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Ayodele: Everybody “Stoked” To Have Williams Back In Lineup

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 21, 2011 – 12:49 pm

This is Leslie Frazier’s first year as the full-time head coach of the Vikings, and there’s always some degree of transition involved with a change in team leadership. One part of the transition for the Vikings defense this year is a (literally) big change in the middle of the defensive line.

Gone is DT Pat Williams. In his place, the Vikings will rely on youngsters Christian Ballard, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans, and they also went to the free agent market to sign Remi Ayodele. Through the first two games of the regular season, the performance from the interior defensive line has been okay; not great, but not poor.

With Kevin Williams now back in the fold, though, there’s reason to believe a big up-tick in production is on the way.

“I’m really excited to have him back,” Ayodele said of Williams. “To have a veteran right next to you that has dominated the game for so long always help everybody on the defensive line. Everybody is stoked to have him back.”


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Vikings Activate Williams, Waive Awasom

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 12:22 pm

The Vikings have made the return of DT Kevin Williams from a two-game suspension official.

He’s been added to the team’s 53-man roster.

To make room for Williams, the Vikings waived DE Adrian Awasom.


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Williams’ Return Makes D-Line Deeper, More Versatile

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 7:45 am

The return of Kevin Williams to the lineup from a two-game suspension is a big deal for the Vikings defense. He’s a 6-time Pro Bowler and the defense now has a playmaker in the middle of the defensive line for whom opposing offenses will have to account on a play-by-play basis.

But Williams’ return goes beyond just having another playmaker on the field. With Williams back in the fold, the Vikings defensive line instantly becomes deeper, and the Vikings defensive coaches have more flexibility in their scheme, playcalling and rotation options.

For example, Remi Ayodele and Letroy Guion have been the starters at DT in Williams’ absence. With Williams back in the lineup, the Vikings can keep both Ayodele and Guion fresh by rotating their snaps. Then you have rookie Christian Ballard, who has the position flexibility to play both DE and DT. Early on he’s been playing primarily DT, but with Williams back and Ayodele and Guion potentially rotating at DT, perhaps Ballard gets more time at DE?

Those are just two examples of how Williams’ return positively impacts the Vikings ability and depth along the defensive line. Now, the key is for the Vikings to execute whatever strategy they employ.


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Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams Returns To Team, Ready To Play

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 20, 2011 – 6:47 am

The bad news is the Vikings are off to a 0-2 start on the young season and they haven’t had perennial Pro Bowler Kevin Williams at DT to try and stop the bleeding. The good news, though, is Williams’ suspension is over and he’s returned to the team.

Williams was back at Winter Park for the first time in two weeks and he’ll begin preparations along with his teammates for this weekend’s NFC North showdown with the red-hot Detroit Lions. Williams met with reporters at his locker on Monday and, as mild-mannered as Williams is, you could tell he was anxious to be back around the team.

“I was here on my couch, yelling at the screen,” Williams said when asked where he’s spent the past two weeks.

The suspension meant Williams was unable to play the first two weeks, but he was also prohibited from being at Winter Park and interacting with players and coaches. Williams said he set up independent treatment for his injured foot and also worked out on his own at Lifetime Fitness.

“I’m in pretty good shape,” Williams said. “I’m ready to play a game. I know it’s going to be a different feeling when those pads get on, but I think as far as conditioning-wise I feel good. The wind will probably get cut short a little bit with the pads strapped around you, but it’ll take a few plays to get a second wind and it’ll be fine.”

Williams is a true professional, so there should be no concern about him coming back in good shape. The one issue to watch is his injured foot. Williams says he’s about as close to 100% as he can be at this time of year and he also indicated confidence that he’ll be able to play through any pain that comes as a result of the injury.

“I’m definitely going to play,” Williams said. “Sitting at home two weeks was bad enough; the foot ain’t gonna stop me.”


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Emptying Out The Notebook From San Diego

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 14, 2011 – 6:03 am

Wednesday is the day we flip the calendar from last week to this week. But before we do that this morning, I wanted to empty out the notebook from Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Chargers…

Positives to build on
It’s hard to look at the positives when you lose a game that you lead by 10 points at halftime, and in the process you generated just 10 first downs and 187 net yards. But there were some positives from the game and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier mentioned a few of them in his Monday press conference.

“I had a chance to go back and look at that tape and there were so many positive things that happened in that game,” Frazier said, “and particularly in the first half, just opening up the season the way we did with the kickoff going for a touchdown and guys just battling throughout and trying to make plays on both sides of the ball and our special teams as well.”

Frazier went on to mention other positives, such as: running the football (Vikings averaged 6.1 yards per carry); stopping the run (Chargers averaged just 2.9 yards per carry). Beyond that, it was good to see the Vikings win the turnover battle, hold QB Philip Rivers below his career averages in yards per attempt and passer rating and continue to cover kicks extremely well.

Defensive playmakers
Give a tip of the cap to Antoine Winfield, who intercepted Rivers late in the 1st half to stymie a scoring drive. It was the 24th INT of his career and his 18th as a Viking. Winfield will play in his 100th game as a Viking this Sunday in the team’s home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Other defensive playmakers from Sunday were LB Erin Henderson and DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison. In his first career start, Henderson had 6 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss and a sack. Allen and Robison split a sack and Allen also added an INT deep in Vikings territory to halt another potential Chargers scoring drive. On Winfield’s INT, Robison hit Rivers as he threw it, which caused the ball to hang up in the air so Winfield could snag it.

Frazier encouraged by CB Cedric Griffin
The Vikings defense is better when Cedric Griffin is playing, and he was playing in a regular season game on Sunday for the first time in nearly a year. Frazier seemed encouraged by Griffin’s ability to play the whole game on Sunday.

“I was really impressed with the fact that Cedric Griffin played as well as he did and as long as he did,” Frazier said. “He played every snap on defense, he did a great job.”

Young defensive line rotation
With Kevin Williams missing in action for the first two weeks of the season, a few young defensive linemen saw extra snaps on Sunday. There wasn’t much of a pass rush from the inside, which we typically see when Williams is in the game, but you have to give the youngsters some credit for the way they played against the run. In the end, there is improvement to be made, but it was also a step forward for the young rotation. Also, this experience will only make the entire defensive line better once Williams does return.

Re-naming the “Wildcat”
The Vikings introduced their package of plays for QB Joe Webb. Some have questioned the timing, which is a good example of Monday Morning Quarterbacking if you ask me, but the bottom line is it was good to see the Vikings display some creativity and ambition in getting Webb on the field.

But I think we need to come up with a name for this package of plays. It sounds like Frazier and the offensive staff don’t view this subset of plays in the team’s playbook as the typical Wildcat package, largely because Webb is a dual-threat – he can run or stay in the pocket and throw.

“Well ours is a little different,” Frazier responded when asked about the “Wildcat.” “The way we’re using Joe Webb, it’s different. Most teams that put a guy back there can’t throw the ball as well as Joe. We have a legitimate quarterback running the offense when we do it.”

Unfortunately, the Chargers were able to contain Webb when he was in the ballgame. But watch for the Vikings to grow that package of plays and improve production.

“There is room to expound on what we did [Sunday],” Frazier said. “We are not ready to give up on it. They did a good job [Sunday] of defending it, but we think it has merit.”

I do, too.


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A Few Notes On Vikings Defensive Line Heading Into Opener

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2011 – 3:25 pm

The Vikings will open the 2011 regular season against one of the best pass offenses in the NFL and they’ll have to do so without one of their best defensive linemen. Six-time Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams, an anchor for the Vikings defense, will miss the first two games of the season because of suspension.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters after Friday’s practice, the last full practice before the team heads to San Diego, and he confirmed that Letroy Guion will be the starter at that spot on Sunday. We’ve written about Guion previously here on the vikings.com Blog, and Vikings fans should be anxious to see what #98 can do to help this defense.

But Guion won’t be alone in trying to fill the void created by Williams’ absence. A couple of other defensive linemen were brought into the conversation with Frazier on Friday…

– Rookie Christian Ballard, whom the Vikings selected in the 4th round in last April’s draft, has some position flexibility to him because started a lot of games at both DE and DT in college. He projects to be a versatile defensive lineman in the NFL, too, but right now Frazier said he’s asked Ballard and his coaches to have the rookie concentrate solely on playing what they term the “3 technique.” The 3 technique is a technical football term for the position that Williams plays.

– Another young defensive lineman, Everson Griffen, will be in the mix this season. Griffen is a DE but he has a touch of versatility to him as well. In fact, the Vikings experimented last week with playing Griffen at outside LB. But Frazier and the Vikings defensive coaching staff have the same strategy planned for Griffen that they do for Ballard – for now, concentrate on playing the primary position. For Griffen, that’ll be DE, where he’ll join the rotation with starters Jared Allen and Brian Robison and then reserves Adrian Awasom and D’Aundre Reed.

A couple of other quick notes from the conversation with Frazier…

– CB Asher Allen has been limited in practice all week and Frazier indicated there’s a good chance Allen will be listed as questionable on this week’s final injury report.

– Frazier was also asked about LT Charlie Johnson, who joined the club in training camp and has had to assimilate to the team quickly. As should’ve been expected, Johnson took his lumps early. He was learning a new offense, moved to a new city and was going against Jared Allen every day in practice. But now Johnson seems to be getting his feet under him and Frazier said on Friday that the team is growing more and more comfortable with Johnson at LT. Frazier also praised Johnson for his work ethic, study habits, preparation and overall professionalism. I know many fans are nervous about this part of the offensive line, and I understand the reasoning. But from what I’ve been able to glean after training camp, the preseason and this week of preparation for San Diego, I think the Vikings will be just fine at LT.


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NFL Statement Regarding Kevin Williams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 2, 2011 – 1:00 pm

Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings has been suspended without pay for the team’s first two games of the 2011 regular season and fined an additional two games checks for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. 

Williams’ suspension begins on Saturday, September 3. He will be eligible to return to the Vikings active roster on Monday, September 19 following the team’s September 18 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


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Frazier Sounds Optimistic On Shiancoe, Kevin Williams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 29, 2011 – 3:05 pm

It’s the preseason so sometimes it’s not too alarming when regular starters aren’t in the lineup. The reality, though, is that once the regular season begins the availability of those regular starters is heavily scrutinized.

That’s where TE Visanthe Shiancoe and DT Kevin Williams enter the conversation. Both guys sat out of Saturday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys and Shiancoe has actually not played at all this preseason. Shiancoe is dealing with a pesky hamstring injury and Williams has a foot ailment. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier sounded optimistic that both guys will be ready for the regular season.

“Pretty optimistic that he’ll be ready,” Frazier said of Williams. “He moved around fairly well (Monday); much better than I anticipated. He was able to go through some of the drills and [I] wasn’t sure if he’d be able to do that. Hopefully tomorrow he can do a little more, but we’ve got some time before that first game, so I’m optimistic that he’ll be ready.”

As for Shiancoe, Frazier said he won’t play on Thursday against Houston in the preseason finale but they feel “pretty good that he’ll be ready for our opener.” Frazier also said that if it were the regular season right now, Shiancoe would probably be able to play.


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Frazier Sees Progress, But Also Knows Work Remains; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 22, 2011 – 2:23 pm

After a day off on Sunday following their preseason victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night, the Vikings returned to the practice fields at Winter Park on Monday for an abbreviated workout. The Vikings conducted what they call a 10-10-10 practice, which lasted for approximately an hour.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier met with reporters after practice and said that after watching the tape from Saturday night’s win over Seattle he saw his team was making progress. But he also acknowledged there is still work to be done before the team is prepared to open the regular season on September 11 in San Diego.

“There were some good things that we really felt good about,” Frazier said. “There was some improvement in some key areas, really across the board. But there’s also a lot of work to be done, we realize that. That’s one of the reasons we’re in the preseason, to try to improve and identify what we are going to be as a football team.”

Monday’s practice saw the return of a few key offensive players, with TE Visanthe Shiancoe and WRs Greg Camarillo and Percy Harvin back in the action. Frazier seemed please with his team’s effort in practice on Monday and said the team is poised for another solid week of practice leading up to Saturday night’s contest with the Dallas Cowboys at Mall of America Field.

“Really appreciative of the effort that our guys displayed and the desire to want to be good,” Frazier said. “Today’s practice we wanted to make sure they were focused, they were in tune with what we were trying to get done, and that was the case so it was a good way start to the week.”

Here are a few notes from Monday’s practice and Frazier’s press conference…

– The Vikings practiced in helmets, shells and shorts on Monday in warm temperatures and under a sunny sky. They worked on both kickoff and punt return and also had a period of no-huddle offense/defense against the 40-second play clock.

– Devin Aromashodu and Harvin logged highlight-caliber catches during practice. Harvin ran a corner route and hauled in a long pass before falling to the ground and out of bounds with Antoine Winfield covering him like a blanket. Aromashodu’s catch came on a quick out route in which spun out of his break, briefly lost his footing, regained his footing and turned to look for the football just as it arrived. Aromashodu is climbing up the depth chart in a crowded WR stable and is doing so in large part because of his ability to contribute on special teams.

– LB Erin Henderson, who is still the favorite to win a starting outside LB position, intercepted a pass from Donovan McNabb. But McNabb turned around and hit WR Bernard Berrian on the next play and then found WR Michael Jenkins deep down the field just a few plays later.

– Among those who did not practice today were RB Toby Gerhart (ankle), LB Ross Homan (concussion) and LB Mark Washington (stinger). LB Heath Farwell, who missed much of last week’s practice, was back on the field. Frazier Homan will not play in this weekend’s game against the Cowboys.

– Frazier said he was unsure if starting RG Anthony Herrera would make his preseason debut this weekend and he also said that Ryan Cook would be the likely replacement if Herrera was unable to go.

– In what will hopefully be a minor issue but could turn into a major one, DT Kevin Williams was held out of practice today because of a foot injury that’s been bothering him since training camp. Frazier said Williams was having trouble pushing off on the foot during last Saturday’s game. Williams will see a foot specialist today and Frazier said the team could hear the results from those tests as early as tomorrow. Also, Frazier said he hasn’t heard a word from the NFL regarding Williams’ possible four-game suspension.


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Assessing The Defensive Line And Tight End Positions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 9, 2011 – 4:18 pm

Over the next five days on the vikings.com Blog, we’ll breakdown the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – this Saturday night in Tennessee – approaches. Click here to read Monday’s breakdown of the offensive line. Up next is the defensive line and tight ends.

From the moment the Vikings acquired DE Jared Allen before the 2008 season, the defensive line has been a strength and it’s a position that fans didn’t really worry about watching during training camp. The starters were set in stone and any talented players beyond the starters were just gravy.

Heading into the 2011 season, the Vikings still have Allen and fellow Pro Bowler DT Kevin Williams, but gone are former starters DE Ray Edwards and DT Pat Williams. Beyond inserting Brian Robison as Edwards’ replacement and signing DT Remi Ayodele to help Williams in the middle, the Vikings are reassessing their depth behind the starters and also bringing along a couple draft picks.

Jared Allen and Jim Kleinsasser battle during practice

We’ll begin with the two new starters – Robison and Ayodele. They’ll team with Allen and Williams to form the four down linemen in coordinator Fred Pagac’s 4-3 scheme. Ayodele is a run-stuffing DT that will fill the role vacated by Pat Williams. Robison will fill the role vacated by Edwards; he’s earned the opportunity after four productive seasons as a reserve.

Beyond those four players, the Vikings have a bushel of linemen fight for spots in the rotation. And the Vikings defensive line this year will truly be a rotation. Right now the depth chart is not well-defined with first-, second- and third-team units. Rather, several players are rotating in and out of different groups, which creates several different combinations and will allow the defensive line to have fresh legs late in games. When assessing the depth behind the starters, we also have to keep in mind that Williams could be suspended for the first four games of the regular season, which means a starting spot will be available.

Here are a few observations from the last two days and throughout last week on the Vikings defensive line rotation…
— Allen is having a tremendous training camp, but so is fellow DE Everson Griffen. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft and played just occasionally last year. This year, though, I think he’ll be a guy who plays at least 10-15 defensive snaps per game. After Allen, Robison and then Griffen, the next DE in line to play is Adrian Awasom, who has shown some flashes during camp.
— Fred Evans and Letroy Guion seem to be in line after Williams and Ayodele at DT. I’ve also seen Christian Ballard – a fourth-round pick this past April – and Tremaine Johnson take reps with the second-team, but it’s been mostly Evans and Guion. Evans is a guy VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman picked up from Miami early in his tenure with the Vikings. Guion was a fifth-round pick of Spielman’s in 2008 and has developed steadily during his career. He may finally be blossoming into a regular member of the DL rotation. Both guys have taken reps with the first-team on occasion but spend most of their time with the second-team.
— DE D’Aundre Reed is a player to watch this preseason. He’s passed the vikings.com Blog Eye Test a few times during training camp and he’s even been mentioned by head coach Leslie Frazier during a press conference. He stands at 6-4, 260 pounds and is a talented pass rusher. He could improve against the run but I think he’s shown explosion in pressuring the QB from the edge. He’s spent a lot of time with the second-team but is also bouncing down to the third-team at times.
— Former Gopher Cedric McKinley and new pickup Colby Whitlock are primarily third-team DTs and David Akinniyi plays DE on the third-team.

To go any further than that at this point is probably jumping the gun. There are 14 defensive linemen in camp right now and I’m guessing the final number on the 53-man roster will be somewhere between nine and 11. Once we get a couple preseason games under our belts, we can make a better guess as to which players will round out the DL rotation.

Let’s jump quickly to the TEs, where Visanthe Shiancoe enters atop the depth chart and second-round rookie Kyle Rudolph follows. I anticipate the Vikings will use multiple TE sets regularly this season, which means we’ll see Rudolph and Shiancoe on the field at the same time. Shiancoe has had a solid camp and Rudolph has impressed me quite a bit with the camp he’s put together.

Rudolph and Shiancoe aren’t going to blow anyone away with their blocking, though. But that’s part of the reason why the Vikings still have Jim Kleinsasser. He’ll be on the roster and will be a valuable part of this offense, as an option at TE and also as a pseudo member of the offensive line.

If the Vikings keep more than three TEs, which is certainly possible, Jeff Dugan offers consistency and familiarity with the franchise. Then youngsters Ed Barham and Allen Reisner enter the picture and could be fighting for spots on the practice squad. Reisner is out of the University of Iowa and has shown flashes of solid pass-catching ability while Barham has done the same and is a hard guy to tackle after the catch.

As is the case with all positions at this point in training camp, we need preseason games before we further judge.


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