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A Look At Ray Edwards And The DE Position

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 22, 2011 – 6:05 am

Earlier this week we devoted a “Monday Morning Mailbag: Extra” blog entry to analyzing the Vikings situation at WR, where the status of Sidney Rice remains up in the air due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) impasse. Another member of the starting lineup – this one on the defensive side of the ball – finds himself in a similar scenario.

DE Ray Edwards, who has developed into a solid starting LDE opposite Jared Allen, will hit the open market under a CBA that requires 4 or fewer accrued seasons to be eligible for unrestricted free agency. But if the next CBA requires more than 4 seasons, Edwards (and Rice) will remain under contract in Minnesota with a RFA tender.

So we’ll treat this entry the same way we treated the entry about Rice; what might be the Vikings plan if Edwards decides to leave the club via free agency?

As I pointed out with Rice, I think it’s important to first make it clear that retaining Edwards is the optimal outcome, whether it’s via a 1-year RFA tender or a long-term contract extension. He’s developed from a risky 4th-round pick in 2006 to a solid starting-caliber DE on a defensive line that’s been dominant against the run and improving against the pass over the last several seasons. Edwards fits well on the defensive line in Minnesota and I’m guessing head coach Leslie Frazier would prefer to have a player of Edwards’ ability on the roster.

But sometimes the optimal outcome can’t be reached. In that event, the Vikings might address the position a bit differently than they’d address the WR position. As we pointed out on Monday with the WRs, the Vikings could take a look at the open market to fill a vacancy left by Rice’s departure. But if Edwards leaves and creates a void, the Vikings might already have the players who can step up and fill in.

Let’s take a quick look at a few players (in alphabetical order) who could compete for a starting job should Edwards leave via free agency…

Christian Ballard: This is a player about whom Vikings fans should be excited. He measures in at 6-4, 283 pounds, which gives him the frame to play either DE or DT in the Vikings 4-3 defensive scheme. Conveniently, Ballard has the skill set as well as the frame to be a versatile lineman capable of playing multiple positions. Ballard spent the first 2 years of his career at left DE before moving inside and starting all 13 games of his junior season at DT. In his final season, Ballard rotated often at both spots, starting 8 contests on the outside and 5 more inside. Wherever the Vikings need an infusion of talent – DE or DT – Ballard looks able to provide it.

 Everson Griffen: The Vikings selected Griffen during the 2010 NFL Draft and at the time he was described as a player with 1st-round talent who slid to the 4th round. He was productive on special teams but wasn’t able to make much of a difference on defense (he didn’t see much action on defense, either). But there’s no denying that Griffen has the physical ability to be a contributor on defense. He just has to put in the work necessary to improve and convince coaches he can be trusted to perform consistently. If Griffen can get on the field, he’s got a shot to prove a lot of doubters wrong and show everyone that he shouldn’t have slide into the 4th round.

Brian Robison: Here’s yet another player the Vikings took in the later rounds and eventually developed into a solid playmaker. Robison was rewarded for his hard work and production this past offseason with a new contract. It might not take long for Robison to start earning that contract, because he’s likely the default choice to start if Edwards leaves. But don’t peg Robison as someone who’ll be happy to be named the “default starter.” Both Ballard and Griffen could have the talent to beat him out. The question is, will Robison let them? I’m guessing the answer is no.

What do you think? Do any of these players represent a suitable replacement for Edwards? Let us know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry.


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Monday Morning Mailbag Extra: A Look At The WR Position

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 20, 2011 – 9:01 am

One of the questions in this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag dealt with WR Sidney Rice and what the Vikings plan will be if Rice leaves via free agency. The answer in the mailbag was pretty lengthy, but after thinking about it some more I think there is even more we can add to the topic.

So we’ll use a blog entry to add those thoughts.

I think it’s important to first make it clear that retaining Rice is the optimal outcome, whether it’s via a 1-year restricted free agency tender or a long-term contract extension. It’s fair to question whether Rice will be a franchise-caliber WR, largely because of some injury problems he’s experienced. Ultimately, though, you have to look at the career year he had in 2009 (83 receptions, 1,312 yards, 8 TDs, Pro Bowl) and how the offense struggled in 2010 while he was sidelined with an injury. In addition, I’d point out that Rice has the skill set (wide catch radius, above average size and body control) that will provide a reliable target for a young, inexperienced QB (Christian Ponder/Joe Webb) to succeed.

With that said, the point of the question in this week’s Monday Morning Mailbag was to discuss alternative options for the Vikings if Rice were to sign with another team. In my original answer, I explained that several young WRs already on the roster would have an opportunity to step up in Rice’s absence and that the following potential free agents might represent potential options for the Vikings: Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Vincent Jackson and James Jones.

After giving it some more though, though, I’ve come up with a few other options the Vikings could consider if they’re in the market for a WR. I’ll list a few guys, and then provide a brief thought about how/why they’d fit with the Vikings…

Plaxico Burress: He’s been off the NFL radar for the past 2 seasons because he was sentenced to prison following an incident where a gun he was carrying discharged into his leg at a nightclub in New York. Burress was one of the NFL’s best WRs when the incident occurred, but now he’s 2 years removed from his last game and he’s going to be 34 years old when the 2011 NFL season begins. A veteran on the wrong side of 30 with a prison sentence stemming from a gun incident doesn’t sound exactly like the type of player Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman are looking for, but keep in mind that Burress will be working with Tony Dungy – a friend of Frazier’s – in much the same way that Michael Vick worked with Dungy. That worked out pretty well for the Eagles. This is a tough one to call, but it’ll be interesting to see which teams pursue Burress.

Chad Ochocinco: It’s tough to know what Ochocinco’s contractual status will be with the Cincinnati Bengals once the work stoppage concludes, but suffice it to say that he could be an unrestricted free agent as the franchise appears to moving on. They drafted a franchise QB in Andy Dalton, presumably because they know Carson Palmer won’t be with them in the future. A similar plan could be in place for Ochocinco, meaning he’ll hit the open market. There’s no denying Ochocinco’s great productivity in the past. But he, like Burress, is on the wrong side of 30 (he’s 33) and you have to wonder if younger WRs will appeal to the Vikings more.

Steve Smith (Carolina): Much like Ochocinco, Smith has been an extremely productive WR who has experienced plenty of ups and downs with his current team. And much like Ochocinco, Smith might be an option for teams who don’t mind a WR in his early 30s (he just turned 32). Smith is a tremendous deep threat because of his speed but also because of his uncanny ability to win jump balls despite being undersized (5-9, 185 pounds).

Those are just a few more options that could be available for the Vikings if they were to pursue a WR in free agency and if Rice were to sign elsewhere. What do you think Vikings fans? Do any of those options appeal to you? If not, who else is out there?

Let us know what you think by posting a comment in the comments section below this entry.


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Vikings To Pitch And Catch In Florida?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 17, 2011 – 10:14 am

A lot of you have asked either in email to me or in the comments section below news articles and blogs about Vikings players participating in any player-organized workouts. Because I can’t interact with players during the work stoppage, I don’t have an idea of whether or not these workouts are happening with respect to Vikings players.

But according to St. Paul Press writer Jeremy Fowler, who covers the Vikings beat, QB Christian Ponder is going to get together with WRs Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice for workouts in Florida. It sounds like Ponder and Harvin had planned to get together and when Rice caught wind of that, he wanted to participate as well. That’s a good sign, right?

To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much value in large groups of players – offense and defense – getting together for organized workouts during a time of work stoppage. But, I can see the value of QBs and WRs/TEs getting together, especially if those players have never been on the field together.

This is a sensative topic for us to touch because of the work stoppage, so we’ll stop at that for now. But I thought you’d at least be interested in the update.


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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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Frazier, Spielman Discuss Greenway, Rice And The Franchise Tag

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 25, 2011 – 11:57 am

Despite the uncertainty the labor situation brings to the NFL and despite the fact that the franchise tag may or may not be relevant in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, nearly half of the NFL’s franchises have chosen to apply the franchise tag to one of their potential free agents.

The Vikings are one of the teams that have used their franchise tag and they applied it to LB Chad Greenway, ensuring that the 5-year veteran will remain a part of the team for at least one more season and increasing the likelihood that he’ll eventually sign a long-term contract with the Purple. As positive a development as that was for the Vikings, it did leave in question whether or not WR Sidney Rice will return to the club in 2010.

Depending on the rules of the next CBA, Rice could be an unrestricted free agent. If that happens, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams. With all of that said, both Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman were asked about the club’s decision to tag Greenway instead of Rice.

“Sidney is an outstanding player and he’s done a great job for us,” Frazier said on Friday. “But we really like where Chad is right now in his career and what he’s been able to do in staying on the field and getting better every single year, and what he’s done off the field in our community, that was the way to go.

“That doesn’t mean that we don’t want Sidney as a Minnesota Viking, because we do.”

Spielman also talked about the value Greenway brings to the defense as a versatile and reliable defender.

“Chad is a valuable part of our organization,” Spielman said on Thursday. “When you look at that and look at what he brings to our defense, and you weigh in the fact that he is a three-down linebacker who is never off the field, he is very important to us. On first and second down, but what he brings to us on third down as well.”

So while Frazier and Spielman spoke highly of Greenway in the same manner, they were also on the same page in how they spoke highly of Rice and feel strongly that Rice is a player the team would like to keep for the long haul.

“He is a high, high priority,” Frazier said of Rice, “and I didn’t want him to be sensitive about the fact that it was Chad being franchised versus Sidney. That does not mean that we’re not going to do right by Sidney. It’s just we couldn’t franchise both of them. We want to get Sidney signed and take care of him because he’s been taking care of our football team.”

Spielman, who along with Vikings VP of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski spent time on Thursday afternoon meeting with agents of players on the Vikings roster, was clear in saying Rice is in the Vikings long-term plans.

“Our goal and objective is to continue to work with his agent,” Spielman said of Rice, “and get a long-term deal done with Chad.”


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A Quick Word On The Franchise Tag

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 16, 2011 – 4:07 pm

Many of you have raised franchise tag-related questions in response to a couple of blog entries this week. Also, a total of 7 NFL teams have utilized the franchise tag in recent days. So we wanted to have a quick word on the blog about the franchise tag as it relates to the Vikings.

Under the rules of the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, the franchise tag is a mechanism that prevents a team from losing the player given the tag to free agency. The catch, though, is that in order to apply the franchise tag to a player, the team must also tender that player a 1-year guaranteed contract that pays him a minimum of the average of the 5 largest salaries for players at the position at which he played the most games during the prior year, or 120% of his prior year salary, whichever is greater. There are also other details related to the franchise tag, but we won’t go over them right here.

Prevailing thought is that the Vikings have 2 main candidates for the franchise tag – LB Chad Greenway and WR Sidney Rice. DE Ray Edwards could also be a possibility. All 3 of those players are still relatively young and are coming off their first NFL contracts, which is precisely what makes them possible candidates for the franchise tag.

Earlier in the week, Vikings VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman told reporters that the Vikings are still deciding on what to do with the franchise tag.

“We’re going through that process,” Spielman said. “We’ll look at whether we use the franchise tag or not. That’ll be determined here before the deadline. I think you tie that into your whole process, on whether you’re going to utilize that franchise tag or not. Anything from any type of roster moves or franchise tag or anything like that we’ll probably not buckle up here until another week or two.”

So for those of you wondering what the Vikings will do with the franchise tag, you’re still left to wonder. Spielman acknowledged to reporters that he’s excited about the young nucleus of players on the Vikings roster, and using the franchise tag is one mechanism the club can use to keep a piece of that nucleus intact.

“I think there is a good young nucleus on this football team,” Spielman said. “I also think there are some older guys, too, on this football team. We have a lot of unrestricted free agents up; you’d say you’d love to keep them all, but that’s not the reality so we’ll have to make some tough decisions. But I know we’re pretty excited about some of the youth that we do have on this football team and some of the nucleus and core pieces that we do have in place.”


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Rice’s Return To Form

Posted by cjsiewert on December 7, 2010 – 6:38 am

Not only was Sunday’s 24-point margin of victory over the Bills reminiscent of the Vikings 2009 campaign – four 24+ point wins, 1 in the playoffs – but so was the play of WR Sidney Rice.

Rice hauled in a game- and season-high 5 receptions for 105 yards and 2 TDs. The 100+ yard, multi-TD performance was his first since last year’s divisional playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys where he posted 141 yards and 3 TDs on 6 receptions.

Credit backup QB Tarvaris Jackson for being able to come into the game in place of an injured Brett Favre and guide the Vikings offense to a scoring outburst – completing 15 of 22 passes for 187 yards and 2 TDs (both to Rice) – but if not for Rice, Jackson may have wound up with 0 TDs and another INT to add to his 3 on the day. Both of Rice’s TD receptions reminded us of his remarkable ability to make a play on the ball over or around a defender.

Rice’s first TD came at the 1:52 mark in the 1st quarter with Jackson airing out the 31-yard completion to the pylon at the front-right corner of the endzone. Rice leaped forward at the 5, reached around Bills CB Leodis McKelvin and grabbed the ball while falling into the endzone with possession just before S Donte Whitner could make a play. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but was eventually overturned for the TD after Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s challenge. If not for Rice’s incredible play on the ball in mid-flight, Jackson may have thrown an INT to either McKelvin or Whitner.

Sidney Rice

The second TD reception by Rice was just as impressive as his first. With Jackson rolling out to his right on a 2nd and goal attempt midway through the 2nd quarter, Rice cut an out-route to the right side of the endzone and made another leaping catch. Rice had to make a diving attempt for the ball and completed the reception by landing on his back to secure possession.

“After those first two games of kind of feeling his way, his confidence was extremely high going into this ball game and it showed in his play,” Frazier mentioned of Rice after Sunday’s victory. “Our hope going forward is that we’re going to see more of the Sidney Rice we saw a season ago because his confidence is high now.”

Buffalo boasted a top-10 passing defense heading into Sunday’s game, and now Rice and the Vikings will face the challenge of the NY Giants 2nd-ranked 192.8 passing yards allowed per game defense, while attempting to win their 2nd consecutive home game and 3rd overall under Frazier.

Just as Rice has shown his return to form with his impressive performance against the Bills, he’ll be looking for a return to form from his last appearance against the Giants. In last season’s regular season finale, Rice compiled 6 receptions for 112 yards and 2 TDs in a 44-7 blowout victory at Mall of America Field.


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Update On Berrian, Rice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 26, 2010 – 2:06 pm

Vikings WRs Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice sat out of practice on Thursday after participating on Wednesday. On Friday, though, both players were back on the field and Vikings Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked about each of them while meeting with reporters after practice.

Frazier indicated Rice (hip) should be good to go for Sunday’s game at Washington and he said a decision on Berrian (groin) may be made on Saturday.

Another player battling a nagging injury is Jamarca Sanford (hamstring). His presence is important because he provides depth in the secondary but mostly because of his special teams/kick coverage abilities. Frazier said that because the injury has reappeared, the team will be cautious with Sanford’s return.

The injury report has not been released yet, but I’m guessing Berrian will be listed as questionable and Rice probable. Again, official word will be coming shortly, so stay tuned.


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Back To Work On Friday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 26, 2010 – 7:44 am

After another great Thanksgiving Day full of football and food, it’s back to work at Winter Park on Friday. Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s going on today…

– Although I took a day to hangout with family, the team was at Winter Park on Thursday for an abbreviated day of work. There was no media access but teams are still required to issue injury reports. Had their been media access and press conferences, the biggest news would’ve been that WR Sidney Rice sat out of practice after fully participating on Wednesday. My best guess is that this is nothing serious and it’s probably just a matter of the team being cautious with Rice as he works his way back into the lineup.

– The good injury news is that S Husain Abdullah (ankle – limited), DE Jared Allen (neck – limited), S Eric Frampton (hamstring – limited) LB Chad Greenway (eye – full participation) and C John Sullivan (calf – full participation) were all on the field working on Thursday.

– Today the team will have a normal Friday, which will conclude with a practice in the late morning. Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier will meet with reporters after practice for some final comments/thoughts on his team before this weekend’s game against the Redskins.

– We’ll have several more updates here on the blog throughout the morning, so stay tuned.


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What To Expect From Rice Today

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 21, 2010 – 11:12 am

Vikings WR Sidney Rice will make his 2010 season debut today after an extended stint on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list because of a hip condition. Rice’s presence in the Vikings lineup gives the offense a dimension it’s been sorely missing since last season, a presence not even Randy Moss could adequately fill.

But now that Rice is officially back and a part of the active game day roster, the question is ‘What should we expect from Rice?’

I don’t know, to be honest. Rice has been careful not to set too high of expectations for himself and Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress told Ed Werder recently that 20-40 snaps might be the workload his Pro Bowl receiver sees today. On the other hand, though, this is nearly as late as Rice possibly could’ve come back to the lineup and I certainly don’t think he’d declare himself ready to play if he wasn’t truly ready.

Ultimately, given the ramifications of this game and the fact that Rice is playing for his next contract after spending half the season out of action, I expect a supreme effort from him today and I actually think he’ll score a TD. As I tweeted yesterday, Rice will be especially hand for Favre and Co. in the red zone. Remember, the Vikings anticipated working Cedric Griffin back into action slowly as he came back from a torn ACL earlier this season. But in his first action back on the field, Griffin played nearly every defensive snap.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Rice with a similar effort today for the offense.


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