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What 2 Watch 4 In Tonight’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 30, 2012 – 9:37 am

After an entire offseason of waiting for training camps to begin, and then three weeks of training camp with no games, and then three preseason games, many fans regard the fourth and final preseason game as a mere formality that is more scrimmage than it is game. But for many NFL players, the fourth and final preseason game means the world.

The Vikings fourth and final preseason game of the 2012 season is tonight against the Houston Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT. Following the game, the Vikings will have tough decisions to make as they whittle the roster down to 53 players and then scan the waiver wire to see if any players discarded by other teams can make a difference here.

Before that process begins, though, that final preseason game must be played. Below are a few aspects of tonight’s game that I’ll pay quite a bit of attention. Check them out, and then in the comments section below this entry let us know what you think about them and let us know what you’ll be watching for tonight…

Quarterback rotation
At this point it’s hard to know how the Vikings QB situation will shake out. There are four QBs in camp, and only Christian Ponder’s status is secure. Expect Joe Webb to start tonight, and then we’ll see some combination of Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Each QB brings a different skill set to the table, and each QB would play a distinct role on the team.

Opportunity at WR
Percy Harvin is a game-changer, Michael Jenkins is a reliable veteran, and Jerome Simpson will make an impact for the team once we get past his 3-game suspension. But after those three, there is room for a couple other WRs to make the team and help the passing game. Rookie Jarius Wright is coming along well as the preseason rolls along, and now it appears he’ll have a chance in the punt return role as well (more on that later). Three others – Manny Arceneaux, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton – will get significant looks tonight as they try to make a final positive impression on the coaching and scouting staffs. All three players have the capability to play the X receiver spot while Simpson is away, now the question is which players will display that ability in a game. We’ll find out tonight.

Blanton makes his debut
The Vikings 2012 draft class appears to be promising, but one member of that class has not been on the field yet – S Robert Blanton. That will change tonight, as Blanton figures to see extended playing time. He’ll likely start the game, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him play well into the 2nd half. Furthermore, Blanton could even be joined by fellow Notre Dame product Harrison Smith in the starting lineup, giving us a look at an intriguing starting combination.

The Vikings selected Blanton with 139th overall pick last April and have converted him from a college CB to an NFL safety. Blanton’s transition to the NFL hit a speed bump in training camp, though, when he injured his hamstring.

Filling out the RB stable
There aren’t many – if any – teams in the NFL with a better one-two punch at RB than the Vikings combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. But you need more than two RBs, and the Vikings have a few options on the roster. Matt Asiata has impressed once again this preseason (he impressed me last preseason, as well), and has shown he’s more than just a plodding, blocking FB. Veteran Lex Hilliard was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he’ll get plenty of looks tonight. Rounding out the competition is Jordan Todman, a young speedster who has battled a leg injury during camp but appears to be getting healthier. They will all get a chance to prove their worth tonight.

What else are looking for tonight? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…


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3rd CB, RB Jobs Still To Be Decided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2012 – 5:19 am

There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.

You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.

There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…

– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.

– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.

– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.

– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.

– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.

– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.

– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.

– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.


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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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Final Roster Rundown: Running Backs And Specialists

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 9:12 am

Friday marks the first practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and, appropriately, the final part of our Roster Rundown series. The series concludes with a look at the Vikings RBs and specialists…

Running Backs
Even with both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart coming back from knee injuries, RB is a position of strength for the Vikings. There aren’t many teams with a better one-two punch than the Vikings. Gerhart has fully recovered from his knee injury, and he’ll shoulder the load for Peterson until he’s back at 100% health as well. Gerhart would be a starter for many NFL teams, so the job is in good hands while Peterson finishes up his recovery.

Depth at the position will be important for the Vikings in 2012 for reasons mentioned above, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said the team is looking for a back with all-around skills to have as the third option. Guys competing for this role in camp will include undrafted college free agent Derrick Coleman, four-year veteran Lex Hilliard and youngster Jordan Todman. 

The Vikings designs at FB are uncertain at this point. Draft pick Rhett Ellison could play the part, but there are others who are actually listed as FBs on the roster as well (Ellison is listed as a TE). Ryan D’Imperio is a returning veteran with solid special teams ability as well, Matt Asiata was with the Vikings during last year’s camp and returns this year as well, and five-year veteran Jerome Felton will be around to increase the competition. Aside from how each of these players perform during practice and preseason games, the determining factor in this competition will be how the team plans to use the FB.

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Specialists
The Vikings go into 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp with starters in place at the specialists positions. Cullen Loeffler returns as the team’s long snapper, Chris Kluwe remains at punter, and Blair Walsh enters camp as the kicker. Together, Loeffler and Kluwe boast 17 years of NFL experience, so they are great mentors for Walsh as he embarks on his rookie season. It’s important for each of these players to perform well in their individual roles, but it’s also important for them to work well together. I have no doubt they’ll be able to do just that.


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Vikings Sign RB Hilliard; DT Evans

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 21, 2012 – 12:26 pm

On Wednesday the Vikings made official the signing of two free agents, with RB Lex Hilliard joining the club and DT Fred Evans re-signing.

Hilliard is a 4th-year player who was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 6th round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He has rushed for 130 yards and 2 TDs in his career. A product of the University of Montana, Hilliard helped the Dolphins rank 4th in the NFL in rushing in 2009 when they ran for 2,231 yards. The Montana native also has 26 receptions for 210 yards and 2 TDs receiving over his 3-year career.

Evans joined the Vikings organization as a free agent in 2007. In his 5 seasons with the Vikings, Evans has played in 64 games and started two, recording 73 totals tackles along with 8 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack.


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