Friday, August 28, 2015

Monthly Archives: January 2014

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Josh Robinson, Chris Cook

At just 23 years old, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson holds two years of pro experience and is making a bigger impact on the league with each and every game.

Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Robinson started playing football in fourth grade. It didn’t begin with organized little league and fundamentals; rather, Robinson found it fun to just play around with friends. “I grew up playing street ball!” he exclaimed.

Robinson loved the game from Day One and was clearly a natural athlete. However, the cornerback says he didn’t see the NFL as a very real option until after his second year of college. As a junior at the University of Central Florida, Robinson started all 12 games at corner and recorded 48 tackles, 15 passes broken up, and two interceptions—with one returned for a touchdown. He also returned seven punts (51 yards) and four kickoffs (94 yards).

That same year, the UCF Knights beat Georgia in their first-ever bowl win. “I was able to face an elite WR in AJ Green, which gave me a lot of confidence,” Robinson said. Finding consistent success against top receivers and being encouraged by a strong coaching staff, Robinson started down the path to the pros.

Robinson played college ball under the direction of head coach George O’Leary, who had previously served as the Vikings defensive coordinator under Tice. At UCF, O’Leary described Robinson as having “great closing speed and great transition speed.” This statement certainly proved true at the 2012 NFL Combine—the cornerback ran a 4.33 40-yard dash. Several teams took notice of the impressive combine numbers, but two months later, Robinson ironically found himself drafted by his coach’s former team.

 The well-traveled Norv Turner is officially the new Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator. Unless Turner decides to show a new wrinkle at age 61, it’s safe to say the Vikings will employ a vertical passing attack mixed with a power running game long known as the Air Coryell offensive system.

 Turner takes over a Vikings’ offense that was ranked 23rd in passing in 2013, yet he has plenty of talent at the skill positions to work with moving forward. Norv Turner must be sleeping easy at night thinking about the damage Adrian Peterson could do running out of a spread formation. And the thought of a big TE like Kyle Rudolph with great hands and enough speed to stretch the field vertical, certainly has him dreaming of sugar-plums and candy canes. But possibly the sweetest vision dancing in Turner’s head might be his plan to develop Cordarrelle Patterson as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.

 Before all the dreaming can become a reality though, Turner must find the long term answer at the quarterback position. The Vikings have the eighth pick in this year’s draft, so you can bet landing a franchise quarterback is high on Turners wish list.

 What does a typical Air Coryell quarterback look like? What quarterbacks in the 2014 draft fit the Norv Turner mold?

Cincinnati Bengals impending free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson is set to hit the market this offseason and Minnesota could be the likely landing spot.

Johnson, 26, was scheduled to become a free agent last year, but the Bengals applied the franchise tag on him. Failing to lock Johnson up long term last offseason, Cincinnati gave a $40 million contract extension to defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

With big money used on Dunlap, it seems less likely that the Bengals will allocate big money to both ends.

Enter the Vikings.

New Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer happens to be a big fan of his former player. This is what Zimmer had to say about Johnson before landing his gig with the Vikings:

“I have a ton of respect for him,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said via Bengals.com. “I remember when he came here he had a lot of things said about him when he came out of college; he wouldn’t finish, he didn’t do this or didn’t do that, but Michael has become a good football player. He’s very conscientious, he plays extremely hard. He’s one of these guys that we’ve build up into what we’re looking for here, the kind of guys that we want, the kind of personalities, the kind of caring about one another in the locker room. I can’t say enough good things about him … hopefully, we’ll get him back. If not, I know that Michael will be successful wherever he goes.”

Well, Minnesota is a very realistic opportunity.

Defensive end Brian Robison was recently locked to a long-term deal, but the Vikings failed to agree to contract extensions with Everson Griffen and Jared Allen. While re-signing Griffen and/or Allen remains to be an option, Johnson is younger and had a lot of success playing under Zimmer.

Johnson posted 11.5 sacks in 2012. That number was down to 3.5 in 2013, but he recorded 56 tackles and, according to Pro Football Focus, is ranked as the No. 4 overall 4-3 end in the NFL.

With a head coach hired, and both coordinator positions filled, we have as clear of an indication as to what direction this team is headed as we will get for quite some time.

On offense, the hiring of Norv Turner suggests that the development of a quarterback and bulking up of the O-line are going to be top priorities, as he will likely want to feature power running and deep routes throughout 2014 and beyond.  The defense will likely be a less-bland version of the 4-3 than what we have seen in Minnesota of late and talent is needed pretty much across the board.

The Vikings have a number of larger contracts set to expire this offseason which frees up a bunch of cap space and will allow them to make some moves.  The first wave of roster movement comes in the form of re-signings as teams try to lock up their own players, at least the ones they want.  The releasing of some some players (like, perhaps, Erin Henderson) might make this list grow, but here is an attempt to prioritize targets within the Vikings own roster.

THE TOP TIER

MATT CASSEL, QB:  Technically, Cassel is not a free agent… yet.  He has the ability to opt out of the second year of his contract which pays him $3.15 million with the Vikings.  Jay Cutler has already been retained by Chicago and this year’s free agent quarterback class leaves a ton to be desired.  It could be really tempting for Cassel to shoot for bluer (more lucrative) waters this offseason and the Vikings really need to convince him to stick around.  Without Cassel on the roster this team appears stuck without a plan A, B, or even plan C.

EVERSON GRIFFEN, DE:  Everson Griffen didn’t impress in 2013 the way he did in 2012, but then again either did just about anyone on this roster.  It remains to be seen how he can hold up playing full games over a full season, but the young, athletic defensive end has shown his ability to be disruptive in the backfield.  It would really be disappointing to see the Vikings let him leave without a fight as they are headed for great transition along the defensive line.

TOBY GERHART, RB:  Gerhart is most likely heading for a team willing to pay him to be a starter, or at least a key part of a rotation, instead of staying with the Vikings where Adrian Peterson is cemented as the top running back.  Running backs are no longer “a dime a dozen” as they were a few years back, so Gerhart actually stands to sign a decent sized contract as an unrestricted free agent.  The Vikings would probably love to sign him back, but logic indicates it is a long shot.

JARED ALLEN, DE:  It would be nice to see the Vikings get creative and structure a deal with Allen that sees him play out his career with the Vikings like they did with Antoine Winfield.  The problem with that is that the Vikings didn’t honor their end of the bargain and jettisoned Winfield after he earned incentives the hard way, thus burning up any goodwill they might have had with their veteran leaders.  Allen has noted how much Minnesota means to him, and maybe bringing Mike Zimmer to town changes things, but it seems unlikely that Minnesota will be the top bidder for his services at this point in his career.

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When it comes to the coaching jobs of the Minnesota Vikings things continue to move at a gradual place, but that hasn’t prevented the expected from becoming reality.

The Vikings had to wait for some language regarding Norv Turner’s contract in Cleveland to be hashed out before they could officially hire him, but reports indicate that deals are now official making Turner the team’s offensive coordinator and George Edwards the defensive coordinator.

Turner is an NFL institution in his own right that has had a storied NFL career.  His offensive coordinator stints are held in much higher regard than his head coaching attempts, but I am as excited about this hire as any other possibilities this offseason.  Turner’s resume suggests that the Vikings will turn into a well-prepared offense capable of developing quarterback talent, able to make Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph even more dangerous threats, while continuing to highlight Adrian Peterson’s power style to keep defenses on their toes.

Edwards is likely to have less power than Turner.  Head coach Mike Zimmer made it clear he plans to be heavily involved in refurbishing this defense.  Both have experience in a variety of schemes and it makes sense that Minnesota would target a guy specializing in linebacker play given their recent lack of production out of that position.

Our new coaching staff has rejuvenated optimism within the ranks of Vikings fans, but key roster moves are needed next, and that is what excites me most about these hires.  Now that we know a little bit about the direction of this team we can start the speculation machine… time for some free agency and draft features!

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