Thursday, March 26, 2015

Monthly Archives: April 2014

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Toby Gerhart had been somewhat of a favorite among the Minnesota Vikings fanbase before seeking his fortunes in free agency. The general consensus seems to have been that he deserved his chance to start and prove he has what it takes to be a bell-cow back.

Speaking to the Florida Times-Union, Gerhart said that he was “ready for his shot.”

“I think I’m in a unique situation. Even though it’s my fifth year in the league, I can come in and be a dominant guy,” he said to Gene Frenette of the Florida newspaper.

A month earlier, head coach Gus Bradley indicated that Toby Gerhart could be due for about 18 carries a game (that’s 288 carries for the year), and Frenette projects somewhere between 240-300 carries for the year (giving himself a little bit of leeway) despite the initial impression from Jaguars fans that Gerhart would be the lead back in a running-back-by-committee instead of the primary back supplemented with the likes of Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson. This matches a report from the same newspaper in early March, when he signed, that he would get 15-20 carries a game.

Toby Gerhart has had 276 carries in his career (functionally one season) for 1305 yards. Unlike most backup running backs, the lion’s share of those carries actually came from lead back duty instead of as a backup, so his 4.7 yards per carry average may be more indicative than most, especially as that is a decent (not great) sample to draw from.

His Pro Football Focus grade, when normalized to one season of 800 snaps, is slightly above average for a starting running back (+0.9) over the course of his career, and was great last year (+3.0 on 199 snaps). He also has had a career yards per attempt after contact of 2.8, higher than the league average of 2.6 and his predecessor Maurice Jones-Drew. He has forced 50 missed tackles on those 276 carries, which is one of the best in the NFL in that time (0.181 missed tackles per attempt beats Peterson’s extremely high .169), 10th overall among those with at least 250 attempts.

The only year that Gerhart had significant carries (2011, after Peterson went down with an ACL injury), he had 109 carries for 4.9 yards a carry and an 800-snap adjusted PFF grade of 14.0, which would have placed him third overall among RBs (he had a 7.0 grade for the year, actually ranking 16th). If the argument that he needs to have more carries a game to build up steam holds any merit, it bodes extremely well for him.

Gerhart gained weight while with the Vikings (he told me as a directive from the coaching staff), who probably wanted to convert him into a power back willing to gain short yardage in order to rest Adrian Peterson in 3rd-and-short situations. He was listed at 231 pounds on the Vikings roster in 2013, but that hasn’t changed since his initial listing in 2010 (it was also his 2010 combine weight), which means that it is probably inaccurate.

Toby was a fantastic college running back, and the fifth one drafted that year (behind the remarkable Jahvid Best) and finished 2nd in the closest Heisman race to date behind Mark Ingram of Alabama. He led the FBS that year in total rushing yards, total attempts, total touchdowns, and ranked fifth in yards per attempt among those with at least 250 carries (behind Ryan Mathews, Donald Buckam, Mark Ingram and Ryan Williams). He was a critical part of Jim Harbaugh’s success at Stanford and was a high-level back ready for the draft.

He ranked third in Matt Waldman’s pre-draft Rookie Scouting Portfolio and had this to say of him:

Gerhart is a powerful back with the speed, explosiveness, and vision to be a productive starter. Gerhart is more Michael Turner than Brandon Jacobs in terms of his skill sets, which makes him a multi-dimensional threat. He might be the best pass blocking back in this draft class, which will earn him early chances. Gerhart is a smart, gritty, do-what-it takes player that will at least be a major component in an RBBC.

He also called Gerhart the best back in the “power,” “balance,” and “blocking” categories.

SB Nation said this about him:

Despite spending four years at Stanford, Gerhart is considered an underclassman in draft standards because of a medical redshirt he used in 2007 as a result of a torn ACL in his left knee. Considering his upright running style and his disadvantage off the bat when it comes to NFL athleticism, teams will approach the All American’s draft status with caution. There is not doubt he has the ability to break tackles and gain yards after contact, two vital components to the running back position in the NFL, but his already damaged knee and lack of top tier athleticism will downgrade his stock. He will best be used in a system that allows him to carry the ball in certain situations rather then being depended upon to carry the ball every down. His intangibles are top notch and he is both a dedicated and accomplished two sport athlete that will enter the league as a guy that every coach wants on the field on way or another. He will get a shot as a tailback, but has the body and physicality to make the move to fullback in a pinch. If he works out well, Gerhart could be a top 45 selection.

The NFL.com draft profile is very similar:

Gerhart is a big, powerful ball carrier that has just enough speed to be a threat. He runs with a good pad level and consistently breaks through first contact and gets a lot of his yards after initial contact. He seems to get stronger as the game wears on and defenses visibly grow weary of trying to take him on in the latter parts of the game. He knows how to follow his blockers and is patient as he waits for the hole to open up. He is an effective receiver out of the backfield and, while he is not apt to be used as a downfield threat, he can move the chains in the short to intermediate passing game.

I do think he’ll get back to a higher level of speed (which I think was underrated coming out) if he drops weight to get back to 231 and be a highly productive back, even if he doesn’t have the spectacular highlights that Adrian Peterson has.

Also, I get it: it’s a slow period for news. So instead, here’s some stuff about a guy we all liked.

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Sharrif Floyd, 2013 first-round draft pick and presumed starter and under tackle for the Minnesota Vikings gave up eating meat in order to lose weight, and has hit his target weight of 305 pounds from the 330 he weighed at earlier in the offseason.

He decided to forego meat (but not fish) on March 7th, and lost 10 pounds within a week. A few weeks later, he lost an additional 15 pounds, checking in at a svelte 305.

Hopefully Floyd never weighed in at 330 during the season as that is far above the target weight for under tackles in nearly any defense, and can even be considered heavy for 4-3 nose tackles. Linval Joseph, the presumed starter at NT, is listed at 323 pounds. Pat Williams was listed at 317 pounds, though admitted upon retirement he played closer to 340 (though he always targeted 324).

In contrast, converted under tackle (from defensive end) Kevin Williams was listed at 311 pounds with the Vikings and Geno Atkins, the star under tackle for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, is listed at 303 pounds. Generally speaking, the under tackle has more pass rush responsibilities, and will sacrifice some weight (and strength) in order to gain speed and explosiveness.

Said Floyd to Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson at the Vikings’ Play 60 event, “(Giving up meat was) really hard. I lived off pork. I thought pork made the world go around.

“That was just me (making the decision). Do I want to keep putting this stuff in my body or do I want to get right? So I decided to give up things that I love that are not really good for me right now. My body feels great. I’ve been telling people my body hasn’t felt this way since I first started playing football.’’

Giving up pork evidently doesn’t stop him from hunting boar, as Dan Zinski at the Viking Age points out.

Hopefully playing in the best shape of his football life will lead to on-field dividends, as he needs to bounce back from a mediocre rookie year. Floyd’s weight at the NFL Combine was 297 pounds, and he played between 295 and 305 at the University of Florida.

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The NCAA found itself subject to another class action lawsuit, this time over grant-in-aid caps (which covers “only tuition, institutional fees, room and board and required course-related books” per the filed lawsuit, available via PDF). Sharrif Floyd is one of the lead plaintiffs named in the case, but aside from providing a written statement over twitter, has declined to comment on the case at the NFL Play60 event, but is willing to expand further later.

The written statement is as follows:

Student athletes need to be respected more. It’s hard for great coaches to do their job when their athletes are just looking for something as simple as an extra meal, a movie date with a friend and comfort that they are gonna be taken care of and not taken advantage of. Athletes shouldn’t be suspended for raising money, to better his life or for looking at a mentor as a father. This has nothing to do with the Gator Nation. I love my college and will always be a Gator.

Sorry for the torrent of legal news regarding the Vikings, but I suppose these things will happen from time to time. More below.

*****

 

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The Minnesota Vikings are nearing the conclusion of their investigation of former punter Chris Kluwe’s allegations regarding homophobic comments by special teams coach Mike Priefer, and they should be done in a few weeks per attorney and former U.S. Department of Justice trial lawyer Chris Madel (per Ben Goessling of ESPN). Priefer was one of the few staff retained in the new coaching regime (along with six other coaches, like receivers coach George Stewart and offensive line coach/running game coordinator Jeff Davidson). Kluwe has indicated that if the investigation does not conclude by the anniversary of his release—May 6th—that he will pursue legal action against the Vikings.

The May 6th deadline is significant because the deadline by which Kluwe can file a complaint under the Minnesota Human Rights Act is one year, which is why it makes sense for him to file a suit before the investigation is complete (he cannot file a suit after the investigation, should it finish after May 6th).

The likelihood of the investigation finishing before the draft is low, and they will take their own time. Initially, Chris Madel expected the investigation to conclude at the end of March, which of course hasn’t happened.

**UPDATE**: Per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings have agreed to extend the statute of limitations on any potential lawsuit, which means that Kluwe, who was under the impression he needed to file a lawsuit by the 6th (per Minnesota law), may wait until the conclusion of the investigation.

He also indicated that he would sue “obviously for wrongful termination” but I would rather take his lawyers, Clay Halunen’s, word from February 2nd on the wide range of suits that they would potentially pursue, which is broader than the scope of wrongful termination (more on that below).

Kluwe also said the lawsuit may end up being for “quite a bit” of money, and agreed when asked if it could be upwards of $30 million. He also said that he would donate every penny of damages to LGBT charities if he won.

**UPDATE2**: Chris Kluwe contacted me over twitter to say that yes, I should probably defer to his lawyer when discussing the specific terms of any potential lawsuit, and that the “wrongful termination” bit was just a “quick quote”—which is fair. I would also point out that Kluwe was also likely not inaccurate when characterizing what he would sue for, simply incomplete.

*****

 

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Despite growing up on the East Coast, former NFL linebacker EJ Henderson has come to know Minnesota as home—both as a member of the Vikings and as an active member of the community.

Henderson played high school ball in Aberdeen, Maryland before accepting an athletic scholarship to play for the University of Maryland Terrapins. During his time there, Henderson notched three NCAA records: career unassisted tackles per game (8.8), season unassisted tackles (135 in 2002) and career total tackles per game (12.5).

As a junior, Henderson found himself named the 2001 ACC Player of the year, and in his final season with the Terrapins he was recognized as the nation’s No. 1 defensive player and the No. 1 linebacker.

Most Vikings fans will also know that Henderson’s younger brother Erin followed in EJ’s footsteps. Erin played both quarterback and linebacker at Aberdeen High School, and he redshirted at the University of Maryland.

Being six years apart, the Henderson brothers didn’t play on the same team together until they reached the NFL. “I pretty much played the older brother dynamic,” said EJ, “until probably [Erin’s] freshman or sophomore year in college.”[1] At that point, the dynamic shifted to more of a friendship, as the brothers had so much in common and pursued the same goals. EJ continued to hold a “big brother” role in his leadership toward the pros, and Erin traveled the same path.

EJ’s journey to the NFL proved seamless. Starting his junior season at Maryland, Henderson grasped the reality that reaching the big leagues was a very real scenario for him. At that point, his recognition stretched nationwide. Henderson said he realized the potential “right around when the draft talks started to come out”—when he saw his name included in the lists.

The linebacker entered the 2003 NFL draft and was picked in Round 2 (No. 40 overall) by Minnesota. Henderson debuted for the Vikings that season, in which he played all 16 games and recorded 32 tackles as a rookie.

Although the first couple seasons didn’t make the record books, Henderson solidified himself as a part of the roster and worked his way up.

Number 56 quickly became a fan favorite in Minnesota, consistently coming up with big tackles and showing good speed on the field.

KFAN radio personality and Vikings play-by-play man Paul Allen weighed in on Henderson’s impact with the Vikes:

“EJ is one of my all-time favorites,” said Allen. “I appreciate him so much due to the fact his career started very slowly and he turned the corner and became a stud. Along the way he became more comfortable in his skin and a more open person with guys like me.”[2]

Henderson played his entire nine-year career as a Viking, and he considers himself blessed to have done so.

His favorite memory?  Scoring against the Lions.

On October 8, 2006, Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna passed on a 4th and 10 in the final quarter. Henderson intercepted the pass, then rumbled the ball 45 yards to the end zone. Minnesota went on to win the game, 26-17.

The TD was the only score of Henderson’s career, and he says the moment stands out as a definite highlight among many great memories with the Vikings. “That was probably one of my proudest moments in the Dome.”

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