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(Re)Making The Grade: Looking Back At 2012 Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 8, 2013 – 7:12 am

We will talk a lot about the 2013 NFL Draft on vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog over the next 2.5 months. But right now, let’s take a look back at how the Vikings fared in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The impetus behind this idea is a piece put together by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. Immediately following each year’s draft, he applies a grade to each team’s effort by reconciling the selections made by each team against that team’s draft positions and specific roster needs. Anyone who does this will tell you there’s a high degree of error involved because it’s typically a 3-year process before you can complete the evaluation of a draft-class. But in order to be fair and to hold himself accountable, Kiper has decided to revisit his post-draft grades for each team and hand out new grades based on how the draft picks and teams fared during the 2012 season.

The Vikings efforts in the 2012 NFL Draft were applauded immediately after, as they came out of the event with a pair of 1st-round picks at positions of need and also peppered the roster with 8 other selections after that. Kiper gave the Vikings a post-draft grade of a “B” and said the following: “The Vikings did pretty well. They got the left tackle they coveted in Matt Kalil, and they moved up to get a safety. Both Kalil and Harrison Smith, their two first-round picks, should be starting in Week 1. Josh Robinson adds speed, if not a lot of polish, at corner, and has the chance to develop into a good player.”

A pretty spot-on post-draft evaluation. Kalil and Smith both started all 16 games this season, and Robinson indeed has the look of a developing player after playing in all 16 games and starting 6 in his rookie season. Plus, he was 3rd on the team with 2 INTs and 7th on the team with 61 tackles.

In revisiting the draft and handing out new grades, though, Kiper has increased that grade by changing it to an A-. Kalil, Robinson and Smith fulfilled his expectations, and then others, most notably Blair Walsh, add significant contributions to cause Kiper to upgrade his evaluation. Here’s what he provided as new commentary:

“Kalil not only started 16 games at left tackle, played well at a significant position and if his run-blocking catches up with his pass-blocking, he’ll become among the league’s best. Smith became exactly what the Vikings had hoped, started all 16 games at free safety and should be there for years to come. The instincts he showed at Notre Dame were on display, and he’ll continue to get better. Robinson is raw, but could ultimately take over for Antoine Winfield. And don’t overlook one of the steals of the draft. Blair Walsh was taken at No. 175 overall, and was the best kicker in the league in 2012. A year later, a pretty good draft looks even better.”

And that’s not even to mention WR Jarius Wright coming on in the second half of the season, Rhett Ellison well on the way to providing the offense with gritty blocking and sneaky-good production in the passing game, and late-round picks Robert Blanton and Audie Cole poised to take on increased roles after serving on special teams from time-to-time in 2012. Including the injured Greg Childs, 9 of the Vikings 10 draft picks from last year are still on the team.

The news gets better from here, too. The Vikings are currently slated to have 8 draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which provides GM Rick Spielman and Co. with plenty of ammunition and opportunity to add even more young talent to an already young and talented roster that will continue to get better.

 


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Final Vikings-Texans Pre-Game Thoughts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2012 – 11:36 am

I just finished my weekly appearance on the Vikings Radio Network’s pre-game show. Here are a few of things we addressed, plus several other notes as we get closer to kickoff here at Reliant Stadium between the 12-2 Texans and 8-6 Vikings.

– Pound them with Peterson: Yes, Houston has a tough defense. But the Vikings have a tough run offense, and they have the best RB in the NFL in Adrian Peterson. The Vikings should do what they do best, and that’s run the ball. I don’t believe this Houston defense has been tested against the run the way the Vikings can test teams against the run.

– Pick your spots with Ponder: We’ve seen the Vikings lose despite 210 rushing yards by Peterson. So as good as #28 can be, the Vikings need Ponder and Co. to chip in, too. The Vikings got that last week in St. Louis (3 of 3 for 38 yards on opening drive), and they’ll look for it again today. Keep in mind, Houston has permitted 49 completions of 20+ yards this season, an average of 3.5 per game. Can the Vikings get one or two today?

Find (Arian) Foster: Houston QB Matt Schaub takes care of the ball and WR Andre Johnson is electric, but it starts with stopping Foster. He’s a TD machine and he’s a game-breaker. The Vikings have to stop him in order to stop the rest of Houston’s offense.

Need a “miscellaneous” TD: Whether the TD results directly from this kind of play or whether the offense gets an easy TD set up by this kind of play, the Vikings need a sensational special teams or defensive play to flip this game around. Blocked punt, blocked FG, INT, forced fumble, kickoff/punt return, something to switch the momentum on the road. I’m calling a Robert Blanton blocked punt.

Chris Cook returns: The Vikings will benefit from the return of CB Chris Cook. He’ll be matched up against Andre Johnson at times. This is why the Vikings invested in Cook – to guard big receivers.

Block JJ Watt: The Vikings simply can’t allow this guy to ruin the game. He’s going to get his numbers at times, but don’t allow him to take over. It may be easier said than done, but the Vikings have taken away marquee defensive players in the past, such as the way they neutralized San Francisco DE Justin Smith in Week 3. One way to do this might be to switch up the playcalling to go away from tendencies, scheme against him by using motion and formation shifts, and use his strengths to YOUR advantage by calling a few draws, screens and maybe even running right at him, something he might not be used to seeing.


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Blanton The Latest To Thrive In “Next Man Up” Philosophy

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 12, 2012 – 6:11 am

The Vikings defense has played a prominent role in the team’s current three-game winning streak. Over the past three games, the Vikings have allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense and just 11.0 points per game. Big-time performances from big-time defenders such as Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield have paced this impressive string of defensive performances.

There’s another factor that has played a significant role as well: depth at several positions.

Starting S Mistral Raymond went down with an ankle injury early in Week 2, so Jamarca Sanford stepped in and the defense didn’t miss a beat. Starting LB Erin Henderson missed 2 games due to a concussion, so Marvin Mitchell stepped in to start in the base defense and Jasper Brinkley assumed a role in the team’s nickel package. Jared Allen was forced out of action for one play deep in Vikings territory during the 4th quarter at Detroit, so Everson Griffen answered the bell and registered a key sack of Matthew Stafford.

“We tell all the guys, ‘You’re a play away from being in there starting and starting for a long time and playing for a long time.’ All the coaches get their guys ready to play and we’re not going to make excuses for rookies or first-year, second-year players going in,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said. “We still have to play winning football and I think that’s the mentality of the team, of the guys and of the coaches, that no matter who’s in the ball game, we’re not going to dumb it down, we’re not going to water it down.”

The latest example of this for the Vikings? Robert Blanton, who was suddenly thrust into action during last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans when starting S Harrison Smith was ejected from the game. Previously, the reserves who stepped into a more prominent role were veterans. Williams was asked if he had to say anything in particular to Blanton before sending him into the game because he’s a rookie.

“Not a word,” Williams said. “Our expectations are the next guy, if one guy’s down, the next guy goes in, nothing needs to be said. There’s nothing that’s needed to be said, guys are expected to go in and not do anything special. Do your job. There’s no extra pressure, you don’t have to be the guy that you’re replacing. Do your job and that’ll be good enough for us to win.”

And that’s what Blanton did. He jumped right into the action and, once again, the Vikings defense didn’t miss a beat. The Vikings held Tennessee scoreless until the 4th quarter and came away with a resounding 30-7 victory. Blanton finished with 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass break up.

Asked what stood out to him about Blanton’s performance, Williams said: “The poise, the calmness, the plays that he made. He didn’t look like a rookie, but that’s a credit to him as well as Coach [Joe] Woods, in terms of getting Blanton ready.

“We’re going to keep moving and guys are going to have to do what they’re capable of doing and that’s what Blanton did.”


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Rookie Report – Week 1 vs. Jacksonville

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

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

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

Here’s the Week 1 Rookie Report…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Peterson (Questionable) A Game-Time Decision; Other Injury Report Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 7, 2012 – 12:39 pm

The Vikings and Jaguars released their final injury reports of the first week of the season today, a requirement of teams who have Sunday games. Here are the details…

Vikings
RB Adrian Peterson (knee) is listed as questionable, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said he’d be a game-time decision.

S Robert Blanton, TE John Carlson (knee), DT Letroy Guion (knee), OL Geoff Schwartz (abdomen) and CB Marcus Sherels (ankle) are listed as probable.

LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and WR Jarius Wright (ankle) are listed as out.

Jaguars
DE Austen Lane (foot), DE George Selvie (knee) and LB Daryl Smith (abdomen) are listed as out. Lane and Selvie are reserves, so there absence means the Jaguars could slide DTs Tyson Alualu and D’Anthony Smith outside to play DE at some points in the game. Smith is a starting outside LB, and it’s likely that Kyle Bosworth will get the start.

CB Derek Cox (hamstring) was listed as doubtful. He’s a starter, so expect Will Middleton to get the start at CB along with Aaron Ross. Rashean Mathis will be the Jaguars nickel CB. Also, CB Mike Harris (hamstring) is questionable.

WR Justin Blackmon (ankle), C Brad Meester (not injury-related), DE Aaron Morgan (not injury-related) and G Uche Nwaneri (ankle) are listed as probable.

Finally, expect RB Maurice Jones-Drew to play.


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What 2 Watch 4 In Tonight’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 30, 2012 – 9:37 am

After an entire offseason of waiting for training camps to begin, and then three weeks of training camp with no games, and then three preseason games, many fans regard the fourth and final preseason game as a mere formality that is more scrimmage than it is game. But for many NFL players, the fourth and final preseason game means the world.

The Vikings fourth and final preseason game of the 2012 season is tonight against the Houston Texans, with kickoff slated for 6:00 p.m. CT. Following the game, the Vikings will have tough decisions to make as they whittle the roster down to 53 players and then scan the waiver wire to see if any players discarded by other teams can make a difference here.

Before that process begins, though, that final preseason game must be played. Below are a few aspects of tonight’s game that I’ll pay quite a bit of attention. Check them out, and then in the comments section below this entry let us know what you think about them and let us know what you’ll be watching for tonight…

Quarterback rotation
At this point it’s hard to know how the Vikings QB situation will shake out. There are four QBs in camp, and only Christian Ponder’s status is secure. Expect Joe Webb to start tonight, and then we’ll see some combination of Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Each QB brings a different skill set to the table, and each QB would play a distinct role on the team.

Opportunity at WR
Percy Harvin is a game-changer, Michael Jenkins is a reliable veteran, and Jerome Simpson will make an impact for the team once we get past his 3-game suspension. But after those three, there is room for a couple other WRs to make the team and help the passing game. Rookie Jarius Wright is coming along well as the preseason rolls along, and now it appears he’ll have a chance in the punt return role as well (more on that later). Three others – Manny Arceneaux, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton – will get significant looks tonight as they try to make a final positive impression on the coaching and scouting staffs. All three players have the capability to play the X receiver spot while Simpson is away, now the question is which players will display that ability in a game. We’ll find out tonight.

Blanton makes his debut
The Vikings 2012 draft class appears to be promising, but one member of that class has not been on the field yet – S Robert Blanton. That will change tonight, as Blanton figures to see extended playing time. He’ll likely start the game, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him play well into the 2nd half. Furthermore, Blanton could even be joined by fellow Notre Dame product Harrison Smith in the starting lineup, giving us a look at an intriguing starting combination.

The Vikings selected Blanton with 139th overall pick last April and have converted him from a college CB to an NFL safety. Blanton’s transition to the NFL hit a speed bump in training camp, though, when he injured his hamstring.

Filling out the RB stable
There aren’t many – if any – teams in the NFL with a better one-two punch at RB than the Vikings combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. But you need more than two RBs, and the Vikings have a few options on the roster. Matt Asiata has impressed once again this preseason (he impressed me last preseason, as well), and has shown he’s more than just a plodding, blocking FB. Veteran Lex Hilliard was signed as a free agent this offseason, and he’ll get plenty of looks tonight. Rounding out the competition is Jordan Todman, a young speedster who has battled a leg injury during camp but appears to be getting healthier. They will all get a chance to prove their worth tonight.

What else are looking for tonight? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…


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Blanton Figures To See Extended Time In Thursday’s Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 25, 2012 – 1:03 pm

Through the offseason program, training camp and now three preseason games, it appears the Vikings have a promising class of draft picks from 2012. But one selection the team hasn’t seen much of to this point – at least in the preseason – is 5th-round pick Robert Blanton.

The Vikings selected Blanton with 139th overall pick last April and have converted him from a college CB to an NFL safety. Blanton’s transition to the NFL hit a speed bump in training camp, though, when he injured his hamstring. The Notre Dame product has missed the Vikings three preseason games because of that injury, but now the team is hoping to get an extended look at Blanton this week in practice and during Thursday’s preseason finale against the Houston Texans.

“We probably could have played him in this ball game, but we didn’t want to risk it because we want to play him in that next ball game,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday night. “We’ll get through these couple days, he’ll practice, and play quite a bit in that Houston game, which helps some of the injuries that we have at safety.”

Frazier disclosed those injuries following Friday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers, explaining that S Mistral Raymond’s back tightened up on him in pregame warm-ups, CB Marcus Sherels and S Andrew Sendejo suffered sprained ankles, S Eric Frampton injured his groin and CB Josh Robinson was evaluated for a concussion. While the Vikings will remain optimistic that none of those injuries will sideline players for an extended time, the team will also lean heavily on Blanton while the other DBs are on the mend.

Blanton stands at 6-1, 208 pounds and improved his draft stock during a solid senior season at Notre Dame, playing alongside Vikings teammate Harrison Smith in the Fighting Irish secondary. Regardless of where he opens the season on the defensive depth chart, Blanton figures to be a solid special teams contributor as well.


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Safety First: Competition Continues In Vikings Secondary

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 14, 2012 – 12:40 pm

Harrison Smith: Progression Continues
Mistral Raymond: He’s Got The Look

Improving the pass defense was a top priority for the Vikings this past offseason, and the effort to do so has continued during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and the preseason. Two starting positions at safety are open for competition, and the race to win those spots will continue this week as the Vikings prepare for preseason game #2 against the Buffalo Bills at Mall of America Field on Friday.

In the days leading up to Friday’s game, we’ll take a daily look at three players vying for starting safety positions – Mistral Raymond (today), Harrison Smith (Wednesday) and Jamarca Sanford (Thursday).

Keep in mind that there are others fighting for spots, too. Andrew Sendejo, for example, led the Vikings in tackles last week at San Francisco and is pushing for playing time on defense. Others in the mix include Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton and Reggie Jones.

We’ll begin this series with a look at Mistral Raymond…

He’s got the look
Entering his second season, Raymond has the look of star in the making. He has the frame (6-1, 202 pounds) and skill set to be a ball-hawking NFL safety. The Vikings acquired Raymond with a sixth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but the hope is he’ll make a top-pick kind of impact on the Vikings defense.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams says physical ability and a willingness to mix it up on defense are not concerns. The thing keeping Raymond from emerging as a reliable contributor on defense is experience, something he’ll gain during his second NFL season this year.

“Yes, without a doubt,” Williams quickly responded when asked if Raymond was willing and able enough to play safety. “Willing, not a problem whatsoever, strong enough, not a problem. Experience is just going to be the thing that he needs to come along with.

“With him it’s just every situation is going to be new for him, that he hadn’t seen it, there will be some wrinkles from week-to-week and we just need to make sure that we get him enough reps in practice, and in ball games to get him up to speed so that every situation is just not new to him, that he has some experience with them.”

In college, Raymond was used both as a cornerback and safety. The Vikings are confident that Raymond’s experience playing cornerback in college will give him sound coverage skills as a safety in the NFL.

“He’s an athletic safety that still has cover skills that have not diminished since we put him at safety from the time that he was playing corner,” Williams said. “He is still learning on the go, though. He is a young safety.”

Raymond started five games last year as a rookie and flashed plenty of potential while also learning from mistakes. Entering his second season, Raymond knows his performance in training camp and practice are important, but he also knows the game experience from last year is invaluable.

“You go out in practice and give it everything you’ve got, but some of those game situations you just can’t simulate,” Raymond explained. “It’s big to get those live game reps. I think the more reps I got, the more comfortable I became and the more I started to see things. Hopefully that will translate to this season.”

The Vikings seem anxious to see what Raymond can add to the Vikings secondary.

“We’re looking to put him in as many situations as we can so that when it comes to play on Sundays, it’s not the first time that he has done it or seen it or been it,” Williams said. “He still has a ways to go, but we like his potential.”


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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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