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Pads Will Pop On Monday At Vikings Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 6:08 am

There’s been a walk-before-you-run type of feeling around 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp so far, with a pair of morning walk-thrus and afternoon practices on Friday and Saturday before a day off on Sunday. Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s team has worked well over the two days, as the offense has looked sharp under second-year Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and the defense has begun its transition to new Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams’ plan.

But the pace will quicken and the intensity will spike significantly on Monday. Yes, the pads will pop and training camp as we’ve become accustomed to will emerge.

The Vikings will hold their first padded practice of this year’s camp on Monday at 2:45 p.m., following their customary morning walk-thru at 10:30. Everyone’s questions about how rookie LT Matt Kalil looks against DE Jared Allen or how Everson Griffen looks playing in his new position will begin to be answered. There’s nothing like the crunching of pads and popping of helmets to get football fans excited for what’s shaping up to be another fun season.

Monday marks the 2012 opening of the Northland Ford Dealer’s Autograph Zone, where you can meet and greet Vikings players each day. Beginning today and going through August 14, one position group will be in the autograph zone each day after the morning walk-thru, with gates opening 25 minutes prior to the conclusion of the walk-thru and autographs beginning immediately after practice for another 25 minutes. Today’s featured group is the TEs, including one of the most impressive performers so far during camp – Kyle Rudolph.

If you haven’t yet done so, head down or up or over to Minnesota State University, Mankato to get a good, early look at the 2012 Minnesota Vikings.


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3 Observations From Saturday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 7:41 pm

The Vikings conducted their second practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Saturday and worked under ideal weather conditions to do so. The team also saw a spike in attendance on Saturday, as Vikings fans filled the bleachers and the fence line to see their favorite team and, consequently, create a fun buzz in the atmosphere during practice.

The team has yet to practice in pads – that will start on Monday. So it’s hard to draw too many conclusions after two non-padded practices. But it’s not hard to draw observations. Here are three observations from Saturday’s practice…

Tremendous 12
Without question, Percy Harvin has been the most impressive player on the field through the first two practices. He’s been a frequent target of the QBs during team and drill work, and he’s been in the rotation for kickoff return. Harvin has made several go-to-the ground catches so far, and midway through Saturday’s practice he made a catch along the sideline that was as good as you’ll see all of camp.

Leg Work
About three or four minutes into an early period of practice I started paying attention to field #2, where the Vikings specialists – P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler and K Blair Walsh – were working on their own. Loeffler and Kluwe were working together on landing punts inside the 20 while Walsh was kicking field goals. Kluwe was consistently landing punts inside the 10 with good hang time, even one time buzzing the tower of FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer after calling his shot. While I was watching, Walsh made six consecutive kicks from 46 yards and then was 2 of 3 from 55 yards. I was also told that Walsh hit a 60-yarder on Friday while working on the side.

“He knows being the only kicker here, he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to improve,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said of his rookie kicker. “He is very conscious, a very hard working man, it’s extremely important to him. He competes with himself and that’s why I didn’t think we needed another guy at camp. I wanted to get as many reps as he can with Cullen, with Chris, with our whole first unit to put him in the situation where he can be successful.”

3rd And Long No Problem For Ponder-To-Rudolph
There is a period in practice called “special cats” (special categories) where the coaches put the players in certain game situations, such as red zone or the 2-minute drill. Saturday’s special cats period featured 3rd and long. The first-team offense looked the best of any group during the drill, as I saw Ponder convert at least three of five times. The first two conversions were accurate passes to TE Kyle Rudolph. On the first play of the period, Ponder found Rudolph on the right side for a completion near the 1st-down marker. CB Antoine Winfield was right in the area, but my guess is Rudolph would’ve had enough for the 1st down. The second conversion was also to Rudolph, as Ponder placed a pass perfectly along the sideline for Rudolph to haul in and get out of bounds.

“Kyle has had a great offseason,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He has gained strength without losing any movement. He is one of the guys that we are going to count on to contribute who wasn’t a full-time starter last year.”

The Vikings will have Sunday off and return to the field on Monday morning for a walk-thru and Monday afternoon for a padded practice.


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Young Vikings Bond By Getting Social

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 22, 2012 – 9:01 pm

An essential component of any successful team is cohesion. The ability for a large group of talented individuals from varying and complex backgrounds to come together and move in one direction toward a common goal is not easily realized. Training camp is the starting point for NFL teams in their quest to gain this sense of purpose and direction.

In just a few days, the entire Vikings roster will gather in Mankato for 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp as they continue preparations for the upcoming season and the quest for cohesion. But thanks to modern technology and a bond born from both a passion for fun and wealth of resources, an important segment of this young Vikings roster has a significant head start on the building of camaraderie.

Andrew Miller of www.fasthorseinc.com wrote an interesting story about how QB Christian Ponder, TE Kyle Rudolph and C John Sullivan have made Minnesota their home by finding fun activities to pass the time of the offseason, and about how they share the fun with their fans via Twitter.

Miller’s piece is worth the read (and includes photos of the three Vikings out and about in Minnesota). Just make sure you come back to vikings.com after reading it. We have more Roster Rundowns to get to, after all.


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Roster Rundown: Safeties And Tight Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Golfing For Charity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 13, 2012 – 10:18 am

Any reason to find your way onto a golf course is a good reason, as far as I’m concerned. But the Vikings organization actually has a legitimate reason to hit the links on Wednesday.

The Minnesota Vikings 2012 Golf Tournament, presented by Miller Lite, will be held on Wednesday at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, MN. The sold-out tournament is not open to the public and will feature over 30 Vikings players, including QB Christian Ponder, RB Toby Gerhart and TE Kyle Rudolph. Also, several Vikings Alumni will be on-hand, including Randall McDaniel and Scott Studwell. Joining the action will be the entire 2012 Vikings coaching staff, Vikings executives, Viktor the Viking and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders.

Proceeds of the event will benefit the Vikings Children’s Fund.

“Good chance for us to go out and do something in the community and raise some funds for some kids and people who are less fortunate than we are,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said.

The tournament is scheduled for an early afternoon shotgun start and will be followed by an awards ceremony with comments from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Frazier. KFAN Radio will broadcast from the tournament from noon to 6:30 p.m.

Since its inception in 1978, the Vikings Children’s Fund has raised nearly $10 million, with over $5 million supporting research at the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics.


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Special Teams Sets Tone For Practice; OTA #7 Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2012 – 2:51 pm

The Vikings opened up their final week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at Winter Park on Monday under partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures and a brisk wind. After near-perfect weather a week ago, the windy conditions for OTA #7 added a challenging element for many phases of practice.

The first phase to deal with the wind was the Vikings special teams group, specifically the punt returners. Catching punts is difficult enough, but add in winds that gusted from 15-20 mph and the task becomes increasingly difficult. It didn’t faze the Vikings returners, though, as CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright fielded kicks gracefully.

The special teams’ performance in the first period of practice was an indication of what was to come, as the Vikings conducted a crisp and clean approximately 90-minute practice. The special teams setting a positive example for the rest of practice is something in which Mike Priefer, entering his second season as the Vikings special teams coordinator, takes pride.

“I’m very fortunate to work for a head coach like Coach Frazier,” Priefer told Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen and yours truly during last week’s episode of Vikings Tonight on the Vikings Radio Network. “He gives me meeting time, he gives me practice time, he gives me individual time with guys. I like the fact that we start practice with special teams because, to me, we set the tone for the rest of the practice. We’re a high energy, high motor type period. We get a lot done in a fifteen- or twenty-minute period of time that we have. The fact that we get to start practice and get to set the tone for the rest of the day is exciting for me.”

A few other observations from OTA #7…

Who can, not who can’t
There have been no shortage of punt returners during OTAs. The four who caught punts on Monday are listed above, but several others have also been in the mix over the past two weeks. While fans are curious to know who will win the job after the position battle, Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White are still figuring out who will be in that position battle.

“We have eight or nine guys catching punts right now and you have to pull them out of a hat,” Priefer said on last week’s Vikings Tonight. “But the great thing is we have a lot of competition there. I’ve been at places where we have one guy, maybe two, that can even catch a punt. Here we have seven or eight guys who can catch punts.”

Sherels stands out
It was a good day of practice for CB Marcus Sherels, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher who made last year’s Vikings squad as an undrafted free agent. If Sherels has more days like he had on Monday, he’ll once again be on the Vikings roster and in position to make an impact.

Sherels tallied a pair of pass breakups (PBUs) against what’s been one of the best QB-WR combinations during OTAs – Christian Ponder and Jerome Simpson. The first PBU came during a team offense vs. team defense period when Sherels jumped in front of Simpson on a short curl route, and the second PBU came during a 7-on-7 period of practice on a deep pass down the left sideline. On each play, Ponder placed the ball well and Simpson ran a good route, but Sherels was just able to make a great play on the ball.

Living on the edge
Ponder and fellow QB Joe Webb put their athleticism on display during a team offense vs. defense period. Both plays were similar in that the QBs were sprinting right to avoid a pursuing defender. DE Brian Robison was chasing Ponder, and the QB was able to buy just enough time to find WR Stephen Burton along the right sideline for a tip-toe completion before falling out of bounds. Moments later, Webb executed a similar play, sprinting right to avoid DE Eric Lattimore and completing a pass to TE Kyle Rudolph. The pass was thrown slightly behind Rudolph, but the second-year TE was able to reach back and make the catch before turning upfield to complete the play.

Good hands Griffen
Defensive linemen such as Everson Griffen spend much of their time rushing the passer. On Monday, though, Griffen showed off his pass-catching skills, grabbing a tipped pass to tally an INT.


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Greenway, Harvin Participate In OTA #4; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 5, 2012 – 12:28 pm

The Vikings returned to the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park on Tuesday for Organized Team Activity (OTA) #4, and two of the team’s best players – LB Chad Greenway and WR Percy Harvin - rejoined the team for on-field activities. Weather conditions were ideal – sunny skies and warm temperatures – and the team worked for approximately 90 minutes.

Both Greenway and Harvin looked fresh and explosive during practice, and their presence along with a weekend for all the players to rest and recover after last week’s three OTAs yielded an up-tempo practice environment. We caught up with Harvin after practice for a quick interview and will have that posted to vikings.com shortly.

Here are a few other observations from OTA #4 on Tuesday…

– Tuesday’s practice opened with a special teams period, and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer had several guys in the rotation to field kickoffs. By my count there were 8 players catching kicks – WRs Stephen Burton, Harvin, Bryan Walters and Jarius Wright; CBs Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson and Nicholas Taylor; and RB Jordan Todman. The point here is not so much to try and track who’s taking the reps, but more to illustrate that Priefer is looking at the entire roster in an attempt to fill the kickoff return role. This OTA portion of the offseason is not the time to narrow down the competition by figuring out who can’t fill the role, rather now is the time to discover guys who can fill the role so a robust competition can be held in training camp and the preseason.

– It’s mentioned above that Greenway made his return to the field, and he looked good in doing so. He’s the leader of that LB group and is one of the team’s most consistent performers. Another who’s stood out among that group, though, is Erin Henderson. He had a good week last week and hit the ground running this week, too, making splash plays in both the special categories and 9-7 periods of practice.

– A couple of young DBs tallied INTs during practice. S Mistral Raymond got one late in practice and fellow S Robert Blanton, the team’s 5th-round pick in this year’s draft, grabbed one a few moments earlier during 7-on-7 action. Overall the defense is playing a bit faster than the offense at this point, but that is to be expected this early in the OTAs and offseason programming. The offense has clearly taken a step forward since OTA #1 and I expect the offense will continue making great strides as training camp approaches.

– It wasn’t all defense on the highlight reel on Tuesday. QB Christian Ponder connected with TE Kyle Rudolph on a terrific touch pass that was perfectly placed over a pair of LBs and underneath a CB and S late in practice. Rudolph fully extended and stayed on his feet to make the catch. Walters also had a full-extension catch late in practice where he had to dive among defenders to secure the ball.

– Early in practice both Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu made highlight-caliber catches. Aromashodu’s came first on a pass from Ponder with CB Chris Carr in coverage. Aromashodu stopped his route short, leaped high in the air and made the catch over Carr (who was in perfect position), and came down with both feet in bounds and the ball secured while falling onto the left sideline. Moments later, Arceneaux made his catch in similar fashion – more of a back-shoulder fade, this time from Joe Webb.

– The Vikings will hold OTA #5 on Wednesday at Winter Park and it will be open to the media. We’ll have continuing coverage of OTAs and the Vikings offseason program here on vikings.com, so stay tuned.


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Carlson Will Help Vikings Join A Trend

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 15, 2012 – 7:24 pm

The addition of John Carlson hasn’t been the kind of flashy move that inspires fans on the second day of free agency, but it is an acquisition that improves the Vikings offense and is the latest sign that the team is looking to add young, talented pieces to the offensive puzzle around QB Christian Ponder.

The Vikings entered the offseason with significant needs at both DB and WR as well as along the OL, and those needs remain. But with Jim Kleinsasser retiring and Visanthe Shiancoe on the free agent market, TE was also a need for the Vikings. It’s less of a need now, with Carlson improving the depth chart and serving as a nice bookend to fellow Notre Dame alum Kyle Rudolph.

Speaking of the depth chart, the Vikings still have some work to do at TE. Rudolph is not on the team because of his blocking ability, and Carlson will not make anyone forget about Kleinsasser’s game-changing run-blocking skills. The Vikings will likely search for a burly, hard-nosed TE with a late-round draft choice in April or in undrafted free agency.

As for Carlson and Rudolph, you can bet the Vikings will put both of them to good use in 2012 and beyond. Dual-TE sets are trending upward in the NFL, with New England being the trend-setter after TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez gave opposing defenses headaches all season. While Carlson and Rudolph won’t make that duo blush quite yet, it’s clear Rudolph has the ability to be a top-flight NFL TE and Carlson is already an established pass-catcher at this level after setting Seattle single-season franchise records for receiving yards and receiving TDs by a TE.

On top of having the personnel, the Vikings also have the philosophy to join the dual-TE trend. In his first season as the Vikings offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave was not averse to using multiple-TE formations, as the Vikings ranked tied for 8th in 2-TE sets and 7th in 3-TE sets. I’d expect those numbers to remain the same in 2012 at minimum, but most likely increase. Also keep in mind that quality, reliable pass-catching TEs are a nice security blanket for young, inexperienced QBs.

All-in-all, the addition of Carlson won’t send the Vikings to the Super Bowl next season. No free-agent signing does that. But it does address a team need and it fits the theme of getting younger and putting quality pieces around the young QB.


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Reports Link Vikings To Free Agent TE, MN Native John Carlson

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 14, 2012 – 7:04 am

Free agency opened on Tuesday and Vikings fans quickly grew frustrated because their team wasn’t mentioned among those pursuing some of the best available players. Well, it looks like Wednesday is off to a much better start for those who want the Vikings to dip into the pool of available players.

Several reports have linked the Vikings with former Seattle Seahawks TE John Carlson, a 27-year old athletic and versatile player who is from Litchfield, MN. Carlson spent the first 4 years of his NFL career in Seattle, but missed all of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury.

There is reportedly a big market for Carlson’s services, with the Bears, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Seahawks and Vikings supposedly all interested. Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com reports that Carlson will be visiting the Vikings today, although vikings.com has not confirmed that this is the case.

In 3 seasons on the field, Carlson has appeared in 47 games with 36 starts, and has 137 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 TDs. Carlson played college football at the same place current Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph played – Notre Dame.


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Rudolph Makes 2011 NFP All-Rookie Team

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 4, 2012 – 11:03 am

The Vikings selected Kyle Rudolph in the 2nd round of last April’s draft in a move that was a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t a surprise that Rudolph went that high in the draft (some thought he could’ve gone earlier), it was a surprise because TE wasn’t considered a position of need for the Vikings.

Whether you’d consider TE a position of need for the Vikings or not, though, it’s become clear in Minnesota that Rudolph very well could have a significant place in the offense. He also has a significant place among 2011′s rookie class because the National Football Post named him to their 2011 All-Rookie team.

Greg Gabriel of the NFP says “Rudolph has the bulk, size and power to play as an inline tight end and the speed and finesse to be a move type.”

Once Rudolph arrived at training camp and found his way onto the field, he consistently made highlight-caliber catches, often times in traffic and over defenders. While it would’ve been nice to see him involved more often earlier in the season, Rudolph did finish the season well and his numbers were obviously good enough to earn him some post-season recognition. He had 39 receptions and 3 TDs on the season.


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