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Early Aggressiveness, Conversions Help Offense Set Tone

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 17, 2012 – 10:07 am

Earlier Monday morning, we discussed a cleverly-crafted defensive game plan featuring an aggressive wrinkle as a key to the Vikings win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. We’d be remiss to not mention the aggressive strategy employed by the Vikings offense early in the game as an important factor in the victory as well.

In last week’s win over the Chicago Bears, it was almost as if the Vikings game-planned for the offense to perform around QB Christian Ponder. In Sunday’s win, though, Ponder was instrumental in the offense’s operation. That was especially the case on the Vikings first drive of the game, a series that required poise from Ponder and featured a few clutch conversions along the way.

It started with a “gotcha” moment on the first play, as the Vikings anticipated St. Louis ganging up to stop Adrian Peterson. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave called for a play-action pass on 1st down, opening the door for Ponder to rollout and find a wide open Kyle Rudolph in the right flat for a 14-yard gain. That was a nice start. After a 4-yard gain by Peterson on the ground, Ponder rolled right once again and fit a precise pass through a tight window to Jerome Simpson on a crossing route – 11 more yards.

At that point, the Vikings were off to a great start. They forced a St. Louis punt after just 4 plays and were now driving deep into Rams territory. But consecutive rushing plays of -2 yards set the Vikings back to a 3rd and 14 from the St. Louis 20. Out of the gun formation, Ponder zipped a quick slant to Stephen Burton for 13 yards, setting up a 4th and short. Rather than take the conservative approach and send the ever-reliant Blair Walsh onto the field for a quick 3-0 lead, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier elected to be aggressive and go for it on 4th down.

“I knew if we got in that situation early, that was exactly what we wanted to be able to do,” Frazier explained after the game. “We wanted to be aggressive. We talked to our players about it all week long, that we were going to be aggressive in every situation. That was a chance to backup what I had said during the week.”

And it worked. Ponder scrambled for 3 yards to pickup the 1st down, plus a defensive holding penalty gave the Vikings an automatic 1st down anyway. Two more rushes for losses came after the 4th-down conversion, setting the Vikings up with a 3rd and goal from the 5. Ponder dropped back, was in the arms of Rams DE Robert Quinn, escaped, found a crease down the left seam, and dove into the end zone for the TD. He capped the play with an emphatic spike in the end zone, and the Vikings offense was rolling.

On the drive, Ponder was 3 of 3 for 38 yards and added 2 rushes for 8 yards and the TD.

More than just staking the Vikings to an early 7-0 lead, that first offensive series and all it entailed – 5 carries for Peterson, play-action bootlegs, clutch completions and conversions, etc. – helped the Vikings offense gain a rhythm, gain a confidence and set a tone.

“It was big,” Frazier said. “That was a part of what we wanted to be able to design to help us against the eight- and nine-man fronts we knew we were going to get. And sure enough, they came in stacking the box, and we wanted to get Christian on the perimeter and hit some plays on crossing routes. We were effective doing that early. It helped us to open up some of the runs a little bit later.”


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WR Status Check: Percy Harvin (Ankle) And Calvin Johnson (Knee)

Posted by Mike Wobschall on November 9, 2012 – 7:58 am

Earlier this week we listed the 7 Vikings-Lions storylines we’d be following this week, so with Friday upon us and kickoff just two days away, let’s check in on the #1 storyline: Harvin’s Ankle, Megatron’s Knee. Percy Harvin leads the NFL in receptions with 62 and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is arguable the NFL’s best player at the position. But neither has practiced this week due to injuries, and it will have a profound impact on Sunday’s game.

Of the two receivers, Johnson stands the best chance to play. He’s dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of practice all of last week. The time away from practice didn’t seem to bother the All-Pro, as he came down with 7 receptions for 129 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Johnson has been held out of practice this week, too, but the smart money is on him playing. And if he’s playing, he’s dangerous.

There’s been another element added to this mix of late, though. According to a report from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Johnson told reporters on Thursday that he’s dealing with nerve damage that is making it harder for him to grip the football. Johnson pointed to a pair of hits from the Lions Week 4 game against the Vikings that is causing the issue.

As for Harvin, he has not been ruled out but he did call himself a “longshot” to play. Harvin suffered an ankle injury last week in Seattle, but was able to finish the game. Harvin spoke with reporters earlier in the week while leaning on crutches, causing many to speculate that the NFL’s leading receiver will be unavailable for Sunday’s game.

I’m not in the business of speculating whether or not a guy will play despite an injury. The Vikings have a bye following this Sunday’s game, so keeping Harvin out of this week’s game would essentially give him nearly three full weeks between his injury and the next ball game. But Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said after practice on Thursday that if Harvin is healthy enough to play, he’ll play. Also keep in mind that Harvin is as tough a player as there is, so if there’s even the slightest bit of chance he can play, Harvin will be angling to get out there.

If he plays, that’s great news for the Vikings. If he doesn’t play, the Vikings will have about 11 touches to distribute to other players. Harvin has 100 touches through 9 games this season, which averages out to 11.1 touches per game. In this week’s Wobcast – where Cris Carter is featured as the guest – I pointed to three players who could see a few more touches if Harvin doesn’t play: WR Jarius Wright and TEs John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph.

Harvin also has a role on special teams as the Vikings kickoff returner, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Priefer said a number of guys could step into that role if Harvin is unable to play. Marcus Sherels, the Vikings starting punt returner, can do it, as can Wright, WR Stephen Burton and CBs A.J. Jefferson and Josh Robinson.


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Colts Survive Vikings 4th Quarter Rally

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 16, 2012 – 6:25 pm

As thrilling as last week’s season-opening overtime win was against the Jacksonville Jaguars, this week’s squeaker on the road against the Indianapolis Colts was similarly heart-breaking. Adam Vinatieri, the most clutch kicker in NFL history, split the uprights on a 53-yard FG try with just 8 seconds to play, ending the Vikings late-game rally and sending them home with their first loss of the season.

The Vikings offense started slowly for a second consecutive week, heading to the locker room at halftime with just 49 yards passing and 6 points. The Colts offense wasn’t slow to start, as rookie QB Andrew Luck went 11 of 17 for 142 yards with 2 TDs and no TDs in the first half to stake his club to a 17-6 lead at intermission.

The teams combined to go just 1 of 7 on 3rd downs in the 3rd quarter, and the only score was as 45-yard FG by Vinatieri to stretch the Colts lead to 20-6.

As they did in last week’s win over the Jaguars, the Vikings offense rallied late in the game. Christian Ponder led the Vikings on a pair of 4th-quarter scoring drives, capping the first with a 7-yard TD toss to WR Stephen Burton and the second with 6-yard strike TE Kyle Rudolph. The Rudolph TD and subsequent Blair Walsh PAT tied the score at 20 with just 31 seconds to play.

Unfortunately, those 31 seconds were enough for Luck to drive through the Vikings defense and set the stage for Vinatieri’s 24th game-winning FG, which he striped down the middle effortlessly.

The loss moves the Vikings to 1-1 on the season as they prepare to welcome the San Francisco 49ers next week at Mall of America Field. We’ll have more summary and reaction to Sunday’s game tomorrow, so stay tuned to vikings.com for coverage.


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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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Twitter-Sized Player Evaluations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 7, 2012 – 6:26 am

One of the main challenges to covering a NFL team during training camp is covering all the bases. With a 90-man roster and plenty of intriguing storylines to follow, it’s hard to cover everything. But there is a saving grace in all of this. Twitter.

Brevity is required when using Twitter because a message on the social media platform must be 140 or fewer characters. Some may look at that as a limitation. But we’re turning it into opportunity. The Twitter-sized player evaluations feature we debuted last week gives us a chance to provide some insight on several players, rather than an overwhelming amount of insight on just a few players.

On Monday before practice, we asked (on my Twitter handle – @wobby) which players you’d like to know about via Twitter evaluations. They are listed below with a 140 (or fewer)-character evaluation…

FB Matt Asiata – Skilled pass catcher out of the backfield. Needs to show ability on special teams during preseason.

WR Stephen Burton – May have some position flexibility to him (can play X and Z receiver) & has had very good camp. Good after the catch. Big preseason for him.

CB Chris Carr – Playing with first-team nickel. Smart, instinctive player. Was in punt return rotation on Monday.

LB Audie Cole – Big, physical & smart. Unsure if he’s best at middle or outside LB. Needs to contribute on special teams. Has a chance to be good NFL LB.

TE Rhett Ellison – Impressing with his hands and fluidity in passing game. Known as hard worker. Will be a good pro for a long time.

RG Brandon Fusco – Still the one to beat for starting RG spot. Smart, tough player. Going against Kevin Williams every day is good for him.

RB Toby Gerhart – Looks and plays the part of a starting-caliber NFL RB. Grinder who will wear defenses out. Good in passing game (protection and receiving).

LB Everson Griffen – Up and down – will make great plays or mistakes. Great instincts and athleticism. Transitioning well, could still play DL in situations.

DL Trevor Guyton – Great start to camp, leveling off a bit now. Hard to move on the inside. Has athleticism to play multiple positions. Stout against run.

DE Brian Robison – Great day of practice on Monday. Excellent inside pass rush moves. Can play DT in nickel package. Great enthusiasm and passion.

C John Sullivan – Excellent leader. Rarely makes mistake. Developing into Top 5 at his position in NFL.

K Blair Walsh – Has impressed with leg strength AND accuracy. Answered the bell in simulated game situations at end of practice. Touchbacks-a-plenty.

WR Bryan Walters – In the mix at WR, needs productive preseason. In punt return rotation & fields kicks gracefully. Sudden route runner with good separation.

WR Jarius Wright – Explosive short-area quickness. Solid hands. In return rotations. Good attitude, practices hard. Solid camp so far.


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Defense Dials It Up; Notes From Monday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 6, 2012 – 5:19 pm

There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.

Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.

DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.

During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.

LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.

A few other notes…

Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.

“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”

Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.

“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”

Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.

“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”


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Vikings Tweak Roster Before First Padded Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 12:23 pm

The Vikings will conduct their first padded practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday afternoon, but before they do the team made a few tweaks to the roster.

DB Nick Taylor was waived with the injured designation, and the Vikings signed DB Chris Stroud to fill the vacant roster spot. Taylor injured his shoulder early in camp, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said that the injury would require major surgery. Stroud is a rookie and comes to the Vikings from Webber International.

The team also reported that WR Stephen Burton had passed his physical. Burton has been dealing with a toe injury that kept him out of action the first few days of camp, but passing the physical is a step in the right direction to getting back on the field.


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Notes From Friday Walk-Thru And Practice; Solid Start For Offense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 5:19 pm

The first walk-thru and practice of 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is in the books, as the Vikings conducted their one-hour walk-thru this morning and then worked for roughly two hours and 15 minutes in the afternoon. Coaches and players were available to reporters after both workouts, and Head Coach Leslie Frazier also met with reporters via press conference after the walk-thru.

There are a number of topics to touch on following Friday’s action, so let’s be brief with several topics rather than long-winded with just a few…

Peterson to Active/PUP; Burton, Shuler on NFI
Frazier announced during his press conference that RB Adrian Peterson will begin camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which simply means that he won’t take part in the walk-thrus or practices and will instead work on the side with the training and strength staffs. This is not an unexpected development. The Vikings can remove Peterson from the PUP list at any time. Two other players – WR Stephen Burton (toe) and TE Mickey Shuler (heel) – were both placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. Frazier both would be day-to-day because neither injury is considered serious.

Solid first practice for offense
The offense was slow-to-go in their first practice of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), but eventually hit their stride and showed great improvement. It was a much different start for the offense in training camp. For a first practice of camp, Friday’s workout went well for the offense. I saw a number of players make diving catches (John Carlson, Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson), LB Chad Greenway was as vocal as I’ve heard him, OL coach Jeff Davidson was pleased with the way his offensive line worked during individual drills, etc. QB Christian Ponder told me while walking off the field after practice that Friday’s workout was probably better than any of the OTA practices they held during the offseason. Obviously there’s a ways to go, but Friday was a solid start.

Griffen focusing on LB
There was a lot of talk this offseason about the possibility of Everson Griffen transitioning from DE to LB. The talk is over now because it’s actually happening. Griffen worked with the LBs during Friday’s practice and Frazier said that’s where he wants Griffen to focus his undivided attention.

“He’s an outstanding athlete, was a great special teams player for us a year ago,” Frazier said. “Played in multiple positions for us a year ago at linebacker and then at defensive end. With his athletic ability, we want to try to find a way to get him on the field a little bit more.”

Griffen shed 18 pounds this offseason to get within the team’s ideal range for a player at his position, and Frazier described Griffen as extremely motivated to show what he can do at LB.

Competition at RG
Brandon Fusco opened camp with the first team at RG, an expected development. The position will be one to watch this camp and preseason as the Vikings look to solidify an offensive line that is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Frazier indicated the competition would include Fusco, Chris DeGeare and Geoff Schwartz, and that ideally the team would name a starter by the third preseason game (at home vs. San Diego).

“We’ll let those guys compete and battle it out,” Frazier said, “and hopefully we’ll be a better team with whichever one ends up winning the job.”

Many competing for punt return duties
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said this offseason that he’s pleased with the number of players on the Vikings roster who have the ability to cleanly field kicks. He said he’s been to teams where they struggled to find one player who could consistently do it. This year in Minnesota, Priefer has a bevy of players competing for opportunities. On Friday the following players took turns fielding punts from Chris Kluwe: CB Bobby Felder, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, CB Nick Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright.

Robinson is fast
Speaking of Robinson, there was a moment early in practice on Friday where he put his quick burst on display. It happened during a special teams period of practice where Robinson was in the rotation to field punts. A punt heading his way got caught up in the wind and tumbled down to the ground well short of where Robinson was positioned. It’s a cardinal sin for punt returners to let the ball hit the ground, and it only compounds the problem when a returner lets the ball hit the ground and then tries to pick it up after more than one bounce. In an effort to not let the ball bounce more than once, Robinson turned on the jets and covered six yards as fast as I’ve ever seen, getting his hands under the ball at the last second before it bounced a second time.

Later in practice, Robinson pulled up with what appeared to be a leg injury of some kind. No word on what kind of injury it is or how serious.


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Roster Rundown: Wide Receivers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 9, 2012 – 6:14 am

We’re in the middle of about the only slow time in the NFL news cycle. So what better to do than take an inventory of what the Vikings have on their roster with training camp just weeks away.

Let’s begin with the wide receivers, where the Vikings currently have 12 on the roster…

The wide receiver position is high profile as it is, but add in a mix of A) desire for improvement from last year’s performance, B) a flashy free agent acquisition and C) a mix of veterans and youngsters battling for roster spots, and you can be sure the Vikings wide receiver situation will be one to watch.

Percy Harvin is the cream of the crop, and after him the Vikings have worked hard this offseason to improve the position, most notably by adding veteran Jerome Simpson in free agency and then drafting a pair of receivers in the 4th round (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright).

Keep in mind, Simpson won’t count against the Vikings roster limit to begin the season because of a three-game suspension, so that opens up another spot for competition among a group of several players that is comprised of both veterans and youngsters. Veterans Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins will rely upon their one year of experience in Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scheme to try and ward off the young receivers the Vikings have in the fold. Jenkins was ‘ol reliable last season before getting hurt, and WRs coach George Stewart loves having him around because he’s a good influence on a young position group. Aromashodu showed flashes of playmaking ability last season, most notably his diving TD grab at Kansas City. Another veteran added to the mix is Bryan Walters, who looked good during the Vikings offseason program and is a sleeper in the punt returner competition.

The youngsters on the roster are highlighted by Childs and Wright, but also include a seventh-round choice from last year – Stephen Burton. He’s continually progressed since being drafted by the Vikings and took another step forward this offseason. The remaining receivers on the roster who will compete for spots are:

– Manny Arceneaux – Acquired by Vikings in January of 2011 after two standout seasons in the CFL…took a step forward this offseason with his work in Organized Team Activities and minicamp.
— Kamar Jorden – Bowling Green product who plays bigger than his listed height of 6-2…definitely not a throw-away player.
— A.J. Love – Acquired late in the offseason program and will need to watch more in training camp to get an opinion.
— Kerry Taylor – Injured his hand during the offseason program, so another who will merit a longer look in training camp. Quicker than fast, possible option in return game.


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Special Teams Sets Tone For Practice; OTA #7 Observations

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 11, 2012 – 2:51 pm

The Vikings opened up their final week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at Winter Park on Monday under partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures and a brisk wind. After near-perfect weather a week ago, the windy conditions for OTA #7 added a challenging element for many phases of practice.

The first phase to deal with the wind was the Vikings special teams group, specifically the punt returners. Catching punts is difficult enough, but add in winds that gusted from 15-20 mph and the task becomes increasingly difficult. It didn’t faze the Vikings returners, though, as CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright fielded kicks gracefully.

The special teams’ performance in the first period of practice was an indication of what was to come, as the Vikings conducted a crisp and clean approximately 90-minute practice. The special teams setting a positive example for the rest of practice is something in which Mike Priefer, entering his second season as the Vikings special teams coordinator, takes pride.

“I’m very fortunate to work for a head coach like Coach Frazier,” Priefer told Radio Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen and yours truly during last week’s episode of Vikings Tonight on the Vikings Radio Network. “He gives me meeting time, he gives me practice time, he gives me individual time with guys. I like the fact that we start practice with special teams because, to me, we set the tone for the rest of the practice. We’re a high energy, high motor type period. We get a lot done in a fifteen- or twenty-minute period of time that we have. The fact that we get to start practice and get to set the tone for the rest of the day is exciting for me.”

A few other observations from OTA #7…

Who can, not who can’t
There have been no shortage of punt returners during OTAs. The four who caught punts on Monday are listed above, but several others have also been in the mix over the past two weeks. While fans are curious to know who will win the job after the position battle, Priefer and assistant special teams coach Chris White are still figuring out who will be in that position battle.

“We have eight or nine guys catching punts right now and you have to pull them out of a hat,” Priefer said on last week’s Vikings Tonight. “But the great thing is we have a lot of competition there. I’ve been at places where we have one guy, maybe two, that can even catch a punt. Here we have seven or eight guys who can catch punts.”

Sherels stands out
It was a good day of practice for CB Marcus Sherels, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher who made last year’s Vikings squad as an undrafted free agent. If Sherels has more days like he had on Monday, he’ll once again be on the Vikings roster and in position to make an impact.

Sherels tallied a pair of pass breakups (PBUs) against what’s been one of the best QB-WR combinations during OTAs – Christian Ponder and Jerome Simpson. The first PBU came during a team offense vs. team defense period when Sherels jumped in front of Simpson on a short curl route, and the second PBU came during a 7-on-7 period of practice on a deep pass down the left sideline. On each play, Ponder placed the ball well and Simpson ran a good route, but Sherels was just able to make a great play on the ball.

Living on the edge
Ponder and fellow QB Joe Webb put their athleticism on display during a team offense vs. defense period. Both plays were similar in that the QBs were sprinting right to avoid a pursuing defender. DE Brian Robison was chasing Ponder, and the QB was able to buy just enough time to find WR Stephen Burton along the right sideline for a tip-toe completion before falling out of bounds. Moments later, Webb executed a similar play, sprinting right to avoid DE Eric Lattimore and completing a pass to TE Kyle Rudolph. The pass was thrown slightly behind Rudolph, but the second-year TE was able to reach back and make the catch before turning upfield to complete the play.

Good hands Griffen
Defensive linemen such as Everson Griffen spend much of their time rushing the passer. On Monday, though, Griffen showed off his pass-catching skills, grabbing a tipped pass to tally an INT.


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