Saturday, July 4, 2015

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Following the 42-14 beatdown at the hands of the Bengals there is little else for Vikings fans to look forward to than next season.  We will soon be in all-out optimism mode as staff comes and goes, free agency heats up, and the NFL Draft infuses the roster with new blood.  This roster certainly doesn’t lack youthful talent, however, and these young playmakers give us all reason to hope for a quick turnaround and an immediate return to the playoffs.

One of those players that has me particularly excited is running back Bradley Randle who signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, out of Nevada – Las Vegas, and has returned to the team’s practice squad after spending most of the NFL season training in California and spending time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  On December 11th the Vikings finally re-signed Randle to their practice squad and he was immediately asked to emulate Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy in practice to help the defense prepare.  The results were quite positive.

Now, most of you that have been reading my rants for some time now know that I am always quick to stump for a “scat back” in purple, as I feel that particular dimension in our offense has been missing for, well… a long, long time.  I’ve stumped for guys like Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush when they have been available, and I immediately got my hopes up following the 2013 Draft when news broke that the Vikings were bringing Randle in.

On Sunday, Randle was kind enough to spend some time answering some questions for VT, which was inspired by my curiosity as to why this guy seemed so popular with Vikings fans despite never having played in a game that mattered.

“Where else in the NFL is there a player that the fans love who has not played a single NFL regular game snap?” Randle told me.  “That is how great these fans are.”

“They are making history based off of the love in their hearts for a person like me,” he continued.  “An underdog.”

Randle is indeed an underdog.  With Adrian Peterson sitting atop the Vikings depth chart in a shatter-proof throne, Randle has to prove his worth as a backup to Peterson and on special teams, but don’t think Peterson’s stardom impacts Randle’s confidence.

“I am one of the best running backs in the NFL,” he was quick to tell me.  “I have Adrian Peterson as my mentor.  That is like having Walter Payton or Herschel Walker teaching you. He calls me ‘Mini Me.’  People began to call me ‘Lil AP’ and now big AP calls me that too.  This is because God has made me great.”

“Who is better than me besides my mentor Adrian Peterson himself?  The answer is ‘nobody,'” Randle said just before insisting he’ll be a mainstay on the Vikings roster next year.  “Just because I am great does not mean I will make the active roster.  It means I will take a spot on the active roster.”

The most noticeable thing about Randle and his Twitter account is how much he just genuinely seems to love the team that continues to give him chances.  I don’t think I have ever seen a player so outwardly loving of his team and their fanbase, and the uncanny thing about that was that it continued through the months following his release.  Even when he wasn’t a part of the team he acted like he was.

“To become a loved player on a team that has the best fans in the world has been emotional and inspiring,” Randle stated.  “It would be lovely to retire in Minnesota because now I play for fans as well.  I used to only play for God and my team.  Now the fans are a part of my heart.”

Randle’s return to Minnesota’s practice squad was well received by Vikings fans and Randle seems to appreciate the support he received from the fans.  He thinks that is something the front office will pay attention to down the stretch.

“The fans have power,” he claims.  “When the Vikings called me back to be on the team, the Vikings staff certainly heard the excitement of the fans.  The fans became excited again when there was not much to be excited about after missing out on making the playoffs this year.”

I asked Randle about the special teams hit that catapulted him into national highlight reels while at UNLV and he said he has always been a hard hitter and that he comes from a family full of hard hitters.  His father, Lenny Randle, was the MVP for the New York Mets in 1978.  While he also excels in baseball, Randle tells me that the NFL is where his heart is.

“Football is my sport of choice because of the purple warrior blood in my veins.”

I asked Randle about some of his Rebel brothers that he left behind.  With UNLV appearing in a bowl game, and Rick Spielman clearly trying to pair up college teammates on his roster, is there a chance we could see another Rebel with the Vikings next year and who does Randle think we should be keeping an eye on?

He mentioned nose tackle Nate Holloway, a large nose tackle that went undrafted in the 2013 supplemental draft, as well as defensive lineman James Boyd.  A fellow running back in Elijhaa Penny was also singled out by Randle.  Additionally, he described Kenny Brown as “a hard hitting defensive back.”  Time will tell if any other Rebels are in Spielman’s scope.

At the end of our conversation I asked Randle who he modeled his game after.  With him being listed at 5′ 7″ and 190 pounds I expected to hear him say Darren Sproles or someone of that sort.  Instead, Randle told me he runs like some of the toughest the game has ever seen, and seems to shrug off the idea that he can’t be a power runner.

Gale Sayers and Adrian Peterson. Both are gasher backs,” he said.  “LeSean McCoy is a slasher. We are gashers.”

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Matt Asiata did an admirable job last week, filling in for hobbled running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but the position is seeing a return to normalcy this week in Cincinnati.

Peterson and Gerhart are both active for today’s matchup with the Bengals, and Asiata is inactive after struggling with an ankle injury of his own.

Today’s Vikings inactives are:  QB Josh Freeman, DE Justin Trattou, RB Matt Asiata, OT Mike Remmers, WR Rodney Smith, DT Chase Baker, and CB Xavier Rhodes.

While injury continues to keep Rhodes out of action, Chris Cook should return to the field, and now has only two games left to “ball out” and prove to all 32 teams that he is not an NFL bust before he potentially enters free agency.  Starting guard Brandon Fusco is also active today after missing last week’s game.

Feel free to join other Vikings fans in our Live Chat Page to discuss the game as it unfolds.

 Fresno State’s QB Derek Carr takes on USC in the Las Vegas Bowl. USC has a solid defensive front, so it will be interesting to see if Derek can rise to the occasion and prove he is worthy of a top 10 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Nothing wrong with his arm strength or production, but I will be watching to see if he’s a big game performer in the clutch. His 4,866 yards passing this season with 48 touchdowns and 7 interceptions has me hoping the Vikings are in position to draft him.

Ranked just outside the top 50 on some draft boards is Washington State’s hard hitting SS Deone Bucannon. Spielman likes his defensive backs big, and Bucannon fits the mold at 6-1 215 lbs. Not only is he big enough to rattle some bones, but he is also a turnover machine with 5 interceptions on the year and 14 for his career. Bucannon is also the leading tackler for Washington State with 74 solo stops. With a solid bowl and combine performance, Bucannon could see his stock rise.

Washington State takes on Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl in the early Satuday game. The Rams have the 2nd ranked center in the country in Weston Richburg. With Charlie Johnson and Joe Burger set to be free agents, the Vikings are sure to take a look at this talented center from Colorado State. Weston has good NFL size at 6-4 300 lbs and has started 49 consecutive games. Weston blocks for the nation’s eight-leading rusher Kapri Bibbs who gained 1,572 yards this year. If Weston can prove he is versatile enough to also play guard, he just might be a guy Spielman will be tempted to target between rounds 2 and 4.

 I predicted a Vikings’ win against the Bears in week 13… and now I’m having those same sensations again this week.

 The Bengals are 9-5 and setting on top of the AFC North standings in part by winning all 6 of their home games in Cincinnati this season. At Paul Brown Stadium the Kittens have beaten Pittsburgh, Greenbay, New England, NY Jets, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. The Bengals have scored over 40 points in each of their last three home games. The Vikings on the other hand are only averaging 22 points per game in their last three road outings.

 On paper this looks like an easy win for the Bengals, right? Yes, and I bet the Eagles were thinking the same thing last week too.

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The unknowns surrounding the 2014 season are currently many, with a struggling team potentially on the verge of a shakeup, but we now know who the Vikings will face throughout their schedule next season.

Of course, they will face their divisional foes twice each, which accounts for six games on the schedule.  Judd Zulgad of 1500 ESPN points out that next year’s opponents have now been solidified, however, and here are the results.

The Vikings will play their home games at TCF Bank Stadium while their new palace is being constructed.  Their home games will consist of:  Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, and the Washington Redskins.

The Vikings are currently 0-7 on the road in 2013, and they are hoping to break that streak this week in Cincinnati, but they are going to have to be more successful next season if they hope to return to the playoffs.  Their away opponents are:  Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Bucs, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and the St. Louis Rams.

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