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Harrison Smith Gets Fired Up; Other Thoughts At Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Greenway’s Gridiron Gallop 5K Fun Run/Walk To Be Held Sunday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 12, 2012 – 1:42 pm

Chad and Jenni Greenway, along with teammates John Sullivan, Robert Blanton,  Rhett Ellison, Tyrone McKenzie and Harrison Smith, will sponsor the 6th annual Greenway’s Gridiron Gallop 5K fun run/walk at Lake Nokomis this Sunday – Father’s Day.

Joining the Greenways and other Vikings players will be Vikings cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking. Funds raised by the event will go toward Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board youth athletic programming.

Race Day check-in and registration will take place at the Lake Nokomis Bath House (located at 4955 West Lake Nokomis Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55417) from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The event will begin at 9:00 a.m.

Players, along with cheerleaders, will be signing autographs for all participants. The event is $30 in advance and $35 the day of the event. The cost is $10 for a child (10 and under) in advance, $15 the day of, to participate in the 8:30 a.m. Kids Fun Run.  All pre-registered participants are guaranteed a free t-shirt.

To register, go to www.minneapolisparks.org and click on “activities and programs” and then click on “community special events,” or register in-person the morning of the event.


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Greenway, Harvin Participate In OTA #4; Other Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Vikings Get 6 Draft Picks Under Contract

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 22, 2012 – 1:31 pm

NFL teams have begun the process of signing their draft picks over the past few weeks and the Vikings have jumped into the mix as well. On Tuesday the team made official the signing of 6 selections from last month’s NFL Draft.

The players who’ve signed contracts are: 4th-round WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, 5th-round DB Robert Blanton, 6th-round K Blair Walsh, 7th-round LB Audie Cole and 7th-round DT Trevor Guyton.

Signing this year’s draft class is a tall task because, for the second consecutive year, the Vikings have 10 selections. Tuesday’s news that six are now under contract leaves four players who’ve yet to sign their deals. They are: 1st-round LT Matt Kalil, 1st-round S Harrison Smith, 3rd-round CB Josh Robinson and 4th-round TE Rhett Ellison.

Click here to read more about the Vikings 2012 draft class.


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9 Players Who Stood Out On First Day Of Rookie Minicamp

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 4, 2012 – 4:37 pm

There isn’t much need for an introduction here. The title sums up what you’re about to read. After two practices of rookie minicamp at Winter Park, here are 9 (actually, 10) players who’ve stood out…

DT Chase Baker (rookie free agent – Boise State): A feisty interior defensive lineman, Baker may be undersized but I also like his motor and effort.

QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (pre-draft signee – Sacramento State): One of three QBs in camp, there is no doubt he has the best – and an NFL-caliber – arm.

S Robert Blanton (5th round – Notre Dame): Practiced with energy, good size, instincts seem solid. I will also say his running mate – 1st-round pick Harrison Smith – also impressed on the first day.

RB Derrick Coleman (rookie free agent – UCLA): Runs hard and violent it appears (practices are no contact) and I saw him make a terrific shoe-string catch in the morning.

LB Soloman Elimimian (pre-draft signee – Hawaii): Size and length might work against him, but the guy plays like an animal and I can’t wait to see him practice in pads.

TE Rhett Ellison (4th round – USC):  Sold to me as a bruising, blocking type, but I think he’s a fluid route runner and pass catcher who also knows how to mix it up in the trenches.

WR Kamar Jorden (rookie free agent – Bowling Green): Made two impressive catches Friday, with one coming on a vertical route down the right sideline and the other on a crossing route where he achieved a great release off the line and ran away from his defender.

B Josh Robinson (3rd round – Central Florida): Speed is as impressive as advertised and it looks like he can cover.

CB Nick Taylor (pre-draft signee – Florida International): For a basketball player, he looked good in the morning practice. Actually, he looked good in the morning practice, period. Might have some cover skills.


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Kalil, Blanton Stand Out In First Practice; Other Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 4, 2012 – 1:33 pm

The Vikings 10-player draft class plus 61 other players trying out for the club joined Vikings coaches and scouts on the field Friday morning for the first of five scheduled practices at this year’s rookie minicamp. Conditions were perfect, with the coaches and players working under sunny skies, moderate temperatures and a slight breeze.

The group of 71 players is comprised of the 10 draft picks from last weekend, 15 rookie free agents, 7 pre-draft signees and 39 players present on a tryout basis. The players were in helmets, jerseys and shorts with no pads, with the individual and team drill work similar to a full-squad minicamp practice; they are non-contact practices, however.

There will be another practice this afternoon at 2:55 p.m., two more on Saturday and then one final practice on Sunday. Here are a few thoughts from this morning’s practice…

– Although it’s presumed he’ll be the starter at LT from Day 1, #4 overall pick Matt Kalil doesn’t have an entitled attitude. Speaking with reporters after practice, Kalil acknowledged he has plenty of learning to do and he said playing next to a veteran such as Charlie Johnson – who will likely play LG in 2012 – will be an advantage.

– Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier came away impressed with Kalil after the first practice. “You can see why we have high hopes for him,” Frazier said. “He was excellent today.” Frazier was also asked about CB Josh Robison, whom the Vikings selected in the 3rd round, and Frazier said he noticed Robinson had an impressive burst while fielding kicks/punts.

– When asked what he’s looking for out of the rookies and tryout players in attendance this weekend, Frazier noted that standout plays are what catch coaches’ attention. Keep in mind, during the season and even training camp, coaches want to see playmakers but they also emphasize consistency and making routine plays. At this minicamp, though, a premium is being placed on making splash plays.

– Several Vikings veterans, who are not permitted to participate in this weekend’s minicamp, observed the morning practice from the sidelines. The players I noticed watching practice were: QBs Christian Ponder and Joe Webb, TEs John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph, OL Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, Phil Loadholt, DeMarcus Love and John Sullivan, DL Everson Griffen, WR Manny Arceneaux and RB Jordan Todman.

– Last year during training camp I made mention of players who passed the “eye test” during practice. Today’s eye test winners were Kalil and S Robert Blanton. I already explained that Frazier was impressed with Kalil, but what I liked about Blanton was the way he carried himself on the field and added energy to the defense. He appears to be an intelligent player with a passion for the game. That observation is off of one practice, admittedly, but it was obvious this morning that Blanton enjoyed being on the field.

– K Blair Walsh met with a group of reporters after practice and said it was an honor to be on the roster with a player of Ryan Longwell’s stature and accomplishment. Asked if his best trait was his strong leg, Walsh acknowledged that many people credit him with a strong leg, but he also noted that all NFL kickers have strong legs and that he isn’t distinguished among them. Walsh also said that a player has to earn his place in the NFL, regardless of whether he was selected in the NFL draft or not.

– There are five former University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in camp this weekend. They are: WR Da’Jon McKnight, TEs Tiree Eure and Nick Tow-Arnett, DE Anthony Jacobs and DT Brandon Kirksey. McKnight met with a fairly large group of reporters after practice and called it a “blessing” to be in camp with the Vikings. He dealt with a knee injury last season, but says the knee is completely healed now.

– Two other under the radar players who stood out today were CB Bret Lockett and WR Josh Philpart.

– There are three QBs in camp this weekend. They are: Blake Bolles (NW Missouri State), McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Sacramento St.) and Spencer Ohm (Concordia – St. Paul).


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Pick-By-Pick Summary Of Vikings 2012 NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2012 – 10:56 am

A quick pick-by-pick analysis of the Vikings 2012 draft…

LT Matt Kalil – 1st round
Projected to be a cornerstone LT for the next decade and allows the Vikings to solidify their offensive line by moving Charlie Johnson to LG and holding a robust competition at RG among Joe Berger, Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz.

S Harrison Smith – 1st round
A 2-year captain at Notre Dame who is known for his intelligence, leadership, consistency and tackling ability, Smith will start from Day 1 at safety.

CB Josh Robinson – 3rd round
The fastest player at the Combine, Robinson has explosive athletic qualities and will compete for time at both CB and punt returner in his rookie season. If he can be the 4th CB and contribute on special teams as a rookie, this pick is a success. From a long-term perspective, Robinson could compete for a starting spot at CB some day.

WR Jarius Wright – 4th round
One of my favorite moves of the draft. Wright provides depth behind Percy Harvin at slot receiver should he sustain an injury or should the Vikings chose to deploy Harvin in the backfield or as an outside receiver on occasion. Wright, a First-Team All-SEC WR in 2011, is an explosive athlete with big-time production at Arkansas.

TE Rhett Ellison – 4th round
Seems to be a player who can fulfill the role of blocking TE and FB. No one can replace Jim Kleinsasser, but that’s the thinking behind this pick perhaps. Ellison is a blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player who will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

WR Greg Childs – 4th round
A great value pick here, as a knee injury caused Childs to fall from a 1st- or 2nd-round prospect last year to a mid-round prospect this year. Childs has prototypical size for an outside WR at 6-3, 219 pounds, and he also has great speed and ball skills.

CB Robert Blanton – 5th round
Blanton will likely move from CB to safety with the Vikings and perhaps even join Smith, his college teammate, as a starter in 2012. Good position flexibility here for Blanton, plus he can be a special teams contributor right away as well.

K Blair Walsh – 6th round
Walsh has a very strong leg and was one of just three kickers with a draftable grade on the Vikings board. His accuracy dipped in 2011, but also consider he was 40 of 46 as a sophomore and junior. His accuracy dipped last year because he had so many attempts (led nation in FG tries) and because he had a high number of long attempts. A good selection here because it adds competition to the kicker position with the ever-steady and reliable Ryan Longwell also still in the fold.

LB Audie Cole – 7th round
Cole adds competition to his position, and his best attribute may be position flexibility, as he can play all three LB spots in the Vikings defense.

DL Trevor Guyton – 7th round
Similar to Cole, Guyton is a late-round selection who has a chance to stick around because of his position flexibility. Guyton can play DE or DT, will add competition to the defensive line, and could contribute as a special teams player as well.


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Vikings Add CB Blanton To Collection Of Former Notre Dame Standouts

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2012 – 12:18 pm

The Vikings collected a pair of former Arkansas Razorbacks in the 4th round with the selections of WRs Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, but in the 5th round they added another former Notre Dame standout in CB Robert Blanton. With Blanton in the fold, the Vikings now boast five former Notre Dame players, two of which will help bolster the team’s secondary (Harrison Smith).

Blanton stands at 6-1, 208 pounds and improved his draft stock as a senior at Notre Dame. He is an experienced and productive college player, having contributed significantly even as a true freshman in 2008 with 33 tackles, 3 PBUs and 2 INTs in 12 games played with 4 starts. As a senior, Blanton stepped up his game and recorded 70 tackles, 6 PBUs and 2 INTs in 13 starts at CB.

Some will question Blanton’s explosiveness and strength, which is fair, but he comes to the Vikings with experience and production at a top-tier college program. Plus, he fits a position of need and some say he could transition to safety. It’s also fair to expect Blanton to become a solid special teams contributor as a rookie.


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