Blog Page 134

[NOTE FROM ADAM:  Please welcome reader “Carl K” for joining the ranks of many of you fine readers that have submitted guest posts over the years.  Well done, Carl K, well done!]

Written By Carl K

Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams has a little more swagger heading into his second season thanks to a successful first year and an off-season that landed him a few more playmakers. GM Rick Spielman made a splash by drafting DT Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes in the first round of the NFL draft. The Vikings also drafted linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti along with signing free agent linebacker Desmond Bishop.

Williams is eager to see his squad put on the pads and mix it up in training camp, but he was quick to give Xavier Rhodes some praise after a solid OTA mini camp. “He got his hands on some balls and he’s not giving up deep balls. That’s the big thing because a lot of guys like to sit on passes and you see them intercept balls and you say “wow” and then a lot of balls are going over his head. And he’s not giving up either. He’s tough down low and up top.”

Williams is a former defensive backs coach with the Indianapolis Colts and you can tell he is very excited about his two big physical corners Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes. “Both guys are tall. They are long. They can go get the ball, unbelievable ball skills so to be able to have two guys outside and don’t forget about Josh, don’t forget about the other guys that can really run. They’re physical so you’re not limited to one type of defense. You can play a variety of things and when you can take the outside guys away it makes it easier for me to make the calls and mixing up the coverages.”

Alan Williams has plenty of talent, depth and options to work with when it comes to drawing up defensive schemes heading into the 2013 season. So, with just days before the start of training camp, I can only speculate and conjure up images of how Williams will use his new personnel. Last season the Vikings lined up in a nickel cover 2 zone most of the time. I expect to see more of that again this year against the pass happy NFC North teams . However, with two big corners on the outside that can press and Josh Robinson over the slot, we just might see more man coverage. If the Vikings can have success in man coverage from the base 4-3 or in a nickel, Williams could get creative with some hybrid formations or personnel groupings. Three linebackers, three corners and a single high safety could allow Desmond to do what he does best… play down hill and put some pressure on the QB. Gerald Hodges is former safety with good coverage instinct so I expect to see him get some playing time in passing situations. The Vikings cover 2 defense typically doesn’t showcase a lot of man coverage, blitz packages from the linebackers or hybrid formations, but this year Williams could show the NFC North quarterbacks a new wrinkle.

We started off our preview series by discussing the depth chart at quarterback.  I neglected to discuss Christian Ponder’s ability to run the football, one that cannot be underestimated by opposing defenses, but when talking about the Vikings offense it isn’t going to be Ponder’s legs that steal the show.

Adrian Peterson returned from major knee surgery to make 2012 the best season of his Hall of Fame career.  He started every game for the first time in his six NFL seasons.  He averaged a ridiculous six yards per carry, despite a consistent extra man or two being brought into the box to stop him, and ended the season just nine yards shy of the all time rushing record.  His 2,097 rushing yards were more than enough to lead the NFL, but so were his 76 broken tackles and 1,438 yards accumulated after contact.  He also scored 12 touchdowns one the ground and had a whopping five runs of over 60 yards.

Peterson’s dedication and work ethic are surely a huge part of his big comeback season, and it is easy to forget about the man who paved the way for him, but Pro bowl fullback Jerome Felton deserves a lot of credit for all of that success, as well.  The Vikings were wise to re-sign Felton this offseason and make sure their duo stays intact for at least one more season, as Felton proved to be a major upgrade ahead of Peterson and also blocked cleanly in pass protection, and he never committed a single penalty.

With Peterson and Felton both having robust contracts relative to their positions, and stated goals to increase their roles within the offense, there is no doubt that they will retain their seats atop the depth chart.  The primary backup to Peterson is still expected to be Toby Gerhart, who ran the ball only 50 times for 169 yards and a touchdown last season, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see his role continue to diminish as he plays out his rookie contract.

Gerhart’s true value lies in his ability to step in and be a workhouse in the event that Peterson goes down with an injury.  He has shown the ability to do this in the past and, despite being benched for a case of fumblitis against the Niners, the lack of any big signings or draft selections at the running back position suggests that the Vikings staff feels comfortable with him as the primary backup.  Besides, he is a very serviceable option when it comes to stepping in on third down for pass protection and as a decent hands guy to run the checkdown routes.  Gerhart caught 20 balls for 155 yards in 2012, and nine of those catches converted into first downs.

The Vikings entered the 2012 regular season with three quarterbacks who had less than a season’s worth of combined starting experience.  While that lack of experience showed up throughout the season, particularly when Christian Ponder needed to be replaced during their playoff game in Green Bay, their playoff appearance indicated that the struggles on offense were not nearly as many and devastating as most of us thought they would be.

Christian Ponder played all 16 games of his second season in the NFL and boasted a 10-6 record when all was said and done, which was good enough for second place in the NFC North, and a playoff berth.  Vikings fans eagerly awaited Ponder’s first full season as the team’s starter and couldn’t wait to see him take a huge leap forward in his progression.  While Ponder did improve from 2011 to 2012 in almost every possible statistic, the leap seemed more accurately described as a baby step, and even the most optimistic of Vikings struggled to identify a game in which he took over and dominated in a way that provided much hope that he is a true franchise quarterback.

His best game was his last, the season finale against Green Bay, where he came out of the contest with a career best quarterback rating of 120.2, after throwing for 234 yards and three touchdowns.  Even while posting those numbers, however, Ponder still managed to be overshadowed by the record-chasing Adrian Peterson and led some to wonder why he wasn’t able to take advantage of that elite ground game earlier and more often.

Ponder attempted 483 passes in 2012, completing 62.1% of them.  He converted for 2,935 yards and 18 touchdowns while suffering 12 interceptions and taking 32 sacks.  The season ended with him having an 81.2 quarterback rating.

While other teams are dealing with murder scandals and bare-assed quarterbacks, Leslie Frazier’s Vikings are keeping things pretty quiet these days, which is every bit as important as it is boring.  Still, despite being in witching hour of the NFL offseason, there are some interesting notes from around the web to bring to your attention:

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It seems like just yesterday, even though it was quite some time ago, that 1500 ESPN provided an escape for Minneapolis sports writers that were likely feeling the pinch that came with being a part of a dying newspaper industry.  At that time, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was riddled with annoying “innovations” such as premium content that you had to pay for and more pop-up ads than anyone cared to sit through.  These writers, such as long-time veteran of the beat Judd Zulgad, opted to jump ship and embrace the web and radio based content 1500 provided.

Now, one of 1500‘s best assets is doing the exact opposite, as Tom Pelissero is leaving the Vikings beat for a job with USA Today.

According to The Daily Norseman, Pelissero made the news official on Twitter, where Pelissero admitted that he will starting his new job next month.  Pelissero has since revealed on Twitter that he won’t have to leave his Minnesota home to take this job, but he will now be covering the NFL as a whole, instead of focusing solely on the Vikings beat.

While the news might make Jerome Simpson smile, as there will be one less douchebag hovering around his locker, I think I speak for Vikings enthusiasts everywhere when I say Pelissero’s absence will leave a huge void.  From his keen film analysis, to his unmatched wealth of sources, to his ability to obtain and analyze contract details like nobody else, us bloggers and fans will now have to work a lot harder to get the information we crave on a daily basis.

Pelissero has always treated yours truly very well and I wish him the best of luck in this new chapter of his career, but am also very hopeful that 1500 ESPN chooses wisely in trying to replace him.

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