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Carlson To Become A Bigger Factor This Week?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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9 Vikings-49ers Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 19, 2012 – 5:52 am

For team’s that suffered through a defeat on Sunday, the following Wednesday can’t come soon enough. Wednesday is the day NFL teams officially flip their calendars from one week to the next and begin on-field preparations for the upcoming opponent.

The Vikings upcoming opponent is the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers, the defending champions of the NFC West who were just moments away from a berth in last year’s Super Bowl before losing to the NY Giants at home in the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco is a team with impressive wins at Green Bay in Week 1 and then at home against the Detroit Lions in Week 2.

Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week as the Vikings prepare to battle the 49ers at Mall of America Field on Sunday…

1. 49ers Defense Poses Nasty Challenge
In their two early-season wins, this 49ers defense held Green Bay – last year’s highest-scoring offense at 35.0 points per game – to just 7 points through three quarters of play, and they held Lions QB Matthew Stafford – a 5,000-yard passer a season ago – to just 230 passing yards and one touchdown. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith team to form a stout presence against the run and effective pass rushing from the edge of the 3-4 alignment, inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis roam the middle of the defense, and both CB Carlos Rogers and S Dashon Goldson hold down a secondary with sound coverage ability and a physical presence against the run.

The Vikings have weapons to go at this defense. Percy Harvin – more on him in a bit – is good enough to produce against any defense, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart won’t be afraid to challenge the run defense, and it will be fun to watch TE Kyle Rudolph battle these talented and fierce LBs. This is a very good 49ers defense, no doubt, but the Vikings won’t back down just because many think they’re outmatched.

2. How Will The 49ers Defend Percy Harvin?
This just in: Percy Harvin is really good. He has been the heart and soul of the Vikings offense, and he will surely be a focal point for the 49ers this week in their preparations. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be neutralized. Coming off his performance in Week 1 – 192 combined yards on 14 total touches – Harvin was certainly priority #1 for the Colts last week. It didn’t matter. Harvin had a career-high 12 receptions last Sunday, and he’s now hauled in 18 of the 21 passes Christian Ponder has sent his way. There’s no question the 49ers will focus on Harvin this week and on Sunday. The question is, how will they try to take him out of the game? And more importantly for the Vikings, how will Harvin be utilized against this talented defense?

3. How Will The Vikings Defend Vernon Davis?
The Vikings have surrendered TDs to TEs in each of the first two games, with Mercedes Lewis finding paydirt in Week 1 and Dwayne Allen striking early last week. If the Vikings don’t fix that issue by Sunday, Vernon Davis could wreck the game. In two games this season, Davis has 8 receptions for 116 yards and 3 TDs. He has the body and strength of a TE, but he runs and catches like a WR. It’s entirely possible that Davis is the top priority – in conjunction with stopping the run (always a top priority in the NFL) – for the Vikings defense heading into this game.

4. Willis Is San Francisco’s Man in the Middle
The 49ers defense features plenty of talented players, one of which is arguably the best inside LB in the NFL – Patrick Willis. On multiple occasions, I’ve heard Vikings RB Adrian Peterson explain that Willis is one of the fiercest hitters in the League and one of the players Peterson respects the most. The Vikings found Peterson – the cornerstone of their offense – with the 7th pick of the 2007 draft, and the 49ers found Willis – the cornerstone of their defense – with the 11th pick in the same draft. On Sunday they’ll square off once again, the third time the Vikings and 49ers have met since each player’s rookie season (the Vikings are 2-0 in those games).

5. Are There Any Parallels Between Alex Smith And Christian Ponder?
San Francisco QB Alex Smith was much maligned early in his career, as the former No. 1 overall pick labored through his first six NFL seasons. Smith endured a seemingly countless number of coaching and coordinator changes, and it took him five seasons to complete 60% of his passes or register a passer rating over the pedestrian rate of 75.0. But the 49ers patience and belief in Smith has paid off. Smith has blossomed into a calculated-but-cunning passer. Last season while guiding San Francisco to a 13-3 record, Smith completed 61.3% of his passes and boasted a clean 17-5 TD-INT ratio. His rock-solid play has shifted the perception others have of him from a passer who just manages the game to a passer who helps the 49ers win games.

Ponder, also a 1st-round pick, is only 13 games into his career – not even a full season of playing experience yet – so it’s premature to compare his path to the one Smith took. Ponder is completing a League-high 75.8% of his passes and has a passer rating of 110.6, so it’s unlikely it will take him six seasons to reach the 60% completion rate and 75.0+ passer rating milestones mentioned above. And we certainly hope Ponder enjoys the synergy of a coaching staff with little change. The point here is a more general one – have patience and confidence in your young 1st-round passer. Allowing him to develop will pay dividends if you can build a solid team around him. I think the Vikings are on the right track with Ponder.

6. Vikings Must Be Buttoned Up In Kick Coverage
The 49ers put up an incredible statistic in 2011 – they had 37 offensive drives that started at midfield or in plus territory. Thirty-seven. A big reason for that are San Francisco’s tremendous return teams. The 49ers ranked 1st in kickoff return average at 27.2, with Ted Ginn handling the bulk of those (29 returns for 800 yards – a 27.6-yard average), and they ranked 4th in average drive start (23.9-yardline). Also, the 49ers ranked 5th in punt return average (12.4 yards), with Ginn handling most of those as well. Ginn remains the 49ers return man, so the Vikings kick coverage groups have their work cut out for them. Here’s the good news: the Vikings rank 4th in opponents average drive start after a kickoff (19.4-yardline), and they rank 6th in opponents punt return average (6.2). This will be a good battle to watch all game.

7. Vikings Defensive Line To Face Solid 49ers Offensive Line
Speaking of a good battle to watch all day, don’t forget to check out Vikings DE Jared Allen going against San Francisco LT Joe Staley. Both are Pro Bowlers – Allen has 4 and Staley made his 1st appearance last year – and both are nasty. Allen will be angry, as he’s still looking for his first sack of the season. Staley will be determined to keep it that way and let the Detroit Lions worry about giving up Allen’s first sack of 2012. Aside from Allen vs. Staley, though, there is a good matchup in the trenches. Playing next to Staley at LG is Mike Iupati, a 2010 1st-round pick out of Idaho, playing at center is Jonathan Goodwin (151 career games, 78 starts) and anchoring the right side at tackle is another former 1st-rounder, Anthony Davis.

8. Using The Dome-Field Advantage
Historically the Vikings have been tough to beat at home. They are 158-88 (.642) all-time at Mall of America Field, and when the Vikings give their fans something to cheer about, that building gets loud. The noise can make it difficult for opposing teams to operate. It’s common for coaches or players who join the Vikings from other teams to tell the rest of us how hard it is to play at Mall of America Field when the place is rocking. Last year, though, the Vikings didn’t play well at home – they were 1-7 at Mall of America Field – and that decreased their advantage in the building. If the Vikings are to pull an upset this week, they’ll need to play well early to encourage the crowd to be loud and make it tougher on Alex Smith and Co.

9. Randy Moss Returns To Minnesota
49ers receiver Randy Moss spent plenty of time on the Vikings sideline at Mall of America Field, playing for the Purple from 1998-2004 and again in 2010. On Sunday, though, Moss will appear in the stadium as a member of the visiting 49ers. It will be interesting to observe the home crowd’s reaction to Moss, from the time Moss appears on the field for pre-game warm-ups to the time the 49ers leave the field following the game. What will Moss do if he scores? What will he do if he doesn’t? You just never know with Moss.

One thing you do know, though, is that Moss will go down as one of the greats in Vikings history. He was always a fan favorite – and remains the favorite of some fans to this day – and he ranks second in Vikings history behind Cris Carter with 587 receptions, 9,316 receiving yards and 92 touchdowns.


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Colts Survive Vikings 4th Quarter Rally

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 16, 2012 – 6:25 pm

As thrilling as last week’s season-opening overtime win was against the Jacksonville Jaguars, this week’s squeaker on the road against the Indianapolis Colts was similarly heart-breaking. Adam Vinatieri, the most clutch kicker in NFL history, split the uprights on a 53-yard FG try with just 8 seconds to play, ending the Vikings late-game rally and sending them home with their first loss of the season.

The Vikings offense started slowly for a second consecutive week, heading to the locker room at halftime with just 49 yards passing and 6 points. The Colts offense wasn’t slow to start, as rookie QB Andrew Luck went 11 of 17 for 142 yards with 2 TDs and no TDs in the first half to stake his club to a 17-6 lead at intermission.

The teams combined to go just 1 of 7 on 3rd downs in the 3rd quarter, and the only score was as 45-yard FG by Vinatieri to stretch the Colts lead to 20-6.

As they did in last week’s win over the Jaguars, the Vikings offense rallied late in the game. Christian Ponder led the Vikings on a pair of 4th-quarter scoring drives, capping the first with a 7-yard TD toss to WR Stephen Burton and the second with 6-yard strike TE Kyle Rudolph. The Rudolph TD and subsequent Blair Walsh PAT tied the score at 20 with just 31 seconds to play.

Unfortunately, those 31 seconds were enough for Luck to drive through the Vikings defense and set the stage for Vinatieri’s 24th game-winning FG, which he striped down the middle effortlessly.

The loss moves the Vikings to 1-1 on the season as they prepare to welcome the San Francisco 49ers next week at Mall of America Field. We’ll have more summary and reaction to Sunday’s game tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for coverage.


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Walsh Comes Up Clutch, Vikings Edge Jaguars 26-23 In Overtime

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 3:58 pm

The Vikings hadn’t opened a regular season at home since 2007. They sure made up for lost time on Sunday, opening the season at Mall of America Field in front of a spirited crowd with a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars that included the return of Adrian Peterson, a pair of clutch FGs from rookie K Blair Walsh, a new team record established and a try at the new overtime rules.

Where to begin? How about with the score? After trailing 9-0 after the 1st quarter and 23-20 with just 20 seconds to go in the 4th quarter, the Vikings displayed some resiliency and clutch kicking on the way to upending the visiting Jaguars by a count of 26-23 in overtime.

Both the Vikings and Jaguars were inches from closing out victories in regulation. Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker from Georgia drafted by the Vikings, converted a 42-yard FG with 5:33 to play in the game that gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead. On the ensuing Jaguars possession, the Vikings forced a punt and took possession with 1:51 to play. But the home team could not tally a 1st down to run out the clock, instead punting away to Jacksonville. Facing a 4th and 3 from midfield, Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert hit rookie WR Justin Blackmon for the conversion to extend the drive. On the next play, Gabbert lofted a pass downfield and WR Cecil Shorts got underneath it to haul in a 39-yard TD, giving Jacksonville a 23-20 lead following a 2-point conversion pass to Blackmon.

It was, at the time, a devastating blow to the Vikings because it appeared the game was over and the Vikings had lost yet another late lead, something that plagued the team last season. But the Vikings had a little magic left up their sleeve. QB Christian Ponder completed consecutive passes to WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and TE Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, putting the Vikings on the Jacksonville 37 with just :04 to play.

Enter: Walsh. The somewhat controversial move the Vikings made to go with a rookie kicker this year paid off big-time. Walsh split the uprights on a 55-yard game-tying FG as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime and Mall of America Field into jubilation.

The Vikings won the toss, elected to receive, and began their overtime possession on the 25 after Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 30 yards; Harvin gave the Vikings a sensational performance on the day with 14 total touches (receiving, rushing, returning) for 192 yards. Peterson, who returned to action and started the game after coming back from tearing two knee ligaments last Christmas Eve, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns in overtime and helped put the Vikings in position to win. He rushed for 10 yards on the first play of the series, hauled in a 3-yard reception on the second play, and then ripped off a 20-yard gain on the third play to put the Vikings inside Jaguars territory. Ponder found Aromashodu for 19 yards and a few plays later hit Toby Gerhart for 8 more, setting up Walsh to hit a 38-yarder that wound up being the game-winner.

Because of the NFL’s new overtime rules, though, that requires a team to score a TD to win the game on the first possession of overtime, Jacksonville had one last chance to pry a victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings defense jumped up, however, and sealed the win. Gabbert threw incomplete on 1st down, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 8 yards on 2nd down, Harrison Smith deflected a pass on 3rd down and then Gabbert overthrew WR Laurent Robinson on 4th down, giving the Vikings their victory and throwing the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy.

Sunday’s season-opener was a roller-coaster affair for the Vikings, but it finished on a high thanks to some late-game clutch kicking from Walsh, a solid 2nd-half performance from Ponder, an incredible will-to-win resiliency by Peterson and opportunistic playmaking by the Vikings defense. The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since 2009, and they’ll celebrate this victory on Sunday night before returning to Winter Park on Monday to review the victory and begin preparations for next week’s challenge on the road in Indianapolis.

Post-Game Notes
– Adrian Peterson finished the day with 84 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 17 carries. His 2-TD performance in a return from a serious knee injury last season was remarkable enough. Making it even more special, however, is the fact that Peterson broke the Vikings all-time rushing record, previously held by Robert Smith (6,818). Peterson is now at 6,836 career rushing yards.

– It may get lost in the shuffle of post-game reaction because he didn’t get in the end zone, but Percy Harvin was magnificent  for the Vikings. He produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. Harvin had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns.

– Christian Ponder was unspectacular in the 1st half, going into the locker room at intermission with a stat line of 7 of 11 for 78 yards with no TDs or INTs. Not terrible, but not up to standard, either. Ponder finished very well, though, ending the day completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards with no TDs or INTs.

– We’ve got to give some love to the defense. There were breakdowns, particularly in the 1st half and then at the end of regulation when Gabbert hit Shorts for the go-ahead TD with just 20 seconds to play. But there were also times when the Vikings defense stepped up to the challenge. Jacksonville had it 1st and goal from the 5 on their first possession of the game, but the Vikings stood their ground and forced a FG. Down 9-0 late in the 1st half, the Vikings punted away to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance to blow the game open. The Vikings defense responded, forcing a 3-and-out and setting up the Vikings offense for a drive that ended in a TD right before halftime. Kevin Williams recovered a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings for another TD drive on the ensuing possession. Jacksonville began a possession on the Minnesota 16 following a Ponder fumble, but they were forced into a FG try after going 3-and-out. After the Vikings hit a FG on their first possession in overtime, the Vikings defense came on the field and forced a 4-and-out, ending the game.

– Vikings outside LBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson cleaned up, combining for 23 total tackler, 1.0 sack and 2 passes defensed. Greenway led all defenders in the game with 13 tackles.

– Both Henderson and CB Chris Cook registered sacks on the afternoon.

There’s much, much more to cover in terms of post-game reaction, including quotes from Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier. We’ll also review the performance of some other Vikings rookies in the season opener, most notably 1st-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. All of that and more will come later tonight and tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for more.


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10 Vikings-Jaguars Storylines To Follow This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Ponder, 1st-Team Offense Sharp vs. Bills

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 7:54 pm

Once the regular season begins, Vikings coaches will want to see the Vikings 1st-team offense this sharp for four quarters. On Friday night against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field, though, a quarter and a half was enough.

After putting up 6 points in two drives a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers, starting QB Christian Ponder and Co. found the end zone once and settled for a FG another time against the Bills. Ponder was sharp in the outing, completing 10 of 13 passes for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. The TD toss went to FB Jerome Felton on a 1st and goal from the 1-yardline. The scoring play to Felton capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive, the first of the game, and included a 21-yard gain to Percy Harvin and a 33-yard burst to WR Jerome Simpson in which Simpson hurdled a would-be tackler to extend the play.

The highlight-caliber play by Simpson energized the crowd and set up RB Toby Gerhart for a 16-yard rush two plays later that ultimately set up the Ponder-to-Felton score. Gerhart finished the night with 30 yards on 6 carries, bringing his two-game preseason total to an impressive 11 caries for 61 yards.

On the next drive, Ponder rallied the offense for 12 plays to get down to the Buffalo 4-yardline, but the drive stalled there after a pair of incompletions in the end zone (passes intended for TE Kyle Rudolph and Simpson). K Blair Walsh, who had another impressive night, came on to salvage the drive and give the Vikings a 10-0 lead late in the 1st quarter. Through halftime, Walsh was 2 of 3 on FGs, hitting from 45 and 47 yards and missing from 49; he also had a touchback and was 1 of 1 on PAT tries.

In all, it was a very good outing for the Vikings starters and an improvement on what was also a solid outing a week ago against the 49ers. The 1st-team offense has 4 preseason drives and has scored on each of them (1 TD, 3 FGs).


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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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10 Vikings Off To Fast Starts At Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 2, 2012 – 4:28 pm

The Vikings are now a week into training camp and it’s full speed ahead for the team as they begin preparing for the 2012 season. Now that we’re gaining a better understanding of the roster after six days of practice, let’s take a look at 10 players who are off to fast starts at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

TE Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph’s combination of size, strength and speed is unique, and it presents big-time mismatch problems for the defense. QB Christian Ponder is not afraid to look Rudolph’s way, and until someone finds a way to slow the 6-6, 258-pound beast, he’s going to keep catching passes.

LT Matt Kalil
You would naturally excuse a rookie – even a third overall choice – if he were making mistakes during training camp. Add in the fact that the rookie is going against the best defensive end in football, and you’d allow even a few more perhaps. But Kalil hasn’t been guilty of many miscues. Sure, Jared Allen is winning his fair share of the matchups, but all things considered, Kalil has looked the part of a player who could develop into a cornerstone LT.

CB Antoine Winfield
We wrote in this space multiple times about how great Antoine Winfield looked during the offseason program. He’s continued to look great during training camp.

“We were talking about that as a staff last night, he really seems to be into this training camp more than any other. You see him out there taking one-on-ones and all of the reps,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “We will have to monitor that a little bit, he is not 22 years of age anymore, but he is definitely invigorated in a lot of ways, which is good for our young players in our secondary to see the way he works and how he approaches things. It’s great for them.”

CB Bobby Felder
One of those young players in the secondary is Bobby Felder, an undrafted college free agent out of Nicholls State. I’m asked about Felder more than most players for some reason, but maybe Felder will show us all why he deserves to be noticed. He didn’t have the best day of practice on Wednesday, but other than that he’s been solid. Felder is a player to watch in the preseason.

WRs Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson
I like what the Vikings have going at WR. Entering the offseason, WR was a position that needed an upgrade. And it got one. The Vikings look much better at the position, and the addition of Jerome Simpson is a big reason for that. Simpson has tremendous speed and is terrific after the catch. He’s not strictly a vertical route receiver, either. Simpson can run intermediate/deep crossing patterns as well, and he’s hard to stop on comeback routes.

Simpson looking so good likely has Percy Harvin upping his game as well. Harvin is already one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, so watching him rise to the challenge in competing with Simpson for passes from Ponder has been great to watch.

DT Letroy Guion
When the defensive coordinator singles you out as having a good camp, you’re going to make this list.

“Letroy has been one that has been phenomenal in camp,” Alan Williams said. “It may not seem to the naked eye but there are some clips of him just getting off blocks, running to the ball and pursuing. Day two he made a play outside of the numbers running to the football so we are very pleased with him.”

LB Chad Greenway
We listed Chad Greenway as a stand out from Tuesday’s practice, largely because of an athletic pass breakup (PBU) he registered on an end zone fade pass to Kyle Rudolph and also because of a couple plays he made in short-yardage and goal line periods. Greenway is a leader on the Vikings defense and will be a three-down player for the Vikings once again this season.

TE Rhett Ellison
During the Vikings rookie minicamp in May, Rhett Ellison emerged as a stand out thanks in large part to his fluid pass-catching skills. Billed as more of a physical, blocking-type of TE, Ellison displayed a natural ability in the passing game during that camp and has continued to do so in training camp. He’s also a physical player in the trenches. That type of all-around ability could yield a long, productive career for the rookie from USC.

RB Derrick Coleman
Undrafted this year and joining the Vikings for their rookie minicamp, not many paid much attention to Derrick Coleman this spring. But it’s hard not to notice him during training camp. He is running with the third-team, so it’s appropriate to temper the enthusiasm. But you can only beat the people put in front of you, and right now Coleman is winning more than he’s losing when he’s on the field. He’ll be another player to watch during the preseason.

GM Rick Spielman
We’re only a week into training camp, but you’ve got to give GM Rick Spielman and his staff, along with head coach Leslie Frazier, credit for attacking the task of reforming this roster over the offseason. The Vikings were coming off consecutive seasons of 6-10 and 3-13, plus they had tough roster decisions to make on valued veteran players. On top of that, the team had 10 draft choices to execute.

The Vikings have had a good training camp to date and the talent level on this roster is going the right way. There is a clear sense of direction the team is heading in, and there’s no question Spielman and Frazier set out to make this roster younger and more talented. Judging by one week of training camp, they did a good job. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the progress is encouraging.


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Greenway, Rudolph, Walsh Stand Out On Tuesday; Other Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2012 – 5:33 pm

The competitive spirit was as thick in the air as the sweltering humidity on Tuesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the Vikings conducted their second padded practice that included a couple periods of live, tackle-to-the ground work. Those periods featured short-yardage and goal line situations, perfect opportunities to jot down some notes.

Here are a few of them from Tuesday’s practice…

One-On-One
A large crowd of scouts, special guests and members of the ownership group gathered around one end of Field #2 to watch the RBs, FBs and TEs go one-on-one against the LBs. The drill is competitive as it is, but the unusually large crowd that gathered near the drill only intensified the atmosphere.

The first part of the drill required the offensive players to pass protect against the defensive players. LB Jasper Brinkley got home on his first three rushes and RB Jordan Todman jumped up and displayed some striking pass protection. Rookie LB Audie Cole got in the mix with a great swim move to get past his blocker in a flash and LB Everson Griffen showed his explosion by winning two of his three matchups.

The offense saw much more success in the pass receiving/coverage portion of the drill. The star of the show was TE Kyle Rudolph, who had no trouble wiggling open and hauling in receptions. He made an inside move on LB Chad Greenway and then broke to the outside, creating plenty of separation for Christian Ponder to loft a pass toward the TE. John Carlson got in on the action, too, utilizing an out-breaking route to separate from Griffen and haul in a pass. Todman also flashed once again, shaking free from Cole to win his matchup.

Goal Line Battles
There was outstanding back-and-forth between the offense and defense in the team’s goal line drill. The drill was setup for the offense to have it 1st-and-goal from the 2-yardline. In all three matchups (first team, second team, third team), the defense stymied the offense on 1st and 2nd down, but yielded a TD on 3rd down.

Greenway made one of the better defensive plays of the day when he registered a pass breakup (PBU) on a fade route from Ponder to Rudolph. On the next play CB Chris Cook, DT Letroy Guion and Greenway combined to stuff RB Lex Hilliard short of the goal line. On 3rd down, though, Hilliard burrowed his way into the end zone.

The second team offense threw an incomplete pass on their 1st down try and then saw Todman get stuffed. On 3rd down, RB Derrick Coleman surged past the defense and into the end zone for the score.

Coleman took a handoff on 1st down for the third team, too, and was stopped by a trio consisting of Cole, Griffen and DE Ernest Owusu. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and then he hit FB Ryan D’Imperio for a TD on 3rd down.

Booming Blair Walsh
It’s standard for the Vikings begin practice with a special teams period or two, and today practice began very well for the Vikings. And it was largely because of K Blair Walsh, whose leg strength was on full display. Of the kicks I saw, Walsh booted touchbacks on six of six tries, with two of those kickoffs flying over the goal post and through the uprights.

Walsh also ended practice on a solid note, hitting a 43-yard FG to close the final period.

Fans have expressed concern to me about the potential for Walsh to struggle on FG accuracy during his rookie season. Nothing that I’ve seen suggest Walsh will have that struggle, but even if he does I expect the increase in field position the defense will see this year because of Walsh’s touchbacks will counterbalance the loss in points from missed FGs. The Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ drive start last season (24.4-yardline), and that statistic will only improve for the Vikings this season with Walsh in the fold. Missed FGs show up in the stat sheet and are directly reflected on the scoreboard, while average drive start for your opponent is a much more subtle influence. But both are equally important to the outcome of a game, and Walsh has shown that he has the ability to improve the Vikings in both areas.


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Monday’s Top Plays

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 7:57 pm

The energy level picked up a notch at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday, as the Vikings donned pads for the first time and guys were flying around making plays. With 90 players and roughly 120 minutes of practice time, it’s hard to catch all of the best action. But here’s a quick review of the top plays I saw on Monday…

– We’ll begin at the end of practice, where the Vikings offense and defense went toe-to-toe in a goal line drill. The situation was 1st and goal from the 1-yardline with 8 seconds remaining on the clock and the offense needing a touchdown to win the game. The best action came when the third teams were on the field. QB Sage Rosenfels took the snap and lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone for rookie Jarius Wright, who made an acrobatic catch over CB Corey Gatewood and tried to tap both feet in bounds before being shoved out of bounds. The official signaled touchdown, which prompted a celebration from the offense and heavy protest from the defense, all in good fun. The best protest – or at least the most comical protest – came from DE Jared Allen, who wasn’t involved in the play. “This is not college! This is not college! This isn’t high school,” Allen bellowed with a huge smile on his face. “You gotta have two feet in!” Allen was in the official’s face as if he were a baseball manager arguing a call with an umpire, and the entire display was a moment of levity to conclude what was the team’s most intense practice of camp so far.

– The Christian Ponder-to-Kyle Rudolph connection was as strong as ever on Monday, with Rudolph being a popular target of Ponder’s yet again. Midway through practice Ponder rifled a pass down the middle of the field to the goal line, leading Rudolph perfectly and putting the pass just out of the reach of LB Chad Greenway. Despite a gamely attempt by Greenway to deflect the pass, Rudolph was able to haul in the reception for a TD. “Kyle’s got like four or five inches on him in height, let alone wingspan. If you just get the ball up, he’s going to get it.”

– WR Devin Aromashodu is good for a flashy play or two each practice, and that was the case on Monday. Aromashodu ran a go route down the left sideline and made what turned out to be an excellent back shoulder reception while leaping over a defender. The pass came from QB Joe Webb.

– LBs Jasper Brinkley and Everson Griffen delivered a couple big-time hits. Brinkley met RB Lex Hilliard near the line of scrimmage during the second-to-last team period of practice and came out on top of the confrontation. Griffen saw FB Ryan D’Imperio make a reception in front of him and then saw fit to end the play abruptly by putting a big hit on the FB.

– Veterans Chris Carr and Tyrone McKenzie combined to force a turnover during a 7-on-7 drill. Carr tipped a pass and McKenzie, playing middle LB, got underneath the deflection to collect the INT and run the other way with a convoy of blockers in front of him.

– RB Jordan Todman flashed his greatest asset – speed – during the second-to-last team period of practice. Todman took a handoff that appeared to be designed to go inside and bounced out wide left. Todman gained the edge on the defense and raced down the left sideline for what would’ve been a TD run of at least 65 yards.

– Rosenfels displayed some athleticism near the end of practice during a team period. On the play, Rosenfels sprinted right after feeling pressure from his left and bought just enough time to hit rookie receiver Greg Childs near the sideline. Childs tapped both toes in bounds to complete the play, making up for a drop on a deep pass he had earlier in the day.


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