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Rookie Report – Week 1 vs. Jacksonville

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 12, 2012 – 9:15 am

The calendar has flipped from Week 1 to Week 2 in the NFL. But before we get too far into discussing the Vikings Week 2 match-up with the Indianapolis Colts, let’s take a quick look back at how several Vikings rookies performed in the season-opening win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A few of the rookies played key roles in the victory, which is part of the reason we’ll have a rookie report this week. But I’m guessing a rookie report will be warranted most weeks given the important role several Vikings draft picks are going to have on this team, namely LT Matt Kalil, S Harrison Smith and K Blair Walsh.

Here’s the Week 1 Rookie Report…

Matt Kalil
Kalil logged 69 total snaps, with 59 coming on offense as the starting LT and 10 coming on special teams. He was solid in the run game and pass protection, but his most notable – or at least most visible – contribution was a blocked PAT in the 1st quarter. In a game that went to overtime, a blocked extra point is obviously huge.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he held his own in the run game, did a very good job in pass protection as well, just a lot of things that we can build on. There were a few errors that we want to correct. There are some things that he knows he has to get better at but that’s going to be a part of his maturing as an offensive tackle as well. But a lot of good things on tape by him.”

Harrison Smith
Smith led all Vikings in total plays with 91 (79 on defense, 12 on special teams), and he was one of the Vikings two starting safeties (Mistral Raymond). Perhaps his best play came in overtime, when he broke up a pass from Blaine Gabbert intended for WR Laurent Robinson on a 3rd and 2 from the Jacksonville 31. The game was over on the next play, also an incompletion. On special teams, Smith PBU in overtime or 4th.

Frazier’s take: “I thought he did a good job. He had maybe one missed tackle but his angles, he had a nice deflection there late in the game, moved around well, was in the right position, made some good plays. When I look at the tape, he brought a smile to my face a few different times because he was where he needed to be and that’s important when you’re a guy who plays in the secondary.”

Josh Robinson
Robinson logged 53 snaps, with 38 coming on defense primarily as the 3rd CB and 15 coming on special teams. He had a solo tackle on special teams and registered 4 more tackles on defense. Starter Chris Cook left the game for a brief period, bumping Robinson up to one of the top 2 CB spots. A.J. Jefferson, whom the Vikings acquired via trade a couple weeks ago, did not play. It will be interesting to see Jefferson’s progress with the team and also the impact his playing time has on Robinson’s. Robinson has shown plenty of signs that he can be an NFL CB, so I expect the Vikings to continue to put him on the field in order to develop his skills.

Rhett Ellison
Ellison played primarily on special teams, with 22 of his 25 total snaps coming with that group. He logged 1 solo tackle.

Blair Walsh
Walsh logged 12 plays and was spectacular from start to finish. He was 4 of 4 on FG tries, including a game-tying 55-yard FG as time expired and the game-winner in overtime from 38 yards. Walsh was good on kickoffs as well, tallying 3 touchbacks and helping hold the Jaguars average starting field position at the 19.5-yardline. Walsh was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance and he’s been named a finalist for Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week honors as well.

Frazier’s take: “Blair, there is no need to say it but it was outstanding to come away and kick the way he did at the end of regulation and then to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime. As a rookie, it doesn’t get much more pressure than that and to come through for us, it really improved the confidence of our players along with his confidence as time goes on.”

Robert Blanton
Blanton logged 7 total snaps, all of which came on special teams. I expect him to continue in that role for the short-term, but his long-term role will likely be much more significant. He’s still catching up from missing a big chunk of training camp and the preseason with an injury.


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Walsh Comes Up Clutch, Vikings Edge Jaguars 26-23 In Overtime

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 3:58 pm

The Vikings hadn’t opened a regular season at home since 2007. They sure made up for lost time on Sunday, opening the season at Mall of America Field in front of a spirited crowd with a dramatic victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars that included the return of Adrian Peterson, a pair of clutch FGs from rookie K Blair Walsh, a new team record established and a try at the new overtime rules.

Where to begin? How about with the score? After trailing 9-0 after the 1st quarter and 23-20 with just 20 seconds to go in the 4th quarter, the Vikings displayed some resiliency and clutch kicking on the way to upending the visiting Jaguars by a count of 26-23 in overtime.

Both the Vikings and Jaguars were inches from closing out victories in regulation. Blair Walsh, the rookie kicker from Georgia drafted by the Vikings, converted a 42-yard FG with 5:33 to play in the game that gave the Vikings a 20-15 lead. On the ensuing Jaguars possession, the Vikings forced a punt and took possession with 1:51 to play. But the home team could not tally a 1st down to run out the clock, instead punting away to Jacksonville. Facing a 4th and 3 from midfield, Jaguars second-year QB Blaine Gabbert hit rookie WR Justin Blackmon for the conversion to extend the drive. On the next play, Gabbert lofted a pass downfield and WR Cecil Shorts got underneath it to haul in a 39-yard TD, giving Jacksonville a 23-20 lead following a 2-point conversion pass to Blackmon.

It was, at the time, a devastating blow to the Vikings because it appeared the game was over and the Vikings had lost yet another late lead, something that plagued the team last season. But the Vikings had a little magic left up their sleeve. QB Christian Ponder completed consecutive passes to WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and TE Kyle Rudolph for 6 more, putting the Vikings on the Jacksonville 37 with just :04 to play.

Enter: Walsh. The somewhat controversial move the Vikings made to go with a rookie kicker this year paid off big-time. Walsh split the uprights on a 55-yard game-tying FG as time expired in regulation, sending the game into overtime and Mall of America Field into jubilation.

The Vikings won the toss, elected to receive, and began their overtime possession on the 25 after Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 30 yards; Harvin gave the Vikings a sensational performance on the day with 14 total touches (receiving, rushing, returning) for 192 yards. Peterson, who returned to action and started the game after coming back from tearing two knee ligaments last Christmas Eve, grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns in overtime and helped put the Vikings in position to win. He rushed for 10 yards on the first play of the series, hauled in a 3-yard reception on the second play, and then ripped off a 20-yard gain on the third play to put the Vikings inside Jaguars territory. Ponder found Aromashodu for 19 yards and a few plays later hit Toby Gerhart for 8 more, setting up Walsh to hit a 38-yarder that wound up being the game-winner.

Because of the NFL’s new overtime rules, though, that requires a team to score a TD to win the game on the first possession of overtime, Jacksonville had one last chance to pry a victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings defense jumped up, however, and sealed the win. Gabbert threw incomplete on 1st down, RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 8 yards on 2nd down, Harrison Smith deflected a pass on 3rd down and then Gabbert overthrew WR Laurent Robinson on 4th down, giving the Vikings their victory and throwing the Mall of America Field crowd into a frenzy.

Sunday’s season-opener was a roller-coaster affair for the Vikings, but it finished on a high thanks to some late-game clutch kicking from Walsh, a solid 2nd-half performance from Ponder, an incredible will-to-win resiliency by Peterson and opportunistic playmaking by the Vikings defense. The Vikings are off to a 1-0 start for the first time since 2009, and they’ll celebrate this victory on Sunday night before returning to Winter Park on Monday to review the victory and begin preparations for next week’s challenge on the road in Indianapolis.

Post-Game Notes
– Adrian Peterson finished the day with 84 yards and 2 rushing TDs on 17 carries. His 2-TD performance in a return from a serious knee injury last season was remarkable enough. Making it even more special, however, is the fact that Peterson broke the Vikings all-time rushing record, previously held by Robert Smith (6,818). Peterson is now at 6,836 career rushing yards.

– It may get lost in the shuffle of post-game reaction because he didn’t get in the end zone, but Percy Harvin was magnificent  for the Vikings. He produced 192 combined yards on 14 total touches, impacting the game as a receiver, rusher and returner. Harvin had 5 carries for 20 yards to go along with his 6 receptions for 84 yards, and then he added 88 yards on 3 kickoff returns.

– Christian Ponder was unspectacular in the 1st half, going into the locker room at intermission with a stat line of 7 of 11 for 78 yards with no TDs or INTs. Not terrible, but not up to standard, either. Ponder finished very well, though, ending the day completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards with no TDs or INTs.

– We’ve got to give some love to the defense. There were breakdowns, particularly in the 1st half and then at the end of regulation when Gabbert hit Shorts for the go-ahead TD with just 20 seconds to play. But there were also times when the Vikings defense stepped up to the challenge. Jacksonville had it 1st and goal from the 5 on their first possession of the game, but the Vikings stood their ground and forced a FG. Down 9-0 late in the 1st half, the Vikings punted away to Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars a chance to blow the game open. The Vikings defense responded, forcing a 3-and-out and setting up the Vikings offense for a drive that ended in a TD right before halftime. Kevin Williams recovered a fumble on Jacksonville’s first drive of the 2nd half, setting up the Vikings for another TD drive on the ensuing possession. Jacksonville began a possession on the Minnesota 16 following a Ponder fumble, but they were forced into a FG try after going 3-and-out. After the Vikings hit a FG on their first possession in overtime, the Vikings defense came on the field and forced a 4-and-out, ending the game.

– Vikings outside LBs Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson cleaned up, combining for 23 total tackler, 1.0 sack and 2 passes defensed. Greenway led all defenders in the game with 13 tackles.

– Both Henderson and CB Chris Cook registered sacks on the afternoon.

There’s much, much more to cover in terms of post-game reaction, including quotes from Vikings players and Head Coach Leslie Frazier. We’ll also review the performance of some other Vikings rookies in the season opener, most notably 1st-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith. All of that and more will come later tonight and tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for more.


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Trio Of 1st-Round Picks Set To Debut In Vikings-Jaguars Game

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 6, 2012 – 6:43 am

The 2012 regular season is now underway, as the Dallas Cowboys and NY Giants kicked things off at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday night. The game provided a glance at a few important factors, such as the importance of depth in the secondary (injuries are hurting the Giants), continuity along the offensive line (Dallas committed a countless number of procedural penalties), and life with replacement officials (they fared quite well).

Digging down a bit deeper, though, a fun subplot to watch was the performance of each team’s 1st-round pick.

The Cowboys moved up in the 1st round from the 14th overall selection to the 6th spot in order to select CB Morris Claiborne out of LSU. Claiborne certainly looked the part against New York, as he teamed with free agent acquisition Brandon Carr to provide the Cowboys with great coverage on the edge of the defense.  The Giants, holding the 32nd overall choice after winning the Super Bowl last year, selected RB David Wilson in the 1st round. Wilson had a less spectacular debut, but he did return kickoffs for the Giants and he displayed some ability as a runner, too (his fumble notwithstanding).

Sunday’s Vikings-Jaguars game at Mall of America Field could provide an even better look at 1st-round talent. Three 1st-round picks from last April’s draft will be on the field, with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith slated to start for the Vikings and WR Justin Blackmon ready to go for the Jaguars.

The consensus top receiver in the draft, Blackmon appealed to the Jaguars so much that the team moved up to the #5 spot from #7 to ensure they could select him. Blackmon had a brief holdout before reporting to Jaguars training camp, but since joining the team he’s constantly impressed. Reports out of Jaguars training camp were overwhelmingly positive, and then Blackmon performed well on the field during the preseason, hauling in 10 receptions for 136 yards with 1 TD.

Blackmon is a player to watch for the Vikings defense on Sunday. He can win versus coverage down the field, but he might be most dangerous after the catch on short and intermediate routes. He’s hard to tackle and is a skilled runner with the ball.

In the proverbial poker game that is the NFL draft, Spielman and the Vikings strolled up to the table with a pretty big chip – the 3rd overall pick – and parlayed perfectly timed subterfuge with a tremendous working knowledge of other teams’ needs to turn that chip into a pair of immediate impact starters –Kalil at LT and Harrison Smith at safety. Coming away with Kalil and Smith in the first round was a win for the Vikings, a team coming off a 3-13 record and looking for players to plug into the starting lineup.

Kalil, who measures in at 6-7, 308 pounds, will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector from the get-go and projects to be 10-year starter at one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to providing pass protection, Kalil will also be a road-grading run blocker for the team’s talented RB duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.

Earlier this week, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked if he and GM Rick Spielman considered selecting Blackmon instead of Kalil. The Vikings had a need at both positions, and obviously ended up taking the LT instead. But a sound case could be made for the Vikings to consider Blackmon, a playmaking receiver who could’ve been a great weapon for the team’s passing game.

“For us, Matt Kalil, from early on in the process, was extremely high on our list as a priority,” Frazier said. “With our left tackle position being what it was coming out of the season, we had targeted that area if the right guy was there, to try to solidify that position and knowing how important it is for our team, for every team, but in particular when you have a young quarterback like we have, to solidify that left tackle position. Very excited about what he has done thus far and looking forward to him being a cornerstone for us at that left tackle position for a long, long time to come.”

In addition to acquiring Kalil after moving back one spot to the 4th overall position, the Vikings also netted 4th-round (#118 overall), 5th-round (139 overall) and 7t-round (#211 overall) choices from Cleveland. With that additional draft ammunition in the fold, the Vikings felt compelled later in the 1st round to send 2nd-round and 4th-round picks to Baltimore in exchange for the Ravens 1st-round pick (#29 overall) in order to address the secondary and select Smith.

Billed as an intelligent and instinctive defender with sound coverage skills and exceptional tackling ability, Smith will also be a starter beginning in Week 1. He brings an aggressive style to the Vikings secondary and could develop into the kind of player who is stout in coming up to defend the run and is territorial in defending the middle of the field against the pass.

As we detailed in an earlier entry highlighting 10 storylines to chase this week, there are many interesting subplots in this week’s Vikings-Jaguars matchup. The debut of three talented 1st-round picks is certainly near the top of the list.


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10 Vikings-Jaguars Storylines To Follow This Week

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 5, 2012 – 6:50 am

Wednesday of Week 1 has finally arrived, which means it’s time for the Vikings to put the pedal to the metal in their preparations for Sunday’s season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ll have a busy day at Winter Park today, with a morning walk-thru followed by a Leslie Frazier press conference, and then an afternoon practice with players available afterwards.

It all gets going later this morning. While you’re waiting for all of that, though, here are 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…

1. Vikings Open Season At Home
For the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 2005, the Vikings will open the regular season at home. The Vikings logged a 24-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons and Adrian Peterson scored the first TD of his career the last time the Vikings opened a season at home. It’s a treat for the fans to open a season at home, and it’s a nice advantage for the team, too, after opening on the road the past four seasons. Expect Mall of America Field to be a loud and fun environment on Sunday.

2. Will Adrian Peterson Play?
The biggest talker surrounding this game all week will be the status of RB Adrian Peterson. He’s been determined to play in Week 1 throughout his entire rehab, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has not ruled his star RB out. Frazier said on Monday that Peterson will be a game-time decision. If Peterson can’t play, the Vikings will place the ball in capable hands, with Toby Gerhart set to handle the job. If Peterson can play, the Vikings will have an outstanding one-two punch at RB.

3. How Much Will Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew Play?
Jacksonville has an issue of their own at RB. Their star – Maurice Jones-Drew – was a training camp holdout and didn’t report to the team until this week. Jones-Drew is one of the best RBs in the NFL, so the Jaguars likely aren’t too concerned about his readiness. But the fact remains Jones-Drew has been away for quite a while, and there will be somewhat of a learning curve for him as he gets back into football shape and learns the Jaguars new offense. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, a former Vikings TE, has said that Rashad Jennings will start the game, but he also disclosed that Jones-Drew will play.

4. First-Rounders Kalil, Blackmon And Smith Debut
Both the Vikings and Jaguars were active in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and now both the Vikings and Jaguars hope their 1st-rounders will be active during the season. The Vikings originally held the #3 overall pick, but they traded with the Cleveland Browns and dropped back one spot. With the #4 overall pick, the Vikings selected LT Matt Kalil. The Jaguars originally held the #7 overall pick, but they moved up to the #5 position in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select WR Justin Blackmon. Then later in the 1st round, the Vikings moved up to the #29 position to select S Harrison Smith.

This week, those three 1st-rounders will prepare for their NFL regular season debuts. Kalil will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector, while Smith looks to help the Vikings secondary make big-time improvements from last season. Blackmon figures to play a key role in the Jaguars offense all season, as he’s coming off a productive preseason in which he showed the transition from college to the NFL will be no problem for him.

5. Clash Of 1st-Round QBs From Class Of 2011
Entering his second season, Vikings QB Christian Ponder is determined to show he can lead an NFL franchise to prominence. It’s only fitting, though, that Ponder begins that quest on Sunday against another QB looking to accomplish the same task for his franchise. While the Vikings selected Ponder with the #12 overall pick in 2011, the Jaguars moved to select Blaine Gabbert with the #10 overall pick.

As rookies last year, neither opened the regular season as their team’s starter. But both eventually ascended to the top of the depth chart. Gabbert got the nod in Week 3 after the Jaguars began the season 1-1, losing their Week 2 contest to the NY Jets by a score of 32-3. Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb in Week 6 during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, and then the next week was named the Vikings starter for the remainder of the season.

All of that is in the past. Sunday represents the future, as Ponder and Gabbert will open the 2012 regular season as their teams’ starting QBs. Ponder enters the season coming off an offseason in which he displayed big-time improvement from his performance as a rookie and Gabbert enters the season coming off a preseason in which he also displayed significant improvement from his rookie performance.

6. Will A Vikings WR (Besides Percy Harvin) Step Up?
Jerome Simpson has impressed every step of the way since joining the Vikings this spring, but he’ll be unavailable to the team for the first three games of the season. That opens up an opportunity for another WR to step up and produce in Simpson’s absence. Granted, the vertical, field-stretching WR is not going to represent the bread-and-butter of the Vikings offense. Still, though, having that threat adds another element to game-planning for the opposing defense. Michael Jenkins is the reliable veteran; Devin Aromashodu impressed in the preseason finale and has good speed to stretch the defense; Stephen Burton is good after the catch and continues to progress; Jarius Wright looks more natural in the slot, but he impressed with a long reception in the preseason finale as well.

Will one (or more) of these guys step up? The opportunity is there.

7. John Carlson Making His Way Back
The Vikings moved this offseason to acquire TE John Carlson, giving them an athletic pass-catching TE to pair with another athletic pass-catching TE in Kyle Rudolph. The tandem of Carlson and Rudolph will allow Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave to draw up designs that will create mismatches in the middle of the field.

Unfortunately, Carlson injured his knee during training camp and wasn’t able to play in the preseason. Carlson has been making steady progress, though, and is getting closer to a return. On Monday, Frazier could not say if Carlson would make back to the field by this weekend, but the MN native has a chance. If he can play, the Vikings offense will have an added dimension and Ponder will have another talented target in the passing game.

8. Healing Ankles
Outside of Carlson, the Vikings stayed quite healthy all of training camp and the preseason. Until the fourth preseason game, that is. In that game, LB Marvin Mitchell, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels and WR Jarius Wright all injured their ankles. It’s unknown if any of them will be able to play on Sunday, so it will be worth monitoring their status leading up to the game. Sherels is the Vikings punt returner and he’ll be involved in sub packages on defense, while Mitchell and Sendejo figure to be core special teams players. Wright has the makings of a dynamic playmaker, both on offense and as a returner, so the Vikings are hopeful he’ll be able to suit up in the season-opener.

9. Doleman To Receive Hall Of Fame Ring
Former Vikings DE Chris Doleman was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012 last month, and on Sunday the Vikings will present him with his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.

10. Looking To Restore Home-Field Advantage
The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982. The team now has a combined record of 157-88-0 (.641) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 6-4 mark in postseason games. The Vikings have gone undefeated 3 times at Mall of America Field (‘89, ‘98, ‘09) and have finished the season undefeated at home 8 total times in team history.

Unfortunately, the Vikings have gone just 5-11 at home the past two seasons. It’s time to turn that home record around, and this Sunday against the Jaguars in the season-opener is a good time to do it.


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Three Takeaways From Vikings Preseason Debut

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 11, 2012 – 3:10 am

The Vikings made their 2012 preseason debut on Friday night, dropping a 17-6 decision to the San Francisco 49ers at a blustery Candlestick Park. Rookie K Blair Walsh capped the game’s opening drive with a 39-yard FG that cut straight through the 20 mph gusts that swirled inside the stadium, but that was the only lead the Vikings would have for the evening.

San Francisco answered with a TD later in the 1st quarter to take a 7-3 and eventually took a 17=6 lead into the locker room at halftime. Neither team scored in the 2nd half.

For the Vikings, QB Christian Ponder was good-not-great, completing 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards. RB Toby Gerhart was solid and strong, rushing the ball 5 times and gaining 31 yards, with a long rush of 16 yards. The Vikings defense struggled stopping the 49ers ground game, allowing over 100 rushing yards in the 1st half and 260 in the game.

The thrill of victory and agony of defeat take a back seat in the preseason, though, as teams are looking to find “wins” within the exhibition games. There are position battles to be settled and roster spots to be won, and that is the focus for NFL teams and their followers during the preseason.

With that in mind, here are three takeaways on my mind as I sit on the team’s charter flight back to Minneapolis…

Blair Walsh impresses in first NFL game
I’ve been a big supporter of Blair Walsh’s since the Vikings selected him in the 6th round. His leg strength was never questioned, and I didn’t find his dip in accuracy during his senior season at Georgia as concerning as others did. The kid was an 88.8% kicker as a sophomore and junior, and most of his misses during his senior year came on FGs from 40 or 50+ yards.

Regardless, there were no concerns about Walsh’s accuracy on Friday night. He converted both of his FG attempts, the first from 39 yards and the second from 26. Keep in mind, the nasty wind gusts did nothing to help matters, either. In addition to his accuracy on FG tries, Walsh’s leg strength was on display during kickoffs. He logged one touchback on a kick that was blasted through the endzone, and then his other two kickoffs were 6 and 8 yards into the endzone. During the regular season, teams will not be taking those kicks out of the touchback area.

The benefit of Walsh’s touchbacks – opponents’ average drive start will be closer to their own 20 – will far outweigh any accuracy issues he has on FGs. As any defensive player or coordinator and they’ll tell you that pinning a team at or inside the 20 is a big-time advantage for the defense. With Walsh, the Vikings will be doing much more of that in 2012 than they have in recent seasons (Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ average drive start in 2011).

Run defense missed Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield
The Vikings held out DE Jared Allen, DT Kevin Williams and CB Antoine Winfield on Friday night, giving the veterans a break from the action while also giving younger players more opportunity. And the absence of three quality run stoppers showed, with San Francisco gashing the Vikings defense on the ground seemingly at will in the 1st half.

One part of you gets frustrated when the opponent is able to run the ball so easily. But the other part of you knows that without Allen, Williams and Winfield in the mix, the defense is much more vulnerable. It would’ve been nice to see other players step up and stymie the 49ers ground game, but I’m not worried about the Vikings run defense just yet. If the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers are able to do in the next two weeks what the 49ers did this week, then we’ll have some concerns.

Offensive line displays improvement
I was pleased with the performance of the Vikings first-team offensive line. RB Toby Gerhart averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 5 attempts and neither Ponder nor Joe Webb were sacked while the first-team offensive line was in the game. Several times Ponder was able to settle into a pocket after dropping back, and on his52-yard pass to WR Stephe Burton Ponder was afforded the time and space to step up into the pocket to deliver the throw.

First-round pick LT Matt Kalil looked solid in his debut. He will be the first to admit there’s room for improvement, but it was a good beginning for Ponder’s new blindside protector. C John Sullivan had no issues with snaps and RT Phil Loadholt was sound in his technique and discipline.


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10 Vikings Off To Fast Starts At Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 2, 2012 – 4:28 pm

The Vikings are now a week into training camp and it’s full speed ahead for the team as they begin preparing for the 2012 season. Now that we’re gaining a better understanding of the roster after six days of practice, let’s take a look at 10 players who are off to fast starts at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp.

TE Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph’s combination of size, strength and speed is unique, and it presents big-time mismatch problems for the defense. QB Christian Ponder is not afraid to look Rudolph’s way, and until someone finds a way to slow the 6-6, 258-pound beast, he’s going to keep catching passes.

LT Matt Kalil
You would naturally excuse a rookie – even a third overall choice – if he were making mistakes during training camp. Add in the fact that the rookie is going against the best defensive end in football, and you’d allow even a few more perhaps. But Kalil hasn’t been guilty of many miscues. Sure, Jared Allen is winning his fair share of the matchups, but all things considered, Kalil has looked the part of a player who could develop into a cornerstone LT.

CB Antoine Winfield
We wrote in this space multiple times about how great Antoine Winfield looked during the offseason program. He’s continued to look great during training camp.

“We were talking about that as a staff last night, he really seems to be into this training camp more than any other. You see him out there taking one-on-ones and all of the reps,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “We will have to monitor that a little bit, he is not 22 years of age anymore, but he is definitely invigorated in a lot of ways, which is good for our young players in our secondary to see the way he works and how he approaches things. It’s great for them.”

CB Bobby Felder
One of those young players in the secondary is Bobby Felder, an undrafted college free agent out of Nicholls State. I’m asked about Felder more than most players for some reason, but maybe Felder will show us all why he deserves to be noticed. He didn’t have the best day of practice on Wednesday, but other than that he’s been solid. Felder is a player to watch in the preseason.

WRs Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson
I like what the Vikings have going at WR. Entering the offseason, WR was a position that needed an upgrade. And it got one. The Vikings look much better at the position, and the addition of Jerome Simpson is a big reason for that. Simpson has tremendous speed and is terrific after the catch. He’s not strictly a vertical route receiver, either. Simpson can run intermediate/deep crossing patterns as well, and he’s hard to stop on comeback routes.

Simpson looking so good likely has Percy Harvin upping his game as well. Harvin is already one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, so watching him rise to the challenge in competing with Simpson for passes from Ponder has been great to watch.

DT Letroy Guion
When the defensive coordinator singles you out as having a good camp, you’re going to make this list.

“Letroy has been one that has been phenomenal in camp,” Alan Williams said. “It may not seem to the naked eye but there are some clips of him just getting off blocks, running to the ball and pursuing. Day two he made a play outside of the numbers running to the football so we are very pleased with him.”

LB Chad Greenway
We listed Chad Greenway as a stand out from Tuesday’s practice, largely because of an athletic pass breakup (PBU) he registered on an end zone fade pass to Kyle Rudolph and also because of a couple plays he made in short-yardage and goal line periods. Greenway is a leader on the Vikings defense and will be a three-down player for the Vikings once again this season.

TE Rhett Ellison
During the Vikings rookie minicamp in May, Rhett Ellison emerged as a stand out thanks in large part to his fluid pass-catching skills. Billed as more of a physical, blocking-type of TE, Ellison displayed a natural ability in the passing game during that camp and has continued to do so in training camp. He’s also a physical player in the trenches. That type of all-around ability could yield a long, productive career for the rookie from USC.

RB Derrick Coleman
Undrafted this year and joining the Vikings for their rookie minicamp, not many paid much attention to Derrick Coleman this spring. But it’s hard not to notice him during training camp. He is running with the third-team, so it’s appropriate to temper the enthusiasm. But you can only beat the people put in front of you, and right now Coleman is winning more than he’s losing when he’s on the field. He’ll be another player to watch during the preseason.

GM Rick Spielman
We’re only a week into training camp, but you’ve got to give GM Rick Spielman and his staff, along with head coach Leslie Frazier, credit for attacking the task of reforming this roster over the offseason. The Vikings were coming off consecutive seasons of 6-10 and 3-13, plus they had tough roster decisions to make on valued veteran players. On top of that, the team had 10 draft choices to execute.

The Vikings have had a good training camp to date and the talent level on this roster is going the right way. There is a clear sense of direction the team is heading in, and there’s no question Spielman and Frazier set out to make this roster younger and more talented. Judging by one week of training camp, they did a good job. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the progress is encouraging.


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Pads Will Pop On Monday At Vikings Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 6:08 am

There’s been a walk-before-you-run type of feeling around 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp so far, with a pair of morning walk-thrus and afternoon practices on Friday and Saturday before a day off on Sunday. Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s team has worked well over the two days, as the offense has looked sharp under second-year Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and the defense has begun its transition to new Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams’ plan.

But the pace will quicken and the intensity will spike significantly on Monday. Yes, the pads will pop and training camp as we’ve become accustomed to will emerge.

The Vikings will hold their first padded practice of this year’s camp on Monday at 2:45 p.m., following their customary morning walk-thru at 10:30. Everyone’s questions about how rookie LT Matt Kalil looks against DE Jared Allen or how Everson Griffen looks playing in his new position will begin to be answered. There’s nothing like the crunching of pads and popping of helmets to get football fans excited for what’s shaping up to be another fun season.

Monday marks the 2012 opening of the Northland Ford Dealer’s Autograph Zone, where you can meet and greet Vikings players each day. Beginning today and going through August 14, one position group will be in the autograph zone each day after the morning walk-thru, with gates opening 25 minutes prior to the conclusion of the walk-thru and autographs beginning immediately after practice for another 25 minutes. Today’s featured group is the TEs, including one of the most impressive performers so far during camp – Kyle Rudolph.

If you haven’t yet done so, head down or up or over to Minnesota State University, Mankato to get a good, early look at the 2012 Minnesota Vikings.


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Here’s The Story: 10 Camp Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 7:00 am

There is never a shortage of storylines heading into training camp, and this year is no exception for the Vikings. As the team embarks on 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today with a morning walk-thru and afternoon practice, let’s take a brief look at 10 of the most notable stories to chase during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp…

Will Adrian Peterson begin on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list?
There’s no question Peterson has made tremendous strides in his recovery from major knee surgery, and there’s also no question that Peterson feels confident in his knee and is eager to display just how ready he is. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the NFL’s best RB on the field of play unharnessed. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was non-committal when asked if Peterson would begin camp on the PUP list, instead saying the decision would be made after he spoke with Peterson and the team’s medical staff. If Peterson begins camp on the PUP list, the team can take him off the list at any time. Either way, Frazier and Peterson both said they expected the RB would be doing some kind of on-field work from the get-go.

Man in the middle – Jasper Brinkley’s opportunity
The Vikings selected LB Jasper Brinkley with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and he immediately became the understudy to E.J. Henderson. Now that Henderson is no longer with the team and Brinkley still sports the Purple and Gold, the time has come for Brinkley to display just how far he’s come in three-plus seasons with the club. Brinkley is expected to be the team’s starting middle LB, an important role in this defense especially considering how well Henderson fulfilled the role for so many seasons. There are questions about Brinkley’s durability because he dealt with an injury in college, missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed some of the team’s offseason program with injury. But he’s healthy now, and it’ll be fun to watch him prove that he can be the team’s man in the middle.

Christian Ponder’s development
You can have everything else buttoned up and the stars can align, but if you don’t have the QB situation squared away in the NFL it won’t matter. The Vikings believe they will have it squared away with Ponder at the helm, and we’ll find out if they’re right this season. Early indications will come from training camp and the preseason, though. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his crew have done a nice job of surrounding Ponder with weapons – both blockers and ball-handlers. The addition of Matt Kalil improves the offensive line tremendously, and then the additions of TE John Carlson, WR Jerome Simpson and a pair of draft picks in WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright give Ponder some weapons in the passing game. Add in guys such as Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and you can’t deny that the offensive weapons in place are much better this year than in previous seasons. That sets the stage perfectly for Ponder, a guy who knows how important he is to the team and a guy who relishes in that role.

Percy Harvin’s role on offense
Harvin was in the headlines a bit this offseason, and I’m guessing he’ll be in the headlines a bit more this season because he’s going to play a pivotal role in the Vikings offense. Harvin is as dynamic an offensive weapon as you’ll find because of his ability as a pass receiver and a ball carrier. You can line him up in the slot, out wide or even in the backfield. You can throw it to him, pitch it to him, hand it off to him, you can even snap it directly to him. Harvin is one of the best players on the team, and he’s going to get the ball a lot. It will be fun to watch how Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff plan to use Harvin.

Vikings look to improve pass defense
The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense a season ago and they yielded the most TD passes as well. So the team will look to improve in that area, and one big step in that direction was the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. In Williams’ decade working with the Indianapolis Colts DBs, the club ranked in the top six in NFL passing defense five times and finished out of the Top 15 only once. In that same span, the Colts allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (159), the fewest pass completions of 25+ yards (159) and the third-fewest passing yards (29,993). Aside from Williams, the team added a pair of safeties (Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith) and a CB (Josh Robinson) in the draft, and they signed a pair of veteran free agents (Chris Carr and Zack Bowman) to bring some experience to the group. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the Vikings will have their two top CBs back on the field after they missed significant time a season ago. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook played in a combined 11 games last year, and it’s tough to do well against the pass when you’re two best CBs are out of action. Expect a big jump in performance from the Vikings pass defense this season.

Kalil’s transition to the NFL
A dominant player at USC, Kalil enters the NFL as a starter on the Vikings offensive line. His first task? Block the best DE in the NFL for three straight weeks in Mankato. Kalil will go against Jared Allen on a daily basis at training camp, and we can all agree that it will only make the rookie LT that much better.

“It should be real good for Matt to go against maybe the best defensive end in the National Football League on a daily basis in practice and I think it will be good for Jared as well because Matt is going to challenge him,” Frazier said.

What to do with Everson Griffen?
Few players this offseason have been on the mind of Vikings fans more than Griffen. The consensus among fans is that Griffen is too talented to not be on the field, and there are a growing number of fans who want to see Griffen make the transition from DE to LB. Whether Griffen is asked to make that switch or not remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that Griffen is viewed by most as a player on the rise.

The Blair Walsh project
The Vikings used a 6th-round pick in April’s draft to select K Blair Walsh, a standout player at Georgia for four seasons and one of just three kickers the Vikings deemed worthy of selection. Walsh replaces Ryan Longwell, a beloved Vikings player who made plenty of big kicks and was reliable. But the team wants more touchbacks on kickoffs, and there’s no question Walsh has the leg strength to stretch the team’s FG range. There will likely be some growing pains with a rookie kicker, but Walsh’s talent should allow him to absorb those pains and quickly turn into a solid player. Walsh projects to be a long-term option for the Vikings at kicker, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a long-term starter out of a 6th-round pick.

Stepping up at defensive tackle
As we wrote about yesterday in the defensive line version of Roster Rundown, Kevin Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him at DT. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player. Will it be a veteran such as Letroy Guion or Fred Evans? Or will it be a youngster, such as Chase Baker, Christian Ballard or Tydreke Powell? Or will it be a rotational thing? We’ll find out soon.

Rick Spielman’s first camp as Vikings General Manager
Spielman has been with the club since 2006, but this is his first training camp with the Vikings as GM. In some respects, not much has changed because Spielman has made the transition from VP of Player Personnel to GM smoothly. On the other hand, the team’s organizational structure did change a bit with Spielman’s promotion. There’s no question now who is making the final decision on roster moves, and having a central voice such as Spielman who can work well with Frazier will improve how the team functions on a daily basis. We’ll start to see that even more during training camp and as the team gets closer to making decisions about the roster coming out of the preseason.


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Going Camping: Kalil Signs, Will Report On Time

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 26, 2012 – 10:45 am

The Vikings emerged from the 2012 NFL Draft with 10 selections. Three months later, the Vikings will emerge from the offseason and arrive at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp with all 10 selections under contract. The last of the bunch to sign was 1st-round LT Matt Kalil.

Kalil signed his contract at Winter Park late Thursday morning and will report to training camp in Mankato on time with the rest of his teammates, easing the concerns of those who wondered about a holdout. It’s not unusual for 1st-round picks to wait until the last minute to sign their deals, but it’s easy to become concerned when a player who will be so important to the team remains unsigned just days before camp.

Vikings fans can worry no more. Projected to be a cornerstone LT for the next decade, Kalil will be installed as the starter immediately. His presence at LT allows the Vikings to solidify their offensive line by moving Charlie Johnson to LG and holding a robust competition at RG among Joe Berger, Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz.


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Roster Rundown: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 24, 2012 – 7:00 am

Few position groups will be as heavily scrutinized early this season more than the offensive line. The Vikings have been one of the NFL’s best rushing teams over the past several seasons, but the combination of a need for improvement in pass protection and multiple new starters in the group will have many keeping close tabs on the men up front.

The offensive line is the subject of today’s Roster Rundown…

The Vikings will bring 15 offensive linemen with them to training camp, probably a standard number in League circles. While we can be fairly certain on four of the five starters heading into training camp, there will still be plenty of competition up and down the line in both the starting lineup and especially for the reserve spots.

John Sullivan is solid at center and has developed into one of the best five or so players at his position in the entire League. Sullivan began his career as Matt Birk’s understudy and eventually rose to starter status, where he snapped to Brett Favre in his first season as the starter and has progressed nicely ever since. There are two other players listed as centers on the Vikings roster who will compete for a backup role behind Sullivan – Joe Berger and Quentin Saulsberry. Berger is a returning veteran with seven seasons of experience and Saulsberry is an undrafted college free agent out of Mississippi State.

The Vikings should be set at both OT positions as well. Phil Loadholt returns at RT and should be sufficiently motivated in a contract year. Fans have grown tired of his penalties and occasional pass protection letdown, but my sense is Loadholt is sitting on a nice season. At LT the Vikings of course have 1st-round pick Matt Kalil. Sullivan has described Kalil as a “freak” athletically. Other OTs listed on the Vikings roster are: Pat Brown, Levi Horn, DeMarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz and Darrion Weems. Brown and Love are returning from last year’s team, Schwartz was a free agent pickup for the Vikings this offseason and could compete for the starting RG spot, and both Horn and Weems are undrafted college free agents.

The addition of Kalil at LT allows the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson over to LG, perhaps his more natural position. Johnson has the athleticism to play OT, but Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained to me earlier this offseason that his arm length is not ideal for the position. Moving him inside to LG will put Johnson is a better position to succeed, and it will allow Johnson to help Kalil transition to the NFL game. The RG position is up for grabs at this point. I expect Brandon Fusco to open camp as the starter, but both Schwartz and Chris DeGeare should have their sights set on winning the job as well. The two other OGs listed on the Vikings roster are Tyler Holmes and Austin Pasztor, a pair of undrafted college free agents.

A lot of names to go over there, but it just means more competition for the position group as a whole. The top three aspects of the offensive line I’ll be watching at training camp are…

– Who looks the best at RG? Fusco has the early edge based on the offseason program, but both DeGeare and Schwartz are in the mix as well.

– How does Kalil adjust to the NFL? Going against Jared Allen every day will help Kalil a ton if the 1st-round pick can strike a balance between taking his medicine from Allen and others on defense while also establishing himself as Ponder’s blindside protector.

– Does Loadholt take a big step forward this year? He was solid as a rookie in 2009 when he helped the club go 12-4 and play in the NFC title game, but since then he’s produced mixed results. Loadholt is one of my favorite guys on the team and I know he takes pride in his game, so I expect him to take a big step forward in his second year working with well-respected OL coach Jeff Davidson.


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