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Last Full-Team Practice In Mankato Concludes

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 12, 2010 – 11:04 am

The Vikings have concluded their final full-team practice of 2010 Verizon Vikings Training Camp in Mankato and it didn’t end without a bang. While there were a handful of highlight-caliber plays on the field during Thursday morning’s practice, the highlight for fans was certainly the full-team autograph session that followed the workout.

Once practice concluded, Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress huddled his team together for a typical post-practice talk. Then the team was dismissed and they scattered to the fence lines to sign autographs for fans. Some players and coaches spent upwards of 30-40 minutes signing after practice, a nice show of appreciation for the outstanding crowds the team has seen over 2 weeks at camp.

There were some notable on-field fireworks as well, including INTs from CB Benny Sapp in the endzone and S Tyrell Johnson deep down the right sideline. The team simulated game scenarios it has faced during Childress’ tenure with the club, including 2-minute drills and clock-killing drills.

We even had a good, old-fashioned skirmish between DE Ray Edwards and rookie RB Toby Gerhart. There was some continuation of the skirmish, which caught the eye of fans and reporters, but things had completely calmed down just moments later. It’s worth a note in a post-practice write-up, but spending any more than 3 or 4 minutes talking about it is overkill. Skirmishes such as the one on Thursday are nothing foreign to training camp practices and they’re just as much a product of pent up aggression and anxiety for a real game as they are a product of any true animosity between individuals.

Edwards met with reporters on his way off the practice field and was grilled about the incident, but he downplayed what happened and explained those situations stay on the field and never enter the locker room.

Outside of that, it was another solid training camp practice for the Vikings. Temperature and humidity levels were high once again and Childress estimated that if Thursday morning wasn’t the hottest practice of camp it was certainly among the top few. Childress also explained that although the team will break camp in Mankato, training camp continues for the team once they arrive back in Eden Prairie.

“Training camp doesn’t really end for us,” Childress explained. “We’re right back at it at Winter Park with a little bit different schedule. The guys that don’t have a place in town stay over at one of the hotels right there. We keep them throughout the day, we just get our night meetings that we would have coming back after dinner (in Mankato) after the practice and then feed them a dinner meal. We just fool with the schedule a little bit.”

Childress was also asked about the team’s facilities at training camp, and the head coach expressed great pleasure with Julia A. Sears Residence Community – citing central air as a big reason for the approval – and also the team’s dining hall. And he also said the practice fields have continued to get better and better, including the playing surface inside Blakeslee Stadium.

Training camp is now closed to the public, but the team will hold a special teams practice this afternoon and then head back up to Winter Park tomorrow for a mock game and departure to St. Louis for preseason game #1 at 7:00 p.m. CT against the Rams on Saturday. [UPDATE: The Vikings may hold their mock game before returning to Winter Park.]


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Johnson Ready To Control The Secondary

Posted by cjsiewert on August 3, 2010 – 6:34 pm

With oppressively humid conditions lingering throughout this Tuesday afternoon’s practice, the Vikings were able to complete Day 5 of training camp without any hiccups. As promised, I kept a close eye on the young core of safeties and each individual looked solid once again during 7-on-7 and team drills.

Just as the case was throughout the first 4 days of camp, 7-year veteran Madieu Williams along with youngsters Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford found most of their time with the 1st team defense by rotating with each other often.

The big play of the day for the group of safeties occurred during 7-on-7 drills. First-year WR Logan Payne ran a deep post route down the middle of the field with CB Antoine Winfield covering the right side of the field. On the deep pass from QB Sage Rosenfels, Payne made his way into Johnson’s zone, but Johnson was able to outrun Payne on the over-thrown pass to make an impressive over-the-shoulder catch for the INT. Even though the play was whistled dead half way through, both Johnson and Payne made an effort on the football with Johnson hauling in the INT.

Once practice was over, Johnson and 4-year veteran Eric Frampton stayed late to get in extra reps on various coverage moves. Staying after practice has been a common occurrence for many of the safeties over the first 5 days of training camp and is a testament to their goals of improving.

After speaking with Johnson on his way to the locker room, the 3rd-year S out of Arkansas State felt that the Vikings secondary, especially the group of safeties, has great depth and experience.

“The more depth, the more things you can do,” Johnson said. “A lot of good players out there. One person go down, another can fill in and be just as good with no drop off.”

In regard to his own play, Johnson credited veteran Williams and former Vikings S Darren Sharper for offering advise to help improve his game over the past 3 years.

“One thing I picked up from Madieu is to be a student of the game,” Johnson said. “I also learned a lot of cover skills from Madieu because of his quickness. Sharp [Darren Sharper], he was a wise, savvy guy. I picked that up from him.”

Defensive Backs Coach Joe Woods was also given credit by Johnson to help him understand the game and progress in the league.

“Just calm down and play football,” Johnson said of Woods’ advice. “Sometimes you worry about too much that’s going on around you, and what’s not going your way and what is going your way. Just reminds me to chill out and play football. Just control what you can control and go out and do your best.”


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Young Group Of Safeties Look To Improve

Posted by cjsiewert on August 2, 2010 – 7:02 pm

Having stand-out defensive players such as LB E.J. Henderson, DE Jared Allen and CB Antoine Winfield on the field for the Vikings often causes the center of attention to focus on said players. With that in mind, the Purple’s young crop of safeties is determined to make sure that they will not be overlooked and maybe even have some of the limelight focused on them.

Even with much of the focus on the secondary centered on newly-acquired CB Lito Sheppard and rookie Chris Cook, this group of safeties has made their presence known throughout the first 4 days of training camp.

Seven-year veteran Madieu Williams youngsters Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford have found themselves practicing with the 1st-team defense for the majority of camp while 3rd-year S Husain Abdullah has rotated often with the 1st and 2nd units. Both Williams and Sanford made a number of defensive stops during Monday afternoon’s practice. Many of those stops occurred during 7-on-7 drills, which heavily favor the offense since there is no pass rush on the QB and a plethora of receivers to choose from.

Williams signed with the Vikings prior to the 2008 season and has been a regular starter when healthy, leading Vikings DBs and ranking 4th on the team with 76 tackles in 2009. Johnson started all 15 games in which he played during the 2009 season, his 2nd in the league, and Sanford has only 1 career start to his name but continues to play well both on defense and special teams.

Williams, Johnson and Sanford appear to be the front-runners in earning a starting role at S, but I wouldn’t count out any of the other 4 safeties on the roster – Husain Abdullah, Colt Anderson, Eric Frampton and rookie Terrell Skinner – as all of them have shown flashes of great defensive play throughout training camp.

I didn’t get a chance to catch up with any of the safeties today but I’ll keep tabs on them tomorrow and hopefully get a view words after Tuesday’s practice, so stay tuned right here on vikings.com.


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Will Tyrell Johnson Have A Breakout Season?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on June 2, 2010 – 7:14 am

Using WRs such as the Vikings Sidney Rice and the Dallas Cowboys Miles Austin as examples of breakout players from 2009, NFL.com’s Pat Kirwan recently identified 20 players who are candidates in his mind to have a breakout season in 2010.

And he included another Vikings player in this year’s group.

Vikings S Tyrell Johnson, entering his 3rd season in the NFL, was on Kirwan’s list. Kirwan said Johnson is “still learning the pro game” after being selected in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Arkansas State. But he also said Johnson is an excellent athlete whose already faced a lot of pressure because opposing offenses attack the Vikings via the pass so often.

I found Kirwan’s inclusion of Johnson on this list particularly interesting because of the high volume of emails I’ve received lately from fans who want the Vikings to pursue unrestricted free agent (UFA) S O.J. Atogwe. So I took a more detailed look at the Vikings safety situation – click here to read it.

This entire issue is a good Vikings talker that sparks thoughtful debate and conversation. Fans, what do you think?


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2nd Round Draft Picks Under Spielman

Posted by cjsiewert on April 23, 2010 – 3:58 pm

Ever since Rick Spielman took the reigns as the Vikings VP of Player Personnel on May 30, 2006, the Vikings have had some very productive players come out their draft picks in which Spielman oversees – All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson in 2007 and 2009 Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, just to name a couple.

The Purple have 2 draft picks in the 2nd round (#34 and #62) coming within the next couple of hours, so, let’s take a look at which players have come out of the 2nd round under Spielman’s supervison…

2007 – Sidney Rice (44), WR, South Carolina: Rice has solidified himself as an every-down threat to opposing defenses.  Rice had a career-year last season, pulling in 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and 8 TDs.

2008 – Tyrell Johnson (43), S, Arkansas State: Many Vikings fans may have been upset with Johnson’s production over the past 2 seasons, here’s his 2009 numbers – 15 GP/GS, 57 tackles (48 solo, 9 ast.) and 1 INT. The jury is still out but remember he became a full-time starter in just his 2nd year.

2009 – Phil Loadholt (54), T, Oklahoma: Loadholt had an immediate impact on the Vikings offense in the 2009 season.  The 6-8, 343-pounder started in every game but 1, helping Adrian Peterson rush for over 1,000 yards and Brett Favre throw for over 4,000 yards and 33 TDs.


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Johnson A Tough Self-Critic

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 14, 2010 – 7:15 am

The Vikings enjoyed a dramatically successful season in 2009, advancing all the way to the NFC Championship Game after a 12-4 regular season and the franchise’s 2nd consecutive division title.

But all of that success didn’t shield the Vikings from criticism, as is typically the case in NFL cities.

One player on the team who received more than his fair share of criticism was S Tyrell Johnson. While attending the Carol Fitzgerald Memorial Fund Benefit in Golden Valley last Friday, Johnson expressed to the Star Tribune’s Judd Zulgad some frustration regarding the perception the media and fans had of his play.

“Actually, I played very solid,” Johnson told Zulgad. “The media, people have a tendency to remember the big plays that you missed. That doesn’t necessarily wrap up the whole season on what a player did. When I watched film on myself — just being a strong critic – I could have taken better angles on a few plays but overall [my play] was very solid.”

It’s clear to me that this is a source of frustration for Johnson because I talked to him about this same subject Tuesday afternoon in the Vikings locker room. Then I read Zulgad’s piece on Tuesday evening. On one hand you’d like a player to be oblivious to what the media and fans’ perceptions are of his play. At the same time, though, it’s good to know that Johnson clearly takes pride in his work and wants the passionate Vikings fan base behind him.

I asked Johnson if he was going to be around Winter Park over the next few weeks participating in the offseason program and he said “yes” without hesitating and then vowed that 2010 would be a breakout season for him.

In all fairness I do think Johnson received an unfair amount of criticism. As he admits, there were clearly times during the 2009 season when he missed tackles and didn’t make plays. Those instances should not be ignored and they shouldn’t be tolerated by the coaching staff (they weren’t tolerated by the staff, evidenced by the fact that Jamarca Sanford split snaps with Johnson near the end of the season).

But also remember that Johnson was in just his 2nd year during 2009 and his first year as a full-time starter. He improved from his rookie 2008 season to the 2009 season and he’ll likely improve from last season to this season based solely on experience. And now we know he’s a prideful player who is driven to correct the mistakes he made and shore up the Vikings pass defense.


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Childress Addresses Vikings Safety Position

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 25, 2010 – 4:01 pm

If you’ve been following Mock Madness on vikings.com or are paying attention to any other sort of pre-draft speculation, you’ve surely noticed that safety is a popular pick among draft prognosticators.

There are a few 1st-round caliber safeties in this year’s draft-eligible class and the sentiment I gather from fans is that many are unhappy with the performance of starting safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams, so the projections make sense.

Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress has not publicly shared that same sentiment about his safeties and in speaking with Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune at this week’s NFL owners’ meetings he even said Johnson and Williams played well in the Vikings pair of playoff games.

But he also told Zulgad that the Vikings will continue to add good players to the roster, regardless of position.

“I thought [they] played really well in the playoffs,” Childress said of Johnson and Williams. “With that said, you continue to add good players. Jamarca (Sanford) will have had that one trip around the block and none of them are…they are never going to step away from competing and competition makes your team better as opposed to guys that say, ‘Hey, I’ve got mine, you guys go ahead and get yours.’

“We’ve always identified and promoted guys that if there’s a move it’s with merit, it’s not just because he’s a good competitor…[Jamarca] learned things about our defense and he will play that much faster this year.”

If the Vikings do select a safety in this year’s draft, it’ll mark the 3rd consecutive year they’ve done so. In 2008, Johnson was the team’s 2nd round pick and then Sanford was chosen in the 7th round of the 2009 draft.


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By Sack Or By Bat-Down, Vikings D-Line Will Be Key

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 23, 2010 – 11:22 am

The Vikings last week faced a Dallas Cowboys team that finished the regular season ranked as the NFL’s 6th best passing offense, a unit that included the NFC’s leading receiver in Miles Austin and a versatile TE in Jason Witten who registered 94 receptions on the season.

Thanks to a fierce pass rush from the Vikings 4 down linemen – including 3.0 sacks from DE Ray Edwards – the Vikings were able to drop 7 defenders in coverage for much of the game. This tactic allowed the Vikings LBs and secondary to cover up QB Tony Romo’s options for much of the game and it ultimately resulted in just 156 net yards of passing for the Cowboys, their lowest output since Week 11 at Washington and their 3rd lowest output of the entire season.

Along with the Vikings defensive line, other players had key roles in the Vikings ability to shutdown the Dallas passing attack. LB Ben Leber had an INT, CB Benny Sapp played well on the outside while Antoine Winfield handled nickel duties superbly and 2nd-year S Tyrell Johnson logged a solid performance.

“Yeah, I didn’t see any pauses,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said of Johnson. “I thought he was pretty fluid. He knew what he was seeing and did a great job of reacting on time. He played a pretty good football game.”

The Vikings face a similar challenge this weekend, although the New Orleans Saints represent a taller task. QB Drew Brees has guided the NFL’s 4th-rated pass offense beautifully, leading the NFL in TD passes during the regular season with 34 and also registering a league-high passer rating of 109.6.

“He knows that offense like the back of his hand,” Childress said of the New Orleans QB. “It is hard to catch him in the pocket and he usually hits his back foot and lets the ball go. He is passionate about what he does. He understands that offense’s movements. He is an anticipatory thrower.”

Adding to the challenge for Minnesota is that they’ll be playing on the road instead of at Mall of America Field, where a raucous home crowd provides an adverse environment for opposing offenses.

It will be key for the Vikings to apply pressure to Brees with their 4 down linemen because this will allow them to drop 7 in coverage, just as they did against the Dallas. And even if the Vikings defensive line can’t get to Brees  for sacks – Brees was sacked just 20 times during the regular season, 14 fewer times than Brett Favre – it’s will be vital for them to get their hands in passing lanes. The Vikings did lead the league in sacks during the regular season with 48, but the defensive line also batted down 17 passes.

One way or another, whether by sacking Brees or batting down his passes, the Vikings defensive line must once again be a factor if the Vikings are going to slow down another productive passing attack.


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Special Teams Registers Special Performance

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 18, 2010 – 9:21 am

In a dominating victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Mall of America Field, the Vikings defense cooled off a hot Cowboys offense while their offense lit up a Dallas defense that had allowed just 14 points in the previous 3 contests.

But it wasn’t just an offensive and defensive show on Sunday. The Vikings special teams unit played well also.

From kicking and punting to kick and punt coverage, special teams coordinator Brian Murphy had his unit performing superbly against the Cowboys. K Ryan Longwell was 2 of 2 on FGs and 4 of 4 on PATs, and he also demonstrated expert control on his kickoffs. P Chris Kluwe pinned Dallas on its own 2 with one punt and also registered a 61-yard boomer.

The kick coverage units were solid as well, holding Dallas to just a 15.7-yard return average on 7 kickoff returns. Special teams stalwarts S Husain Abdullah, LB Heath Farwell and S Tyrell Johnson each registered a pair of tackles and CB Cedric Griffin, though credited with no special teams tackles, did a great job of preventing returners from getting around the edge.

“I know it’s trite but our team did a great job,” Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said after the game. “Whether you talk about Ryan Longwell and Chris Kluwe kicking the football. Our coverage units were unbelievably outstanding. We were real worried about (Patrick) Crayton in the return game and Felix Jones who got in there toward the end. Great place to put our defense on the field.”

Childress raises an excellent point as it pertains to the special teams performance aiding the defensive effort. Dallas average starting field position after a kickoff was their own 22, and their average starting position for all possessions was their own 25. The Vikings, meanwhile, enjoyed an average starting field position of their own 43, a drastic difference and one that was paramount in the final outcome.

The addition of QB Brett Favre to the Vikings offense will go down as the most important improvement over last year’s team, but one must also not discount how much Murphy and his special teams unit has improved from last year as well.


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Several Youngsters In Key Spots For Vikings

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 17, 2010 – 9:56 am

With a solid corps of veteran players and with a return trip to the playoffs this season after making it last season, the Vikings are not short on playoff experience. In fact, 36 Vikings have either played or been active in at least one playoff game and 25 of those 36 Vikings have started at least 1 postseason game.

With that being said, however, there are several young Vikings who will be in key spots today against the Dallas Cowboys. Their youth and inexperience might be perceived as a disadvantage, but the fact that a division-winning team with a 12-4 record feels comfortable enough to rely on them also goes to their credit.

Here’s a brief look at the young Vikings who will be getting their first taste of playoff action while in primary roles…

LB Jasper Brinkley: A rookie 5th rounder, Brinkley was solid for the Vikings on special teams all season and then he was thrust into a starting role on defense when E.J. Henderson was lost for the year in Week 13. Brinkley has played well against the run and is improving against the pass. He’ll be on the field today primarily in run situations and the Vikings will sub in an extra DB on passing downs.

WR Percy Harvin: The 2009 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Harvin set a new Vikings franchise record for all-purpose yardage and he also set a new team record for rushing yards by a WR. In addition, Harvin was fantastic as a kick returner and he tied for the lead among rookie WRs for receptions with 60. The Vikings would love to have a typical all-around performance from the outstanding rookie play-maker today.

S Tyrell Johnson and S Jamarca Sanford: Johnson will remain the starter at safety, along with Madieu Williams, but Sanford will also see time on defense. Sanford has been outstanding for the Vikings this season on special teams and toward the end of the season he also saw time on defense. Both players will see the field plenty today.

RT Phil Loadholt: The Vikings ability to contain Dallas’ pass rush is a key factor in today’s game and Loadholt, a 2nd rounder from last April’s draft, is a key factor in that effort. He’ll be primarily facing Cowboys OLB Anthony Spencer.

WR Sidney Rice: Though in his 3rd season, we include Rice in this category because he’s healthy and at the top of his game for the first time. Rice had a breakout season in 2009, often times becoming unstoppable with QB Brett Favre lofting passes his way. Dallas will have to find a way to contain him.

C John Sullivan: A lot of attention has been focused on Dallas edge rushers, but the Cowboys can push the pocket from the middle, too, thanks to Pro Bowl DT Jay Ratliff. One man who’ll be responsible for blocking Ratliff is Sullivan. Although he’s not a rookie either, Sullivan will be playing in his first playoff game as a starting center.


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