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Gerhart, Sullivan, Webb Headline 18th Annual Arctic Blast

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 7, 2013 – 7:43 am

The 18th annual Vikings Arctic Blast Snowmobile Rally, sponsored by MillerCoors Brewing Co., the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Total Luxury Limousine and Arctic Cat, will be held at Lake Mille Lacs Saturday and Sunday, February 9-10. The event will feature current and former Vikings players along with coaches and team executives. Viktor the Viking and the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders will also be in attendance to help raise money for the Vikings Children’s Fund.

Current Vikings scheduled to attend this year’s Arctic Blast include LBs Jasper Brinkley and Larry Dean, RG Brandon Fusco, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen, C John Sullivan and QB Joe Webb. Vikings alumni scheduled to attend the event include Pete Bercich, Ben Leber, Carl Lee, Walker Lee Ashley, Bob Lurtsema, Doug Sutherland and Robert Tate.

A full schedule of events will surround Arctic Blast XVIII. On Saturday, February 9, there will be giveaways, numerous prizes and games for all ages at Vikings headquarters at the Blue Goose Inn in Garrison. The organization will also provide free arcade play for kids, an ice fishing pond, karaoke and specials at various Blast Points throughout the day.  On Sunday, a prize party will be held with more than $30,000 in prizes to be awarded, including a choice of a new Arctic Cat Snowmobile or ATV.  Also on Saturday at the Blue Goose Inn at 3:00 pm, a special secret guest will be appearing.

Participants can register the day of the event at any of the four Blast Points located in Garrison, Onamia, Isle or Malmo ($35). For the list of Blast Points and more information, call (952) 828-6577 or visit www.vikings.com


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Vikings Players, Athletic Training Staff Host “Play 60″ Clinic At St. Joseph’s

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 4:45 pm

The Vikings Athletic Training Staff, along with Devin Aromashodu, Larry Dean, Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Tyrone McKenzie and Jamarca Sanford, host a “Play 60” clinic at Catholic Charities-St. Joseph’s Home for Children on Tuesday.

Approximately 50 youth from St. Joseph’s Home for Children were led through a series of drills designed to teach the basics of football. Players delivered a positive message to the children about the importance of perseverance and teamwork, and they stressed the importance of being active every day.

NFL Play 60 is the NFL movement for an active generation and is aimed at getting children active for at least 60 minutes a day.

For the sixth consecutive year, the Vikings Athletic Training staff participated in support of the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. St. Joseph’s Home for Children is recognized by the NFL’s Ed Block Courage Award Foundation as serving as a “Courage House” for the Minnesota Vikings. The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to heightening awareness of the plight of abused and neglected children. St. Joe’s provides shelter and intake services for Hennepin County children removed from their homes due to abuse or instability.

Since 1998 the Vikings have partnered with Catholic Charities St. Joseph’s Home for Children on numerous community events. The Catholic Charities program annually assists more than 2,000 children.


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Roster Rundown: Quarterbacks And Linebackers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 23, 2012 – 6:32 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Thursday and the team’s first practice is on Friday, which means we only have a few more days to complete our Roster Rundown series. We continue the series today by taking a look at the four quarterbacks and 10 linebackers the team will bring to training camp…

Head Coach Leslie Frazier has been clear this offseason that Christian Ponder is his starting QB. Ponder played in 11 games and started 10 during his rookie season, producing mixed results and battling injuries. But this offseason the results have not been mixed – Ponder made huge strides during the offseason program and is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Jobs are not handed out in the NFL, so Ponder will have to perform well enough to retain the starting job. Based on his performance in the offseason program, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.

After Ponder the Vikings will see Joe Webb battle Sage Rosenfels for the backup job. These two have contrasting styles and are at different points in their careers. Webb surely has designs on becoming an NFL starter one day, and he can continue that quest during camp. Whether he ultimately beats Ponder for the job or not is a separate issue from whether he continues his development as an NFL passer. Rosenfels is a 12-year veteran who is a great complement to the QB meeting room that includes three young players still learning the ropes.

Aside from Ponder and Webb, the other youngster is McLeod Bethel-Thompson. He joined the Vikings via a futures contract this past January after starring at Sacramento State and then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL and then the Miami Dolphins. Bethel-Thompson, an undrafted college free agent, has impressive arm strength and was clearly the best QB in the Vikings rookie minicamp. He was on the Dolphins practice squad to finish the 2011 season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the Vikings practice squad (at a minimum) after this year’s training camp.

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There are questions at linebacker for the Vikings as they head to training camp, but the good news is there also appears to be sufficient talent at the position as well. Chad Greenway is the best of the group and prepares to enter his seventh NFL season in 2012. Greenway has led the club in tackles the past four seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do it again this season. The other starting linebacker should be Erin Henderson, who returns to the club motivated after signing a one-year contract this past offseason. Last season was Henderson’s first as a full-time starter, and I’ve identified him as a player poised for a breakout season this year.

Jasper Brinkley enters training camp as the team’s middle linebacker, but there are questions about his durability. Those questions are fair because Brinkley missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed parts of the team’s offseason program this year as well. Brinkley has declared himself 100% healthy as we approach training camp, though, and once he’s able to stay on the field I see him solidifying the Vikings starting group of linebackers. When E.J. Henderson was lost for the season in 2009 with a leg injury, Brinkley stepped into the lineup and played capably as the Vikings made a run through the playoffs. That experience along with natural progression that comes from two complete seasons after that should have Brinkley prepared to fulfill expectations this season.

After the three starters, there will be great competition for reserve spots among the Vikings LB group. Only two of those players competing for reserve spots are returning veterans. They are special teams standout Larry Dean and two-year veteran Tyrone McKenzie. Dean made last year’s team as an undrafted free agent based on his special teams ability, and he’ll have to be a standout in the same way this preseason to make the roster. McKenzie was the player asked to step into the middle linebacker role this offseason when Brinkley was out of action.

Outside of Greenway, the most veteran NFL player in the Vikings LB group is Marvin Mitchell, a six-year pro the Vikings signed this offseason in free agency. Mitchell had been with the Saints, and with the Vikings he’ll provide depth at multiple LB positions and he’s expected to be a contributor on special teams as well.

The remaining LBs are 7th-round draft pick Audie Cole, former CFL standout Solomon Elimimian and undrafted college free agents Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes. At NC State, Cole led the team in tackles while playing both inside and outside LB. Nielsen was a standout at the University of Iowa and Paredes went undrafted out of the University of Hawaii.

Elimimian will be interesting to watch because he’s undersized but he’s also a player who clearly knows how to play the position. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2010 and helped his club (BC Lions) win the Grey Cup in 2011. In two CFL seasons, Elimimian tallied 175 tackles, 9.0 sacks and 2 INTs and was voted the league’s “hardest hitter” by his peers.

After the three projected starters, LB jobs are wide open for the Vikings. An ability to contribute on special teams will be crucial for those looking to win a roster spot, but so too is demonstrating sound technique and knowledge of the defensive system. I expect most of the decisions to be made at this position to come down to the final two preseason games later in August.


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Antoine Winfield, WR Bryan Walters Impress During OTA #1; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 29, 2012 – 1:39 pm

The Vikings held their first Organized Team Activity (OTA) of the 2012 offseason program on Tuesday, working for roughly 90 minutes on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park under mostly cloudy skies and windy conditions. The energy level is ramped up around the facility as the team begins Phase 3 of the offseason program.

Now is not the time to put much stock into depth charts and tracking which players are working with the first-stringers and which players are working with the second-stringers. Coaches experiment with several different combinations for a variety of reasons at this point in the offseason, so we’ll let others worry about all of those projections.

There were plenty of other observations to make, however. Here are a few notes I scribbled out while watching Tuesday’s practice…

– One of the first players to stand out in my eyes was CB Antoine Winfield. It was great to see him back on the field after he played in just 5 games last season. Winfield showed no signs of being slowed now, though, as he looked spry during individual drills and very sound during team offense vs. team defense. Winfield had a bounce in his step around the facility before and after practice, and it’s clear he still has explosion in his legs while on the field.

– QB Christian Ponder was sharp early in practice, displaying accuracy and command during the individual and group installation periods. He spread the ball around to several receivers, encountered no QB-center exchange issues with C John Sullivan and even found WR Jerome Simpson on a deep pass. After working through some issues midway through practice, Ponder bounced back nicely at the end of the 7-on-7 drill to cap a solid first practice.

– Speaking of Simpson, it’s a treat to watch him chase down a deep pass. There are times when the QB takes a short drop and launches a pass downfield that looks to be grossly overthrown. But Simpson usually finds a way to track the ball down and make a play on it. You can see that Ponder already has trust in Simpson’s ability to make plays downfield, and that trust and play-making potential will only grow the more they practice together.

Click here to check out a photo gallery from OTA #1.

– A group of collegiate officials were at Tuesday’s practice and will be officiating OTAs for the Vikings.

– My sense is LB Erin Henderson is poised for a breakout season. He now has one year as a full-time starter under his belt and I think he’ll only improve with another offseason of work at Winter Park before his second year as a full-time starter. Henderson is a player who seems to be around the ball a lot, and I’m hopeful he’ll make the improvement from a player who is around the ball a lot, to a player who makes big plays around the ball frequently.

– The Vikings WR position will be a fun one to watch this offseason, training camp and preseason. There are currently 11 WRs on the roster, and I’m guessing there will be some tough cuts later this summer. Bryan Walters, acquired by the Vikings earlier this offseason, impressed me on Tuesday. At 6-0, 190-pounds, Walters is a diminutive receiver with sure hands and crisp route-running abilities. As well as he could perform at WR, I’m also curious to see if he’ll be in the punt return rotation because that would increase his stock. He’ll be a player to watch this summer as the team prepares for the 2012 season. Walters is a 2-year veteran out of Cornell.

– There has never been a doubt in my mind that RB Toby Gerhart could shoulder the load full-time for an NFL team, and after seeing him on Tuesday that continues to be the case. Whether he has to do just that with the Vikings remains to be seen, but if he is charged with that responsibility the Vikings will still be in good shape. Gerhart looks very fit, and I can say with certainty that I would not like to be the one trying to break down and tackle him as he runs downhill.

– Another spot that is sure to see good competition this offseason for a starting position is DT next to Kevin Williams. Williams has been missing a solid, consistent running mate since the other half of the Williams Wall – Pat Williams – was no longer with the team. Time will tell which players the coaches tab to compete for that spot, but I don’t think there will be a shortage of candidates. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his scouting staff have done a nice job of acquiring players to try and fill that gap. Both Letroy Guion and Fred Evans were brought back and could be candidates. And from the looks of it, several others, including 7th-round pick Trevor Guyton (6-3, 280 pounds), Tydreke Powell (6-3, 325) and Terrell Resonno (6-3, 305) will be in the mix. I left DTs Chase Baker and Christian Ballard off that list only because I could see them playing at Kevin Williams’ spot in a reserve role, but the Vikings coaching staff could certainly ask either of them to step into the competition as well.

Quick Hitters
– WR Devin Aromashodu was hot during 7-on-7 drills and was a favorite target of young QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
– RB Jordan Todman, preparing for his 2nd season out of Connecticut and acquired by the Vikings late last year after spending much of his rookie season with San Diego, is impressively fast. He burst through a hole during team offense vs. team defense drills today and his explosion was remarkable.
– I saw LB Larry Dean around the ball a lot on Tuesday.
– Rookie LB Corey Paredes made one of the best defensive plays on Tuesday, nabbing a Joe Webb pass out of thin air and returning it for a TD.


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E.J. Henderson Hosts 4th Annual Turkey Giveaway

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 22, 2011 – 11:13 am

Vikings LB E.J. Henderson hosted his 4th annual “E.J. Henderson Turkey Giveaway” at a Cub Foods location in Minneapolis on Tuesday morning. At the event, Henderson and a few of his teammates distributed 3,500 turkeys to families in need.

Joining Henderson were LB Larry Dean, DE Everson Griffen and LB Tyrone McKenzie. The event’s opening presentation took place inside the store from 9:00-9:20 a.m., with remarks from local political leaders, dignitaries and Henderson. Following the presentation, Henderson and his teammates began distributing the turkeys to and visiting with those who attended the event.

Henderson is a 9-year veteran with the Vikings and has become one of the most community-conscious members of the team. His younger brother, Erin, has followed the lead by not only becoming a core member of the team but also by becoming involved in the local community.

E.J. has established the The E.J. Henderson Youth Foundation (EJHYF), which serves urban youth in the Twin Cities area. The mission of the EJHYF is to provide opportunity and encouragement to urban youth through academic, life skills and athletic programs developing each student in mind, body and soul. E.J.’s goal is to provide youth with the skills to become responsible members of their communities and to find success in their futures.


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Tough Days Of Decision-Making Ahead For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 2, 2011 – 9:35 am

The couple of days immediately following the preseason finale is always a tenuous time inside an NFL team’s facility. The Vikings are no exception this year. There were several areas of deep competition on the Vikings roster throughout training camp and the preseason, and now it’s decision-making time for Vikings coaches and scouts.

By 5:00 p.m. CT time on Saturday, NFL teams must reduce their active roster to 53 players. The Vikings currently have 80 players on the roster, which means 27 roster moves must be made in advance of the deadline for the Vikings to comply with the NFL’s roster requirements. That makes for some tough decisions, especially following Thursday night’s performance from many of the Vikings youngsters.

“Our guys really fed off the energy of the crowd and now, probably the real tough part of this job begins,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after Thursday night’s finale against the Houston Texans. “With such a great effort by so many tonight, it’s going to make it tough for our staff to finalize that 53-man roster, which is a good problem to have.”

A lot of Vikings players stood out last night, from DE Adrian Awasom tallying to 2.0 sacks, to Greg Camarillo playing well on special teams, to DE Stylez White flashing a couple times, to solid performances from backup RBs and offensive linemen. And what about LB Larry Dean, who has stood out all of preseason? Or FB Ryan D’Imperio, who continues to progress? Lots of players with solid potential, but not enough roster spots to keep them all.

I’m going to stop short of calling the Vikings roster situation an embarrassment of riches; that’s not the case. It’s just that there was good competition at a lot of spots on the roster and in many of those spots there wasn’t a lot of separation between the guys who should make the roster and the guys who just fell short.

“There were a number of positions coming into this game that we had questions about,” Frazier said. “We’ll sit down, and I was talking to Rick Spielman earlier about just that fact, we’re going to have some strong discussions tomorrow at certain positions and we’ve got to be able to make some good decisions and I realize that there may be some good football players that may not make our team, but there are some good football players that will.”


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Vikings Special Teams Give Strong Showing

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 15, 2011 – 7:11 am

It’s generally not something you find football fans talking about, but it’s a vital part of every team and it’s an important factor in every game. We’re talking about special teams. And this preseason for the Vikings, it’s an especially important group to watch because there’s a new special teams coordinator in town with Mike Priefer aboard.

After one preseason game, it’s so far, so good for Priefer’s special teams groups. In what was mostly an uninspiring performance from the Vikings on Saturday night in Tennessee, the special teams groups looked strong. Let’s take a moment to point out a few of the strongpoints…

– P Chris Kluwe had a nice night, booming five punts and generating an average of 41.6 yards per punt and 39.4 net yards per punt; a net average of 39.4 yards would’ve ranked Kluwe 4th among all punters last year. Also, Kluwe put two of his five punts inside the 20-yardline and only three of his punts were returned.

– The Vikings punt coverage unit performed well in unison with Kluwe, allowing just 3.7 yards per return on three attempts.

– On kickoff returns, the Vikings averaged 26.0 yards per try, which would’ve ranked them 2nd in the NFL last year. In kickoff return coverage, the Vikings allowed just 19.0 yards per return, which also would’ve ranked them 2nd best in the NFL last year.

– Give credit to the group of Kluwe, K Ryan Longwell and long snapper Cullen Loeffler because they didn’t have a botched snap, hold or kick all night. Longwell was true from 37 yards out to give the Vikings their only points.

– WR Jaymar Johnson, who is trying to earn a spot on the WR depth chart, certainly helped his cause by performing on special teams. He returned a punt 40 yards in the second half, displaying a quick burst and then excellent top-end speed on the play. Another WR – Devin Aromashodu – who is also trying to win a spot on the WR depth chart helped himself on special teams as well by notching a tackle.

– Others who chipped in with special teams tackles were LB Larry Dean, S Eric Frampton and LB Heath Farwell.


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