Sunday’s Inactives Give Several Vikings Youngsters A Look

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 30, 2011 – 9:35 am

The inactive list and several other circumstances leading up to today’s game will give several young Vikings players plenty of playing time. Let’s take a look at a few of them…

QB Christian Ponder – He’ll be making his 2nd consecutive start today after a good debut showing last week against the Green Bay Packers. Ponder will go head-to-head against another rookie QB in Cam Newton, who is far and away the NFL’s most sensational first-year player. Today marks the first time in franchise history that the Vikings and their opponent will both start rookies at QB.

WR Stephen Burton – When Bernard Berrian was released earlier in the week, it was Burton who was promoted to the active roster. Not only is he on the 53-man roster, he’s active today and it looks like he could get a look at kickoff returner with Lorenzo Booker among the inactives.

CBs Asher Allen, Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels – These 3 youngsters will see significant action today with Antoine Winfield inactive (neck) and Chris Cook on a leave of absence from the team. This will be Burton’s 3rd game on the active roster, Allen will get the start opposite Cedric Griffin and Sherels will be on the field whenever the Vikings are in their nickel defense.

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Will Camarillo’s Role Increase?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 26, 2011 – 9:28 am

The Vikings acquired Greg Camarillo from the Miami Dolphins roughly two weeks prior to the start of the 2010 regular season. Camarillo’s primary contribution last season was as the team’s punt returner, where he fielded 39 returns without a single fumble. He’s been an occasional contributor in the Vikings passing game, collecting 20 receptions in 2010 and 3 more so far this year.

Camarillo’s role diminished some early this season. He was active in Week 1 but inactive for the next 3 games, largely because Marcus Sherels has handled punt return duties this season. But here have been three developments with the Vikings recently that have caused me to wonder if Camarillo will have a more prominent role with the team going forward.

First, the Vikings are now down a receiver with the release of Bernard Berrian. With Berrian now out of the mix, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins become the primary receivers with Devin Aromashodu as the third option. That elevates Camarillo into the regular WR rotation and likely ensures that he’ll be active on a weekly basis.

Secondly, rookie Christian Ponder is now the starting QB and I believe Camarillo’s craftiness and 6 seasons of experience make him a natural safety blanket for a young QB. Case and point is last week’s game against the Packers, where Camarillo consistently wiggled open after Ponder bought time in and out of the pocket. Both of Camarillo’s receptions last week came on 3rd and long plays, where Ponder needed a bailout reception.

“There were a couple times when a route was called and things break down a little bit and Christian runs around and he (Camarillo) ends up uncovering, and part of it is due to his experience and just his wherewithal and his understanding of coverages,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s something a veteran receiver would do and he ended up making some big plays for us.”

Lastly, Camarillo could be called upon once again to contribute as a punt returner. Don’t get me wrong, Sherels has done a fine job as a returner. His 12.8-yard average per return is 6th best in the NFL right now. Where Camarillo would help the Vikings as a punt returner is when the opponent is trying to land a punt inside the 20. Sherels has made a few errors in this area of the field by either fielding a punt too close to the end zone or letting a punt hit the ground and be downed by the opposing team deep in Vikings territory. With Camarillo’s sure-handedness and experience in the punt return game, I think he’s less likely to make these errors and therefore could be implemented as a “pinch hitting” punt returner at the appropriate time.

All of this combined with something Frazier said about Camarillo (quote is below) on Monday leads me to the opinion that Camarillo should become more involved in the Vikings game play on a weekly basis. We’ll see if it happens beginning this week in Carolina and then coming out of next week’s bye. I’ll leave you with a complimentary statement from the Vikings Head Coach on Camarillo.

“When you get to know Greg, he is one of those guys that are a true professional,” Frazier said. “He comes prepared everyday to work. He is very studious when it comes to what he has to get done in the classroom and preparation before practices. He works extremely hard and he is the same way when it comes to preparing for games on Sundays. You go to bed on Saturday night thinking you may not be active and then all of a sudden you are active and he doesn’t miss a beat. He goes out and plays an excellent game for us. He is where he is supposed to be, he makes a lot of great catches. That’s who Greg Camarillo is; he’s a pro in every sense of the word.”

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Vikings Secondary Is Prepared If Winfield Can’t Go

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 14, 2011 – 1:26 pm

Immediate reaction following last Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals was that the young Vikings secondary, which played without Pro Bowler Antoine Winfield, stepped up in a big way. And Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier shared a similar reaction after the game.

“They came up big for us today,” Frazier said in his post-game press conference. “Great to see Asher step up, great to see Jamarca step up. Chris Cook seems like he’s getting better every week. We all know there are big-time receivers every week in our league, and I haven’t seen him bat his eyes yet. He just continues to improve.”

With Winfield unavailable and fellow starter Cedric Griffin sidelined for the first series, Allen and Cook stepped into the starting lineup. And since Arizona had 3 WRs on the first offensive snap, Marcus Sherels also got the start. That means on the first offensive snap of the game, the Vikings 3 starting CBs had an average age of 23 years and average NFL playing experience of 2 seasons.

Even when Griffin returned to the lineup, the secondary was still youthful. But they played like veterans and were a huge reason the defense allowed just 10 points to Larry Fitzgerald and Co.

The Vikings may need a similar effort from that group this week when they travel to Chicago. Winfield didn’t practice all week and he’s listed as doubtful for the game.

“That was extremely encouraging, watching both of those guys compete the way they did,” Frazier said of Allen and Cook on Friday. “We feel like we should be in pretty good shape. With Antoine (out), you miss something from a tackling standpoint, leadership, and all the intangibles he brings. But both Asher and Chris, they’re showing they’re really coming along, which is great for our team.”

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Emptying Out The Vikings-Cardinals Notebook

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 11, 2011 – 7:49 pm

Before we turn our full attention to this weekend’s matchup against the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football, let’s empty out the notebook from last Sunday’s 34-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals…

Harvin is good at everything
We discussed last week that Percy Harvin has been delivering for the Vikings offense both on the ground and through the air. On Sunday he also delivered in the run blocking game.

“The way he blocked yesterday, was incredible to the point where he is going to receive a game ball for that,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “He didn’t have the big numbers from a catching standpoint, but the things he did, in blocking for Adrian Peterson, Adrian had a great day, but some of those things wouldn’t have occurred without Percy.”

Harvin had a key block against Cardinals S Adrian Wilson to set Peterson free for a 24-yard TD dash to make the score 14-0 midway through the 1st quarter.

“It doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, but you talk about being an unselfish player, he is a star player, but he is going in there, taking out linebackers, taking out safeties and some of these plays were designed for him to do just that. He never complained, when you watch him block you say ‘man is he a wide receiver or is he an offensive lineman?’ He did such a great job for us.”

Sherels solid in punt return role
Marcus Sherels was among the group of young DBs who stepped up to contain Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. But he also made important contributions in the punt return game, something he’s been doing for all of the 2011 season. Sherels is averaging 15.2 yards per punt return on the season, which ranks him 5th in the NFL. On Sunday he had 2 returns for 45 yards (22.5 yards per return), including a 22-yard return from the Arizona 40 to the Arizona 22 that set up a Peterson TD 4 plays later.

Winfield “day-to-day”
An outstanding effort from the young Vikings secondary kept Arizona’s passing attack in check with CB Antoine Winfield on the sideline because of a neck injury. But the Vikings don’t want to get too used to playing without Winfield. There’s no denying the defense is better and the secondary deeper with Winfield in the game.

It sounds like Winfield’s status will be tenuous again this week, but it also sounds like he’s improving.

“We are hoping to get him back,” Frazier said Monday. “We will learn more as the week goes on, but I know he is getting better. I was talking to our trainers today and he is making progress, but it is kind of day-to-day.”

Fantastic Fans
Fans who attended the game deserve credit. They came out to support a winless football team and they were a big reason why that winless team is no longer winless. The Vikings defense played lights out, especially early in the game, and the defense and home crowd fed off of each other. The result was a great environment for the home team, and an impossible environment for the visitors. Arizona’s offense had trouble operating, and the main beneficiaries were DEs Jared Allen and Brian Robison, who each had 2.0 sacks.

“Our fans were terrific today,” Frazier said right after the game. “They always have been. I think our players really appreciated the noise they created that made it very difficult for the Arizona Cardinals football team. I’ve always told our players, I really believe we have the best fans in the National Football League and I thought it was evidenced today. It was on display.”

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Young Vikings Secondary Rises To Challenge

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2011 – 3:47 pm

We said it before Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals began: with star CB Antoine Winfield unavailable due to a neck injury, the young Vikings secondary had to step up.

And they did.

With Winfield out and Cedric Griffin benched for the first series, the Vikings ran out Asher Allen (23 years old, 3rd season) and Chris Cook (24-2)  as their starters at CB. On the game’s first snap, the Vikings had their nickel package on the field, with Marcus Sherels (23-1) being the 3rd CB. Do the math, and you’ve got a group of CBs with an average age of 23.3 years and an average experience level of 2 seasons.

But that didn’t stop the group from playing well. Arizona was forced into a 3-and-out on their first series, and then with Griffin back in the fold, the secondary continued to play well. Allen grabbed an INT in the 1st quarter, and after the first two quarters of play, Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb had completed just half of his 22 pass attempts for 104 yards and he had a passer rating of only 44.5.

Star WR Larry Fitzgerald was held in check, too, as he finished the game with 6 receptions for 44 yards and, most importantly, no TDs.

“They came up big for us today,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “Great to see Asher step up, great to see Jamarca step up. Chris Cook seems like he’s getting better every week. We all know there are big-time receivers every week in our league, and I haven’t seen him bat his eyes yet. He just continues to improve.”

In total, Kolb was 21 of 42 for 232 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs; backup QB Richard Bartel was 2 of 6 for 22 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT. Coming into the game, Kolb was averaging 8.1 yards per pass attempt. On Sunday against a youthful Vikings secondary, Kolb averaged just 4.1 yards per pass and he was unable to find the end zone for the second consecutive week.

The bottom line is the Vikings secondary is a group that has been much maligned recently. Some of that criticism was warranted, and I’m sure some of it wasn’t. But after Sunday’s performance, there’s nothing but positives to take away from this group. And it’s a group that will only get better and gain more confidence once Winfield can return to action.

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Peterson, Vikings Defense Run Over Cardinals In 34-10 Victory

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2011 – 3:18 pm

Leslie Frazier earned his first victory as Vikings Head Coach on Sunday at Mall of America Field, as his team ran over the Arizona Cardinals to log a 34-10 win. And the Vikings did it the old fashioned way, with a relentless rushing attack and a punishing defensive effort that yielded only 3.8 yards per play and produced 4 turnovers.

The best RB in the NFL looked the part on Sunday, as the Vikings used three Adrian Peterson rushing TDs in the 1st quarter, along with a TD scamper by QB Donovan McNabb and a suffocating performance by the Vikings defense, to build a 28-0 lead before the 1st quarter came to a close. Arizona got on the board with a 2nd-quarter FG and then tacked on a TD in the 3rd quarter, but a rock-solid defensive effort, a commitment to the running game and two FGs by Ryan Longwell in the 2nd half helped the Vikings salt away their first victory of the season.

With a sold-out Mall of America Field crowd behind them, the Vikings defense played lights out for most of the game. But they were particularly sensational in the early going, forcing the following outcomes on Arizona’s first 6 drives: punt, punt, INT, fumble, punt, punt. There was a trio of three-and-out drives, and the Vikings converted both turnovers into TDs. Peterson scored from 4 yards out after the second Arizona punt and then dashed in from 24 yards out just one play after the INT. McNabb scampered in from 4 yards out after the fumble and then Peterson tallied his third rushing score of the day late in the 1st quarter after yet another Arizona punt.

All told in the 1st quarter, the Vikings scored 28 points, outgained Arizona 108-53, forced two turnovers and had an average drive start at the Arizona 40. Meanwhile, the Cardinals average drive start was their own 18, they converted zero of four 3rd-down attempts and they had nearly as many sacks and turnovers (3) as pass completions (4).

With CB Antoine Winfield sidelined because of a neck injury, it was imperative that the young Vikings secondary step up. And they did. Asher Allen grabbed the 1st quarter-INT, while S Jamarca Sanford collected two of his own to close out the game. The rest of the Vikings secondary played well also, as star WR Larry Fitzgerald was held in check with just 4 receptions for 66 yards. QB Kevin Kolb completed just 21 of 42 attempts for 232 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs; backup QB Richard Bartel threw the 3rd INT.

Aiding the young secondary in their effort was a tremendous pass rush, paced once again by perennial Pro Bowler Jared Allen, who had a pair of sacks. Fellow starting DE Brian Robison also had 2.0 sacks on the day, and now the duo has combined for 13.0 sacks this season – Allen has 8.5 and Robison has 4.5.

The Vikings special teams group deserves a nod, too, as they generated an average starting field position for the offense of the MN 42, while creating an average starting field position for Arizona of their own 24. Marcus Sherels had 45 punt return yards on just 2 tries, while P Chris Kluwe allowed zero returns in 4 punts and had two of his punts downed inside the 20, one of which was downed at the Arizona 3. K Ryan Longwell was 4 of 4 on PATs, 2 of 3 on FG tries (including a 53-yarder in the 4th quarter) and had two touchbacks.

The win improves the Vikings to 1-4 on the season and it gets them moving in the right direction as they embark on a road trip to Chicago next weekend and then return home for a date with the Green Bay Packers.

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With Winfield Down, Asher Allen & Chris Cook Must Step Up

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 9, 2011 – 9:37 am

One of the Vikings best defensive players – CB Antoine Winfield – will not play today against the Arizona Cardinals because of a neck injury suffered in last week’s game against Kansas City. As the Vikings get ready to kick it off against a Cardinals team that features arguably the NFL’s best WR in Larry Fitzgerald, a pair of young CBs must step up in Winfield’s absence.

Those young CBs are Asher Allen and Chris Cook. Expect Cook to play almost exclusively on the outside, while Allen will likely play a lot of the nickel CB snaps over the slot receiver that Winfield usually handles. Also, this could mean added playing time for Marcus Sherels.

Earlier this week, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked about the possibility of Winfield not playing and what that would mean for Allen.

“He’s had a good two days of practice here,” Frazier said on Thursday. “He’s practicing as if he’s going to have to play, which is the right attitude to take because it may very well turn out to be that way.”

As for replacing Winfield, Frazier knows you can’t really replace a player of his ability with just a few days’ notice. With that said, Frazier does expect the guys who are on the field to step up and held the defense contribute to a victory.

“Antoine is a hard guy to replace,” Frazier acknowledged. “He does so many things for us. Even the play that he got injured on, he’s making a tackle that a lot of guys in the secondary might not be able to make in our league. The first play of the game they (Kansas City) ran to his side and I was surprised they did. And he tackled the back in the backfield, blows up a tackle for a loss or a zero gain.

“So it’s hard to replace that at the corner position, but you’ll have someone in there who will do a good job, but it’s not Antoine Winfield.”

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Sherels Shines With Long Punt Return

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 26, 2011 – 1:27 pm

During every training camp young players – often times undrafted players, too – stand out in practice and then perform well in a preseason games, and they do it to such an extent that they end up challenging for a spot on the 53-man roster. One example of that from this year’s training camp was CB Marcus Sherels.

Whether it be in 7-on-7 passing drills or even full team portions of practice, Sherels seemed to be around the ball a lot and whenever he got his hands on it, he made a play. Then in the Vikings preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sherels grabbed an INT and returned it 64 yards for a TD. That play cemented Sherels’ status as an “up and comer” on the Vikings roster and, ultimately, Sherels did in fact make the final roster.

On Sunday against the Lions, Sherels proved that he’s more than a training camp or preseason standout. He can make a difference in the regular season, too.

Late in the 1st half with the Vikings holding a 13-0 advantage, the Lions offense was forced off the field and into a punting situation. Sherels fielded the punt at the Minnesota 21-yardline. He then proceeded to dance around and dart through the Lions punt coverage team and raced deep into Lions territory, where P Ryan Donahue grabbed his facemask and slowed him enough to let Maurice Stovall bring him down on the Detroit 26.

The end result was a 53-yard punt return that put the Vikings in position to score a TD three plays later and take a 20-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Obviously the Vikings went on to lose the lead and lose the game, but the point is that play by Sherels represented another step forward in his development as an NFL player. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Sherels added a pair of special teams tackles to his effort on Sunday.

With the Vikings making the commitment to pay big contracts to star players such as Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson, it’s great to see the scouting staff find players such as Sherels and it’s even greater to see a player such as Sherels deliver on the promise we saw in the preseason.

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All Hands On Deck For Battle Against Lions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 25, 2011 – 6:39 am

The Vikings are at 0-2 after a pair of tale-of-two-halves losses to begin the season and today they have an NFC North matchup against the 2-0 Detroit Lions. On many different levels, this is a big game for the Vikings.

The good news is it looks like the Vikings will have all hands on deck for today’s battle.

The Vikings had 8 players listed on the Friday injury report, but 7 of them were given the “probable” designation and just 1 was “questionable.” CB Chris Cook is listed as questionable with a groin injury, but Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he made it through the week just fine and should be good to go for today.

A pair of starting defensive linemen – Jared Allen and Kevin Williams – were on the injury report, with Allen feeling soreness in his shoulder and Williams still dealing with a foot injury. Both players are probable for the game, and Williams was a full participant in practice all week while Allen was limited on Wednesday but was a full participant on Thursday and Friday.

WRs Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins should both be good to go. Harvin missed Thursday’s practice with an illness but was back at full strength on Friday, while Jenkins is listed with a groin injury but didn’t miss any practice over the week.

The other 3 players listed were LB E.J. Henderson (knee) and CBs Asher Allen (toe) and Marcus Sherels (chest). Allen and Sherels both finished the week as full participants in practice and Henderson, who was limited all week in practice, is expected to play and start today.

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Community Tuesday: Vikings Help Contribute $200K To Local School

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 13, 2011 – 12:36 pm

The Vikings don’t have practice on Tuesday, but many of them will be working on a football field anyway. Several Vikings players will join Vikings Executive Director of Community Relations/Youth Football Brad Madson, Viktor the Viking, the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders and other members of the organization to celebrate a $200,000 investment into the refurbishment of Washburn High School’s MacQuarrie Field.

The $200,000 donation comes from the Vikings in partnership with the NFL and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) as part of an NFL Grassroots program grant. The money will be used to replace the natural field at Washburn High’s MacQuarrie Field with synthetic turf as part of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) ‘Team Up For Turf’ campaign, a commitment to raise $2.2 million to convert the athletic fields at Washburn and Henry high schools to state-of-the-art synthetic turf fields.

Vikings players who will take part in the ceremony include Everson Griffen, E.J. Henderson, Marcus Sherels and John Sullivan. Also participating in today’s event will be Vikings VP of Public Affairs/Stadium Development Lester Bagley and Pro Scout Jeff Robinson, who is a leader within the Vikings organization in working with youth football programs.

The NFL Grassroots Program is part of the NFL Charities Youth Football Fund, a $150 million effort of the NFL and its teams – such as the Vikings – in partnership with the NFL Players Association to ensure youth across the country have the opportunity to enjoy the game of football. The NFL’s partnership with LISC has resulted in the construction or renovation of 243 football fields nationwide the past 13 years.

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