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Will “Book” Get A Better Look?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 13, 2011 – 10:55 am

Vikings fans were introduced to Lorenzo Booker late last year, when he was signed before the team’s Week 14 game against the NY Giants and wound up stepping into the kick return role. He did a nice job in the role, averaging 23.8 yards on 18 returns, including 3 returns of 40+ yards. 

The Vikings decided to bring Booker back to the team last offseason, and he responded by having a solid training camp and averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception in 4 preseason games. But beyond 8 kickoff returns in place of Percy Harvin occasionally, Booker hasn’t seen much of the field.

That changed last week, though, as Booker recorded 1 rush for 25 yards and also caught 2 passes for 25 yards. And it sounds like Booker may be getting a few more looks as the season moves forward.

“Book is a weapon,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Thursday.”He’s definitely a weapon. We were happy to get him some touches the other day. Looking back, we probably would’ve had more production if we would’ve done that early in the year. So we’re hoping to build on that and he’ll help us in certain situations like he did on Sunday.”

Booker is not the kind of RB you’d give 15-20 rushes to on the ground, and he’s not a player you’d line up consistently in the slot. But he is a player who can be effective and explosive in the right situations.

“He’s a tough matchup for linebackers,” Musgrave explained. “Book had a great preseason carrying the ball, too. So he’s not just a threat in the passing game, so we want to get him out there because he’s sharp, he knows who to block if they would rush him, but we can also get him out and let him do his thing in space.”


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Vikings Special Teams Strong Again Saturday Night

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 22, 2011 – 8:42 am

The Vikings special teams unit is going through a period of transition right now, partly because of some roster turnover but largely because there is a new coordinator in charge. Mike Priefer is now on the job and he’s making significant changes to some of the fundamental aspects of each special teams phase.

We’ll spare the detail of those changes for now, but suffice it to say Priefer has had a lot to teach in a short amount of time, especially considering he didn’t have the minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) usually afforded to teams in the offseason.

Despite all of that, early results are outstanding for Priefer and Co. The special teams were probably the strongest part of the Vikings preseason debut in Tennessee a week ago and then last Saturday in Tennessee the special teams gave another strong showing.

Let’s go over some of the highlights…

– Ryan Longwell has been solid on kickoffs all preseason. On Saturday night he was hitting his kicks into the endzone, with one going as deep as 6 yards. That combined with terrific effort from the coverage team is helping the Vikings win the field position battle. Here is Seattle’s starting field position after Longwell’s four kickoffs: SEA 11, SEA 27, SEA 9, SEA 15. The Vikings defense will enjoy life quite a bit this season if opponents are starting drives inside the 20 with regularity.

– P Chris Kluwe is doing his part to help the Vikings win the field position battle, too. On Saturday night he had 4 punts, with a gross average of 39.8 and a net average of 38.5. When the gross average and net average are similar, you know the opponents aren’t doing much in the return game. Seattle averaged just 1.7 yards per return on 3 tries and Kluwe landed 2 of his 4 punts inside the 20.

– S Eric Frampton continues to be a standout in kick coverage. He had another open-field tackle on Saturday night.

– Longwell was also solid in the place kicking department, nailing FGs from 34 and 36 yards and also hitting his lone PAT try. The battery of long snapper Cullen Loeffler to Kluwe also improved on Saturday night.

– Lorenzo Booker, who is my choice to be the Vikings kickoff returner this season, registered another impressive return on Saturday night with a 26-yard scamper. Marcus Sherels, who returned an INT 64 yards for a score in the game, also had 2 punt returns for a 10.0-yard average, but he did lose a fumble and that won’t be tolerated by Priefer and special teams assistant coach Chris White.

– Outside of Frampton, the other players credited with special teams tackles on Saturday were: Tony Carter, Loeffler, Sherels, Devon Torrence and Mark Washington. Devin Aromashodu (1), Jasper Brinkley (2),  Booker (1) and Larry Dean (1) were all credited with assists.


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Punt Return Job Looks Wide Open; Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 4:11 pm

In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I made the case for Lorenzo Booker to take care of kickoff return duties for the Vikings this season. The punt return job, however, is not quite as simple to delegate at this point.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s practice officially began, I watched 8 Vikings take turns fielding punts. They were: CBs Asher Allen, Cord Parks, Marcus Sherels and Devon Torrence; WRs Stephen Burton, Greg Camarillo and Jaymar Johnson; and RB Lorenzo Booker.

Camarillo was the primary punt returner last season, fielding 39 of the team’s 42 punt returns. He hasn’t done anything to lose the responsibility and is in fact one of the surest-handed returners in the group, but there’s nothing wrong with opening up the job for competition. Through one preseason game, Johnson has the best results (1 return for 40 yards) and Sherels has returned a pair of punts for 4 yards.

There are higher-profile position battles on the Vikings roster this year, such as backup QB and starting safety, but the importance of the punt return position battle should not be understated. The candidates for the job come from a variety of different positions, which means the punt return job has an impact on several areas of the team when it comes time for coaches and scouts to pick the 53-man rosters.

We’ll continue to monitor this position battle for you on vikings.com throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason. Here are a few notes from Tuesday afternoon’s practice…

– The team worked in full pads for just short of 2.5 hours under partly cloudy skies. The temperature was fairly warm, but there was a persistent wind that cooled the air and made life a bit more difficult for P Chris Kluwe and K Ryan Longwell.

– Longwell, though, was solid during the special teams period and connected on a high percentage of his FG tries.

– RG Anthony Herrera practice for the second straight day and continues to ease back into the swing of things. He worked with the first-team offense. Also working with the first-team offense again on Tuesday was Scott Kooistra.

– Tyrell Johnson was a safety on the first-team defense and Chris Cook worked with the first-team nickel defense.

– The Vikings coaching staff gave the one-on-one drill between WRs and CBs/safeties a different twist. Ordinarily the drill pits just one WR against one CB, but on Tuesday the Vikings worked on route combinations. There were three DBs on the field for the drill (one safety, two CBs) and two WRs. The drill not only had the offensive players working on route combinations and the defensive players working on defensive schemes, but it also forced the defense to communicate and it forced the QB to make a decision on which receiver to target.

– There is usually a “special category” period of practice, which is commonly referred to as “special cats.” Tuesday’s “special cats” period had the offense working in the no-huddle against a 40-second play clock. A few interesting things to note about this period of practice: QB Donovan McNabb ran the no-huddle for the first-team offense flawlessly and without error; Camarillo saw a lot of extra time with the first-team as a slot WR with Harvin sitting out (more on that below); and rookie Brandon Burton grabbed an INT during the period off of Christian Ponder on an impressive play where he tipped the pass and was able to concentrate in traffic to haul in the pick.

– Guys who sat out of practice on Tuesday: S Simeon Castiille, LBs Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu, DE D’Aundre Reed and TE Visanthe Shiancoe. WR Percy Harvin took part in the early portions of practice but then sat out for most of the workout. It looked like a precautionary move more than anything because he stuck around outside for the entire practice and was interacting with his teammates. Harvin was bothered by a rib injury near the end of the Mankato portion of training camp. Also, LB Jonathan Gilmore left practice early; no indication on his injury.

– I’m not sure how much it’s worth tracking which players are playing with the first-team, second-team and third-team, mostly because coaches are still experimenting with different combinations as they try to shape their position groups. So at the risk of jumping to conclusions, or causing you to jump to conclusions, here’s how a few positions appear to be shaking out: Adrian Awasom (LDE) and Everson Griffen (RDE) are consistently with the second-team; Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are second-team DTs; rookie LB Ross Homan and veteran LB Mark Washington have been primarily with the second-team defense the past two days; Asher Allen and Chris Cook are the second-team CBs, but Sherels is rotated into the mix on occasion; Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are the second-team safeties and both have taken turns with the first-team; the second-team nickel features Burton and Devon Torrence at outside CB, Marcus Sherels in the slot, Jasper Brinkley and Ross Homan at LB and a rotation at safety among Chris Adingupu, Raymond and Sanford.

– Rookie DeMarcus Love, a 4-year starter at the University of Arkansas in the talent-rich Southeastern Conference (SEC), seems to have established himself as the second-team LT.


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Trend Or Mirage?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2011 – 10:52 am

Much of my attention so far in the aftermath of the Vikings preseason opener in Tennessee has been on the QBs. Much of the fans’ attention has been on criticizing the offensive line and secondary. So for a moment let’s focus on a few other topics from Saturday night’s game and discuss whether they are trends that we can anticipate continuing or mirages that were just a flash in the pan.

Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…

Lorenzo Booker flying all over the field
From an individual standpoint, RB Lorenzo Booker flashed on the field more than any other player for the Vikings. Many Vikings fans will remember Booker as “the guy who came on late last season and returned a few kicks.” But on Saturday night he had a different role. In the end, Booker finished with 9 carries for 47 yards (5.2 yards per carry), including a run of 20 yards. He also had 3 receptions for 32 yards and a kickoff return for 26 yards.

More than just the numbers, though, Booker displayed his above-average speed and his outstanding quickness. He has a wiggle to him when the ball is in his hands and rarely does the first defender bring him to the ground. In fairness, we must note that he did lose a fumble on Saturday night and that turnover led to a Tennessee TD. That cannot continue if Booker is going to remain a factor for the Vikings.

Trend or Mirage: I say this is a trend. Booker immediately bonded with QB Donovan McNabb (they were together in Philadelphia during the 2008 season) and I think he’s going to be a safety net for McNabb in the Vikings offense. Booker is a great change-of-pace RB, he’ll be valuable on 3rd downs and, perhaps most importantly, he could be the primary kickoff returner. If Booker can prove reliable as a kick returner, it will allow the Vikings to preserve Percy Harvin from that role and increase Harvin’s touches on offense.

Christian Ballard notches a QB sack
The Vikings selected DL Christian Ballard with their fourth-round pick in last April’s draft and they took him with the thought that he could bolster the defensive line’s depth because he can play both inside at DT and outside at DE. Ballard was productive at both spots while playing for the University of Iowa and I’ve seen nothing so far in training camp that indicates he can’t be productive at either spot in the NFL.

On Saturday night during the 2nd quarter, Ballard crashed the pocked and sacked QB Jake Locker on 3rd and 2, ending the Titans drive and forcing a punt. That’s the kind of disruption the Vikings hoped to see from Ballard.

Trend or Mirage: Looks like a trend to me. Although he hasn’t had an outstanding camp, he has played well enough so far, especially with the sack on Saturday night, to inspire confidence that he can be a member of the DL rotation this season.

Vikings secondary suspect again
It was only the first preseason game, so we don’t want to draw a water-tight conclusion yet. But unfortunately we saw more of the same from the Vikings secondary on Saturday night. Granted, Tennessee only scored 14 points for the game, but there were times when it felt like both Matt Hasselbeck and Locker had no problem finding holes in coverage. Also, the Vikings didn’t generate much of a pass rush all night – except for Ballard’s sack – and that doesn’t help the secondary cover anybody.

Both Asher Allen and Chris Cook will be criticized for the next week for their play in Saturday night’s game. Also, fans will be quite vocal about the need for an improvement at safety. Given how the secondary performed last year and also how Saturday night unfolded, this is a fair complaint. But as upset as you are fans, at how the secondary has played, I hope you are just as open to seeing improvement in the weeks ahead.

Trend or Mirage: I think it’s a mirage. My expectation is the Vikings pass rush will be better in 2011 than it was in 2010 and I also think the return of Cedric Griffin to the starting lineup (he didn’t play Saturday night) will make a huge difference in the secondary. I know head coach Leslie Frazier believes in Cook and if the second-round pick from last year can gain some confidence and play well, the Vikings can quickly turn what was once a major weakness into a serviceable to strong part of the team. Yes, we saw a few things we didn’t want to see on Saturday night, but we have three preseason games and a whole lot more training camp to go before the regular season begins on September 11 in San Diego.


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 13, 2011 – 1:15 pm

The Vikings preseason opener is tonight in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Here are five things to watch tonight when the Vikings and Titans clash in Nashville…

5. Mental mistakes, procedural penalties
No one on the field has a lack of competitive desire, but the truth of the matter is that the preseason is not about wins and losses. With the exception of guys at the bottom of the roster trying to bite, scratch and crawl for a spot, it’s about looking good, knocking the rust off and progressing every day. Coaches are more concerned about seeing zero missed assignments than they are about seeing 31 offensive points on the board. What we don’t want to see tonight are blitzers running free at Vikings QBs, running backs from the Titans bursting through the line of scrimmage without a hand on them and Vikings WRs cutting one way and the QB tossing a pass the other way. We also don’t want to see botched QB-center exchanges, false starts and illegal formation penalties.

4. The QB eye test
We’re going to have to go easy on crafting a water-tight judgment of Vikings QBs after this game. Remember, three of them are new Vikings (Rhett Bomar, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder) and the other (Joe Webb) may as well be new to the team because he’s learning a brand-new offense. With the lockout cancelling all offseason practices, offenses across the League have only just begun to install their strategies. So we’ll see a very vanilla style from the Vikings offense tonight, but I still want to see any Vikings QB who trots out there pass the eye test and at least look comfortable in all situations, whether it be a snap on first-and-ten or a pressure moment late in the half with time winding down and the defense dialing up a blitz.

3. Vikings pass rush
Jared Allen and Everson Griffen had great camps, but I’d like confirmation that they’re playing well tonight. Confirmation will come in the form of a few disruptive plays against the Titans. This might be a bit tougher to see from Allen because head coach Leslie Frazier may want to limit his reps to reduce exposure to injury, but I think Griffen will get plenty of reps tonight and I expect him to play well.

2. Kick and punt returners
The Vikings have a deep group of players competing for kick and punt return duties. This is an important role on the team not only because it helps the team win the field position battle, but also because anyone who can contribute on special teams will increase their chances of making the roster. If a WR can be relied upon to return kicks and cover kicks as well as run the correct routes on offense, he has a better chance to make the roster. If a RB can do the same while also showing good pass protection ability and a burst with the ball in his hands, then he has a better shot to make the roster. The same can be said for a CB trying to win the return job. RB Lorenzo Booker, WRs Stephen Burton, Percy Harvin and Jaymar Johnson and even a few members of the secondary are examples of players who can increase their value to the team by giving a good accounting of themselves in the return game.

1. Reserve offensive linemen
There are six offensive linemen you can count on (barring injury) being around once the regular season begins – LT Charlie Johnson, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RGs Anthony Herrera and Chris DeGeare and RT Phil Loadholt. But who will fill in as reserves? The process of determining that begins tonight and, specifically, begins about midway through the first quarter when the starters will exit the game. Draft picks C Brandon Fusco and OT DeMarcus Love have had nice camps. The versatile Ryan Cook was brought back and could fill in anywhere. Veteran Scott Kooistra is a big body that can play both LT and RT. What about Seth Olsen, who filled in for Hutchinson at LG during camp a few times? There are several more names in the mix for reserve offensive linemen jobs and it’ll be interesting to see who plays well tonight.


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Loss Hides The Shine On Special Teams’ Stars

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2010 – 9:22 am

Lost in the negativity of last week’s 21-3 loss to the NY Giants at Ford  Field in Detroit and the whirlwind of developments involved in the collapse of the Mall of America Field at the Metrodome roof was an outstanding performance by the Vikings special teams unit. Let’s take a quick look back at what happened…

Punt/Punt Coverage
One of the Vikings top performers all season has been P Chris Kluwe, and he was in great form once again last week. A sputtering Vikings offense wasn’t able to sustain drives, meaning Kluwe was called on often to boot the ball away while also trying to maintain some kind of field position advantage. Kluwe had 10 punts on the night, with a net average of 42.4. More importantly, though, is that 4 of Kluwe’s punts stopped inside the Giants 20, only 3 of the 10 were returned and just 1 of them went into the endzone for a touchback.

For the season now, Kluwe ranks 3rd in the NFL in net punting (40.9), 1st in the NFC with 29 punts inside the 20 and tied for 1st in the NFL in fair catches. We also shouldn’t forget about the coverage team, as they’ve combined with Kluwe to allow just 5.5 yards per return, which ranks 1st in the NFL.

Punt Return
Kluwe wasn’t the only busy punt on Monday night. New York’s Matt Dodge had 7 punts on the night, but Vikings punt returner Greg Camarillo made sure Dodge and the Giants punt team didn’t have the same kind of success Kluwe and his group had. Camarillo returned 5 of the 7 punts and averaged 18.0 yards per try, an outstanding number. On top of that, he had a 52-yard return in which he ran across the field twice, dodging would-be tacklers and setting the offense up with good field position. Camarillo has been excellent in terms of securing the ball this season on punt returns, but on Monday he displayed some burst and playmaking ability.

Kickoff Return
Last season Percy Harvin was a Pro Bowl kickoff return selection, but the Vikings were without him on Monday night. So the newly-acquired Lorenzo Booker stepped in and looked like a natural running behind some solid blocking from special teams coordinator Brian Murphy’s group. Booker had 4 returns for 123 yards – a 30.8-yard average – and he had a sensational return that went for a TD but was called back because of a blocking in the back penalty. Add in the extra yards lost from that penalty, plus the TD, and the kickoff returns numbers would’ve looked even better.

Kickoff
The Vikings didn’t do much scoring, so Ryan Longwell and Co. only had 2 kickoffs on the night. In the limited reps, though, they were solid. Kickoff teams love touchbacks, and Longwell delivered one against the Giants. On the only other kickoff, the Vikings yielded just a 19-yard return.

Placekicking
Again, not much to report on here, but Longwell was a perfect 1-for-1 on the night, hitting a 21-yard try in the 1st quarter to stake the Vikings to a 3-0 lead. For the season, Longwell has been steady, converting 14 of 15 FG tries with his only miss coming at blustery Soldier Field when he banged one off the uprights.

Longwell is one of the most consistent performers I’ve ever seen with the Vikings. He’s converted 85-of-89 (95.5%) FGs from inside 45 yards since joining the Vikings in 2006 and he is currently ranked 8th all-time in NFL history with a career FG percentage of 83.3%. Longwell owns the team record for the most consecutive FGs made under 40 yards with 35.


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Vikings Tweak Roster; Add RB Lorenzo Booker

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 7, 2010 – 3:07 pm

The Vikings made a series of roster moves on Tuesday, with the most significant being the addition of RB Lorenzo Booker. Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that the team was looking to sign Booker and they are hopeful the former Florida State University standout can contribute immediately, perhaps on 3rd-down situations.

To make room for Booker, the Vikings waived/injured RB Albert Young and placed him on Injured Reserve. In addition to those moves, the Vikings also waived C Adrian Martinez from the practice squad and added QB R.J. Archer to the practice. Archer was with the Vikings during the offseason program last summer.

Booker was selected in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. He spent the 2008 season with the Philadelphia Eagles and was a member of the UFL’s Hartford Colonials in 2010.

Note: An earlier version of this entry noted that Albert Young had been waived. He’s actually been waived/injured and has been placed on Injured Reserve.


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