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Greenway, Rudolph, Walsh Stand Out On Tuesday; Other Practice Notes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 31, 2012 – 5:33 pm

The competitive spirit was as thick in the air as the sweltering humidity on Tuesday at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as the Vikings conducted their second padded practice that included a couple periods of live, tackle-to-the ground work. Those periods featured short-yardage and goal line situations, perfect opportunities to jot down some notes.

Here are a few of them from Tuesday’s practice…

One-On-One
A large crowd of scouts, special guests and members of the ownership group gathered around one end of Field #2 to watch the RBs, FBs and TEs go one-on-one against the LBs. The drill is competitive as it is, but the unusually large crowd that gathered near the drill only intensified the atmosphere.

The first part of the drill required the offensive players to pass protect against the defensive players. LB Jasper Brinkley got home on his first three rushes and RB Jordan Todman jumped up and displayed some striking pass protection. Rookie LB Audie Cole got in the mix with a great swim move to get past his blocker in a flash and LB Everson Griffen showed his explosion by winning two of his three matchups.

The offense saw much more success in the pass receiving/coverage portion of the drill. The star of the show was TE Kyle Rudolph, who had no trouble wiggling open and hauling in receptions. He made an inside move on LB Chad Greenway and then broke to the outside, creating plenty of separation for Christian Ponder to loft a pass toward the TE. John Carlson got in on the action, too, utilizing an out-breaking route to separate from Griffen and haul in a pass. Todman also flashed once again, shaking free from Cole to win his matchup.

Goal Line Battles
There was outstanding back-and-forth between the offense and defense in the team’s goal line drill. The drill was setup for the offense to have it 1st-and-goal from the 2-yardline. In all three matchups (first team, second team, third team), the defense stymied the offense on 1st and 2nd down, but yielded a TD on 3rd down.

Greenway made one of the better defensive plays of the day when he registered a pass breakup (PBU) on a fade route from Ponder to Rudolph. On the next play CB Chris Cook, DT Letroy Guion and Greenway combined to stuff RB Lex Hilliard short of the goal line. On 3rd down, though, Hilliard burrowed his way into the end zone.

The second team offense threw an incomplete pass on their 1st down try and then saw Todman get stuffed. On 3rd down, RB Derrick Coleman surged past the defense and into the end zone for the score.

Coleman took a handoff on 1st down for the third team, too, and was stopped by a trio consisting of Cole, Griffen and DE Ernest Owusu. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw an incomplete pass on 2nd down and then he hit FB Ryan D’Imperio for a TD on 3rd down.

Booming Blair Walsh
It’s standard for the Vikings begin practice with a special teams period or two, and today practice began very well for the Vikings. And it was largely because of K Blair Walsh, whose leg strength was on full display. Of the kicks I saw, Walsh booted touchbacks on six of six tries, with two of those kickoffs flying over the goal post and through the uprights.

Walsh also ended practice on a solid note, hitting a 43-yard FG to close the final period.

Fans have expressed concern to me about the potential for Walsh to struggle on FG accuracy during his rookie season. Nothing that I’ve seen suggest Walsh will have that struggle, but even if he does I expect the increase in field position the defense will see this year because of Walsh’s touchbacks will counterbalance the loss in points from missed FGs. The Vikings ranked 31st in opponents’ drive start last season (24.4-yardline), and that statistic will only improve for the Vikings this season with Walsh in the fold. Missed FGs show up in the stat sheet and are directly reflected on the scoreboard, while average drive start for your opponent is a much more subtle influence. But both are equally important to the outcome of a game, and Walsh has shown that he has the ability to improve the Vikings in both areas.


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Final Roster Rundown: Running Backs And Specialists

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 9:12 am

Friday marks the first practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and, appropriately, the final part of our Roster Rundown series. The series concludes with a look at the Vikings RBs and specialists…

Running Backs
Even with both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart coming back from knee injuries, RB is a position of strength for the Vikings. There aren’t many teams with a better one-two punch than the Vikings. Gerhart has fully recovered from his knee injury, and he’ll shoulder the load for Peterson until he’s back at 100% health as well. Gerhart would be a starter for many NFL teams, so the job is in good hands while Peterson finishes up his recovery.

Depth at the position will be important for the Vikings in 2012 for reasons mentioned above, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said the team is looking for a back with all-around skills to have as the third option. Guys competing for this role in camp will include undrafted college free agent Derrick Coleman, four-year veteran Lex Hilliard and youngster Jordan Todman. 

The Vikings designs at FB are uncertain at this point. Draft pick Rhett Ellison could play the part, but there are others who are actually listed as FBs on the roster as well (Ellison is listed as a TE). Ryan D’Imperio is a returning veteran with solid special teams ability as well, Matt Asiata was with the Vikings during last year’s camp and returns this year as well, and five-year veteran Jerome Felton will be around to increase the competition. Aside from how each of these players perform during practice and preseason games, the determining factor in this competition will be how the team plans to use the FB.

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Specialists
The Vikings go into 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp with starters in place at the specialists positions. Cullen Loeffler returns as the team’s long snapper, Chris Kluwe remains at punter, and Blair Walsh enters camp as the kicker. Together, Loeffler and Kluwe boast 17 years of NFL experience, so they are great mentors for Walsh as he embarks on his rookie season. It’s important for each of these players to perform well in their individual roles, but it’s also important for them to work well together. I have no doubt they’ll be able to do just that.


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Vikings Tweak Roster; Add D’Imperio

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 4, 2011 – 1:11 pm

The Vikings on Tuesday made a roster change, signing a player from their practice squad to the Active Roster.

FB Ryan D’Imperio, a 7th-round draft choice from 2010, has been added to the 53-man roster.

To make room for D’Imperio, the Vikings waived TE Allen Reisner.

 


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Tough Days Of Decision-Making Ahead For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 2, 2011 – 9:35 am

The couple of days immediately following the preseason finale is always a tenuous time inside an NFL team’s facility. The Vikings are no exception this year. There were several areas of deep competition on the Vikings roster throughout training camp and the preseason, and now it’s decision-making time for Vikings coaches and scouts.

By 5:00 p.m. CT time on Saturday, NFL teams must reduce their active roster to 53 players. The Vikings currently have 80 players on the roster, which means 27 roster moves must be made in advance of the deadline for the Vikings to comply with the NFL’s roster requirements. That makes for some tough decisions, especially following Thursday night’s performance from many of the Vikings youngsters.

“Our guys really fed off the energy of the crowd and now, probably the real tough part of this job begins,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after Thursday night’s finale against the Houston Texans. “With such a great effort by so many tonight, it’s going to make it tough for our staff to finalize that 53-man roster, which is a good problem to have.”

A lot of Vikings players stood out last night, from DE Adrian Awasom tallying to 2.0 sacks, to Greg Camarillo playing well on special teams, to DE Stylez White flashing a couple times, to solid performances from backup RBs and offensive linemen. And what about LB Larry Dean, who has stood out all of preseason? Or FB Ryan D’Imperio, who continues to progress? Lots of players with solid potential, but not enough roster spots to keep them all.

I’m going to stop short of calling the Vikings roster situation an embarrassment of riches; that’s not the case. It’s just that there was good competition at a lot of spots on the roster and in many of those spots there wasn’t a lot of separation between the guys who should make the roster and the guys who just fell short.

“There were a number of positions coming into this game that we had questions about,” Frazier said. “We’ll sit down, and I was talking to Rick Spielman earlier about just that fact, we’re going to have some strong discussions tomorrow at certain positions and we’ve got to be able to make some good decisions and I realize that there may be some good football players that may not make our team, but there are some good football players that will.”


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5 Things To Watch Tonight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Roster Full Of Options At Fullback

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 16, 2011 – 7:21 am

There are a lot of position battles going on within the Vikings roster and many of them have captured the attention of the media and fans. But one of the most competitive and unsettled position battles to date on the Vikings roster is one that hasn’t generated much conversation.

It’s the fullback (FB) position and the Vikings have a healthy competition for that spot on the roster. While in some respects the FB is a dying position on NFL rosters, the Vikings plan to carry a FB, or at least carry a player who can fulfill the role of a FB.

“The fullback position in our league has almost been eliminated,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier explained on Monday after practice. “There are some teams that don’t even carry a fullback anymore. But there’s a place for a fullback in our offense and we just have to identify the right guy.”

So who is the right guy? There are two FBs listed on the roster – Matt Asiata and Ryan D’Imperio. Asiata is an undrafted rookie free agent and he’s been a standout during camp, largely because he’s a nimble athlete who can make defenders miss and he’s also a more-than-capable receiver out of the backfield. D’Imperio was a seventh-round draft choice in 2010 whom the Vikings transitioned from college LB to NFL FB. He made the practice squad last year and is now looking to make the next step in his career and nail down a spot on the 53-man roster.

But Asiata and D’Imperio aren’t the only guys the Vikings are looking at to play FB.

“It’ll be more of a traditional role,” Frazier said of the Vikings FB position. “A guy who can run the lead play for us and help us with the power play and some things we’re doing. But we’d like to be able to utilize tight ends at time in that fullback role and we’ve got to identify the right guys for that. We know Jimmy Kleinsasser can do it; he’s done it before.”

Also in line for that type of role are TEs Jeff Dugan and Ed Barham. Dugan has been a constant on the Vikings roster since 2004 and has the kind of skill set and work ethic to be an NFL FB. Barham is another undrafted rookie free agent, but so far he’s proven to be more of a pass-catching threat in the offense. The same can be said, of course, for second-rounder Kyle Rudolph and another undrafted rookie free agent TE, Allen Reisner.

As you can see, the competition is thick at this position. The Vikings are looking for a player who can lead block and be physical, but also a player who is versatile and can be relied upon to line up in various spots in various formations. I’m guessing we’ll learn a little more about the Vikings search for the right FB onTuesday afternoon because offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will meet with reporters after practice.


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A Look At Rounds 2 Through 7 Under Spielman And Co.

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 2, 2011 – 5:18 pm

In the previous blog entry about G Chris DeGeare, we made the point that: “There’s no doubt that hitting home runs with 1st-round picks is key to success in the NFL. But if you do some research, you’ll see that selections in rounds 2-7 and also the signing of undrafted rookie free agents are just as important.”

In the previous blog entry, we also said we’d take a closer look at some of those 2nd- through 7th-round picks in the next posting. While the group isn’t full of Pro Bowlers or future Hall of Famers (yet), it is a group of players that represent at least a part of the core of the current roster. There are 10 players who’ve started games for the Vikings on the list and obviously there will be many, many more starts from this list in the years to come.

Here we go…

CB Asher Allen - A 3rd-round pick in 2009, Allen struggled at times as a starter in 2010. But over his 2 Vikings seasons, Allen has flashed some potential. With the return of Cedric Griffin in 2011, Allen will be in a position to contribute in the nickel and dime packages where he’ll be more successful.

LB Jasper Brinkley - A 5th-round pick in 2009, Brinkley stepped in as the starter when E.J. Henderson went down to injury at the end of the 2009 season. It’s easy to take this for granted, but keep in mind the Vikings had the NFL’s top-ranked defense and Brinkley was a rookie starting in the middle of the defense. The Vikings defense missed Henderson, but Brinkley was solid in his place and the Vikings advanced to the NFC Championship Game. On top of that, Brinkley has been a solid special teams contributor during his career in Minnesota.

CB Chris Cook - A 2nd-round pick in 2010, Cook had a tremendous offseason and training camp heading into his rookie season. But then a pair of knee injuries that both required surgery slowed and eventually halted his rookie season. Cook is a big, physical CB who fits what head coach Leslie Frazier wants his defense to do. The upside on Cook is big and the Vikings defense will benefit from his return.

FB Ryan D’Imperio - A lot of factors were working against D’Imperio during his rookie season in 2010. He was a 7th-round pick (#237 overall), he switched positions from college LB to NFL FB and he had an established starter in front of him on the depth chart. But D’Imperio impressed enough to stick around and was a member of the practice squad in 2010. During the offseason and training camp this year he’ll have a chance to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

G Chris DeGeare - The blog entry below this one tells DeGeare’s story.

RB Toby Gerhart - At first I think Vikings fans are quick to point out disappointment in Gerhart’s rookie season, but I don’t see it that way. He had a tough go during training camp and the early part of the season, but he continued to improve as the season went along and he had an impressive showing in a start against the Bears in Week 15 when he rushed for 77 yards on 16 carries. For the season, Gerhart average 4.0 yards per carry. Given how productive he was in college and how aggressive the Vikings were in trading up to select him in the 2nd round last year, I’m willing to give Gerhart more time to develop into a productive NFL RB.

DE Everson Griffen - A prospect with 1st-round talent who dropped to the 4th round because of off-field concerns, Griffen flashed potential on defense and productivity on special teams as a rookie. He’s in line to get more playing time on defense in 2011, especially if the Vikings are unable to reach contract agreements with either Ray Edwards or Brian Robison.

DT Letroy Guion - When the Vikings used a 5th-round pick on Letroy Guion in 2008, he was only 20 years old. He came in and didn’t produce right away, but now he’s progressed into a member of the defensive line rotation. As is the case with Griffen, Guion may be in line for even more playing time depending on what happens with potential free agents ahead of him on the depth chart.

WR Jaymar Johnson - Another 7th-round pick (2008) who remains on the roster, Johnson was in the midst of another solid offseason and training camp when he injured his wrist and was put on Injured Reserve before the 2010 season got going. Johnson will be in another battle to make the roster this offseason, but his return capabilities will help him.

S Tyrell Johnson - A 2nd-round pick in 2008, Johnson has moved in and out of the starting lineup during his 3 seasons in Minnesota. With the safety position still a bit in flux, Johnson has a chance to reclaim a starting spot if he can perform well in the offseason and in training camp. He’s a tremendous athlete who needs to polish his skills in coverage.

RT Phil Loadholt - Another 2nd-round pick, Loadholt stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2009 and was one of the team’s best offensive linemen. The Vikings offense averaged 29.4 points per game during Loadholt’s rookie seasan and the 6-8, 343-pound mauler showed that he could be a talented player in this league for a long time.

WR Sidney Rice - The 2nd-round picks keep rolling in. Rice was a 2nd-rounder in 2007 and exploded for a career season in 2009 with Brett Favre under center. A hip injury slowed his 2010 season and now Rice will look to bounce back in 2011 with another strong showing. His leaping ability and sure hands are his best qualities, and they’re qualities a rookie QB would love to have in a starting WR.

DE Brian Robison – An All-Rookie honoree who was 3rd among all NFL rookies with 4.5 sacks in 2007, Robison has been a productive player for the Vikings and figures to be an important member of the defensive line rotation in 2011. He was a 4th-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Texas and one of the great aspects of his game is that he can slide inside to play DT in certain situations.

S Jamarca Sanford – With Heath Farwell, Sanford is one of the most valuable special teams contributors for the Vikings, specifically in the kick and punt coverage units. He has also logged playing time on defense and has also been a starter at safety. Considering Sanford was the SEC’s leading tackler during his 4 years at Ole Miss, it’s hard to believe Rick Spielman and Co. found him in the 7th round. But that’s what they did, and that makes Sanford one of the more under-rated Vikings draft picks in recent years.

C John Sullivan – Sullivan’s 2nd year was better than his 3rd, but I’m guessing his 4th year will be the best yet. He sat behind Matt Birk as a rookie in 2008, then stepped into the starting lineup at center for the 2009 season and helped the Vikings offense to a 29.4 points-per-game average. In 2010 Sullivan’s season was disrupted by injuries and he dealt with the passing of his father. Certainly Sullivan won’t use those as excuses, but you have to think it impacted him in some form or another.  Sullivan should enter the 2011 season in full health and he’ll have a shot to solidify his standing as the team’s anchor in the middle.


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Vikings Top Seahawks 24-13 Behind 4th-Quarter Comeback

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 28, 2010 – 9:48 pm

Preseason games often times lose their interest past halftime, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday night at Mall of America Field, where the Vikings pulled out a 24-13 come-from behind victory over the Seattle Seahawks to improve their preseason record to 2-1 and, more importantly, move another step closer to opening the 2010 regular season.

Brett Favre and the Vikings 1st team offense racked up 223 yards of offense in the opening 2 quarters but penalties and turnovers compromised scoring opportunities. The Vikings defense dominated Seattle’s 1st team offense, holding them to just 98 net yards of offense in the 1st half. As a result, the teams entered halftime knotted at 10.

Seattle opened up another lead early in the 3rd quarter with an Olindo Mare FG; there was no other scoring in the 3rd period.

But the Vikings offense opened up a bit in the 4th quarter, with both Sage Rosenfels and Joe Webb leading scoring drives. Rosenfels capped his drive by lofting a pass to Javon Walker in the endzone. Walker, acquired earlier in the week, made an acrobatic catch over 2 defenders for the score, giving the Vikings a 17-13 lead after the Ryan Longwell PAT. On the Vikings next possession, Webb entered the game and capped his drive by hitting fellow rookie Ryan D’Imperio. The fullback bullied his way into the endzone for a 7-yard score that gave the Vikings a 24-13 lead.

The scoring ended there and the Vikings came away with their 2nd win of the 2010 preseason. We’ll have more coverage, including a complete game recap, highlights, on-demand video of head coach Brad Childress and Favre’s press conferences and much more.


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3 More Draft Picks Officially Sign; 2nd Rounder Cook Reportedly Agrees

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 29, 2010 – 10:02 am

It’s been rumored and reported for several days, but now it’s become official – 4th round DE Everson Griffen, 5th round OL Chris DeGeare and 7th round TE Mickey Shuler have all signed their contracts and will report to training camp on time.

Those 3 rookies join 5th round LB Nate Triplett, 6th round QB Joe Webb and 7th round FB Ryan D’Imperio as Vikings draft picks who’ve signed their contracts. Only 2nd rounders CB Chris Cook and RB Toby Gerhart remain unsigned.

The Star Tribune’s Judd Zulgad is reporting that Cook has agreed to a 4-year deal as of Thursday morning, which is good news for the Vikings and would leave Gerhart as the only unsigned draft choice. Zulgad said terms of the deal were not available but he did point out that the players selected right before and after Cook had signed contracts, with OT Rodger Saffold agreeing to a 4-year, $6.3 million deal with St. Louis that includes $3.9 million in guarantees and DT Brian Price receiving a 4-year, $5.32 million deal with $3.55 million in guarantees.

Zulgad also points out that players selected right before and after Gerhart have signed their contracts, indicating the Vikings and Gerhart shouldn’t have a difficult time agreeing to a deal.


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Update On Draft Pick Signings; QB Webb Signs

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 28, 2010 – 12:09 pm

With training camp only 2 days away, now is the time for any remaining unsigned picks to put pen to paper on their rookie deals. To date, 3 Vikings have officially signed their contracts – FB Ryan D’Imperio, LB Nate Triplett and QB Joe Webb, who just signed his deal today.

There are several reports out there indicating that other Vikings rookies have signed their deal. And while those reports likely have validity to them, we can’t officially confirm a signing until pen meets paper. Once that happens, we’ll post it here on the blog.

In the meantime, here’s an update on some of the reports regarding Vikings draft picks and their contracts…

DE Everson Griffen – According to ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, Griffen has agreed to terms with the Vikings.

OL Chris DeGeare – Our friends at the Star Tribune are citing NFL sources as saying DeGeare and the Vikings have agreed to terms.

TE Mickey Shuler – The website http://www.nationalfootballpost.com cited a source as saying Shuler has agreed to terms.

That leaves 2nd rounders CB Chris Cook and RB Toby Gerhart, both of whom I expect will be to camp on time. We’ll update this list when appropriate, so stay tuned.


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