Monday, August 3, 2015

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(photo provided and used with permission)
(photo provided and used with permission)

 

“Hey—are you ready to play some football?”

This was the phone call quarterback Chandler Harnish received from his agent Sunday night. By Monday morning, he was in Minnesota to join the Vikings practice squad.

Harnish does have one Minnesota connection–he played under current Gophers coach Jerry Kill at Northern Illinois–but he has spent his NFL career in Indianapolis. The Colts drafted Harnish with the last overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. While he played the first five games of his career on the active roster, he spent a majority of his time on the practice squad. On Aug. 30 of this year, Indy released Harnish.

The 26-year-old is not the type to get discouraged, however. Rather, being perceived as the underdog motivates Harnish to work even harder, and he is grateful for each and every opportunity he gets.

“Some people make light of the practice squad, but ultimately I’m just very proud to be part of a team,” Harnish expressed. “There are not many guys out there who can say that. [The NFL] is hard. You can’t take this for granted. Whether you’re part of the active roster or the practice squad, it’s something you can hang your hat on.”

Harnish gained invaluable experience while in Indianapolis, specifically mentioning a strong coaching staff and working under the mentorship of veterans such as Matt Hasselbeck and Reggie Wayne. Harnish also spent the last few seasons with starting QB Andrew Luck. These specific scenarios and teammates taught Harnish not only on-field strategies for the game of football, but also how to approach preparing for a game and keeping himself healthy and ready to go—both mentally and physically.

Harnish gladly accepted this transition. Despite joining the Vikings only two days ago, he feels confident in his ability to strengthen their roster in whatever way needed.

“The nice thing about football is that a lot of it overlaps,” he said. “A lot of offenses overlap; there are very similar types of plays—you just have different words for them. Everyone has different systems, but I think I have experience with a lot of the types of throws we’re trying to make in Minnesota. I’m just excited to take on this opportunity.”

The Vikings may not have planned to need an additional passing arm, but they are happy to sign Harnish. With original starter Matt Cassel out for the season and rookie Teddy Bridgewater recovering from an ankle sprain, the QB situation for Thursday’s matchup against Green Bay remains questionable. If Bridgewater is unable to play, third-string Christian Ponder will be called upon. Harnish and McLeod Bethel-Thompson are on the practice squad.

Bridgewater started his first game as a rookie last week, when he led his team to a 41-28 victory over Atlanta. Harnish already has nothing but positive things to say about his new teammate:

“Teddy is just a really cool kid. He’s young […] he has already proven that he can play at this level. He came out and had a phenomenal game [against Atlanta]. He has a ton of upside; everyone is excited about him […] He takes notes, he learns, and he knows what’s going on. He has an incredibly bright future.”

In addition to Bridgewater, Harnish expressed enthusiasm for working with the entire Vikings coaching system and roster. “I can already tell it’s a tight-knit group of guys,” he said. “I’m just excited to move forward and get to know these guys better, to continue to work with them.

Regardless of in a game or in practice, the QB is ready to fill his role in the purple and gold.

 

The Vikings are short-handed thanks to Adrian Peterson’s legal issues and a sudden injury invasion.  However, through a quarter of the season now, they have performed almost exactly how Brett, Arif, and myself predicted prior to the start of the season.  This leaves us with plenty of optimism, thanks in large part to Teddy Bridgewater, and lots to discuss. Here is a look around the web at what is being said about our beloved Vikings with the Packers on deck:

 

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Our previous polls have awarded “Player of the Game” honors to:

WEEK ONE:  Cordarrelle Patterson

WEEK TWO:  Harrison Smith

WEEK THREE:  Harrison Smith

After a Week Four team win against the Atlanta Falcons, we have some new names to throw into the mix, which is an encouraging development considering the injuries and other issues facing this roster.  A lot to choose from here, so weigh your options carefully.  The nominees are:

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER:  Man, the kid looked sharp, didn’t he?  Aside from looking the part, Bridgewater led the Vikings to one of their best offensive performances in recent memory, which ended in a 41-28 victory over Atlanta.  He ended the day prematurely with an ankle injury that will also put his Thursday night status in jeopardy.  Before exiting, however, he threw 19 completions on 30 attempts for 317 yards and a quarterback rating of 98.9.  He didn’t throw for any touchdowns, but he had a beauty of a run that resulted in score.  Bridgewater ran a total of five times for 27 yards/

JERICK MCKINNON:  With Adrian Peterson on a couch somewhere, it was nice to see the offensive line and reserve running backs step up to the plate on a very productive afternoon.  Jerick “Jet” McKinnon showed his athleticism on Sunday with 135 yards on 18 carries (7.5 yard average).  He also had a single catch (on three targets) for 17 yards.

MATT ASIATA:  This is a guy that may not have the home run potential that McKinnon does, but he did his job on Sunday, and did it well.  Asiata carried the ball 20 times for 78 yards (3.9 yard average) and scored three times from inside the red zone.  Asiata also caught three of his four targets and contributed 22 receiving yards.

JARIUS WRIGHT:  If you are going to pick an offensive player for your vote, it is pretty tough to look past Jarius Wright.  With attention being paid to Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, Wright was the go-to guy as evidenced by his team leading eight receptions for 132 yards.

JOHN SULLIVAN:  Maybe this option should read “the entire offensive line” after they dominated the Falcons front four all day long, but the group was led by their best player in center John Sullivan.  Sullivan and company provided Bridgewater with a clean pocket nearly the entire time, with no sacks being allowed, and played a major role in the rushing production enjoyed by Asiata and McKinnon.

XAVIER RHODES:  It is becoming increasingly clear that Rhodes is a liability against shifty route runners, like Julian Edelman, but is absolutely capable of containing the big, strong receivers that the NFL has to offer.  Rhodes was all over the field, deflecting a whopping four passes, and adding a nice run stop behind the line of scrimmage.  The Falcons gained plenty of yardage through the air, but it could have been much worse, as defensive backs of Vikings past can attest.

HARRISON SMITH:  The Vikings have two wins this season, and in each of them Harrison Smith has delivered a “dagger” interception late in the action.  After a 2013 season where the Vikings seemingly had no ability to close out a winnable game, this is so welcomed.  Smith also had six total tackles, five of which where of the solo variety.

 

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In order to make room on the practice squad for quarterback Chandler Harnish, the Vikings have cut receiver Donte Foster from the practice squad. Right now the Vikings practice squad looks as follows:

Player Position
Josh Kaddu Linebacker
Chris Greenwood Cornerback
Kain Colter Wide Receiver
Zac Kerin Center
Isame Faciane Defensive Tackle
Justin Trattou Defensive End
Zach Line Fullback
McLeod Bethel-Thompson Quarterback
Ryan Otten Tight End
Chandler Harnish Quarterback

The Vikings currently have seven receivers, including Colter, on hand. Just like when the Vikings cut Mike Remmers from the practice squad and chose not to re-sign him when space opened up, there is a good chance that once the quarterback injury situation gets resolved that Foster may not come back, even if the Vikings do cut one of the two QBs on the practice squad.

The Minnesota Vikings, as Adam Schefter reports, are going to sign former Colts and Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish to their practice squad. Harnish is notable for being 2012’s Mr. Irrelevant, meaning he was the last pick in the 2012 draft. Harnish has one interesting connection to Minnesota, which is that he was Jerry Kill’s former quarterback when Kill was at Northern Illinois.

This might signal that the Vikings are pessimistic in regards to Teddy’s availability on Thursday against the Green Bay Packers, not necessarily because of any concern about any long-term injury, but simply because it is difficult to prep in that short time frame, and ever harder with an injury at quarterback with questions.

There are a few scouting reports on Chandler Harnish out there. First, from Draft Insider:

Bio: Four-year starter awarded all-conference honors the past three seasons and named MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. Senior passing totals included 62.9%/2942 yards/26 TDs /5 interceptions with 185 attempts/1382 yards/11 TDs on the ground. Junior passing totals included 64.7%/2530/21/5 with 836 yards rushing and seven more scores. All-Academic performer.

Positive: Athletic college quarterback with a tremendous amount of potential. Possesses terrific arm strength, gets rid of the ball with a flick of his wrist and loses nothing passing in motion. Displays a sense of timing, gets the ball to receivers as they leave their breaks and shows good field vision. Sells ball fakes, makes good decisions in the pocket and is always in control of the situation. Remains poised against the rush, gets outside the box to give himself a better view of the field and buys time for receivers. Challenges the vertical game and throws nice deep passes, putting air underneath the ball and letting receivers run to the throw. Goes through receiver progressions. Not afraid to carry the ball and picks up big yardage with his legs. Has enough escape ability to avoid defenders and elude the rush.
Negative: Must improve his corner and fade patterns. Tries to force the ball to covered receivers on occasion. Must improve his overall pass placement and throwing mechanics.
Analysis: Harnish leads by example and is always in command of the situation on the field. Rarely losing his cool, he beats opponents with his arm or legs and is slowly transitioning from a terrific athlete into a good quarterback. He has the potential to develop into an NFL starter yet needs proper coaching and experience in a pro-style passing offense. His innate skills and football intangibles make him worth the investment of time.
Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio is not necessarily similar on Harnish. He isn’t as high on Harnish’s arm strength, but is about as high on his mobility. He saw Harnish as more of a West Coast-friendly quarterback. On his potential, Waldman says:

Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois: Harnish has the size (6’1”, 219), athleticism, and flashes of pin-point accuracy that an NFL team will give him late-round consideration. One reason his accuracy isn’t consistently top-shelf is his footwork during his release. However, unlike Kirk Cousins, whose footwork problems arise with pressure and cannot throw the ball 20-30 yards with velocity and accuracy without good foot mechanics, Harnish has a stronger arm than Cousins and can manage throws with decent velocity up to 40 yards before his accuracy wanes.

Harnish also appears more comfortable in the pocket than Cousins. The NIU QB’s problems stem from lacking a consistently sound method of dropping, setting and stepping through his release. Harnish jerks his body upward as he delivers the ball rather than stepping forward and he doesn’t achieve the kind of hip torque that generates the power he needs to maximize his velocity. Give Harnish a season with NFL coaching and he should improve his accuracy and velocity to a point that he should challenge for a backup role with a team and possibly get groomed for a starter role within 3-4 seasons.

With a number of quarterbacks in the 2012 draft that ended up either working out or being drafted highly, Harnish was ranked as the eighth QB by Waldman for having a mix of veteran poise and postsnap ability with raw mechanics:

Harnish has the size, athleticism, and base passing fundamentals of an ideal project who could assume a back up role in a couple of years and possibly develop into a starter. I think he has that kind of upside.

He is a mobile passer who makes accurate throws on the move to his right and his left. He’s better from his right, but the the throws to the left are good enough to allow a coordinator to roll him to either side of the field.

Harnish has an over the top release that is compact and quick. He also displays some ability to throw the ball from a three-quarter motion, which helps him generate velocity on the move.

He flashes pin-point accuracy when he steps into a throw. However, at this stage of his development Harnish lacks consistent pin-point accuracy. It’s just a notch below that caliber and I think with some refinement in his foot work in terms of drops, hitches and delivery, he can achieve that level of accuracy more consistently.

I also think he could get more distance and velocity from his throws if he torques his hips more than he does during his release. He doesn’t consistently step into throws and when he does he’s jerking his body upward during the release rather than stepping forward and through so he can put his hips into the throw. He can throw the ball in the range of 50 yards but his velocity and accuracy wane when he targets distances over 40 yards.

When it comes to executing set plays he’s very good with looking off the defender if it’s a part of a quick execution of a play designed to go one way but set up with a look elsewhere. He’s also very good with the shoulder fake and uses his entire body to deliver a convincing pumpfake that can help him buy time. However, I didn’t see him really go through progression reads in this offense during this game.

Harnish can get a little too aggressive when pressured. He’ll try to make throws while hit that are too risky when he has other options to care for the ball. Harnish is coming back from an ACL tear as a junior, but he looks fit, athletic, and mobile.

He had Harnish ahead of Jacorry Harris, Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, Case Keenum and Austin Davis. Though that is likely something he would call a “miss” it’s still noteworthy. A few Colts analysts have agreed more with Draft Insider’s analysis than Waldman’s, and have called him a strong-armed passer who specifically struggled in a West Coast-style system. The discrepancy could be between raw arm strength and potential, which is different than the functional present arm strength, more clearly affected by technique.

Per those analysts, Harnish didn’t have a good preseason but looked good in camp. As far as the preseason goes, Pro Football Focus agrees. Harnish ranked 98th of 102 quarterbacks in the 2013 preseason and 96th of 98 in this last preseason.

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