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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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A Few Vikings Opening-Day Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 9, 2012 – 9:07 am

If you’re like us, the anxiety is building as kickoff approaches on opening day. To help you burn some time between now and kickoff, here are a few interesting opening-day notes…

Good From The Get-Go
The Vikings historically have been solid on opening day, boasting a 28-22-1 record in 51 season openers prior to today’s game against the  Jacksonville Jaguars. The last time the Vikings won on opening day was in 2009, when Adrian Peterson led the Vikings with 3 TDs along the way to a 34-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Vikings last opened the season at home in 2008 when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons 24-3, in a game that featured Peterson’s first career NFL TD.

Opening Day Quarterbacks
Christian Ponder will be the 18th different QB to start on opening day for the Vikings. Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton has the most opening-day starts in Vikings history with 12, and Tarkenton led the Vikings to victory in 6 of those 12 starts.

Best Opening Day Performances
The Vikings have seen prolific performances on opening day, including Percy Harvin’s 103-yard kickoff return against San Diego last season, a team record for season-opening games. The record for passing yards is held by Tommy Kramer with 395 vs. Atlanta in 1980, and the record for rushing yards is held by Peterson, who had 180 yards against the Cleveland Browns in 2009. Ahmad Rashad holds the record for receiving yards on opening day with 160 from Kramer back in 1980, and Keith Millard holds the record for sacks in a season-opener with 3.0 against the Houston Oilers in 1989.

Did You Know?
The Vikings have opened the season against an AFC opponent in 3 of the past 4 seasons.


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Ponder, 1st-Team Offense Sharp vs. Bills

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 17, 2012 – 7:54 pm

Once the regular season begins, Vikings coaches will want to see the Vikings 1st-team offense this sharp for four quarters. On Friday night against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field, though, a quarter and a half was enough.

After putting up 6 points in two drives a week ago against the San Francisco 49ers, starting QB Christian Ponder and Co. found the end zone once and settled for a FG another time against the Bills. Ponder was sharp in the outing, completing 10 of 13 passes for 136 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs. The TD toss went to FB Jerome Felton on a 1st and goal from the 1-yardline. The scoring play to Felton capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive, the first of the game, and included a 21-yard gain to Percy Harvin and a 33-yard burst to WR Jerome Simpson in which Simpson hurdled a would-be tackler to extend the play.

The highlight-caliber play by Simpson energized the crowd and set up RB Toby Gerhart for a 16-yard rush two plays later that ultimately set up the Ponder-to-Felton score. Gerhart finished the night with 30 yards on 6 carries, bringing his two-game preseason total to an impressive 11 caries for 61 yards.

On the next drive, Ponder rallied the offense for 12 plays to get down to the Buffalo 4-yardline, but the drive stalled there after a pair of incompletions in the end zone (passes intended for TE Kyle Rudolph and Simpson). K Blair Walsh, who had another impressive night, came on to salvage the drive and give the Vikings a 10-0 lead late in the 1st quarter. Through halftime, Walsh was 2 of 3 on FGs, hitting from 45 and 47 yards and missing from 49; he also had a touchback and was 1 of 1 on PAT tries.

In all, it was a very good outing for the Vikings starters and an improvement on what was also a solid outing a week ago against the 49ers. The 1st-team offense has 4 preseason drives and has scored on each of them (1 TD, 3 FGs).


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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2012 – 5:19 am

There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.

You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.

There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…

– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.

– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.

– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.

– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.

– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.

– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.

– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.

– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.


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Vikings Offense Responds To Musgrave’s Motivation Measure

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 7, 2012 – 6:01 pm

If you know Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, you know that he’s generally a polite, personable character who can strike up a friendly conversation with anyone. If you know Musgrave well, though, you know that he has plenty of vitality in him when it comes to football.

The Vikings offense is well aware of this now.

As the Star Tribune’s Dan Wiederer explains on Access Vikings, Musgrave went outside the box to motivate his group for Tuesday’s practice after a subpar outing on Monday.

“Yesterday we took a step back in a couple of periods,” Musgrave said during his press conference on Tuesday. “We’re looking to make those corrections and get better the next time we’re faced with those periods for sure.”

That’s the measured, polite Musgrave speaking. The impassioned Musgrave addressed his players in a different manner, according to QB Christian Ponder.

“He had a great metaphor of lighting a fire,” Ponder said. “He finds some unique ways of motivating us. But it works. I’m not going to go into details.”

As Wiederer writes, Ponder was pushed for more detail and was asked if props were involved in the motivation tactic.

“Yep,” he said laughing. “Let’s just say it involved a bucket of water, some leaves and some sticks. It was interesting.”

It may well have been interesting. But it was also effective. The Vikings offense rebounded nicely on Tuesday, looking sharp in many of the team periods and even capping off a few drives with game-winning scores. One was to WR Percy Harvin on a deep pass down the middle of the field and another was finished by a Blair Walsh 57-yard dagger that split the uprights and had plenty of extra distance.

“It was important for us to step out and have a good practice today,” Ponder told Wiederer. “We made a point of it [Monday night], to have more enthusiasm. And we did. It was a great way to bounce back.

“He’s (Musgrave) quiet, but when he gets on the football field he gets a fire. He’s not afraid to yell at people, and he expects a lot out of us. He does it in his own way.”

Musgrave’s way is clearly the right way for the Vikings offense. As head coach Leslie Frazier mentioned to reporters after practice, every offense will experience times of adversity. What matters most is how the offense responds. Under Musgrave’s direction, the Vikings offense responded well on Tuesday.

That’s the sign of a good motivator, and of an offense going in the right direction.


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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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Looking Back On A Busy Monday At Vikings Training Camp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 4:56 pm

Monday was a busy day at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. It began with a typical morning walk-thru and concluded with the team’s first padded practice of camp. In between, the Vikings announced that Matt Blair would become the 20th member of the team’s Ring of Honor, Adrian Peterson went to the hospital and Percy Harvin left practice with an injury.

Where do we begin? Let’s start with Peterson. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier disclosed to reporters after the team’s afternoon practice that Peterson had been taken to the hospital because of an allergic reaction to seafood he ate during lunch.

“He’s back now, in the dorm, resting,” Frazier said. “He’s doing fine. He’ll pick back up with his rehab. He’s been cleared. Everything is back to normal now. Little bit of a scare, but he’s fine.”

As for Harvin, he appeared to have some sort of hand injury midway through practice and eventually went into the locker room for evaluation. Harvin emerged a short time later, worked on the side with a trainer, and then returned to practice.

Earlier in the day, the Vikings announced that Blair would be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor on Thursday evening, October 25 at halftime of their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blair played LB for the Vikings from 1974-85 and still ranks second in team history with 1,452 tackles. He also has more sacks (23.0) and INTs (16) than any other LB in team history.

On Monday we conducted interviews with Blair, Vikings Owner Zygi Wilf and TE Kyle Rudolph. Stay tuned to vikings.com for those interviews and much more coverage from training camp.


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3 Observations From Saturday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 7:41 pm

The Vikings conducted their second practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Saturday and worked under ideal weather conditions to do so. The team also saw a spike in attendance on Saturday, as Vikings fans filled the bleachers and the fence line to see their favorite team and, consequently, create a fun buzz in the atmosphere during practice.

The team has yet to practice in pads – that will start on Monday. So it’s hard to draw too many conclusions after two non-padded practices. But it’s not hard to draw observations. Here are three observations from Saturday’s practice…

Tremendous 12
Without question, Percy Harvin has been the most impressive player on the field through the first two practices. He’s been a frequent target of the QBs during team and drill work, and he’s been in the rotation for kickoff return. Harvin has made several go-to-the ground catches so far, and midway through Saturday’s practice he made a catch along the sideline that was as good as you’ll see all of camp.

Leg Work
About three or four minutes into an early period of practice I started paying attention to field #2, where the Vikings specialists – P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler and K Blair Walsh – were working on their own. Loeffler and Kluwe were working together on landing punts inside the 20 while Walsh was kicking field goals. Kluwe was consistently landing punts inside the 10 with good hang time, even one time buzzing the tower of FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer after calling his shot. While I was watching, Walsh made six consecutive kicks from 46 yards and then was 2 of 3 from 55 yards. I was also told that Walsh hit a 60-yarder on Friday while working on the side.

“He knows being the only kicker here, he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to improve,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said of his rookie kicker. “He is very conscious, a very hard working man, it’s extremely important to him. He competes with himself and that’s why I didn’t think we needed another guy at camp. I wanted to get as many reps as he can with Cullen, with Chris, with our whole first unit to put him in the situation where he can be successful.”

3rd And Long No Problem For Ponder-To-Rudolph
There is a period in practice called “special cats” (special categories) where the coaches put the players in certain game situations, such as red zone or the 2-minute drill. Saturday’s special cats period featured 3rd and long. The first-team offense looked the best of any group during the drill, as I saw Ponder convert at least three of five times. The first two conversions were accurate passes to TE Kyle Rudolph. On the first play of the period, Ponder found Rudolph on the right side for a completion near the 1st-down marker. CB Antoine Winfield was right in the area, but my guess is Rudolph would’ve had enough for the 1st down. The second conversion was also to Rudolph, as Ponder placed a pass perfectly along the sideline for Rudolph to haul in and get out of bounds.

“Kyle has had a great offseason,” Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “He has gained strength without losing any movement. He is one of the guys that we are going to count on to contribute who wasn’t a full-time starter last year.”

The Vikings will have Sunday off and return to the field on Monday morning for a walk-thru and Monday afternoon for a padded practice.


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To Return Or Not To Return? That’s The Question

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2012 – 5:11 pm

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.”


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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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