Roster cut-down day presents a nervous time for hundreds of NFL players. But the anxiety isn’t limited to just them. Roster cut-down day can be a nervous time for coaches, too.
While coaches are intimately involved in a player’s role and development on the team and they’re often times consulted when it comes to some personnel decisions, they aren’t typically making the final call on roster spots. It’s probably quite common for a coach to feel strongly about a particular role player’s ability to help the team, only to see that player lose out on a numbers game or simply cut for other reasons.
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer met with reporters for his customary Thursday press conference, and was asked about some of those anxious times on cut-down day.
“The great thing is, and we talked about this at training camp, was we had more competition at different spots,” Priefer said. “When you have that, it’s a good problem to have. Am I disappointed we lost some guys? Sure. But all in all, I think we’re a much better football team defensively, offensive and special teams, and I’m excited about that.”
Another thing Priefer is excited about is to have Marcus Sherels on the team. Sherels is a Rochester, Minnesota, native and made the Vikings back in 2010 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Minnesota. But Sherels wasn’t an undrafted college free agent of the one-year wonder variety. He played in all 16 games last season after seeing action in just one game as a rookie, and this year Sherels once again figures to play an important role on the team.
When you think of players important to the Vikings weekly game plan, Sherels’ name might not be one that comes to mind right away. As it turns out, though, the 5-10, 175-pound CB helps the team in several capacities. He’s listed as the starting punt returner and the backup kickoff returner, plus he plays on both the kickoff and punt coverage groups.
Sherels was one of nine players listed on the Vikings initial injury report of the season, as he tries to work his way back into playing form after injuring sustaining an ankle injury that caused him to miss the preseason finale. Priefer told reporters on Thursday that Sherels has made progress and has a chance to play on Sunday in the Vikings season-opener.
Priefer is big fan of Sherels’, and has surely advocated for Sherels to hold down a roster spot through a couple of anxiety-filled cut-down days.
“I’ve always been in Marcus’ corner,” Priefer admitted. “I think he’s what you want in a professional football player in terms of his attitude, his work ethic, his intelligence. Is he the biggest guy? No. But he’s always going to play hard, he always comes to work. He’s gotten better in every phase since we’ve been together. I’ve always been in his corner, to be quite honest.”
Tags: Marcus Sherels, Mike Priefer
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There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.
Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.
DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.
During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.
LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.
A few other notes…
Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.
“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”
Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.
“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”
Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.
“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”
Tags: 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, Brian Robison, Bryan Walters, Chad Greenway, Chris Carr, D'Aundre Reed, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Kerry Taylor, Kevin Williams, Leslie Frazier, Letroy Guion, Marcus Sherels, Marvin Mitchell, Mike Priefer, Mistral Raymond, Reggie Jones, Stephen Burton, Toby Gerhart, Tyrone McKenzie
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So what do you do when you’re best offensive player is also your best kickoff returner? It’s a question the Vikings have faced previously and will face again with respect to WR Percy Harvin, the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon as well as one of the best kickoff returners in the NFL.
It’s not a bad problem to have, but it’s one that still requires a solution. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked about the issue after his team’s training camp practice on Saturday. and summed it up pretty well.
“He’s such a threat as a returner, but at the same time he’s one of our most valuable players on offense,” Frazier commented. “We have to balance that, and he’s one of those guys that goes so hard that you don’t want to jeopardize what he can give you in totality.”
The good news is Frazier has good perspective on the matter. He’s a defensive-minded head coach, so he won’t have an innate bias whenever a decision has to be made, which will surely be on a weekly basis. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave certainly has an expectation that Harvin will be available for offensive duties, and you can’t blame Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer for lobbying Frazier to have Harvin on the return team – Harvin was a Pro Bowl returner in 2009, after all.
“As far as I’m concerned, Percy is our number one kickoff returner,” Priefer said on Saturday. “We have several other returners on the roster and we’re going to work as many guys as we can in training camp and in preseason games. Come Week One, if he (Harvin) is ready to roll, we’re ready to have him back there, absolutely.”
Other players who took turns returning kickoffs in Saturday’s practice included DB Reggie Jones, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, RB Jordan Todman, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright. Will the Vikings try to develop a regular starter among that group? Or will Harvin remain the primary returner? It sounds like Frazier and his staff have a pretty good idea, and that the situation will remain somewhat fluid.
“Yea we have an idea of how we want to use him,” Frazier said. “It’ll be one of those things where we’ll always be conscious of how much we’re going to be using him on offense and what we need from him on kickoff return. We do have a plan, but we’ll see how things go from game to game.”
Tags: Leslie Frazier, Mike Priefer, Percy Harvin
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The Vikings opened up their final week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at Winter Park on Monday under partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures and a brisk wind. After near-perfect weather a week ago, the windy conditions for OTA #7 added a challenging element for many phases of practice.
The first phase to deal with the wind was the Vikings special teams group, specifically the punt returners. Catching punts is difficult enough, but add in winds that gusted from 15-20 mph and the task becomes increasingly difficult. It didn’t faze the Vikings returners, though, as CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright fielded kicks gracefully.
The special teams’ performance in the first period of practice was an indication of what was to come, as the Vikings conducted a crisp and clean approximately 90-minute practice. The special teams setting a positive example for the rest of practice is something in which Mike Priefer, entering his second season as the Vikings special teams coordinator, takes pride.
“I’m very fortunate to work for a head coach like Coach Frazier,” Priefer told Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen and yours truly during last week’s episode of Vikings Tonight on the Vikings Radio Network. “He gives me meeting time, he gives me practice time, he gives me individual time with guys. I like the fact that we start practice with special teams because, to me, we set the tone for the rest of the practice. We’re a high energy, high motor type period. We get a lot done in a fifteen- or twenty-minute period of time that we have. The fact that we get to start practice and get to set the tone for the rest of the day is exciting for me.”
A few other observations from OTA #7…
Who can, not who can’t
There have been no shortage of punt returners during OTAs. The four who caught punts on Monday are listed above, but several others have also been in the mix over the past two weeks. While fans are curious to know who will win the job after the position battle, Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White are still figuring out who will be in that position battle.
“We have eight or nine guys catching punts right now and you have to pull them out of a hat,” Priefer said on last week’s Vikings Tonight. “But the great thing is we have a lot of competition there. I’ve been at places where we have one guy, maybe two, that can even catch a punt. Here we have seven or eight guys who can catch punts.”
Sherels stands out
It was a good day of practice for CB Marcus Sherels, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher who made last year’s Vikings squad as an undrafted free agent. If Sherels has more days like he had on Monday, he’ll once again be on the Vikings roster and in position to make an impact.
Sherels tallied a pair of pass breakups (PBUs) against what’s been one of the best QB-WR combinations during OTAs – Christian Ponder and Jerome Simpson. The first PBU came during a team offense vs. team defense period when Sherels jumped in front of Simpson on a short curl route, and the second PBU came during a 7-on-7 period of practice on a deep pass down the left sideline. On each play, Ponder placed the ball well and Simpson ran a good route, but Sherels was just able to make a great play on the ball.
Living on the edge
Ponder and fellow QB Joe Webb put their athleticism on display during a team offense vs. defense period. Both plays were similar in that the QBs were sprinting right to avoid a pursuing defender. DE Brian Robison was chasing Ponder, and the QB was able to buy just enough time to find WR Stephen Burton along the right sideline for a tip-toe completion before falling out of bounds. Moments later, Webb executed a similar play, sprinting right to avoid DE Eric Lattimore and completing a pass to TE Kyle Rudolph. The pass was thrown slightly behind Rudolph, but the second-year TE was able to reach back and make the catch before turning upfield to complete the play.
Good hands Griffen
Defensive linemen such as Everson Griffen spend much of their time rushing the passer. On Monday, though, Griffen showed off his pass-catching skills, grabbing a tipped pass to tally an INT.
Tags: Bryan Walters, Chris White, Christian Ponder, Everson Griffen, Jarius Wright, Joe Webb, Josh Robinson, Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels, Mike Priefer, OTAs, Paul Allen, Stephen Burton
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Something happened to Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski earlier this season that hadn’t happened to him since 2001 – he missed a game. A hamstring injury has ailed the 12-year veteran in recent weeks and it caused him to miss the Raiders Week 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
But Janikowski was able to return after just one missed game and he’s expected to play this week against the Vikings at Mall of America Field. Janikowski is one of the NFL’s highest-profile kickers, and it’s for good reason. He was a standout at Florida State University, so much so that the Raiders used a 1st-round pick to select him in the 2000 NFL Draft. He’s known for a powerful leg, both on FG attempts and kickoffs.
“He has been special,” Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said on Thursday. “I’ve faced him ten times the last five years being in the AFC West, and he just never ceases to amaze me in terms of his power, and just what he can generate in a small amount of area. On kickoffs he doesn’t have a long approach, even when he’s healthy. On his field goals he’s got a quick two-step approach that’s very difficult to block. But he gets the ball up in the air so quickly, it sounds like an explosion off his foot.”
Priefer also noted on Thursday that Janikowski is a crafty player who can accurately spot his kickoffs, in addition to booming them into and through the end zone. With a combination of power and accuracy on kickoffs, along with the hamstring injury that may or may not be inhibiting his power, Priefer explained to reporters that the Vikings will prepare two separate game plans against Janikowski.
“We have to have two game plans,” Priefer said. “We’ve got to have one [to] get ready for his ‘bloop’ kicks, I call them, or his liner-type kicks. And then we have to have one for his deep kicks. We go into this game having two different types of game plans for how healthy he is. He’s going to have ten days off (since his last game), and I know he didn’t practice yesterday, so he’ll be healthier than he’s been in a long while.”
Priefer will certainly watch Janikowski in warm-ups to see if the Raiders tip their hand, but he also knows that the veteran will be careful in how he warms up so as to not aggravate the injury. Either way, it sounds like the Vikings will be prepared for whatever Janikowski and the Raiders kickoff team throw at them.
“I’ll definitely watch him in warm-ups just to see how he’s hitting the ball,” Priefer said. “Being a hamstring with a kicker, obviously that’s a little more difficult, even indoors he’s got to be smart in terms of how he prepares and warms up. He might try to disguise it, I would if I were him, so we’ll have to deal with whatever he throws at us, and we’ll have a plan for both types of kicks.”
Tags: Mike Priefer
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Balloting for the Pro Bowl has begun, and for Vikings fans the easy choices are to select DE Jared Allen and RB Adrian Peterson. Allen leads the NFL in sacks with 12.5, and Peterson ranks 1st in the NFL with 9 rushing TDs and 3rd in the NFC with 795 rushing yards.
But there’s another Vikings player who deserves your Pro Bowl vote. Each team has one designated non-kicker special teams player on the ballot. For the Vikings, this player is Everson Griffen. And his performance to date is well-worthy of a special teams nod.
Griffen plays on all 4 core special teams phases, leads the club with 13 special teams tackles, has forced 1 fumble, and has 5 multi-tackle games on special teams. Griffen’s versatility on special teams is perhaps the most impressive part of his game. He runs down on kickoff coverage, but is also a blocker on kickoff return. In fact, Griffen was part of a key block on Percy Harvin’s season-opening kickoff return for a TD against the San Diego Chargers.
Incredibly enough, Griffen also plays gunner on punt coverage. The gunner position is usually designated for a DB or WR; very rarely do you see a player the size of a DE in this spot. But Griffen excels at this position and has been a handful for opposing teams in the punt game.
“I’ve had linebackers before, but I’ve never used a defensive end,” Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said of using Griffen at gunner. “He’s a unique athlete as you guys know, Everson. And he’s playing at a very high level right now and I hope he keeps playing at that level because to me, I think the more experience he gets doing that, the harder he’ll be to block. He’s going to be very difficult to block, especially for the smaller corners and safeties that are out there.”
Griffen, who has 3.0 sacks on defense for the Vikings this season, is a product of football powerhouse USC. He was a standout DE at a well-known football school, yet he’s completely embraced his role on special teams and has become one of the Vikings most valuable players in each phase of special teams.
Fans are an important part of the Pro Bowl selection process, and this year vikings.com has a slick balloting process for fans to utilize. Click here to cast your ballot.
Tags: Everson Griffen, Mike Priefer
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Special teams is a phase of the game that’s often overlooked, but it remains as important to the outcome of games as defense and offense. And when you play the Chicago Bears, the importance of special teams is even more important. The Bears annually feature one of the finest special teams units in the NFL.
This year is no exception, as the Bears boast the 5th ranked punt coverage team and the 9th ranked kickoff coverage team. In terms of kickoff and punt return, the Bears have perhaps the most dangerous return man of all in Devin Hester. K Robbie Gould is perfect on FGs and PATs this year, and his kickoffs reach the end zone 92.0% of the time; he records touchbacks on 64.0% of his kickoffs, which ranks 6th in the NFL.
Against the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, the Bears allowed 547 yards of offense, but they still won the game. And they won the game largely on the strength of their special teams. Hester logged a 64-yard punt return for a TD and a 73-yard kickoff return, and then Julius Peppers blocked a FG late in the 3rd quarter.
The bad news is Chicago’s special teams group is good enough to lead the team to victory. The good news is the Vikings special teams group has been good this year, too. The Vikings rank 6th in kickoff coverage and 5th in both kickoff and punt return average. K Ryan Longwell has been steady and P Chris Kluwe has 7 punts downed inside the 20, 7 punts fair caught and just 1 touchback.
On Thursday, Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer had candid assessments of a few important aspects of his special teams group. Here’s what he had to say…
On kickoff coverage
“I think our kickoff covering unit has been outstanding all year. Ryan’s done a great job with our kickoffs. He’s kept people off balance a little bit between the left, right and middle, and the hang time has been really good. Guys are focused. We’ve had a couple guys switch in and out, and even the backups have done a nice job.”
On punt coverage
“Punt coverage was not good for a couple weeks. Detroit and Kansas City were not good and this last week was very good. Chris punted the ball well. Patrick Peterson is a very dangerous returner, but Chris punted the ball very effectively and very well and our guys covered and did a good job forcing fair catches and that’s what you’re looking for.”
Tags: Chris Kluwe, Mike Priefer, Ryan Longwell
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 41 Comments »
The Vikings special teams unit is going through a period of transition right now, partly because of some roster turnover but largely because there is a new coordinator in charge. Mike Priefer is now on the job and he’s making significant changes to some of the fundamental aspects of each special teams phase.
We’ll spare the detail of those changes for now, but suffice it to say Priefer has had a lot to teach in a short amount of time, especially considering he didn’t have the minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs) usually afforded to teams in the offseason.
Despite all of that, early results are outstanding for Priefer and Co. The special teams were probably the strongest part of the Vikings preseason debut in Tennessee a week ago and then last Saturday in Tennessee the special teams gave another strong showing.
Let’s go over some of the highlights…
– Ryan Longwell has been solid on kickoffs all preseason. On Saturday night he was hitting his kicks into the endzone, with one going as deep as 6 yards. That combined with terrific effort from the coverage team is helping the Vikings win the field position battle. Here is Seattle’s starting field position after Longwell’s four kickoffs: SEA 11, SEA 27, SEA 9, SEA 15. The Vikings defense will enjoy life quite a bit this season if opponents are starting drives inside the 20 with regularity.
– P Chris Kluwe is doing his part to help the Vikings win the field position battle, too. On Saturday night he had 4 punts, with a gross average of 39.8 and a net average of 38.5. When the gross average and net average are similar, you know the opponents aren’t doing much in the return game. Seattle averaged just 1.7 yards per return on 3 tries and Kluwe landed 2 of his 4 punts inside the 20.
– S Eric Frampton continues to be a standout in kick coverage. He had another open-field tackle on Saturday night.
– Longwell was also solid in the place kicking department, nailing FGs from 34 and 36 yards and also hitting his lone PAT try. The battery of long snapper Cullen Loeffler to Kluwe also improved on Saturday night.
– Lorenzo Booker, who is my choice to be the Vikings kickoff returner this season, registered another impressive return on Saturday night with a 26-yard scamper. Marcus Sherels, who returned an INT 64 yards for a score in the game, also had 2 punt returns for a 10.0-yard average, but he did lose a fumble and that won’t be tolerated by Priefer and special teams assistant coach Chris White.
– Outside of Frampton, the other players credited with special teams tackles on Saturday were: Tony Carter, Loeffler, Sherels, Devon Torrence and Mark Washington. Devin Aromashodu (1), Jasper Brinkley (2), Booker (1) and Larry Dean (1) were all credited with assists.
Tags: Chris Kluwe, Cullen Loeffler, Eric Frampton, Lorenzo Booker, Mike Priefer, Ryan Longwell
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It’s generally not something you find football fans talking about, but it’s a vital part of every team and it’s an important factor in every game. We’re talking about special teams. And this preseason for the Vikings, it’s an especially important group to watch because there’s a new special teams coordinator in town with Mike Priefer aboard.
After one preseason game, it’s so far, so good for Priefer’s special teams groups. In what was mostly an uninspiring performance from the Vikings on Saturday night in Tennessee, the special teams groups looked strong. Let’s take a moment to point out a few of the strongpoints…
– P Chris Kluwe had a nice night, booming five punts and generating an average of 41.6 yards per punt and 39.4 net yards per punt; a net average of 39.4 yards would’ve ranked Kluwe 4th among all punters last year. Also, Kluwe put two of his five punts inside the 20-yardline and only three of his punts were returned.
– The Vikings punt coverage unit performed well in unison with Kluwe, allowing just 3.7 yards per return on three attempts.
– On kickoff returns, the Vikings averaged 26.0 yards per try, which would’ve ranked them 2nd in the NFL last year. In kickoff return coverage, the Vikings allowed just 19.0 yards per return, which also would’ve ranked them 2nd best in the NFL last year.
– Give credit to the group of Kluwe, K Ryan Longwell and long snapper Cullen Loeffler because they didn’t have a botched snap, hold or kick all night. Longwell was true from 37 yards out to give the Vikings their only points.
– WR Jaymar Johnson, who is trying to earn a spot on the WR depth chart, certainly helped his cause by performing on special teams. He returned a punt 40 yards in the second half, displaying a quick burst and then excellent top-end speed on the play. Another WR – Devin Aromashodu – who is also trying to win a spot on the WR depth chart helped himself on special teams as well by notching a tackle.
– Others who chipped in with special teams tackles were LB Larry Dean, S Eric Frampton and LB Heath Farwell.
Tags: Chris Kluwe, Cullen Loeffler, Devin Aromashodu, Eric Frampton, Heath Farwell, Jaymar Johnson, Larry Dean, Mike Priefer, Ryan Longwell
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 66 Comments »
An offseason void of minicamps and OTAs and then rules in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that prohibits players with new contracts from practicing and also prohibits contact during the first few days of camp created an unusual environment at NFL training camps.
But things are starting to feel a bit more normal now after the Vikings strapped on shoulder pads and helmets for Practice #3.
The intensity rose a notch on Wednesday morning at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the team worked for roughtly two hours and 15 minutes on the outdoor practice fields under sunny skies and balmy temperatures. Vikings fans took advantage of the day, too, by packing both sets of bleachers and lining the fences surrounding the three practice fields.
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer both held press conferences following practice and we’ll have those in on-demand format for you to view, so stay tuned for that. Until then, here are a few notes from practice…
– My favorite drill to watch is the 9-on-7 drill, in which nine offensive players go against seven defensive players (four down linemen and three linebackers) in a drill that features only running plays. The drill is a full-contact drill that focuses on blocking for the offense and filling gaps on defense. LBs Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson looked the best in the drill.
– Another LB – Heath Farwell – got his hands on an INT. QB Joe Webb tried to force a pass into coverage and Farwell was there to take advantage of the miscue. Farwell was playing outside LB with the first team during some portions of practice.
– Catch of the day goes to WR Stephen Burton, who was drafted by the Vikings this past April in the 7th round. He went full extension and dove for a pass along the right sideline during a team drill. He was able to get his hands on the ball, secure it, go to the ground and maintain possession through the play.
– Passing the eye test today: Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin and Percy Harvin
– I’ll have more notes from the Musgrave and Priefer press conferences later. Stay tuned…
Tags: Bill Musgrave, Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson, Heath Farwell, Mike Priefer, Stephen Burton
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 26 Comments »