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Here’s The Story: 10 Camp Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 27, 2012 – 7:00 am

There is never a shortage of storylines heading into training camp, and this year is no exception for the Vikings. As the team embarks on 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today with a morning walk-thru and afternoon practice, let’s take a brief look at 10 of the most notable stories to chase during 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp…

Will Adrian Peterson begin on the Physical Unable to Perform (PUP) list?
There’s no question Peterson has made tremendous strides in his recovery from major knee surgery, and there’s also no question that Peterson feels confident in his knee and is eager to display just how ready he is. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the NFL’s best RB on the field of play unharnessed. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was non-committal when asked if Peterson would begin camp on the PUP list, instead saying the decision would be made after he spoke with Peterson and the team’s medical staff. If Peterson begins camp on the PUP list, the team can take him off the list at any time. Either way, Frazier and Peterson both said they expected the RB would be doing some kind of on-field work from the get-go.

Man in the middle – Jasper Brinkley’s opportunity
The Vikings selected LB Jasper Brinkley with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and he immediately became the understudy to E.J. Henderson. Now that Henderson is no longer with the team and Brinkley still sports the Purple and Gold, the time has come for Brinkley to display just how far he’s come in three-plus seasons with the club. Brinkley is expected to be the team’s starting middle LB, an important role in this defense especially considering how well Henderson fulfilled the role for so many seasons. There are questions about Brinkley’s durability because he dealt with an injury in college, missed all of 2011 with an injury and then missed some of the team’s offseason program with injury. But he’s healthy now, and it’ll be fun to watch him prove that he can be the team’s man in the middle.

Christian Ponder’s development
You can have everything else buttoned up and the stars can align, but if you don’t have the QB situation squared away in the NFL it won’t matter. The Vikings believe they will have it squared away with Ponder at the helm, and we’ll find out if they’re right this season. Early indications will come from training camp and the preseason, though. Vikings GM Rick Spielman and his crew have done a nice job of surrounding Ponder with weapons – both blockers and ball-handlers. The addition of Matt Kalil improves the offensive line tremendously, and then the additions of TE John Carlson, WR Jerome Simpson and a pair of draft picks in WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright give Ponder some weapons in the passing game. Add in guys such as Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph, and you can’t deny that the offensive weapons in place are much better this year than in previous seasons. That sets the stage perfectly for Ponder, a guy who knows how important he is to the team and a guy who relishes in that role.

Percy Harvin’s role on offense
Harvin was in the headlines a bit this offseason, and I’m guessing he’ll be in the headlines a bit more this season because he’s going to play a pivotal role in the Vikings offense. Harvin is as dynamic an offensive weapon as you’ll find because of his ability as a pass receiver and a ball carrier. You can line him up in the slot, out wide or even in the backfield. You can throw it to him, pitch it to him, hand it off to him, you can even snap it directly to him. Harvin is one of the best players on the team, and he’s going to get the ball a lot. It will be fun to watch how Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff plan to use Harvin.

Vikings look to improve pass defense
The Vikings ranked 26th in total passing defense a season ago and they yielded the most TD passes as well. So the team will look to improve in that area, and one big step in that direction was the hiring of Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams. In Williams’ decade working with the Indianapolis Colts DBs, the club ranked in the top six in NFL passing defense five times and finished out of the Top 15 only once. In that same span, the Colts allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (159), the fewest pass completions of 25+ yards (159) and the third-fewest passing yards (29,993). Aside from Williams, the team added a pair of safeties (Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith) and a CB (Josh Robinson) in the draft, and they signed a pair of veteran free agents (Chris Carr and Zack Bowman) to bring some experience to the group. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that the Vikings will have their two top CBs back on the field after they missed significant time a season ago. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook played in a combined 11 games last year, and it’s tough to do well against the pass when you’re two best CBs are out of action. Expect a big jump in performance from the Vikings pass defense this season.

Kalil’s transition to the NFL
A dominant player at USC, Kalil enters the NFL as a starter on the Vikings offensive line. His first task? Block the best DE in the NFL for three straight weeks in Mankato. Kalil will go against Jared Allen on a daily basis at training camp, and we can all agree that it will only make the rookie LT that much better.

“It should be real good for Matt to go against maybe the best defensive end in the National Football League on a daily basis in practice and I think it will be good for Jared as well because Matt is going to challenge him,” Frazier said.

What to do with Everson Griffen?
Few players this offseason have been on the mind of Vikings fans more than Griffen. The consensus among fans is that Griffen is too talented to not be on the field, and there are a growing number of fans who want to see Griffen make the transition from DE to LB. Whether Griffen is asked to make that switch or not remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that Griffen is viewed by most as a player on the rise.

The Blair Walsh project
The Vikings used a 6th-round pick in April’s draft to select K Blair Walsh, a standout player at Georgia for four seasons and one of just three kickers the Vikings deemed worthy of selection. Walsh replaces Ryan Longwell, a beloved Vikings player who made plenty of big kicks and was reliable. But the team wants more touchbacks on kickoffs, and there’s no question Walsh has the leg strength to stretch the team’s FG range. There will likely be some growing pains with a rookie kicker, but Walsh’s talent should allow him to absorb those pains and quickly turn into a solid player. Walsh projects to be a long-term option for the Vikings at kicker, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a long-term starter out of a 6th-round pick.

Stepping up at defensive tackle
As we wrote about yesterday in the defensive line version of Roster Rundown, Kevin Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him at DT. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player. Will it be a veteran such as Letroy Guion or Fred Evans? Or will it be a youngster, such as Chase Baker, Christian Ballard or Tydreke Powell? Or will it be a rotational thing? We’ll find out soon.

Rick Spielman’s first camp as Vikings General Manager
Spielman has been with the club since 2006, but this is his first training camp with the Vikings as GM. In some respects, not much has changed because Spielman has made the transition from VP of Player Personnel to GM smoothly. On the other hand, the team’s organizational structure did change a bit with Spielman’s promotion. There’s no question now who is making the final decision on roster moves, and having a central voice such as Spielman who can work well with Frazier will improve how the team functions on a daily basis. We’ll start to see that even more during training camp and as the team gets closer to making decisions about the roster coming out of the preseason.


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Roster Rundown: Defensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 26, 2012 – 9:29 am

Vikings players report to 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp today and their first walk-thru and practice will be tomorrow, so it’s time for us to complete our Roster Rundown series. There are three position groups to go, and we’ll knock off the largest group right now – the defensive line.

Let’s split this up into DEs and DTs, without regard to who’s playing right DE compared to left DE and without regard to who’s playing the three-technique and who’s playing nose. Here we go…

Defensive Ends
For my money, the Vikings have the best DE in the NFL. Jared Allen comes off a 22.0-sack season a year ago, and no player has more sacks than Allen’s 105.0 since he entered the League in 2004. It’s not a stretch in the least to think Allen can have another sensational season in 2012. Yes, teams will be focusing on neutralizing him, but teams have been trying to neutralize him for years with no avail. As a bookend at DE, Brian Robison is the favorite to hold a starting position on the defense as he comes off a career-high 8.0-sack season in 2011.

Behind starters Allen and Robison, the Vikings have high hopes for Everson Griffen this season. Griffen has been a standout special teams player during his two-year career, and he’s gotten to the point now where the team will try to find more snaps for him on defense. Because of his versatility, those snaps could come at either DE or DT, and there’s also been talk of him getting into the mix at LB. Another reserve who could take a step forward this year is D’Aundre Reed. He was a 7th-round pick out of Arizona last season and didn’t play in a game, but coaches are excited about his athleticism and potential.

Other DEs on the roster who will fight to add depth to the group are: Jeff Charleston, Trevor Guyton, Anthony Jacobs, Eric Latimore, Ernest Owusu and Nick Reed. Charleston and Reed are veterans, Guyton was a 7th-round pick this year, and Jacobs (Minnesota), Latimore (Penn State) and Owusu (California) are undrafted college free agents.

Expect Allen and Robison to emerge from camp with starting spots, with Griffen pushing Robison for playing time and the two perhaps playing on a rotational basis. D’Aundre Reed has a big training camp ahead of him and could take a huge step forward. The rest of the group is a nice blend of veterans and youngsters, and they have a chance to provide some depth at what is a very strong position for the Vikings.

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Defensive Tackle
Teammates call him The Big Ticket. Kevin Williams is the leader of the Vikings DTs and has been changing games for the Purple since 2003. Williams played better than most people realize a year ago, and there’s no reason to expect a slowdown from Ticket in 2012.

This year, Williams is looking for a running mate to start next to him. The Vikings have been missing that aspect of their defense since Pat Williams’ decline and eventual departure from the team. Perhaps the team doesn’t need a Pat Williams clone – there is only one Pat Williams, after all – but the team does need another impact player at DT, and training camp is just the place to find that player.

Letroy Guion is a good, young option for the Vikings. Guion is only 25, but he’s entering his 5th season out of Florida State already and the Vikings would benefit greatly if he could step up and earn a starting position. Another returning veteran on the roster is Fred Evans, a six-year veteran who joined the Vikings in 2007.

Earlier this offseason, we identified Christian Ballard as one of eight Vikings poised for a breakout season in 2012. A rotational player in 2011 as a rookie, Ballard trained hard this offseason and is committed to earning more playing time for 2012. Perhaps Ballard’s biggest asset will be versatility because he can line up at defensive end or defensive tackle.

The Vikings have two undrafted college free agents at DT - Chase Baker (Boise State) and Tydreke Powell (North Carolina). Baker was a standout to me at this year’s Senior Bowl (Leslie Frazier and his staff had Baker on their North squad), and Powell will impress because of his size (6-3, 310 pounds).

Williams is obviously solidified as the starter at the three-technique, but a great opportunity exists for the rest of the DTs to earn a starting spot next to Williams. This will be a fun position battle to monitor during training camp. Don’t be surprised if this situation is ultimately resolved with a by-committee approach, but it also wouldn’t be surprising – and would be quite pleasant – if someone emerged from camp with a firm grasp on the job.


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