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Emptying Out The Vikings-Cowboys Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 19, 2010 – 2:01 pm

On Wednesday we’ll begin focusing on the huge NFC North showdown between the Vikings and Green Bay, which will be featured on NBC’s broadcast of Sunday night football. Before then, though, let’s empty out the notebook from last weekend’s 24-21 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Percy’s Versatility
Percy Harvin has been a sensational playmaker for the Vikings since he arrived last season as a 1st-round pick. But just as impressive as the actual plays he makes on the field is his ability to impact the Vikings in so many different ways. He’s a dynamic kick returner, a productive receiver and he can line up in the backfield and act as a RB.

As a rookie last season, Harvin finished tied for 1st among all NFL rookies in receiving yards (790) and receptions (60). He also ranked 2nd in the NFC and 7th in the NFL with his team record 2,081 all-purpose yards (1,156 kickoff return, 790 receiving, 135 rushing). In total, Harvin touched the ball 117 times and averaged 17.8 yards per touch.

Against Dallas on Sunday, Harvin returned a kickoff 95 yards for a TD, the 3rd kickoff return TD of his career – more than any other Vikings player in history. He also had 3 receptions for 21 yards and lined up in the backfield to take 2 handoffs and pickup 18 yards.

“We talked about that before,” Childress said when asked about Harvin’s versatility, “about Urban Meyer saying he may have been their best running back (at Florida). In fact, he takes a great look at runs coming out of the backfield; outside runs, inside runs. We’re just trying to put the ball in his hands and get him as many touches as we can.

Childress even said the team might take a look at Harvin as a punt returner at some point because of his natural return abilities and vision in setting up blocks.

Replacing Cedric Griffin
The loss of CB Cedric Griffin to another knee injury hurts the Vikings pass defense and his absence was felt against the Cowboys. All 3 of Dallas’ TDs came via the pass, and two of the scores came with CB Lito Sheppard in coverage.

“He was in coverage on the two touchdown throws,” Childress explained on Monday. “I think we felt like he could have played a little bit better technique on the one down in the end zone, maybe could have been in inside technique to deny that slant. He was about to make a great play on the ball, it hit his hands, then [Dez] Bryant makes a great play on the ball.”

It’s not necessary to give up on Sheppard, but the Vikings must correct some of the errors that led to those 3 TDs on Sunday. The Packers have every bit as talented a WR corps as the Cowboys, so expect Aaron Rodgers and Co. to look for a way to attack the Vikings secondary.

Hopefully they’ll try to attack Asher Allen. My sense is that the pieces are falling into place for Allen, who is currently in his second season with the Vikings but is now seeing more of the field on defense. I think Allen is close to making a big defensive play and the timing would be perfect if he could do it against Green Bay. There will still be some learning moments for Allen on defense, but I like what I saw from him against the Cowboys, particularly with him being in the right position at the right time. Eventually he’ll be able to play fast without thinking, and that’s when the big plays will start to happen.

Center of Attention
Staring C John Sullivan has been dealing with a pesky calf injury all season and it’s caused him to miss some games. On Sunday against Dallas he was active but Jon Cooper started in his place – perhaps a precautionary move on the Vikings part. Although I feel the Vikings have missed Sullivan at C this year, Cooper did a good job against a stout Dallas defensive front seven. Jay Ratliff is the Cowboys defender that was lined up directly over Cooper for most of the day and though he did get a sack, he only had 3 tackles. Given Cooper’s inexperience and size disadvantage against Ratliff, it could’ve been much, much worse.

“He did a good job with the line calls,” Childress said of Cooper. “That guy [Jay] Ratliff is a hell of a football player and he gave him fits right from that first pass that he threw complete to Percy. I think he ended up kind of jittering him a little bit at the line of scrimmage and hit Brett on that particular play. But he did a great job with the line calls. Extremely competitive in there. I liked what he did getting a promotion to that starting job.”


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Childress Saw “Some Good Things” From Vikings Secondary Vs. Saints

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 13, 2010 – 1:50 pm

The Vikings entered their season-opener against the New Orleans Saints with just 3 healthy CBs and a new starter at S in Husain Abdullah. Considering the Saints boasted last year’s #1 scoring offense and #4 passing offense and were also returning most of their starters, the Vikings secondary had a tall task at hand.

But Leslie Frazier’s defense rose to the challenge, holding Drew Brees and Co. under their average passing yards per game from a season ago and giving up just 14 points. The Vikings secondary was beaten for a long TD on the game’s 1st series and there were lapses in other junctures of the game, but by and large the Vikings secondary held their own.

A few days removed from the game, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress explained that he saw some positives from the secondary.

“I thought those guy did some good things, all the way around, whether it was Lito (Sheppard)playing at the right corner, Asher Allen swinging back and forth,” Childress said. “I thought they did some good things, particularly in terms of tackling. I saw Asher show up and be able to stick a knife in some things and Lito had a couple nice tackles as well. Antoine is Antoine.”

Both Winfield and Husain Abdullah had nice open field tackles against some of the Saints best playmakers, and Sheppard forced a key incompletion on a 3rd down pass to force a punt.

One of the reasons the Vikings had just 3 healthy CBs entering Week 1 is because 2nd round rookie CB Chris Cook injured his knee during the 4th preseason game. He’s expected to miss multiple weeks but he was able to return to the practice field on Monday with his teammates.

Childress indicated the rookie CB isn’t 100%, but it’s a good sign nonetheless that Cook is working his way back into the mix.

“He just went through some individual periods,” Childress said. “He doesn’t look completely comfortable. As always, it’ll be how he comes back in and treats and how he shows back up tomorrow. But he did some football specific stuff today out on the grass during individual (period).”


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Rookie CB Cook Puts On A Show

Posted by cjsiewert on August 2, 2010 – 7:30 am

With an extended amount of time spent on 7-on-7 drills Sunday afternoon, rookie CB Chris Cook was able to make a number of impressive defensive stops, including 3 INTs.

Cook, who recorded 7 INTs during his career at Virginia (4 INTs his senior year), proved during Sunday afternoon’s practice that he is well-equipped to nab an INT at the pro level by pulling in 2 INTs off the throws of Sage Rosenfels and 1 from rookie QB Joe Webb.

The 1 pick that I saw up close and personal – and likely the most impressive of the day – had rookie WR Taye Biddle running a fade route from the 10-yard line into the left corner of the end zone. On the throw from Rosenfels, Cook got turned around by a quick move from Biddle but was able to adjust in time to make a leaping grab for the INT in the back of the end zone and then ran 107 yards down the left sideline to finish the play.

“He has made a variety of different plays down the field,” Head Coach Brad Childress said of Cook during the post practice press conference. “A lot of the time they say defensive backs are wide receivers that couldn’t catch. He can catch, which is important because those are turnovers going the other way. You are seeing the length show up with his size, his reach and for being a tall guy he’s got a pretty good drive. I think he’ll continue to keep on developing.”

Childress also felt that Cook’s size (6-2, 212 pounds) will be an advantage, especially in the red zone where teams like to throw the fade route, which was the scenario in Sunday afternoon’s practice when Cook picked off Rosenfels in the end zone.

“When you throw to spots sometimes those smaller defensive players can’t get to those spots just by virtue of their foot speed and their height,” Childress said. “He [Cook] is making some plays on some balls that are thrown in pretty decent spots.”

With the addition of veteran CB Lito Sheppard and already having 12-year veteran Antoine Winfield on the roster, Cook is blessed to have a pair of CBs who have been in the league for so long and will be able to learn from 2 of the premier CBs in the NFL.

“Chris is making great strides,” Sheppard said. “He’s making a lot of plays on the ball when given the opportunity. It’s just about him getting the feel for the game and slowing it down.”


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Veteran CB Sheppard Ready To Take Vikings Secondary To Next Level

Posted by cjsiewert on August 1, 2010 – 8:19 pm

Coming off a season that had the Vikings defense ranked 19th in passing yards allowed and just 26th in INTs, the new-look secondary for the Purple seems to be making strides in improving those rankings for the Vikings 50th season.

During the offseason, the Vikings acquired a pair of CBs to infuse competition and a promising future to a bolstered secondary unit – 9-year veteran Lito Sheppard and rookie Chris Cook.

Throughout the first 3 days of training camp, Sheppard has been involved with the 1st and 2nd-team defenses by rotating with 2nd-year CB Asher Allen. This weekend’s practices saw Allen taking reps with the 1st-team base package while Sheppard worked in the 2nd-team nickel package with both CBs rotating with each other often. This rotation between the pair of CBs may or may not be an indication of how playing time will be distributed during the season, but for the time being both players are seeing significant time with each defensive package.

“I think it’s more of counting reps and keeping them to a minimum,” Sheppard said when asked about the rotation. “I don’t know what they [coaching staff] got planned, I just go out there and do the best I can and be out there on day one.”

Even with Sheppard coming into his 1st-year with the Vikings, the 2-time Pro Bowler feels confident in his ability to contribute to the team’s defense to help improve off of last season. When asked about what is important when joining a new team, Sheppard was focused on the team aspect.

“I think it’s getting my teammates getting to believe in what I can do,” Sheppard said. “Me getting the feel of everybody and vice versa. I’m pretty familiar with the system. I’ve been in this type of system for seven years of my career so I got a real good feel about that but it’s just getting the other guy’s confidence in me and I can get the job done.”

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress praised Sheppard’s ability to adapt to a new defensive scheme early in training camp and feels that he’ll be able to pick up the system quickly.

“I think the biggest thing he’s doing is getting back up to our kind of defense,” Childress said of Sheppard. “He has some familiarity with Les’ defense. He’s just learning some of the nuances. He’s another quick study guy, he’s played in a couple of different systems now. He’s got man-cape abilities and there’s another guy who’s got instincts.”

Sheppard joins another seasoned veteran on the Vikings secondary unit with 12-year veteran Antoine Winfield, who is coming off an ankle injury that plagued him throughout the 2009 campaign. The opportunity to play with another experienced CB had #29 excited about what the pair can bring to the table in 2010.

“It’s good to have a chance to play with him,” Sheppard spoke of Winfield. “I think with both of our experience we can definitely take this secondary to the next level.”

As Mike mentioned earlier, rookie CB Chris Cook had a monster day on the practice fields Sunday afternoon and with that in mind I’ll have a few more words from Sheppard on his impressions of the rookie CB as well as Childress’ comments on the matter.

But for now I’m off to Grandma’s house where I’ve got a slab of ribs waiting for me on the dinner table.


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Vikings Conclude A Highlight-Filled Practice #2

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2010 – 11:38 am

Practice #2 of 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp was highlight-filled, as the squad begins to hit full stride here in Mankato in preparation for the upcoming season. The team practiced for approximately 2 hours in warm and partly cloudy conditions.

All 3 Vikings coordinators held press conferences following practice, so stay tuned for quotes and comments from that. Also, CJ got together with LB Jasper Brinkley and will have a report on him and the Vikings defense later today.

Tonight is Football and Fireworks Night at Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the team will practice under the lights from 7:00 p.m. to 8:55 p.m. and then fans will be entertained with a fireworks display right after practice.

Let’s run through a few highlights from this morning’s practice…

– You’ve heard the expression “Welcome to the NFL, rookie” several times in the past. The expression typically represents a moment when an NFL rookie experiences a “wake up” call during practice, usually a big hit that jars them a bit. Rookie RB Toby Gerhart got his “Welcome to the NFL” moment today…a couple times. DT Pat Williams got him first after the RB caught a pass in the right flats and then Brinkley jolted Gerhart a few plays later as he waited to catch another pass. Neither hit was malicious and Gerhart wasn’t the least bit shaken up by them, but it did generate a reaction from the crowd and you know that Williams and Brinkley got a little joy out of the moment.

– There is a drill called the “inside skeleton” where QBs, RBs and TEs work together in a passing exercise against LBs and Ss. In the early part of an inside skeleton drill, both Chad Greenway and Ben Leber stepped in front of passes to nab INTs. Greenway’s came off of rookie Joe Webb and Leber’s came off of veteran Sage Rosenfels. But Rosenfels bounced back right away to complete a pair of nice passes, the first to TE Garrett Mills over Jamarca Sanford and the next one to RB Darius Reynaud over LB Heath Farwell.

– Speaking of Reynaud, the converted RB ran with the 3rd team offense primarily today, with Gerhart and 3-year veteran Albert Young rotating between the 1st and 2nd teams. It’s too early to glean much off of the rotations right now, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

– While we’re on the topic of depth charts, one spot I’m curious to watch develop during training camp and the preseason is DT. This morning, Fred Evans and Jimmy Kennedy took the most reps with the 2nd team defense.

– CB Antoine Winfield generated some laughs from the crowd this morning. He was standing on the sidelines while WR Greg Lewis and CB Marcus Sherels went head-to-head in the 1-on-1 portion of practice. Lewis and Sherels got locked up right off the line of scrimmage at the snap and eventually Sherels was on the ground and Lewis was running away with a reception. Seeing Sherels thrown to the ground, Winfield tossed his sweat towel in the air to signify a pass interference penalty flag, right in front of the bleachers off of field #1. The crowd got a kick out of it.

– Later during 1-on-1s, CB Lito Sheppard locked up WR Marko Mitchell with an impressive display of press coverage and DeAndre Wright made a nice play on a deep pass down the left sideline that was intended for Logan Payne.

– One of the most impressive offensive plays of the day came when QB Tarvaris Jackson threaded the needle on a pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe down the right seam during 7-on-7 work.

– And finally, during team work near the end of practice, S Husain Abdullah stepped in front of a Jackson pass to notch an INT. On the play, Jackson executed a play-action fake and then bootlegged to the right. He slipped and tried to get a pass out to the flats anyway, but Abdullah was there to jump the route and pick off the pass.


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Gaining The Extra Edge: CB Lito Sheppard

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 29, 2010 – 9:26 am

Last week’s entry introducing the “Gaining The Extra Edge” series generated 42 comments, an impressive number considering this is the slowest part of the NFL calendar. So before we get into Part 1 of the series, I wanted to thank everyone who submitted a comment and also encourage everyone to share comments and thoughts after each part of the series going forward.

I did briefly tally up your votes for who should be included in this series and the 2 top vote getters were RB Toby Gerhart and S Tyrell Johnson. You’ll have to check out the “Gaining The Extra Edge” series this week to see if either of those guys are included. Other top vote getters included DE Brian Robison, S Jamarca Sanford and S Madieu Williams.

Let’s get to it…#5 in our series of players who hold the key to the Vikings gaining the extra edge is CB Lito Sheppard. The Vikings acquired Sheppard the day before the 2010 NFL Draft via free agency and his addition to the roster immediately bolstered a CB corps that quite frankly needed some bolstering because of injuries.

Both starting CBs Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield enter the 2010 season coming off of significant injuries and it’s possible that Griffin may not be ready to go for Week 1. That’s where Sheppard comes in. A 9th year veteran who was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1st round of the 2002 draft, Sheppard clearly has the pedigree to step into the starting lineup if need be.

Sheppard, who stands at 5-10 and 194 pounds, is a 2-time Pro Bowler (2004, 2006) and was also an All-Pro selection in 2004. He has 284 tackles, 19 INTs and 2.0 sacks in 104 career games (70 starts). He’s also the 1st player in NFL history to register 2 INT returns of more than 100 yards, notching both returns against the Dallas Cowboys. That is very good production and numbers like that will help the Vikings pass defense improve again in 2010.

But there’s a reason a player with Sheppard’s skill set and past production was available this offseason. As you can see, 104 games in 8 complete seasons averages out to 13 games per year, indicating Sheppard has missed time due to injury. Sheppard has had 3 seasons cut short by injury and he’ll need to stay away from the injury bug to be a contributor for the Vikings in 2010.

In addition, Sheppard was traded by the Eagles to the NY Jets in February of 2009. After the Eagles signed free agent CB Asante Samuel in 2008, Sheppard saw his playing time reduced. Eventually he was shipped to the Jets for a 5th round pick in the 2009 draft and a conditional pick in the 2010 draft. The Jets released him following the 2009 season, which made him available to the Vikings.

All of that being said, it’s clear to me Sheppard’s union with the Vikings makes a ton of sense. He should be sufficiently motivated to play well and he joins a team with a need at CB. He also joins a team with a familiar coaching staff – both Head Coach Brad Childress and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier were with Sheppard in Philadelphia.

It all sets up nicely for Sheppard and the Vikings, which is why Lito is #5 on our list of players who will help the Vikings gain the extra edge in 2010.


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NFL.com’s Carucci Visits Vikings Minicamp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 14, 2010 – 9:45 am

The Vikings opened up their only mandatory minicamp of the offseason on Friday and a large media contingent was on-hand to take in the action. One national media member roaming Winter Park that day was NFL.com senior columnist Vic Carucci, who has covered the sport for 30 years and is a past president of the Professional Football Writers of America.

Carucci touches on several topics in the piece he penned for NFL.com following his visit to the Vikings facility, but he leads with an interesting storyline that we’ve also addressed from time-to-time here on vikings.com: the atmosphere surrounding the Vikings as they come off a heart-breaking loss in last year’s NFC Championship Game.

“Frustration and anger over falling short of the only goal that matters can go a long way toward driving everyone to achieving it the next time around,” Carucci wrote in his article.

I spoke with TE Visanthe Shiancoe about this very topic over the weekend and he insisted this Vikings team is motivated to succeed again in 2010. CB Lito Sheppard told reporters on Sunday that he clearly senses the high expectations this Vikings team places on itself. And when meeting with reporters on Saturday, Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier also spoke about how the NFC title game loss from last season will impact the team this season.

“Just to get back into the football frame of mind and to be able to divorce yourself from the past, that is all a part of the (minicamp) process as well,” Frazier explained. “That is one of the things we talked about yesterday (Friday) in our first meeting; 2009 is behind us and let’s look more toward 2010 and really having a great season.”


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Observations From Final Minicamp Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 13, 2010 – 12:15 pm

The Vikings concluded their mandatory minicamp this weekend with a 4th and final practice on Sunday morning, working out for just over an hour under cloudy skies and moderate temperatures.

Practice format for Sunday looked similar to that of Friday and Saturday, though I did notice some red zone work being done. As has been widely-reported, Tarvaris Jackson took reps with the 1st team and rookie Joe Webb took many of the 2nd team reps. But following practice, Head Coach Brad Childress said not to read too much into the QB rotation at this point because the team is trying to split up reps to expose young players to as much as possible as they try to immerse themselves in the Vikings offense.

Speaking of Childress, he addressed the media following practice and vikings.com was there to cover it. We’ll have video of that press conference available in on-demand format later today so be sure to check back.

Also important to note was that RBs Toby Gerhart and Adrian Peterson were not at practice today.

Several players were stopped by reporters following practice and I tried to poke my head into as many interviews as I could. Here’s what I heard…

– Jackson was asked about his improvement from the 2009 season and he explained that the biggest improvement he’s made has been a mental standpoint and a focus standpoint. Perhaps Jackson learned from fellow QB Brett Favre during last season, but I also think Jackson is naturally progressing as a QB in this league. He has the desire to succeed and I characterize him as a player who works at improving his craft.

Jackson also said he thinks he’s grown more during this offseason than he has during any other point in his career.

– LB Jasper Brinkley spoke with reporters about his progress through the offseason as well. Brinkley was a solid contributor to the Vikings special teams unit for the first 12 weeks of last season and then was inserted into the starting lineup when middle LB E.J. Henderson went down with a season-ending leg injury. Brinkley performed admirably in Henderson’s stead and it appears the Vikings will be comfortable with the 2nd year player in Henderson’s spot until the defensive captain can return to the lineup. One particular area Brinkley acknowledged he was focusing on was pass coverage, where he is concentrating on rotating his hips better and matching up route combinations with splits between receivers.

– CB Lito Sheppard said he noticed a sense of high expectation amongst the Vikings as they come off a season in which they advanced to the NFC Championship Game. It was an interesting observation from Sheppard because the Vikings new CB is also coming off a loss in a conference championship game. He was with the Jets in 2009 and the Indianapolis Colts defeated the Jets in the AFC title game.

– Many Vikings players and both Childress and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier spent several minutes after practice visiting with and signing autographs for members of the 932nd Medical Squadron out of Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois. The squadron was lead by Master Sergeant Mike Taylor and also includes TSgt Gilmore, SSgt Jackson and Sr. Airman Wissman. The 932nd is in town on a 2-week tour at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.


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Fresh Faces Highlight Start Of Minicamp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2010 – 4:45 pm

The rain subsided and practice fields drained in enough time to allow the Vikings to work outside as they conducted their first of 5 scheduled minicamp practices on Friday afternoon at Winter Park. The team worked for about 90 minutes on the outdoor practice fields and ran through a typical OTA-type of practice.

What was different from OTAs, though, was the number of players participating in Friday’s activities. OTAs are voluntary, but this weekend’s minicamp is mandatory for most players. As expected, DE Ray Edwards, QB Brett Favre and RB Adrian Peterson were non-participants, but aside from those 3 players the Vikings had everyone together.

It was interesting to see some of the fresh faces in a Vikings uniform for the first time since last year’s NFC Championship Game, notably CB Antoine Winfield and WRs Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. It was also good to see a pair of rookies – RB Toby Gerhart and WR Ray Small – who were unable to participate in team activities until recently because of college graduation rules. I had an on-camera conversation with Gerhart immediately after practice, so be sure to check vikings.com tomorrow to see that interview.

Here are a few observations from today’s practice…

– Interesting to note that CB Lito Sheppard, who signed with the Vikings this offseason, was taking turns returning punts during the special teams portion of practice. I don’t read too much into this – Sheppard has only 8 career punt returns – but it’s interesting to note. Ray Small, an undrafted rookie WR from Ohio State, was also practicing punt returns.

– Speaking of special teams, K Ryan Longwell looked sharp early in practice. Rotating from left hash to right hash and backing up after each kick, Longwell was 5 of 6 of FG tries – he missed his final attempt.

– Both Harvin and Rice look as if they’ve added solid muscle mass during the offseason. Rice told reporters after practice that he’s planning on working out with Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. again in July.

– It was great to see LB E.J. Henderson participating in individual drills with the rest of his LB teammates. He of course suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 13 last year and it would be a big boost for the Vikings defense to have him back for training camp.

– Vikings minicamp was a popular place to be for some national media members. ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, who covered the Vikings for the Star Tribune before joining the ESPN family, was roaming the sidelines and so was one of his ESPN colleagues, Ed Werder. NFL.com’s Vic Carucci was on-hand as well.

– The most impressive defensive play I saw came from rookie and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher CB Marcus Sherels. He was covering Harvin down the middle of the field and stretched to haul in an INT during 1-on-1 drills.

– Minicamp is open to the media and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear/read a lot of analysis/reaction to which QBs are taking snaps with which teams. Tarvaris Jackson spent the 2009 season as the #2 QB and I’m sure he’ll take a lot of snaps with the 1st team during minicamp and training camp, but I’m not reading too much into things at this stage.

– TE Visanthe Shiancoe met with reporters after practice and was in a jovial mood – par for the course for him. He was asked about Favre and Peterson not being at camp and said their absence wasn’t a problem with him because he knows they are professionals who will be ready to play when it’s time to play. I met with Shiancoe after practice and he shared a couple of other interesting thoughts that I’ll explain in a soon-to-be-published blog entry or headline story. Look for that early tomorrow morning.


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Defense Exclusive OTA Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 20, 2010 – 1:19 pm

OTA #3 is in the books after another 90-minute or so workout on the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park. The weather was more of the same – sunny and warm – as the Vikings coaching staff worked with young players and selected veterans for the 3rd consecutive day.

As noted earlier, today’s OTA observations will focus exclusively on defense (tomorrow’s will focus exclusively on offense). Also, CJ will be chiming in a bit later after observing the Vikings WRs for most of practice. He also spoke with WR Greg Lewis after the Vikings concluded their on-field work.

A few (defensive) observations from today’s work…

– After opening up with some special teams drill work – a staple of Brad Childress’ practices – the Vikings defense focused on turnovers. Players were split up into groups by position and the defensive coaches conducted drills that condition players to be aggressive in forcing fumbles and also recovering those fumbles. One drill had DBs chopping their feet and moving laterally across obstacles for 10 yards and then sprinting forward to scoop up a fumble and return it to the endzone. Another drill required DL and LBs to execute a pass rush move (swim, rip, bull rush) and then rake the ball from a tackling dummy. Yet another drill asked DBs and LBs to punch the ball out of a ball-carriers possession and the recover the fumble.

Standouts in those drills included CBs Chris Cook and Lito Sheppard (lateral shuffle and fumble recovery) and DE Brian Robison (pass rush and stripping the ball).

– Of course there is no contact permitted during OTAs – per NFL rules – and that alters somewhat how teams practice, or at least what the focus may be during parts of practice. I’ve noted this in previous observations, but one emphasis Vikings coaches preach during these OTAs is pre-snap and after-the-snap positioning.

Coaches are teaching the players – most of whom are new to the team or in their 1st or 2nd year – how to read and react to certain situations and formations. DL coach Karl Dunbar spent almost 2 periods of practice explaining to his players how important it is to pay attention to how an OL was lined up.

“Whether we have pads or not, or whether there is contact allowed or not, we want to work on our positioning,” Dunbar told me after practice. “It’s situational football. We want them to know how to read and react to splits (along the offensive line), depths, motion by a receiver and shifts in the formation. Why is that running back lined up 5 steps deep instead of 7? Why is the split wider between the guard and tackle? Those are things we need to understand so we can react to certain situations.”

– Although because of the no contact rule the 1-on-1 drills aren’t quite as intense and realistic, there is still a lot of valuable work that can be accomplished. In today’s 1-on-1 DB/WR drill, rookie CB Chris Cook – selected with the 34th overall pick in last month’s draft – came up with an INT. On the very next play, former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher CB Marcus Sherels had blanket coverage against WR Taye Biddle as QB Tarvaris Jackson launched a deep pass down the field.

– LBs and Ss went up against RBs and FBs in a passing drill, where the offensive players came from out of the backfield to run pass routes as the defenders dropped into coverages to cover them. The highlight of the drill came when newly-converted RB Darius Reynaud bolted from the backfield, used an inside move to get past a LB, and then straightened out his route to catch a pass down the middle of the field. S Madieu Williams, however, was right there and would’ve applied a crushing hit to Reynaud as he made the catch had they been in a game situation. RBs coach Eric Bieniemy, who coaches as hard and as well as anyone, was all over the play. He first acknowledged the inside move Reynaud used to get past the LB, but then corrected Reynaud by pointing out the inside move brought him to the middle of the field where the S could break up the play. Bieniemy explained the proper route would’ve had Reynaud making the catch near the numbers instead of down the middle of the field.

– The last observation from today’s practice actually has nothing to do with defense. I wanted to compliment the Vikings turf management crew on the job they’ve done with the practice fields. They look great, even after 3 consecutive days of on-field work. I’m sure Minnesota weather – the winters especially – aren’t easy on the turn and the Vikings staff does a nice job of grooming the surface.


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