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…
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…
Tags: Devin Aromashodu, Harrison Smith, Jarius Wright, Joe Webb, Jordan Todman, Lex Hilliard, Manny Arceneaux, Matt Asiata, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Reggie Jones, Robert Blanton, Sage Rosenfels, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 273 Comments »
We’re in the middle of about the only slow time in the NFL news cycle. So what better to do than take an inventory of what the Vikings have on their roster with training camp just weeks away.
Let’s begin with the wide receivers, where the Vikings currently have 12 on the roster…
The wide receiver position is high profile as it is, but add in a mix of A) desire for improvement from last year’s performance, B) a flashy free agent acquisition and C) a mix of veterans and youngsters battling for roster spots, and you can be sure the Vikings wide receiver situation will be one to watch.
Percy Harvin is the cream of the crop, and after him the Vikings have worked hard this offseason to improve the position, most notably by adding veteran Jerome Simpson in free agency and then drafting a pair of receivers in the 4th round (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright).
Keep in mind, Simpson won’t count against the Vikings roster limit to begin the season because of a three-game suspension, so that opens up another spot for competition among a group of several players that is comprised of both veterans and youngsters. Veterans Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins will rely upon their one year of experience in Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scheme to try and ward off the young receivers the Vikings have in the fold. Jenkins was ‘ol reliable last season before getting hurt, and WRs coach George Stewart loves having him around because he’s a good influence on a young position group. Aromashodu showed flashes of playmaking ability last season, most notably his diving TD grab at Kansas City. Another veteran added to the mix is Bryan Walters, who looked good during the Vikings offseason program and is a sleeper in the punt returner competition.
The youngsters on the roster are highlighted by Childs and Wright, but also include a seventh-round choice from last year – Stephen Burton. He’s continually progressed since being drafted by the Vikings and took another step forward this offseason. The remaining receivers on the roster who will compete for spots are:
– Manny Arceneaux – Acquired by Vikings in January of 2011 after two standout seasons in the CFL…took a step forward this offseason with his work in Organized Team Activities and minicamp.
— Kamar Jorden – Bowling Green product who plays bigger than his listed height of 6-2…definitely not a throw-away player.
— A.J. Love – Acquired late in the offseason program and will need to watch more in training camp to get an opinion.
— Kerry Taylor – Injured his hand during the offseason program, so another who will merit a longer look in training camp. Quicker than fast, possible option in return game.
Tags: A.J. Love, Bryan Walters, Devin Aromashodu, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Kamar Jorden, Kerry Taylor, Manny Arceneaux, Michael Jenkins, Percy Harvin, Roster Rundown, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 121 Comments »
The Vikings returned to the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park on Tuesday for Organized Team Activity (OTA) #4, and two of the team’s best players – LB Chad Greenway and WR Percy Harvin – rejoined the team for on-field activities. Weather conditions were ideal – sunny skies and warm temperatures – and the team worked for approximately 90 minutes.
Both Greenway and Harvin looked fresh and explosive during practice, and their presence along with a weekend for all the players to rest and recover after last week’s three OTAs yielded an up-tempo practice environment. We caught up with Harvin after practice for a quick interview and will have that posted to vikings.com shortly.
Here are a few other observations from OTA #4 on Tuesday…
– Tuesday’s practice opened with a special teams period, and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer had several guys in the rotation to field kickoffs. By my count there were 8 players catching kicks – WRs Stephen Burton, Harvin, Bryan Walters and Jarius Wright; CBs Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson and Nicholas Taylor; and RB Jordan Todman. The point here is not so much to try and track who’s taking the reps, but more to illustrate that Priefer is looking at the entire roster in an attempt to fill the kickoff return role. This OTA portion of the offseason is not the time to narrow down the competition by figuring out who can’t fill the role, rather now is the time to discover guys who can fill the role so a robust competition can be held in training camp and the preseason.
– It’s mentioned above that Greenway made his return to the field, and he looked good in doing so. He’s the leader of that LB group and is one of the team’s most consistent performers. Another who’s stood out among that group, though, is Erin Henderson. He had a good week last week and hit the ground running this week, too, making splash plays in both the special categories and 9-7 periods of practice.
– A couple of young DBs tallied INTs during practice. S Mistral Raymond got one late in practice and fellow S Robert Blanton, the team’s 5th-round pick in this year’s draft, grabbed one a few moments earlier during 7-on-7 action. Overall the defense is playing a bit faster than the offense at this point, but that is to be expected this early in the OTAs and offseason programming. The offense has clearly taken a step forward since OTA #1 and I expect the offense will continue making great strides as training camp approaches.
– It wasn’t all defense on the highlight reel on Tuesday. QB Christian Ponder connected with TE Kyle Rudolph on a terrific touch pass that was perfectly placed over a pair of LBs and underneath a CB and S late in practice. Rudolph fully extended and stayed on his feet to make the catch. Walters also had a full-extension catch late in practice where he had to dive among defenders to secure the ball.
– Early in practice both Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu made highlight-caliber catches. Aromashodu’s came first on a pass from Ponder with CB Chris Carr in coverage. Aromashodu stopped his route short, leaped high in the air and made the catch over Carr (who was in perfect position), and came down with both feet in bounds and the ball secured while falling onto the left sideline. Moments later, Arceneaux made his catch in similar fashion – more of a back-shoulder fade, this time from Joe Webb.
– The Vikings will hold OTA #5 on Wednesday at Winter Park and it will be open to the media. We’ll have continuing coverage of OTAs and the Vikings offseason program here on vikings.com, so stay tuned.
Tags: Bryan Walters, Chad Greenway, Christian Ponder, Devin Aromashodu, Erin Henderson, Kyle Rudolph, Manny Arceneaux, Mistral Raymond, OTAs, Percy Harvin, Robert Blanton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 128 Comments »
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier held his customary day-after-the-game press conference on Monday afternoon and in so doing he provided a quick injury update and then discussed some of the big issues coming out of Sunday’s close 34-28 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Here are a few notes from the press conference…
– Frazier the most significant injury coming out of the game was WR Stephen Burton, who injured the MCL in one of his knees. Burton will not undergo surgery, but the timetable for his rehab and return is such that he wouldn’t be able to make it back before the season concludes. As a result, the Vikings have placed him on the Reserve/Injured list, they’ve elevated Manny Arceneaux from the Practice Squad and Frazier indicated the team may sign another WR to take Arceneaux’s place on the Practice Squad.
– Frazier was optimistic on Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder being able to play this weekend against the New Orleans Saints. Frazier described Peterson, who is dealing with an ankle injury, as close to being able to play last Sunday and Ponder as “no worse for the wear” after playing into the 3rd quarter against Detroit with his hip injury. Frazier also noted that DE Brian Robison “banged” his knee during the game but was able to finish.
– The 6-point loss on Sunday in Detroit marks the 8th loss of 7 points or fewer for the Vikings this season. That’s a remarkable stat for this Vikings team considering the injuries they’ve had to overcome. With the losses mounting up, it’s also a credit to the leadership on the Vikings coaching staff and in the locker room that the team continues to battle so hard in close games. No one wants to be the loveable losers, but it’s even worse to be the bad team that doesn’t even try hard. The Vikings clearly are not a group that doesn’t fight to the end, and Frazier appreciates that team quality. “As I mentioned before, not a lot of solace when you lose games when you’re battling every week to try to get a win like we are,” Frazier said, “but the fact that they are continuing to fight and not giving up and not make any excuses gives you some hope that we’ll continue to fight each and every week and hopefully eventually get it turned where some of those tough losses end up being victories. Hats off to our players for fighting the way they’re fighting.”
– Detroit’s 2nd TD of the game came on a 57-yard pass to WR Titus Young on a play where Young ran past CB Cedric Griffin and then beat S Jamarca Sanford further down the field to haul in the pass and dash into the end zone. On the play, Griffin’s responsibility is to re-route the WR early, and then to pass the receiver off to the safety. The problem was that Griffin didn’t get a sufficient re-route of Young, which enabled the Matthew Stafford-to-Young hookup and score. Griffin didn’t see much action after that play and Frazier was asked about the situation on Monday. Frazier said Griffin is not “in my dog house” and that the team will discuss the issue and move forward this week with a plan. I don’t expect Frazier will “give up” on Griffin, a player who has come back from severe knee injuries and is a good locker room guy. As Frazier said, the technique of re-routing a WR is something Griffin has executed countless times in the past and it’s likely something he’ll continue to be able to execute for the team going forward.
– The big story of the game for the Vikings is the removal of Ponder in favor of Webb, and then Webb’s subsequent performance and ability to nearly bring the team back to victory. While Frazier has maintained that Ponder is the team’s starter, he’s also acknowledged that the team would prefer to get Webb on the field more frequently because of his play-making ability. The issue right now is that Webb is the backup QB, and his value as the backup QB (which we saw on Sunday in Detroit) is too much to risk by having him on the field frequently. Once Sage Rosenfels, acquired two weeks ago, is more up to speed, then expect to see Webb in a more expanded role on offense. “No question, he is a guy who can create players when there’s nothing there,” Frazier said. “And we’ve got to do more as far as getting him out there and trying to put him in position to make plays, especially when Adrian is not playing and you’re relying so much on Percy. We need all the playmakers on the field that we can get and he is for sure one of our playmakers. It’s something we’ve got to continue to explore. We have some packages that we use sporadically, maybe we’ve got to go a little bit deeper with those packages.”
Tags: Cedric Griffin, Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Leslie Frazier, Manny Arceneaux, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 94 Comments »
It’s natural for offenses to come along slower than defenses in training camp and the preseason, largely because offenses rely on rhythm and timing. Add in the fact that the lockout took away minicamps and OTAs, and offenses are at an even greater disadvantage.
The Vikings are certainly no exception to that rule, especially with two new QBs and a bunch of new WRs added to the mix since the end of the 2010 season. Individual players have performed well quite often at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, but as a group there is still plenty of progress to be made.
The good news is that progress is being made and Vikings coaches are pleased with the way the team is working. Things are going in the right direction.
“I think the guys are getting better each day,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Tuesday. “They’re starting to absorb the concepts and the techniques that we’re teaching. We haven’t had a lot of time and we’ve acknowledged that, but they’ve done a superb job of getting better every day, focusing on an area of improvement every day rather just going out there and mindlessly working through practice.”
Musgrave credited head coach Leslie Frazier for the way he’s organized this training camp, especially in light of the unusual CBA-related circumstances that surrounded the beginning of camp.
“The practices are structured where we are covering each and every situation,” Musgrave explained. “The players feel prepared, we feel prepared as coaches, we’re just scratching the surface of in terms of having enough turns at our plays where we’re real precise and good at them.”
The next big step in the offense’s progression will come on Saturday night when the Vikings play at the Tennessee Titans for the preseason opener. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a crisp, mistake-free performance by the offense. But it’s certainly fair to expect the offense to continue its progression and the bottom line is the offense must be “all systems go” by the time the regular season rolls around.
Musgrave certainly understands that.
“We’re not anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of the precision of the passing game,” Musgrave said. “I think guys know what they’re doing, but in terms of having the number of turns it takes to be good at it, we’re not there. But fortunately we’ll have until September 11 to get good at those things.”
The current status of the Vikings offense is nothing about which to be alarmed. In fact, Vikings fans should take solace in the fact that they’ll have a 13-year veteran QB in Donovan McNabb at the helm and there will be plenty of talent around McNabb to get the offense firing on all cylinders.
Here are a few notes from Wednesday morning’s practice…
– The Vikings worked for over two hours in ideal weather conditions. The heat has been dialed back several notches, the sun is shining and the blustery winds from Tuesday have vanished. Frazier had his team in shorts, shoulder pads/jerseys and helmets for the workout.
– Another outstanding crowd packed the bleachers and standing-room only sections of 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. I know I’ve mentioned this countless times during camp, but I can’t say enough about how great Vikings fans have been to the team over the last 10 days. All the practices are well-attended, the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone is constantly buzzing, Vikings Village is rocking and the support from the local Mankato community has been terrific.
– The Vikings have practiced “the little things” a lot during this camp. It might sound like a foregone conclusion that this is the case, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how important some facets of the game can be, even though we only see them on occasion. For example, I saw special teams coordinator Mike Priefer working with his group on Tuesday in the back of the endzone. They were practicing punting while backed up and they also worked on situations where the team would intentionally take a safety (winning by six points, backed up on your own 1-yardline with less than a minute to go). Other “little things” I’ve seen the Vikings working on recently: Hail Mary, rushing onto the field to kick a FG with time running out, onside kick, punt after safety and diving to save a touchback on a punt.
– S Husain Abdullah was absent from practice on Wednesday as he attends the annual Iftar Dinner at the White House on Wednesday night, celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Rookie S Mistral Raymond got most of the work with the first-team, which is an interesting development.
– LB Jasper Brinkley has been working mostly with the second-team defense, but he’s a candidate to earn a job with the first-team if he can outperform Erin Henderson during camp and the preseason. Right now Henderson is the favorite to fill the role vacated by Ben Leber’s departure, but Brinkley has been good in camp and he helped himself today by intercepting a pass during 7-on-7 drills.
– The offense bounced back immediately after Brinkley’s INT, though. Ponder zipped a pass in to WR Greg Camarillo on the next play for what would’ve been a large gain down the left seam. On the last play of 7-on-7, Ponder and Camarillo connected again, this time on the right side of the field.
– There were three great catches that I noticed during the team’s two-minute drill part of practice. The first one was an all-hands catch by TE Kyle Rudolph. He had a defender draped all over him and the pass was thrown perfectly by Joe Webb to his outside shoulder. Rudolph lunged for the ball, got his hands underneath it and hauled in the catch while maintaining possession all the way through the play. The second great catch was by WR Devin Aromashodu down the sideline. He was led perfectly by Ponder and also got two feet in bounds before crossing the boundary. The third catch was on a pass from Webb to WR Manny Arceneaux down the right side that put the offense in FG range with less than a minute to play.
– Passing the eye test today: WR Devin Aromashodu, QB Christian Ponder, S Mistral Raymond and TE Kyle Rudolph.
– A group of political leaders from Ramsey County was at practice and both Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and VP of Public Affairs/Stadium Development Lester Bagley spoke with reporters after practice.
– The defensive line signed autographs in the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone.
– The Vikings have a one-hour walk-through Wednesday afternoon beginning at 3:00 p.m.
Tags: Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder, Devini Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Joe Webb, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Manny Arceneaux, Mistral Raymond
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 43 Comments »