Spielman To Help Raise Money For ACES

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 6, 2012 – 7:40 am

The Minnesota Twins and Target Field in conjunction with Minnesota’s other professional sports teams will host a fundraising event to benefit ACES (Athletes Committed to Educating Students) on Wednesday, and Vikings GM Rick Spielman will be on-hand to represent the Vikings.

The event will bring together top executives from each of Minnesota’s “Big Four” professional sports organizations, as they join in a roundtable discussion about the status of professional sports in the Twin Cities. They will also discuss the important roles professional sports franchises play within the community. Questions for the roundtable will come from the assembled audience, led by WCCO TV’s Mark Rosen.

Joining Spielman at the roundtable will be Twins President David St. Peter, Wild COO Matt Majka and Wolves President Chris Wright.

The Vikings have had a relationship with and have supported ACES for 15 years. For the past three seasons, ACES students have led the Vikings out on the field as part of the NFL’s salute to Play60, which encourages youngsters to be active at least 60 minutes per day. When meeting ACES students, Vikings players are always impressed with the creativity, politeness and determination displayed, all qualities promoted by ACES programs.

Vikings VP of Public Affairs Lester Bagley serves on the ACES Board of Directors.

About ACES
The mission of ACES is to close the academic achievement gap of at-risk urban students in grades four through eight. ACES is an 18-years-strong after-school tutor/mentor program that helps urban fourth- through eighth-grade students in both Minneapolis Public Schools and St. Paul Public Schools overcome the academic achievement and opportunity gaps. Students who consistently attend ACES show academic growth, improved behavior and school attendance, and increased identity with their community.

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Don’t Blink; Vikings Select CB Robinson, Draft’s Fastest Prospect

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 27, 2012 – 8:39 pm

The Vikings continued to navigate through the 2012 NFL Draft with efficiency and grace on Friday night, addressing another position of need with the selection of speedy CB Josh Robinson in the 3rd round (66th overall). The selection of Robinson represents the second likely impact player the Vikings have added to their secondary is as many days.

“Josh is a very athletic player with dynamic speed and outstanding quickness, burst and change of direction skills,” Vikings DBs coach Joe Woods told me on Friday night. “His best football is ahead of him. His man coverage skill is a plus for us, and at 5-10, 199 pounds he’s a solidly-built guy.”

Robinson, the fastest player at this year’s Combine with a 4.29 time in the 40-yard dash, will compete for time at CB and he will also be an option for the Vikings as a punt returner. Asked if he minded sharing Robinson with special teams coach Mike Priefer, Woods quickly said: “The more you can do, the more value you have.”

An experienced and productive player out of the University of Central Florida, Robinson started the final 11 games of his true freshman season in 2009 and then started 25 games over his final two seasons at UCF. As a freshman Robinson recorded 69 tackles, 8 passes broken up (PBU) and 6 INTs. In 2010 Robinson tallied 59-13-2, and in 2011 he recorded 48-15-2. Robinson led the team in PBUs in both 2010 and 2011.

Many draft observers listed Robinson as a 2nd-round prospect, but the Vikings sat tight in the early stages of the 3rd round and didn’t hesitate to put his name on their card.

“The 38 1/2 vertical, the 4.29 speed, what you see on tape, we had one of our coaches who did work down at Central Florida, we had a lot of contacts down there,” Vikings GM Rick Spielman said. “The kid is an outstanding character kid, fitting into the bill what we’ve been trying to do. Excellent work habits, everything you’re looking for in a young player that’s going to continue to have tremendous upside.

“We’re excited to get Josh. Extremely talented athlete. He’s a junior that’s coming out early. When you look at his tape, he has some unique cover skills. He’s more than willing enough to come up in support. Just like in most of the juniors, they’re going to have some flaws that can get corrected with coaching but just tremendous upside with Josh.”

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Spielman Plays Cards Right And Lands Two Aces

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 27, 2012 – 12:10 am

Bravo, Rick Spielman. In the proverbial poker game that is the NFL draft, Spielman and Co. strolled up to the table with a pretty big chip – the #3 overall pick – and parlayed some perfectly timed subterfuge with a tremendous working knowledge of other teams’ needs to turn that chip into a pair of immediate impact starters who will make the Vikings better from Day 1.

Coming away with LT Matt Kalil and S Harrison Smith from the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft is a 100% win for the Vikings, a team coming off a 3-13 record and looking for players to plug into the starting lineup.

As Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen explained on his show page, the outstanding outcome did not arrive on accident. Leveraging a pair of teams who each reside in the Top 5 is not always an easy prospect, and selling many big-hitting national reporters from across the country on our supposed serious interest in taking CB Morris Claiborne ahead of Kalil was perfectly timed. But Spielman was able to do it.

And it all resulted in a terrific trade for the Vikings at the top of the 1st round in which Cleveland shipped 4th-round, 5th-round and 7th-round picks to Minnesota in exchange for the right to select RB Trent Richardson. Oh, and by the way, the Vikings were still able to get the player they coveted all along in Kalil. Then later in the 1st round, the Vikings traded up from the 2nd round back into the 1st round to add another player on their wish list – Smith.

“This is what makes the draft so fun,” Spielman said on Thursday evening. “The moving up and down and accumulating picks then using those picks to potentially move back up if you target a player. I know the depth at safety in this draft was very slim. We wanted to make sure that we started on our secondary and improving that area. We feel very strongly that Harrison will definitely do that.”

Vikings fans must be feeling great about where their team stands after the 1st round because two major needs were addressed. With 9 selections remaining in the last 6 rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft, it will be interesting to what kind of tricks the Vikings can pull from their sleeve next.

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Vikings Get Their Man, Select LT Matt Kalil

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 26, 2012 – 6:27 pm

There was some moving and shaking before the draft began, but GM Rick Spielman and the Vikings never took their eye off the prize. And that prize is a brand-new, battle-tested and physically imposing left tackle from USC – Matt Kalil.

After flip-flopping spots with the Cleveland Browns – moving from #3 overall to #4 overall – and acquiring three additional picks in the process, the Vikings selected the player many believed they would all along in Kalil. In the entire build-up to the draft, the Vikings were in a great position at #3 overall, and they took advantage of that great position by turning it into additional picks while still nabbing the player they coveted all along.

Measuring in at 6-6, 308 pounds, Kalil will step in and start at LT for the Vikings to provide pass protection for young QB Christian Ponder and road-grading run blocking for the team’s talented Adrian Peterson-Toby Gerhart RB duo. He’ll also allow the Vikings to consider shifting last year’s starting LT – Charlie Johnson – to an OG position where he could compete for a starting job and ultimately increase the team’ depth all along the offensive line.

Kalil started at LT for USC beginning in 2010, when he started all 13 games, and then started all 12 games in 2011 as well. His older brother, Ryan, also played at USC and is now a Pro Bowl center for the Carolina Panthers. Matt was a standout performer at the Combine in February, running the 40-yard dash in 4.99 seconds and impressing in the agility drills with times of 4.65 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.33 seconds in the 3-cone drill, which ranked among the best of all offensive linemen.

The Vikings acquired more than just a potential cornerstone LT in the 1st round on Thursday evening. They also netted 4th-round (#118 overall), 5th-round (139 overall) and 7th-round (#211 overall) choices from Cleveland in exchange for moving back one spot, giving them 14 total selections in the draft. Furthermore, in acquiring those extra selections, they gain ammunition to make a potential move up in the draft at a later time should they choose to pursue that route.

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Spielman Embraces Importance Of 2012 Draft For Vikings Future

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 25, 2012 – 6:29 am

The Vikings have a 9-23 record over the past two seasons, are experiencing high roster turnover this offseason and hold 10 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 picks in the first 4 rounds. Suffice it to say, the 2012 NFL Draft is a pivotal moment for the Vikings.

“No, I’m very excited about it,” Spielman responded when asked if he feels added pressure this year. “I know that this is my responsibility. My name is on this but I think my name has been on all of the other drafts in the past and I have the utmost confidence in the work that has been done and I have the utmost confidence in the people that get us prepared for this draft.”

This year’s draft is the first for Spielman as General Manager of the Vikings. He’s been in charge of the Vikings draft since joining the club after the 2006 draft, but going forward Spielman will have final say on all decisions, a position the long-time NFL personnel man embraces.

But while Spielman embraces that responsibility, he’s also cognizant of the complete effort required to prepare an organization for the NFL draft. It should come as no surprise that Spielman is so in tune with the process given the fact that he began his career as a college scout with the Detroit Lions in 1990 and has worked his way up the ladder over 22 NFL seasons in the front office and countless hours grinding away watching tape, hashing issues out in personnel meetings and going through medical and psychological reports.

“This is a great team effort,” Spielman said at his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, “and we have a great group of people that put a lot of their time and energy into this thing to hopefully have a very successful draft coming up. It’s going to be a very exciting draft.”

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Hartman: Wilfs Confident In Vikings Offseason Plan

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 9, 2012 – 7:08 am

Whether pursuing a stadium solution to keep the team in Minnesota for generations or acquiring players in an attempt to field a winning team, the Wilf ownership group has spared no expense since taking over the club in 2005. They’ve been aggressive-but-responsible stewards of the franchise, and they remain popular among the fan base because of that.

What’s not necessarily been popular among the fan base, though, is the Vikings offseason approach. Coming off a 3-13 season, fans want to see instant improvement via the acquisition of big-name free agents that demand big-money contracts. Under the direction of GM Rick Spielman, however, the Vikings have taken a more calculated and long-term approach to rebuilding the team, choosing to build the foundation of the team through the draft while supplementing the roster via free agency.

And it’s a strategy the Wilfs endorse.

“We’re building through the draft and building in free agency in spots where it’s needed,” Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf told the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman. “But we want to do it the right way, and I think we’re on that process. We’re going to get ten draft picks coming up in a few weeks, and we’re going to get a lot better through that.”

The Vikings had 10 draft choices last year, and nine of those selections remain a part of the team. A similar success rate this year, including hits early in the draft with 6 selections in the first 4 rounds, will go a long way toward improving the roster.

While Spielman’s approach is to lean on the draft as the main mechanism for acquiring talented players, Wilf told Hartman that the team is ready to write the check if the right free agent comes along.

“We’re looking every day to get better, whatever opportunity will present itself,” Wilf said. “We’re not going to rule out anything, but we’ve got a process we’re going through and we’re going to do things in a way that’s thought out with a plan, strategically, so we can be successful in the long term. If our general manager and our coach feel that a player is going to help us win, we will provide the resources to help us win, but we’re going to do it the right way.”

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Frazier Says “So Far, So Good” On Peterson’s Rehab

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 4, 2012 – 4:59 am

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Adrian Peterson or has even observed his career with the Vikings, but the superstar RB is doing well in his recovery from two torn knee ligaments suffered back on December 24.

So far, so good,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Tuesday, according to the Star Tribune’s Dan Wiederer, who spoke to Frazier at a Tony Dungy speaking function in Edina.

Wiederer writes that the Vikings were impressed with Peterson last week when he began running on land at Winter Park for the first time, and that Peterson “continues to amaze the Vikings staff with his ambition.”

While desire and determination have never been lacking for Peterson when it comes to football and doing whatever it takes to be the best, ligaments – especially in the knee – can be fickle when on the mend. That’s why the optimism coming from Frazier on Tuesday and Vikings GM Rick Spielman last week should be viewed as such good news.

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Vikings Hosting “Top 30″ Visit As Draft Day Nears

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 3, 2012 – 5:57 pm

Every year since GM Rick Spielman joined the club in 2007 (back then as VP of Player Personnel), the Vikings have held a “Top 30 visit,” in which 30 prospects in the upcoming draft are invited to Winter Park over the course of two days. This year’s visit is occurring as we speak, and we mention it here because it’s the most recent significant event in the build up to the 2012 NFL Draft.

While it’s titled the “Top 30 visit,” the athletes invited are not necessarily the best 30 prospects on the Vikings draft board. Rather, the 30 athletes at Winter Park are a collection of 30 prospects that, for whatever reason, the Vikings personnel and coaching staffs want to see up close and personal another time. This year, though, with the Vikings slated to pick 3rd overall, the guest list includes plenty of blue-chip players.

For sensitivity reasons, we won’t list the 30 players who’ve arrived at Winter Park. If the Vikings wanted people to know who was present at the Top 30 visit, they’d publish the names. But it’s worth noting on the Blog that Spielman, Head Coach Leslie Frazier and the Vikings entire personnel and coaching staff are hard at work trying to evaluate this year’s draft class in what will surely be a pivotal draft for the Vikings as they try to re-build this roster.

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Claiborne-Over-Kalil Talk Heats Up Around Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 21, 2012 – 12:39 pm

The NFL draft is a premier event on the sports calendar, largely because of the drama involved with not knowing – but then finding out – where the country’s top college football players will begin their professional careers. This year, however, the level of drama has been reduced a bit at the top of the 1st round.

It’s all but a foregone conclusion that the Indianapolis Colts will take QB Andrew Luck with the #1 pick and that the Washington Redskins will take QB Robert Griffin III with the #2 pick. It’s also been assumed for several months now that the Vikings will take LT Matt Kalil with the #3 pick.

But not so fast.

Talk is heating up now that Kalil might not be a lock to go to Minnesota at #3 after all. I’ve had several fans email with a compelling case for the Vikings to take LSU CB Morris Claiborne instead of Kalil. Earlier this week, St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere broached this same topic, citing a conversation he had withVikings GM Rick Spielman in which there was more gushing about the CB than the LT. And then there’s this from a website I frequent called the NationalFootballPost, where NFP’s Matt Bowen provides plenty of reasons for the Vikings to choose Claiborne instead of Kalil.

Again, there’s a compelling case to be made for taking Claiborne at #3. The Vikings ranked 26th against the pass in 2011 and they yielded the most passing TDs. On top of that, the Vikings play in a division that features 3 productive passers in Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, along with a talented crew of WRs led by the likes of Greg Jennings in Green Bay, Calvin Johnson in Detroit and now Brandon Marshall in Chicago.

While Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield should be in the fold for 2012, there’s still another starting CB spot that is currently vacant, and the Vikings have not signed a starting-caliber free agent CB to compete for that job. Does that mean they plan to select one such CB with their 1st-round pick?

All-in-all, I’m still leaning toward taking Kalil with the #3 pick. I see him as a 10-year starter and multiple-time Pro Bowler at a premier position. He’ll be a key cog in an offensive line that will protect a young franchise QB and block for the NFL’s best RB. Nothing against Claiborne, I think he’ll be a fine player at an important position, too. But right now, I’m picking Kalil because his talents and skill set project well to the next level and because he’ll aid the development of Christian Ponder.

What do you think, Vikings fans? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry.

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23 Quick Observations From The 2012 NFL Scouting Combine

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 29, 2012 – 6:32 am

1. Andrew Luck solidified his standing at the #1 prospect in this draft. Robert Griffin III did the same at the #2 position. I’d argue that in any other year dating back to 1998 (Peyton Manning), RG3 would be #1 player in the draft class, with the possible exception being 2001 (Michael Vick).

2. The St. Louis Rams, who hold the #2 overall pick right now, WILL trade out of that spot, and I think Cleveland is in the best position (#4 overall) to move up and get him.

3. Matt Kalil is the best LT prospect in this class, just ask him. But I do agree, and the Vikings and Vikings fans should be pleased to get him.

4. Might want to scratch WR Pierre Garcon off your free-agent wish list. A prominent ESPN personality predicted to me that he’ll stay in Indy. Also, Peter King of Sports Illustrated suggests Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne might be a package deal in free agency.

5. Expect a large number of teams to utilize the franchise tag to retain their most-valued free agents. This will shrink what appears to be a thick market at several positions.

6. WR Vincent Jackson is not a likely candidate to be tagged, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Vikings take a run at him, although the Vikings certainly won’t be the only team interested. Outside of Jackson, though, I don’t think the Vikings will be major players at the top end of the free agent market.

7. It was interesting to hear insiders talk about the significance of schools hosting their Pro Days before the NFL begins its free agency period (March 13). This means that at the start of free agency, most NFL GMs will be on the road scouting draft prospects.

8. Expect a fairly liberal roster turnover for the Vikings this offseason.

9. Interesting to hear Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explain the team must prepare as if CB Chris Cook will not be on the team in 2012. That’s not Frazier making any prediction, it’s just him simply explaining that the team must prepare for the worst-case scenario. I’d add that regardless of Cook’s status, CB is still a need for the Vikings.

10. Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd was a winner at the Combine because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. That’s quicker than some anticipated, and I think it assures he’ll go in the 1st round rather than the early part of the 2nd round.

11. Other WRs who jumped up during the Combine were Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill (4.36 in 40-yard dash), Wake Forest’s Chris Givens (think: Jeremy Maclin) and Appalachian State’s Brian Quick (played for Vikings staff at Senior Bowl).

12. The “best player available” (BPA) strategy will be in play for the Vikings this year, especially as it pertains to the team’s 2nd-round pick (currently #35 overall). Even if the BPA is a DE, RB or TE, I wouldn’t put it past GM Rick Spielman and his personnel staff to simply select the best football player on the board, regardless of position, when they’re on the clock. That’s a good way to infuse a talent-depleted roster with some talent.

13. An underrated aspect of this year’s draft class is the depth and top-end talent at DT. “I’ve got anywhere from five to seven potential first-round defensive tackles, which is atypical,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said of the DT class during this week’s Wobcast. “Usually in a year you might have three first-round grades. So twice as many potential first-round picks. There is depth throughout the entire defensive tackle class, regardless of position.” Memphis’ Dontari Poe stole the show at the Combine, but he’s not the only talented, potential run-stopping DT out there. I also like Michael Brockers, Fletcher Cox, Kendall Reyes, Devon Still and Jerel Worthy.

14. Speaking of NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, he’s THE best in the business at analyzing these college players and communicating his opinions under the bright lights with the cameras rolling. Truly a treat to work with him.

15. Not one national reporter/personality I spoke with at the Combine was negative on Christian Ponder. Most anticipate the Vikings adding talent around him to put him in position to succeed.

16. CB Janoris Jenkins is an interesting prospect. He’s a kid with clear 1st-round talent, but off-field issues might cause some teams to pause. “I’ve made a few mistakes and I’ve learned from them,” he was quoted as saying by Peter King. As King later noted, the question is, who will take a shot on a very good talent at a vital position, who is such a risk? Maybe the Vikings if he falls as far as #35, or even falls far enough for the Vikings to consider trading up to get him?

17. Indianapolis is a tremendous host city for big events such as the Combine. It’s in the Midwest, the residents are generally courteous, happy people, there’s a brand-new airport close to downtown, there are plenty of hotels and great restaurants, an elaborate skyway system links most of downtown, and Lucas Oil Stadium is a first-class facility.

18. A few small-school CBs to watch in this year’s draft class: Dwight Bentley (UL-Lafayette), Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson (Montana) and Ryan Steed (Furman).

19. I prefer Caribou Coffee to Starbucks. Our hotel had a Starbucks on the 2nd level, which I frequented each day and was satisfied with, but I prefer Caribou.

20. I wonder if hailing from such a great program (University of Alabama) has inflated the draft stock of LBs Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. I just wasn’t impressed with their on-field workouts, but I’ll also acknowledge game tape means much more than the Combine, plus they still have their Pro Day.

21. This was my 5th visit to the NFL Scouting Combine, but just the first time I tried a pizza parlor called Bazbeaux. Awesome thin crust pizza with a generous portion of toppings, a great atmosphere, a cool bar area and quick seating despite the place being packed to the brim on a busy Saturday night.

22. I thoroughly enjoyed my two days of co-hosting radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen’s weekday 9-noon radio show on KFAN.

23. A couple of sleeper picks for the Vikings in the 2nd round: S Harrison Smith (Notre Dame) and DL Nick Perry (USC).

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