Friday, July 31, 2015

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As the Vikings get deeper and deeper into the 2013 season their losses are becoming more and more embarrassing.  A playoff team one season ago, the Vikings of today are putting some of the most putrid displays of football on the field that I have ever seen, and I’m counting the high school competitions I’ve watched… including junior varsity… in Alaska.

This team has been so awful in so many ways that it is difficult to diagnose any individual problems.  There are some obvious players to pick on, guys that lack certain skill sets, but all 32 teams in the league have guys like that.  There is something different about this Vikings team.  Something that just isn’t right.  Something that can’t be explained away by citing an overall lack of talent.  This team isn’t old, but it isn’t so young that it should be this bad.  In the past I’ve talked about Christian Ponder just not seeming to have that elusive “it” trait, which is a hard thing to explain about an individual player, but now I venture to say that this entire team just doesn’t have “it” this year.  How that happens to a collective group is even harder to explain.

Still, I have to do something other than pretend my website doesn’t exist.  I can’t just let you guys down and stop writing, no matter how much of a chore it feels like these days.  I can clean my gutters before I write, however, which is exactly what I did.  Despite the dirty task, Tuesday night has already been more of a success (and more enjoyable) than Monday night was.

There were no hidden treasures in my gutters tonight and, homers be warned, there are no hidden treasures in my analysis of last night’s debacle.  Here are 10 things that the Vikings need to fix prior to 2014 and I attempted to prioritize them:

10.  We Need A New Guard

Whether their regression is permanent or an anomaly, the Vikings will go into the future with their current starting tackles and center on the offensive line.  The guard positions are a different story, however, and if this team is going to make a move along the O-Line it will come at these spots.  Brandon Fusco hasn’t been too terrible this season, but Charlie Johnson should not be starting in the NFL, and these guys collectively need to be held accountable for their share of the Vikings struggles both running and passing.  It is once again time for the organization to bring some serious competition to the line and make a statement:  Continuity within the unit needs to be earned, not gifted.

Josh Freeman stole most of the headlines regarding the Vikings this week, but Wednesday brought a flurry of activity from Winter Park, and here are your resulting roster updates:

McLeod Bethel-Thompson:  Many Minnesota fans hoped to see “MBT” sneak onto the practice squad after he was the casualty cut following the Freeman signing.  Not only would retaining him have allowed the Vikings to continue developing him, but it could have provided them greater flexibility and leverage in potential trade scenarios involving either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel.  Instead, the San Francisco Forty-Niners claimed him off waivers.  MBT started his career with the Niners, but has yet to see any regular season playing time with any of the teams he has signed with since 2011.

Brian Robison:  One of my favorite Vikings is defensive end Brian Robison, mainly because of his unheralded consistency on the left side, so I was elated to hear that the Vikings signed him to a four year contract extension.  The deal is reportedly worth $28.3 million, with $13.1 million in guarantees and a $5 million signing bonus.  Robison has been one of the best 4-3 left ends in the NFL, particularly in the pass rushing department, so it is no surprise that the contract incentives are tied directly to sack numbers.  Robison, the class act that he is, joked with reporters that the quality of bass fishing in Minnesota was a major factor in his decision to re-up.  Defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen are also in contract years.

Justin Trattou:  The Vikings also made a waiver claim on Wednesday and they were awarded defensive end Justin Trattou who was recently released by the New York Giants.  Trattou was undrafted out of Florida in 2011 and has bounced around the Giants practice squad and active roster over the last couple of years.  He has very limited playing time and is mostly an unknown at this point.  Still, the Vikings front office thought highly enough of his potential that they jettisoned defensive end George Johnson to make room for him.

Chase Baker, George Johnson and Troy Kropog were long shots to make the roster just four weeks ago, but hard work and consistent effort paid off for these young players.

 Chase Baker might have the best chance to stick. The undrafted rookie from Boise State had 11 tackles during preseason working on the inside of the defensive line. Standing at 6-1 298 pounds, Baker has just enough meat on his bones to earn a few snaps as a backup rotational depth player this season. During camp and preseason, he has been asked to learn the three-technique position while also staying focused on the nose tackle spot as well. Jared Allen said, “He has probably grown the most of all the young guys I’ve seen in camp. That is good because he just might be asked to play a role on this team. We’re hurting at D-tackle right now.” 

Lady luck has been on Baker’s side as Christian Ballard left the team for personal reasons, Sheriff Floyd and Kevin Williams have been banged up a bit which opened the door for Baker to get plenty of reps needed to win a roster spot. After spending his rookie year on the practice squad, Baker might be ready to take the next step in 2013.

George Johnson, the 6-4 265 pound 4th year DE beat out D’Aundre Reed and Lawrence Jackson to win the 4th and final DE roster spot. Johnson was promoted to the Vikings 53 man roster in late December of 2012 and has impressed the coaches enough this off-season to make the final cut in 2013. In 2010, Johnson was signed by Tampa Bay as an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers. Johnson worked his way up to playing in 2 games for the Buccaneers in 2011 before an injury put him on IR. Johnson looks to build on his 7 total career NFL tackles. Johnson’s 5 solo tackle in preseason lead all Vikings’ DEs, but in the regular season he will have a hard time taking snaps away from Jared Allen, Brian Robison or Everson Griffen.

Troy Kropog won the swing tackle position, at least for the next four weeks until DeMarcus Love comes back from his suspension. The 6-6 308 pound tackle from Tulane has been in the NFL for 4 years. Kropog was drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. The Vikings promoted Kropog from the practice squad to the 53 man roster last season when Percy Harvin was placed on IR. Kropog has played in 7 games with 0 starts in his NFL career. It will be interesting to see what the Vikings do with the backup tackle position in the next few weeks. Will Kropog stick when Love comes back, or will the Vikings look to upgrade the backup tackle position by signing a free agent? Frazier had talked about finding a swing tackle in the 2012 draft, but that did not appear to have happened. Was that just a smoke screen? Do the Vikings have confidence in Love or Kropog? Stay tuned… I don’t think this story has reached the final page.

The Vikings took on the Texans Friday night, and after having watched it twice (while also celebrating my daughter’s first birthday) I have come to the table with a look at some of the key takeaways from the contest.  The Vikings lost by a score of 27-13, but it is preseason so the final score is as inconsequential as a training camp scrimmage.  Instead, we try to dissect certain aspects of what happened in an effort to predict things to come.

GRADE A

  • The Vikings are believed to have finished their first week of the preseason without any additional injuries, at least no super serious ones, which is probably the most important thing about the game.  Rookie Sharrif Floyd had a good debut, with a couple of flashy plays (batted pass and tackle for a loss), but gave us all a scare when he hit the ground with a knee injury and was unable to return.  While he will have an MRI today, he is expected to be okay.  Often times, the best teams in any given NFL season are the ones that can stay the healthiest, so it was nice to see them come out of this relatively unscathed.
  • By all appearances, the Vikings got exactly what they expected when they signed veteran quarterback Matt Cassel.  Cassel looked exactly like Cassel has looked almost his whole career, which is to say he looked decent but unspectacular, which is an improvement over Joe Webb’s postseason performance that is still fresh in our memory.  Cassel had some very poor play on the line in front of him, but he still managed a decent outing completing 12 of 19 passes for 212 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.
  • The combination of Zach Line (1 catch, 61 yards, 1 TD) and Bradley Randle (3 rushes, 16 yards) has me excited, I must admit.  I have thought all along that Toby Gerhart would finish out his rookie contract as a Viking, and still consider it likely, but if Line and Randle can continue to make things happen in the preseason then the Vikings might feel tempted to explore trade options for Gerhart.  Line’s rumbling touchdown was quite impressive and Randle pass blocked as good as any Vikings running back since the days of Chester Taylor.
  • One penalty.  10 yards.  The entire game.  That’s the type of discipline that wins football games!

I really, really, really apologize for having been so absent of late.  Life kept me from updating VT at the rate you’ve grown accustomed to and I am sorry for that, but I am back now and ready to get back into the groove.  The Vikings minicamp is underway and the best way to get caught up is our weekly links feature.  Enjoy!

  • The Vikings have parted ways with a number of players this offseason and it is always interesting to keep tabs on how they are doing in their new surroundings.
  • Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton could see an expanded role in his second season in Minnesota.
  • Greg Childs is packing on the pounds and waiting patiently for his chance to prove himself.
  • It didn’t take more than one measly season for Harrison Smith to establish himself as one of the NFL’s most feared tacklers.
  • Chad Greenway underwent a minor operation on his knee but says he’ll be ready for training camp.
  • Terrell Owens thinks he could be a good fit in Minnesota… by which I assume he means as a season ticket holder.
  • We look forward to speed and athleticism being the source of numerous Cordarrelle Patterson highlights, but Greg Jennings says he possesses another unique trait that will separate him from other rookie wide outs.
  • When he took the nameplate off his locker, Antoine Winfield knew he wouldn’t be returning to the Vikings.
  • An extensive look into what Jared Allen did in 2012 and what we can expect in 2013.
  • Adam Thielen, Josh Robinson, and John Carlson were among the standouts from the first minicamp practice.
  • Mike Priefer spoke to reporters about the respect he has for Chris Kluwe and the decision to cut him.
  • Despite the Vikings kicking the tires on linebacker Desmond Bishop, Erin Henderson won’t accept the notion that he isn’t the guy to man the Mike position this year.
  • It is nice to see Kenechi Udeze back as a member of the Vikings once again.
  • Linebacker Michael Mauti is nearly ready to start competing for a roster spot.
  • While the Vikings posted ten wins in 2012, some are expecting disappointment during the coming season.
  • Let this page load to get a little glimpse at the minicamp action.
  • Adrian Peterson and Mistral Raymond are two guys not practicing during minicamp.
  • The Vikings might visit London three seasons in a row while their new stadium is being built.
  • Coordinator Alan Williams says Desmond Bishop had a good workout with the Vikings.

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