows up on the football field. A lot of guys can run fast straight ahead but it doesn’t show up when you put pads on. But in his case, it shows up.”

From the looks of it so far, Robinson has all the physical traits to be a contributor for the Vikings. The question now, and the question that the Vikings will begin to answer on Friday night when Robinson makes his NFL debut, is about the non-physical part of the game.

“He has great closing speed,” Frazier explained, “but now it’s a matter of ‘can he handle some of the things that come at him, formations, routes, terminology?’ There are so many things that have to come in to play to be a big time corner in our league.

“It’ll be a big test for him. He’s anxious to get out there and perform and show everyone that he’s capable of playing at this level.”


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