Sunday, August 30, 2015

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Photo provided courtesy of Vikings.com

Don’t you love the NFL offseason?  If you thought the wait for the NFL draft was bad, we’re currently experiencing the worst part of the year for football fans. For those finding ways to supplement your withdraws with another type of football, I’m jealous. For myself, in hopes of filling the void, I’ve watched and re-watched the practice highlights looking for something to stand out.  I’ve also done a great deal of thinking around the current depth chart, trying to predict where the 2014 Vikings will make their greatest strides.

When looking at a defense full of holes in 2013, it isn’t difficult to identify the area in need of the largest improvement. Second to only the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings ranked 31st in total passing defense in 2013, surrendering an average of 287 yards through the air per game. To throw salt on the wound, the Vikings allowed 37 passing TDs and a completion percentage of 64.7%, a completion percentage so high that only 6 quarterbacks averaged a higher number for the 2013 season.

The Vikings secondary wasn’t just the weakest spot on the field, it made an opposing quarterback look like a pro bowler week in and week out.

The defensive collapses were frustrating to watch. Each week, fans watched in agony as the defense gave up more 3rd & long completions, some of which cost the Vikings wins and ultimately cost Head Coach Leslie Frazier and staff their jobs. There is no quick fix for a defensive unit as broken as the Vikings secondary. Was it the scheme or the personnel? Let’s take a closer look at how General Manager Rick Spielman has addressed the troubled secondary entering the 2014 season.

With the Vikings hosting their mandatory minicamp this week, and media access for a portion of the event, there seems to be plenty of fresh content to pass along.  Also, there are a few new Vikings sites popping up, which is always great to see.

Go there.  Read it.  And tell them who sent ya.

 

The 5th wide receiver position on the Minnesota Vikings depth chart, and ultimately a spot on the 53 man roster, is up for grabs this preseason. The Vikings signed undrafted free agent wide receivers Kain Colter and Erik Lora this offseason from a deep pass catching 2014 talent pool. Both have more than a dark horses chance to compete with Vikings’ practice squad incumbents Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen, Kamar Jordan and recently signed veteran free agent WR Josh Cooper.

How does, Colter stack up against Lora?

Both have similarities in size and speed but were uniquely different in styles and roles as football players at the collegiate level.

Norv Turner made some waves with Vikings fans this week by essentially suggesting that Christian Ponder is a better NFL quarterback than he is given credit for and insisting he is in the mix for first team consideration.

I agree that the negative attention plaguing Ponder is perhaps out of proportion with his actual on-field failures, and that he may have done better as a newcomer under different circumstances or with another team, but there are very few that will believe Turner is actually considering Ponder as a potential week one starter.

Matt Cassel is pretty much the incumbent at this point and is taking the most first team repetitions.  Rookie Teddy Bridgewater looks to be the second team leader right now with the clear potential to push for the top spot.  That presumably leaves Ponder floundering about at the bottom of the depth chart with swirling trade rumors, speculation about being cut this year, and with no contractual stability.

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I haven’t posted as regularly as I have liked to, and that’s mostly my fault. I’ve lagged turning in this terrible computer into Lenovo and I’ve been watching too much of the World Cup. Recently, I did publish a piece on Mike Priefer and his impact on special teams but other than that have been quiet. Hopefully more coming soon.

As the Minnesota Vikings enter minicamp, the round of offseason training activities hasn’t revealed much—as it usually doesn’t. Still there are a number of offseason storylines that are worth catching up on as Minnesota enters the next phase of its offseason program.

The quarterback picture is clearing up. As Christian Ponder has pointed out, Teddy Bridgewater has started taking significantly more first team reps than he has, and it seems like Matt Cassel has taken the role of the starting quarterback heading into the preseason.

David Yankey has finished his year at Stanford, and had attended the most recent round of OTAs. Both Scott Crichton (Oregon State) and Anthony Barr (UCLA) still had to finish out their year and were unable to join their teammates, though they have been visited by Vikings coaches and learning the defense from hundreds of miles away.

In coming back, Yankey evidently took the red eye to Minnesota.

We’ll be able to see both of them in this upcoming minicamp, and Barr’s transition from running back to edge rusher to off-ball linebacker will be one of the more fascinating storylines in camp.

With Xavier Rhodes’ impressive showings in multiple OTA sessions, there are rumors that the Vikings are interested in recently cut cornerback Brandon Flowers, though it may be just a way of keeping files up to date, and not genuine interest.

The offense is becoming easier to understand for everyone. Regardless, everything will be re-taught at training camp.

Norv Turner’s offenses use a lot of freaking tight ends, so maybe Kyle Rudolph is not enough. On the other hand, the second tight end is usually primarily a blocker and Rhett Ellison is superb at that sort of thing.

Jasper Brinkley is pretty excited to return to Minnesota, and admits he was only “OK” with Arizona. He’s glad to have recovered from a minor groin tweak, too.

Xavier Rhodes is being encouraged to play by feel and trust his instincts.

Jerome Simpson is surprised he needed to take a pay cut from last year. Even though he should expect not to start, I understand it from an on-field perspective—he was the second-leading receiver for the Vikings last year. Obviously, the off-field stuff and inconsistency is kind of a big deal and he should have considered that.

From the most recent OTA:

  • In the secondary, Marcus Sherels took some reps with the first team in nickel packages as the slot corner (with Munnerlyn and Rhodes on the outside).
  • With the corners was Robert Blanton, starting alongside Harrison Smith because of injuries to Jamarca Sanford (muscle pull) and Andrew Sendejo (back).
  • Those defensive backs did well enough against the quarterbacks in OTAs. Rhodes picked off Cassel, and Cassel had a few more bad throws with that. Teddy Bridgewater was picked off by Dom Decicco and overthrew a number of passes. Christian Ponder’s limited reps were good, evidently. They finished with a two-minute drill that connected to Kain Colter on a run-and-catch touchdown over Jabari Price.
  • Gerald Hodges took a few reps with Chad Greenway in the nickel package.
  • On the lines, Kevin Murphy filled in for Matt Kalil (knee), Joe Berger for John Sullivan (marriage), and Fred Evans for Linval Joseph (unknown).

Availability roundup:

  • You got a good sense of who was or wasn’t available based on the previous category of things, but it’s sometimes easier to read things broken down individually.
  • Matt Kalil, who suffered from a knee injury for most of 2013, is recovering from a minor surgery performed in April. He performed fully in team drills earlier, but “pushed himself a little too hard” and scaled back. He’s expected to be 100 percent by camp.
  • John Sullivan got married! Congratulations.
  • Linval Joseph had a “procedure” performed that the Vikings knew would limit his offseason availability when they signed him. Don’t know what it was, but the smart money is either the knee or the ankle (he had an ankle injury last year and was listed for knee issues—probably—in two games between 2012 and 2013). He has sat out OTAs.
  • Jamarca Sanford has had a muscle pull from two weeks ago that he hasn’t recovered from (or more likely, the Vikings are being cautious). The same was true of Josh Robinson.
  • Andrew Sendejo underwent a back procedure earlier in the offseason (first reported by the Star Tribune in late May) and is still not cleared to practice.
  • Everson Griffen suffered from a back strain at the same time as Sanford’s muscle pull but it is evidently not a problem right now.
  • Chase Baker was held out. Don’t know why.
  • Joe Banyard was held out. Don’t know why.

Hooray offseason!

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