Friday, July 29, 2016

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Matt Vensel (@mattvensel) of the Star Tribune joins the show to talk about our Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings as we count down the days until we’re back in the hood in Mankato ready to launch this 2015 season into orbit. This year’s version of 4th of July has come and gone (without any Vikings pulling a JPP, FTW), so grab some leftover BBQ, toss some aloe on the sunburns, and listen to some Purple FTW! goodness!

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The Vikings don’t take the position of cornerback lightly. Since suffering through years of poor secondary play, the Vikings have added a six new cornerbacks in the last three years. Drawing equally from both the draft and free agency, the depth chart is seemingly crowded with talent.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the cornerback battle would be one of my favorites to watch, and for good reason. Not only will there be pressure from their peers within the position group, these defensive backs will be tasked with corralling what some would say is the best set of wide receivers the team has had in years.

Let’s start from the top.

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As originally reported by Nat Jordan, Josh Robinson tore his pectoral muscle in the offseason and could be out for a significant period of time.

Ben Goessling at ESPN has confirmed the story and Darren Wolfson at KSTP has reported that it’s likely not season-ending. He joins Brandon Fusco, Brian Robison and Phil Loadholt as Vikings who have torn their pectoral muscles under the new regime, which seems like a lot.

From a depth chart perspective, this means that Robinson will not be in the battle to win the starting cornerback job. Given the immense depth the Vikings finally have at cornerback, that’s not as bad this year as it would be most years, and Terence Newman or Trae Waynes could win the outside spot, something Captain Munnerlyn is also competing for (though likely it seems like he will be a slot-only nickel package CB).

Robinson had a better year than many of his detractors would say, and he was an average-level starting cornerback, who would have been pretty phenomenal depth. He still will be, if Wolfson is right and the injury is not season-ending. Master Tesfatsion at the Star Tribune reports similar—Josh Robinson does not expect to be out for the year.

Neither Robinson nor Munnerlyn had participated in offseason workouts, and Terence Newman was the starting cornerback, with rare opportunities for Waynes to get on the field—mostly as a slot CB in nickel packages, which might not be his role in the future. Waynes will have to force Newman down the depth chart to really take advantage of this and become the starter Week 1.

This could also help out Jabari Price after an arrest for suspicion of impaired driving (since reduced to reckless driving). This will help him our more if Robinson enters the season on PUP or short-term injured reserve, but it cements the importance of depth at the position, something that can only help him.

The rash of pectoral muscle tears could be random, or it could be a product of switching to free weights from machines—designed by strength and conditioning coach Marcus Evans to create more dynamic and explosive movements instead of isolating muscles, though it may increase injuries.

For what it’s worth, Miami had the 9th-best record when it comes to injuries when Evans was employed there as the S&C coach from 2008 to 2010. None of the players they had on injured reserve in that period were there because of pectoral injuries, as far as I can tell.

Either way, it’s something the Vikings have to look into. That doesn’t mean changing the strength and conditioning program, but perhaps finding ways to reduce the incidence of injury.

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If you’ve ever strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads, you know how violent football can be. From pancake blocks to open field collisions, its a sport that requires a certain toughness, and honestly, a certain level of recklessness. This is especially true for offensive and defensive linemen, who repeatedly crash headfirst into one another like trucks in a demolition derby.

In today’s league, the passing game and up-tempo offense are at a premium, but that doesn’t make the action in the trenches any less violent. Pull up any highlight reel on Youtube, try to ignore the flashy skill players, and fix your eyes on the battle of the “big uglies” — they punch,  dive, drive, and rip while slamming into a wall of muscle and aggression.

And this doesn’t happen once; it happens every single play.

With all that violence, it’s highly unlikely a player lines up for every offensive snap. Injuries are a part of the game, and they have a nasty habit of ruining single plays, multiple seasons, or even careers.

What if I told you one player never missed a game in 17 seasons? And what if I told you he was a Minnesota Viking? Better yet, what if I told you he was a seven-time All Pro at one of the toughest positions in all of football?

Meet Mick Tingelhoff, former Minnesota Vikings center and a 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee.

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Antone Exum, Jr.
It’s no secret that the Vikings don’t have a hard-and-fast guarantee at safety other than Harrison Smith. Smith has been a top roster member since joining the team, and as long as he stays healthy, you know he’ll stay put in the starting lineup. Who will play opposite, him, though?

Although it looks like Robert Blanton is currently first in line as he got plenty of reps with the first team during OTA’s, Exum, Jr. had some impressive plays last season and could definitely be in the running to play across from Smith. I have some issues with Blanton’s tackling, and I wouldn’t say that he’s a shoo-in.

Zach Line

With Jerome Felton heading to Buffalo (I still wonder if he regrets that decision now that AP will be with the Vikings), Zach Line has a huge opportunity ahead of him. Line is currently projected as the starting fullback for Minnesota, and I’m a believer that he’ll be an excellent fit there. Line impressed me last season, continuing to work hard and fulfill whatever role he was given on the team, including practice squad. The Southern Methodist alum makes an impact at practice, and the Vikings are obviously confident in his abilities to slide into that main roster spot. If Line and Peterson can work well together and build some chemistry, this could be Line’s breakout season.

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