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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 1, 2012 – 7:15 am

On Tuesday as I walked out to afternoon practice here at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, I asked followers on Twitter if there were any players they’d like me to pay special attention. We received many responses, so instead of responding to each person individually, we decided to put all the responses together and share it that way so everyone can read about the players that are tipping the curiosity of the fans.

And to make it as Twitter-realistic as possible, each comment below is in 140 characters or less (that is the character limit for a Twitter message). Here we go…

DL Christian Ballard: Second-team DT on Tuesday. Looks significantly bigger and better this year compared to last year. Will contribute.

S Robert Blanton: Sat out practice on Tuesday. Has been good to this point. Still learning defense obviously.

LB Audie Cole: Best I’ve seen him look on Tuesday. Great swim move during pass rush drill. Strikes well.

CB Bobby Felder: Had impressive INT during 1-on-1 drill. Won’t surprise me if he impresses during preseason. Plays with energy.

FB Jerome Felton: Was running with the first team at FB. Solid blocker. Also a special teams contributor.

LB Everson Griffen: First-team kickoff coverage; third-team LB. Explosive rushing passer off edge. Plays with energy.

DT Letroy Guion: First-team DT. Having a great camp. Good movement skills, very good strength. Anchors well.

DT Trevor Guyton: Third-team offense. Also plays special teams. Good movement. Role TBD.

LB Tyrone McKenzie: Big jump up from last year. Plays second-team MIKE LB. Impressive INT on Tuesday. Vocal on field.

S Mistral Raymond: Mostly first-team reps, some second-team. Seems better-versed in defensive scheme this year.

DE Brian Robison: Same ‘ol B-Rob. Plays with passion. Exclusively first-team left DE. Good inside pass rush moves.

OL Geoff Schwartz: Plays multiple positions with second and third teams. Role still TBD.

WR Jerome Simpson: Great speed. Gets open a lot. Love him on comeback routes. Good after the catch.

S Harrison Smith: Opened camp with the second team, but has begun to take some reps with first team. Looks the part. Plays bigger than listed.


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Roster Rundown: Safeties And Tight Ends

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 19, 2012 – 6:40 am

The Vikings made key additions to the safety and tight end positions this offseason, but they utilized different methods in doing so. At safety, the Vikings looked to the draft to add young talent and infuse the position with competition. At tight end, the Vikings turned to free agency to bolster the position.

Safeties and tight ends are the subject of today’s Roster Rundown. Let’s begin with the safeties…

Four players listed as safeties will return from last year’s team. Jamarca Sanford, who started 15 games in 2011 and is entering his fourth season, has the most experience playing defense of the bunch. Eric Frampton, entering his sixth season, has been a core special teams player for the Vikings since 2007 and should retain at least that role in 2012. The two other returning players are Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo. Raymond started five games last year and Sendejo was added to the active roster via free agency in late November 2011.

The Vikings added two safeties to the roster via the draft, using a 1st-round pick to select Harrison Smith and a 5th-round pick to select Robert Blanton. As a 1st-round pick, the expectation for Smith is that he’ll emerge from training camp with a starting role. Blanton is converting from cornerback to safety and will compete for time at the other safety position. Others who will compete for time at safety are Reggie Jones and perhaps Zack Bowman (he could rotate between cornerback and safety).

Safety is a position to watch during training camp and the preseason. The assumption is that Smith will hold down one starting spot while Blanton, Raymond and Sanford compete for the other position. But don’t be surprised to see others insert themselves into the mix, including Bowman and Sendejo.

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The Vikings shed a fair amount of experience at tight end this offseason, with 13-year pro Jim Kleinsasser retiring and nine-year pro Visanthe Shiancoe not returning. But now the position is full of youth and play-making athleticism. Not many teams used more multiple-TE formations than the Vikings a season ago, so this will be an important position to watch develop during training camp and the preseason.

Kyle Rudolph was a 2nd-round pick of the Vikings last year and he came on strong at the end of the season. He and QB Christian Ponder clearly have a good rapport, so it won’t be a surprise to see Rudolph take a huge step forward in 2012. As if one athletic, field-stretching TE from Notre Dame wasn’t enough, the Vikings added John Carlson to the mix during free agency. A Litchfield, MN native, Carlson is a proven talent in the NFL with a pair of 50+ reception seasons and a per-catch average of 11.1 yards for his career.

Behind Carlson and Rudolph, the Vikings have a pair of former Big Ten tight ends who are also talented pass catchers in Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler. Both have two years of experience and both will have to display an ability to help on special teams as well as on offense to earn a roster spot.

The last player we’ll mention in this space is Rhett Ellison, even though he may eventually be listed as a FB. The Vikings selected Ellison in the 4th round of this year’s draft and he could be asked to fulfill a variety of roles on the Vikings offense, including as a tight end. Billed as a big, physical blocking-type of tight end entering the draft, Ellison displayed fluid route running and pass receiving skills at the Vikings rookie minicamp in May. A blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player, Ellison will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

Carlson and Rudolph will be the main threats at TE for the Vikings in 2012. While both are capable blockers, that is not their forte. That leaves opportunity for Reisner and Shuler to prove their worth during training camp; it will also be important for Reisner and Shuler to perform well on special teams during training camp and the preseason.


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Harrison Smith Gets Fired Up; Other Thoughts At Safety

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 13, 2012 – 5:14 am

Harrison Smith is a mild-mannered guy around Winter Park and in the locker room. Since arriving in Minnesota, the 1st-round safety has been gracious with his time in doing interviews and participating in community events.

But on Tuesday at Organized Team Activity #8, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier saw a different side of Smith, even if for a brief moment. And he liked it.

“I don’t know if it’s surprising, but it made me feel pretty good,” Frazier said when asked if he’s seen anything that’s surprised him about Smith. “I saw a play today where he really got angry. He got pretty fired up and you kind of need that out of your defensive backs. You need them to have a little something about them. It was good to see.”

Frazier is a good judge on temperament. He’s a mild-mannered and soft-spoken individual as well, but when he was on the field as a standout NFL defensive back for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, Frazier had a fierce attitude as well.

While meeting with reporters at Winter Park following Tuesday’s OTA, Frazier was also asked about a couple other safeties on the team’s roster competing for playing time – Robert Blanton and Jamarca Sanford.

Frazier, who called Sanford “one of the best special teams players in the League,” said that consistent open-field tackling will be key for Sanford as will displaying adequate range in pass coverage.

“Probably for Jamarca, just when we get the pads on, that’s when it’ll show up, where his fit will be, whether he’s going to be a starter for us or what role he’ll play,” Frazier said. “That will be the key for him, and being able to show the range in pass defense that we need and if he can get that accomplished in his second year as a potential starter, it’d be good for our defense, but putting the pads on will determine what happens with him down the road.”

As for Blanton, another rookie safety on the roster from Notre Dame, the key is transitioning from playing CB in college to safety in the NFL.

“There are some things you look at and you just know will take a little bit of time, just getting accustomed to being out in space. That’s different for him,” Frazier explained. “When you have the sideline as a twelfth man at times, you don’t have that safety. There’s a lot more space and the angles are a lot different and that takes time, but he’s getting it and we have to continue to expose him to more situations and we’re doing that. I think he’ll get it, but it’s just a matter of how fast it’ll be.”

While going through a position change in your first year in the NFL is certainly a tall task, Frazier refused to write the 2012 season off as just a developmental year for Blanton. He expects Blanton will challenge for serious playing time.

“I don’t look at it as a developmental season,” Frazier said. “This period that we’re in right now is more developmental because it’s not something he’s done very much of, but we’re hoping that he’ll challenge for a starting job and that’s why we drafted him when we did. We want him to challenge for a starting job at safety but it’s just a matter of how fast he’ll come along.”

 And don’t forget about Raymond. Frazier wasn’t asked about Raymond on Tuesday, but the 2nd-year safety on Tuesday had one of his best practices to date during OTAs. I saw him get his hands on a few passes and even haul in a couple of INTs. Raymond is in the mix to earn a starting spot as well.

Raymond and Sanford have taken snaps with the first team, but Smith got into that rotation as well this week. It’s too early yet to get a gauge on who has a hold on starting spots at this point because the team is still early in their preparations for the 2012 season and they’re more interested in experimenting with different combinations at this point than they are on deciding on a starting duo.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Frazier said. “We started yesterday, we began to rotate guys and mix and match a little bit, just to see how they would gel together and we’ll continue to do it. We have quite a bit of time now before we get to that first game but we want to get a mix and see how guys work together to develop some chemistry in that secondary and that was a part of what happened today.”


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Greenway, Harvin Participate In OTA #4; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 5, 2012 – 12:28 pm

The Vikings returned to the outdoor practice fields at Winter Park on Tuesday for Organized Team Activity (OTA) #4, and two of the team’s best players – LB Chad Greenway and WR Percy Harvin - rejoined the team for on-field activities. Weather conditions were ideal – sunny skies and warm temperatures – and the team worked for approximately 90 minutes.

Both Greenway and Harvin looked fresh and explosive during practice, and their presence along with a weekend for all the players to rest and recover after last week’s three OTAs yielded an up-tempo practice environment. We caught up with Harvin after practice for a quick interview and will have that posted to vikings.com shortly.

Here are a few other observations from OTA #4 on Tuesday…

– Tuesday’s practice opened with a special teams period, and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer had several guys in the rotation to field kickoffs. By my count there were 8 players catching kicks – WRs Stephen Burton, Harvin, Bryan Walters and Jarius Wright; CBs Marcus Sherels, Josh Robinson and Nicholas Taylor; and RB Jordan Todman. The point here is not so much to try and track who’s taking the reps, but more to illustrate that Priefer is looking at the entire roster in an attempt to fill the kickoff return role. This OTA portion of the offseason is not the time to narrow down the competition by figuring out who can’t fill the role, rather now is the time to discover guys who can fill the role so a robust competition can be held in training camp and the preseason.

– It’s mentioned above that Greenway made his return to the field, and he looked good in doing so. He’s the leader of that LB group and is one of the team’s most consistent performers. Another who’s stood out among that group, though, is Erin Henderson. He had a good week last week and hit the ground running this week, too, making splash plays in both the special categories and 9-7 periods of practice.

– A couple of young DBs tallied INTs during practice. S Mistral Raymond got one late in practice and fellow S Robert Blanton, the team’s 5th-round pick in this year’s draft, grabbed one a few moments earlier during 7-on-7 action. Overall the defense is playing a bit faster than the offense at this point, but that is to be expected this early in the OTAs and offseason programming. The offense has clearly taken a step forward since OTA #1 and I expect the offense will continue making great strides as training camp approaches.

– It wasn’t all defense on the highlight reel on Tuesday. QB Christian Ponder connected with TE Kyle Rudolph on a terrific touch pass that was perfectly placed over a pair of LBs and underneath a CB and S late in practice. Rudolph fully extended and stayed on his feet to make the catch. Walters also had a full-extension catch late in practice where he had to dive among defenders to secure the ball.

– Early in practice both Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu made highlight-caliber catches. Aromashodu’s came first on a pass from Ponder with CB Chris Carr in coverage. Aromashodu stopped his route short, leaped high in the air and made the catch over Carr (who was in perfect position), and came down with both feet in bounds and the ball secured while falling onto the left sideline. Moments later, Arceneaux made his catch in similar fashion – more of a back-shoulder fade, this time from Joe Webb.

– The Vikings will hold OTA #5 on Wednesday at Winter Park and it will be open to the media. We’ll have continuing coverage of OTAs and the Vikings offseason program here on vikings.com, so stay tuned.


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Gerhart, Raymond Up For Weekly Awards

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2011 – 10:23 am

A pair of young Vikings are up for weekly awards this week after providing a helping hand in the Vikings victory over the Washington Redskins on Saturday.

RB Toby Gerhart has been nominated for the FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week after rushing for 109 yards on 11 carries at, appropriately enough, FedEx Field. Joining Gerhart as nominees for the award are Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall (18-116-1) and Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller (16-111-1). Gerhart has the lowest yardage total of the 3 finalists by a slight margin, but it should also be noted that he gained those yards on just 11 carries.

Vikings fans can vote for Gerhart on NFL.com/FedEx now through 2:00 p.m. CT on Friday.

The other Vikings player up for an award is rookie S Mistral Raymond, who has been nominated for Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honors. Raymond tallied 6 tackles, 2 passes defensed and a 4th-quarter INT, which he returned for 31 yards, in the Vikings win over Washington. Raymond’s INT basically sealed the Vikings victory because it set up Ryan Longwell for a 23-yard FG that put the Vikings up by 10 points with just over 4 minutes to play in the game.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton, Raiders WR Denarius Moore, Panthers QB Cam Newton and Redskins RB Evan Royster are also finalists. Vikings fans can vote for Raymond on NFL.com/rookies now through Friday at 11:00 a.m. CT.


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Several Vikings Step Up In Win Over Washington

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2011 – 2:27 pm

The Vikings earned a tough 33-26 road victory over the Washington Redskins on Saturday, and there was nothing conventional about how the game unfolded. Minnesota jumped out to 10-0 lead, trailed 13-10 early in the 3rd quarter, watched both Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder leave the game due to injury, and then outscored Washington 23-13 the rest of the way to notch the win.

To be on the road and face that much adversity – Peterson left with a severe knee injury and Ponder suffered a concussion – but still come out with a win is a testament to the Vikings depth and refusal to quit on the season.

Peterson and Ponder were both forced out of the game early in the 3rd quarter. Backups Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb stepped right in and were productive for the rest of the game. Gerhart finished with 109 yards on 11 carries, the first 100-yard game of his career, and Webb was 4 of 5 for 84 yards and 2 TDs, and he also added 5 carries for 34 yards and 1 TD.

But it was more than just Gerhart and Webb who stepped up on Saturday. Seven-year veteran Joe Berger started at LG in place of Steve Hutchinson, rookie interior OL Brandon Fusco replaced Anthony Herrera at RG after Herrera left with an injury, rookie S Mistral Raymond grabbed an INT and ended a big-time drought for the Vikings defense, and Brian Robison forced and recovered a fumble off of Rex Grossman.

There are more examples of guys who stepped up in the victory, but you get the picture. And Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was clearly pleased with the way his team played, from the top of the roster all the way to the bottom.

“As I mentioned earlier, just a good overall effort by our football team to go on the road and get a win against a Redskins team that had just come off a big win against the Giants the week before,” Frazier said during his customary day-after-the-game press conference. “And to handle some of that adversity that occurred during that game, to see the number of players who stepped up like they did, whether it be Toby Gerhart, Joe (Webb) coming into the game when Christian (Ponder) was injured, some of our defensive guys just stepping up, Mistral Raymond coming back and getting an interception for us, the big caused fumble by Brian Robison as well.

“A lot of good things in that football game. A lot of guys contributed to that win on Saturday, which really should be a spring board for us as we prepare for this ball game against Chicago.”


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 20, 2011 – 10:44 am

The Vikings will play their second game of the 2011 preseason tonight against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle. Here are five things to watch during tonight’s game…

Improvement from Donovan McNabb, first-team offense
While it might not have satisfied the appetite of Vikings fans, the performance from the first-team offense last week was acceptable for a preseason debut. But a similar performance tonight against Seattle in preseason game #2 will not be acceptable. McNabb and Co. need to take a step forward and they appear ready to do that after a solid week of practice. McNabb is cautiously optimistic about the offense’s progress and we’ll find out tonight if that optimism is warranted. No, we shouldn’t look for perfection, but we should expect to see extended drives, minimal penalties, no turnovers, no sacks and maybe even a TD.

Tyrell Johnson’s performance at safety
There’s been great competition at the safety position during training camp, primarily between Johnson and Jamarca Sanford. But we also can’t count out rookie Mistral Raymond, who has put together a great training camp and is opening eyes. Tonight, Johnson will get the start and it’s important that he plays well. Johnson has all the physical tools to be a talented safety in the NFL. He’s also a smart player who understands the Vikings scheme. Now he needs to put it all together at once while he’s on the field, something he hasn’t been able to do consistently. If he can do that, I believe he’ll be the coaching staff’s choice as the starter. If he can’t do that tonight, then I think it’s a wide open race for the starting position among Johnson, Raymond and Sanford.

Who will step up at WR
Both Greg Camarillo and Percy Harvin have been declared out of this game, which means the Vikings coaching staff will get a longer look at a few players who normally wouldn’t see as much action. Both Camarillo and Harvin play primarily in the slot position, so I expect Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson will be the guys who get the extra reps tonight. Both are roster bubble guys and both have recently been playing well. Iglesias has looked great in practice while filling in for Camarillo and Harvin. Johnson has worked his tail off to remain on this roster and then last week he ripped off a 40-yard punt return. Other guys who could get a few extra looks tonight in the slot are Manny Arceneaux and Devin Aromashodu – I view Aromashodu as more of an outside receiver but I also think he’s a polished enough receiver that he could play all three of the WR positions in this offense.

Christian Ballard at DT
Ballard’s best trait, in my eyes, is his versatility. He played and started in a lot of games at the University of Iowa at both DE and DT. So far with the Vikings, he’s played primarily at DT behind Kevin Williams at the 3-technique and his best moment of training camp came last week in Tennessee when he notched a sack from the DT position. If Ballard can continue to be a disruptive force tonight – even if it doesn’t result in a sack – it will go a long way toward convincing coaches that he can be a member of the DL rotation this season. It’s uncertain how well Brian Robison will play as the new starter at left DE and it’s uncertain if Williams will be available for the first four games of the regular season, so Ballard’s presence as a disruptive force in the rotation will ease a lot of the uncertainty.

Ryan D’Imperio creating separation at FB
One of my favorite position battles to watch so far during training camp and the preseason is at FB, where D’Imperio entered as the starter and Matt Asiata came in as an undrafted rookie free agent. D’Imperio was a draft pick in 2010 and the Vikings converted him from a college LB to an NFL FB. He spent last season on the practice squad and there’s no questioning the improvement he’s made in one year’s time. Asiata has also impressed, primarily because of his athleticism both in carrying the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. Tonight, though Asiata won’t play because of injury, which means D’Imperio can create more separation with a solid performance.


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CB Cedric Griffin May Get A Look On Saturday; Harvin Update

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 18, 2011 – 6:17 am

The Vikings had a “good, spirited” practice on Wednesday at Winter Park, according to Head Coach Leslie Frazier. The team worked out in full pads and under ideal conditions as they continue preparations for this Saturday’s preseason game in Seattle.

Frazier pointed out that Wednesday’s practice included periods where the team worked in backed-up, two-minute, goal line and short-yardage situations.

But right now the main issues for the Vikings revolve around some minor injuries and how playing time for the second preseason game will be distributed. Several players have missed a practice or two this week coming off of last weekend’s preseason opener, but the good news is the team isn’t dealing with any major injuries.

“The further you get along,” Frazier said of training camp, “you’re going to have some bumps and bruises and fortunately for us, we haven’t had any major issues. There’s nothing more than muscle pulls or strains and you’ll get through those in time.”

The highest-profile player to miss time so far has been WR Percy Harvin, who has a mild rib injury and has missed most of practice over the past two days. Frazier indicated that Harvin is fine but that the team is being careful. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Harvin was held out of Saturday’s game to ensure that he fully heals. His role on the team is pretty well-defined, so it might actually be more beneficial to have him sit than to have him play, largely so the coaching staff can get a look at other players behind Harvin on the depth chart.

A guy who has looked great in training camp but who didn’t make it onto the field last weekend is CB Cedric Griffin. He’s coming back from a knee injury that ended his 2010 season early and it sounds like he might get on the field for a few minutes on Saturday night in Seattle.

“At least a series,” Frazier said when asked how much Griffin might play on Saturday. “That’s where we’re thinking right now. We’ll see how he does tomorrow (Thursday) in practice, how he finishes and if he finishes fine we may try to get him a series.”

As questionable as the secondary looked last weekend, keep in mind that the team’s two best CBs (Griffin and Antoine Winfield) didn’t play. It seems only fair that Griffin and Winfield be allowed on the field before an iron-clad judgment can be cast on the progress of the secondary from the end of last season to the beginning of this season.

Speaking of the Vikings secondary, there’s another guy who didn’t get on the field last weekend but who has been having a superb camp. It’s rookie S Mistral Raymond, and he was held out last weekend because he tweaked his hamstring on the final play of the Mankato version of training camp.

Raymond is an impressive-looking athlete at the safety position. He has good size (6-1, 194 pounds) but also has the agility, quickness and speed you look for in a starting NFL DB. Raymond actually played some CB in college, so it’ll be interesting to see if he has the combination of aggressiveness and coverage ability you look for in an NFL safety.

“He’s a guy we’re anxious to take a look at in a game situation but we feel pretty good about his athleticism and how well he’s picked up things on defense,” Frazier said of Raymond. “Now it’s a matter of how he plays against other opponents but we’re looking forward to watching him play.”

Vikings fans should be, too. With questionable play at times over the last couple of seasons at safety, Raymond is one of a few players with an eye on a starting job in the Vikings secondary. The competition at safety, specifically, is thick and I think it will yield positive results for the Vikings defense.


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Vikings Offense Progressing; Morning Pracitce Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 10, 2011 – 12:04 pm

It’s natural for offenses to come along slower than defenses in training camp and the preseason, largely because offenses rely on rhythm and timing. Add in the fact that the lockout took away minicamps and OTAs, and offenses are at an even greater disadvantage.

The Vikings are certainly no exception to that rule, especially with two new QBs and a bunch of new WRs added to the mix since the end of the 2010 season. Individual players have performed well quite often at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, but as a group there is still plenty of progress to be made.

The good news is that progress is being made and Vikings coaches are pleased with the way the team is working. Things are going in the right direction.

“I think the guys are getting better each day,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Tuesday. “They’re starting to absorb the concepts and the techniques that we’re teaching. We haven’t had a lot of time and we’ve acknowledged that, but they’ve done a superb job of getting better every day, focusing on an area of improvement every day rather just going out there and mindlessly working through practice.”

Musgrave credited head coach Leslie Frazier for the way he’s organized this training camp, especially in light of the unusual CBA-related circumstances that surrounded the beginning of camp.

“The practices are structured where we are covering each and every situation,” Musgrave explained. “The players feel prepared, we feel prepared as coaches, we’re just scratching the surface of in terms of having enough turns at our plays where we’re real precise and good at them.”

The next big step in the offense’s progression will come on Saturday night when the Vikings play at the Tennessee Titans for the preseason opener. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a crisp, mistake-free performance by the offense. But it’s certainly fair to expect the offense to continue its progression and the bottom line is the offense must be “all systems go” by the time the regular season rolls around.

Musgrave certainly understands that.

“We’re not anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of the precision of the passing game,” Musgrave said. “I think guys know what they’re doing, but in terms of having the number of turns it takes to be good at it, we’re not there. But fortunately we’ll have until September 11 to get good at those things.”

The current status of the Vikings offense is nothing about which to be alarmed. In fact, Vikings fans should take solace in the fact that they’ll have a 13-year veteran QB in Donovan McNabb at the helm and there will be plenty of talent around McNabb to get the offense firing on all cylinders.

Here are a few notes from Wednesday morning’s practice…

– The Vikings worked for over two hours in ideal weather conditions. The heat has been dialed back several notches, the sun is shining and the blustery winds from Tuesday have vanished. Frazier had his team in shorts, shoulder pads/jerseys and helmets for the workout.

– Another outstanding crowd packed the bleachers and standing-room only sections of 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. I know I’ve mentioned this countless times during camp, but I can’t say enough about how great Vikings fans have been to the team over the last 10 days. All the practices are well-attended, the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone is constantly buzzing, Vikings Village is rocking and the support from the local Mankato community has been terrific.

– The Vikings have practiced “the little things” a lot during this camp. It might sound like a foregone conclusion that this is the case, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how important some facets of the game can be, even though we only see them on occasion. For example, I saw special teams coordinator Mike Priefer working with his group on Tuesday in the back of the endzone. They were practicing punting while backed up and they also worked on situations where the team would intentionally take a safety (winning by six points, backed up on your own 1-yardline with less than a minute to go). Other “little things” I’ve seen the Vikings working on recently: Hail Mary, rushing onto the field to kick a FG with time running out, onside kick, punt after safety and diving to save a touchback on a punt.

– S Husain Abdullah was absent from practice on Wednesday as he attends the annual Iftar Dinner at the White House on Wednesday night, celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Rookie S Mistral Raymond got most of the work with the first-team, which is an interesting development. 

– LB Jasper Brinkley has been working mostly with the second-team defense, but he’s a candidate to earn a job with the first-team if he can outperform Erin Henderson during camp and the preseason. Right now Henderson is the favorite to fill the role vacated by Ben Leber’s departure, but Brinkley has been good in camp and he helped himself today by intercepting a pass during 7-on-7 drills.

– The offense bounced back immediately after Brinkley’s INT, though. Ponder zipped a pass in to WR Greg Camarillo on the next play for what would’ve been a large gain down the left seam. On the last play of 7-on-7, Ponder and Camarillo connected again, this time on the right side of the field.

– There were three great catches that I noticed during the team’s two-minute drill part of practice. The first one was an all-hands catch by TE Kyle Rudolph. He had a defender draped all over him and the pass was thrown perfectly by Joe Webb to his outside shoulder. Rudolph lunged for the ball, got his hands underneath it and hauled in the catch while maintaining possession all the way through the play. The second great catch was by WR Devin Aromashodu down the sideline. He was led perfectly by Ponder and also got two feet in bounds before crossing the boundary. The third catch was on a pass from Webb to WR Manny Arceneaux down the right side that put the offense in FG range with less than a minute to play.

– Passing the eye test today: WR Devin Aromashodu, QB Christian Ponder, S Mistral Raymond and TE Kyle Rudolph.

– A group of political leaders from Ramsey County was at practice and both Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and VP of Public Affairs/Stadium Development Lester Bagley spoke with reporters after practice.

– The defensive line signed autographs in the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone.

– The Vikings have a one-hour walk-through Wednesday afternoon beginning at 3:00 p.m.


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Monday Morning Mailbag Extra: A Look At Defensive Draft Picks

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 11, 2011 – 7:03 am

In this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, a reader asked about the Vikings defensive draft picks and what we can expect from them in their rookie seasons. Because the Vikings chose 5 defensive players in the draft this year, the question was better-served to be answered in a blog entry than in the Monday Morning Mailbag.

So, here it goes… 

DL Christian Ballard: This is a player about whom Vikings fans should be excited. He measures in at 6-4, 283 pounds, which gives him the frame to play either DE or DT in the Vikings 4-3 defensive scheme. Conveniently, Ballard has the skill set as well as the frame to be a versatile lineman capable of playing multiple positions. Ballard spent the first 2 years of his career at left DE before moving inside and starting all 13 games of his junior season at DT. In his final season, Ballard rotated often at both spots, starting 8 contests on the outside and 5 more inside. Wherever the Vikings need an infusion of talent – DE or DT – Ballard looks able to provide it.

CB Brandon Burton: He was drafted in the 5th round (#150 overall) out of Utah and will compete for playing time on special teams and maybe even on defense right away. He’s got an uphill climb to get into the base defensive package and even nickel situations, but if he can display coverage ability and sound tackling technique, it’s not out of the question for him to earn playing time over Asher Allen and Chris Cook.

LB Ross Homan: A gritty LB from Ohio State, Homan comes to the Vikings with an outside shot to find playing time at LB but with a great chance to be a core special teams player. Homan was a leader on Ohio State’s defense and you can tell almost immediately after seeing him play that he’s a guy who gives 100% effort on every snap and is willing to do anything to help the team win. I think he can be a Heath Farwell-type of producer on special teams pretty quickly, which is saying a lot because Farwell is one of the best special teams players in the NFL.

DB Mistral Raymond: He’s 6-1, 191 pounds and played both CB and S at South Florida. The Vikings chose him with a 6th-round pick (#170 overall) and I’d love to see nothing more than for him to succeed in the NFL. His back story is incredible and is worth researching if you aren’t familiar with it. I expect that he’ll compete immediately for playing time on special teams and I’m optimistic that he can find a role on defense, whether it’s at CB or S.

DL D’Aundre Reed: This is the draft pick I know the least about. He stands at 6-4, 261 pounds and is listed as a DE. From what I can tell, he’ll play primarily on the right side, which means he’ll be behind Jared Allen. Because Allen obviously has the starting spot locked down, Reed will be in a good position to watch an established and talented veteran while honing his pass-rushing skills.


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