Monday, October 5, 2015

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[Editor’s note: This is another GIF-heavy article from Darren Page. Previously, some readers have indicated that they have had trouble loading pages that have this many GIFs embedded at once, so a mobile-friendly version with the GIFs implemented as links instead of embedded images is available here – Arif]

The Minnesota Vikings made their first of multiple secondary selections by drafting Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Exum started 32 games between both the safety and cornerback positions going into his senior season at Virginia Tech.  A torn ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee suffered during a pick-up basketball game cut into his final season in Blacksburg. He would return for two full games in 2013 as a shell of himself. An ankle injury suffered against Miami in his third start ended his season.

The shame of it was that Exum was coming off a heralded junior year in which he was named second team All-ACC in a talented group of cornerbacks that included current Viking Xavier Rhodes. Exum led the Hokies with five interceptions. He also logged 48 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 16 pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.

Exum won time at both free safety and a “rover” position during the 2011 season. He was technically a safety ever since he arrived at Virginia Tech, only platooning at cornerback the one season. That experience at safety will be important, because Exum is listed as a safety for the Vikings.

Let’s dig into the meat of Exum’s cornerback play in 2012 and translate it to safety play before looking at how the Vikings may plan on using him.

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If you haven’t been following on twitter, you might have missed this but it’s important to say: we’ve reached our goal! We’ve raised more than 4,000 dollars and not only will I be able to attend training camp in full, I’ll be able to do it with additional coverage tools, including full photography and video!

With any luck, I’ll have finished my 50,000+ word camp guide in the coming days so that everyone who donated enough to receive one can get one in time to digest before training camp truly starts. As I’m winding down, I still have a ways to go, but it should be fun. The final formatting still has a lot of work to get done, but here’s a preview of the type of content in there:

Training Camp Guide - Receivers

I know you can’t read it easily, but I don’t want to give everything away to people not getting the guide! The scouting section includes a summary of strengths, weaknesses and the chances, in my opinion, a player has to make the roster. The image above has the scouting reports on three receivers. While the bottom of the roster won’t have as extensive of a scouting section on them, the idea is to have a good idea of every player heading in to camp.

Aside from that are record books, a jersey/roster guide with athleticism scores, a small “how to watch players at training camp” guide and a few more pieces about camp and the players heading in. All of it is exclusive to the camp guide.

You can also still get posters. We’ll be getting shots of all 90 players and naturally a lot more shots of the most exciting players: Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Teddy Bridgewater, and so on.

The more we can raise the better!  Donate here.

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The offseason is about to close up, so we’ll get fewer of these posts. Hooray.

Matt Cassel ranked 32nd in Ron Jaworski’s list of starting quarterbacks, which is at the moment incomplete (it’s a countdown, so ESPN hopes you’ll tune in and see). Ahead of Cassel on the list are Fitzpatrick, Smith (Geno), Locker, Manuel and Henne. Perhaps Smith and Manuel will make some significant strides next year, but it is actually difficult to see Cassel below any of those quarterbacks besides Jake Locker, who has looked acceptable when healthy.

This also means that players like Matt Schaub and Brian Hoyer are ranked ahead of Cassel.

It doesn’t matter much as a “true” ranking of Cassel would still likely be low and the fact is that he’s only a temporary starter unless he makes enormous strides. From a statistical perspective, Cassel ranked 20th in adjusted net yards per attempt and 13th in net yards per attempt, with a passer ranking that placed him 25th. Pro Football Focus ranked Cassel 29th (per-snap). The other quarterbacks mentioned above ranked as follows:

Jaworski ANYA NYA Passer Rating PFF per Snap DVOA
Chad Henne 27 31 32 31 39 33
E.J. Manuel 28 30 34 29 42 37
Jake Locker 29 21 24 19 24 22
Geno Smith 30 37 30 37 37 45
Ryan Fitzpatrick 31 22 15 23 21 20
Matt Cassel 32 20 13 25 29 23

Cassel wasn’t impressive by any means and Fitzpatrick put together a better statistical and outcomes-oriented resume, but there needs to be a very good case made for Henne, Manuel and Smith over Cassel (throw in Matt Schaub, as well).

This will all fall by the wayside when Teddy Bridgewater is installed as the starter.

Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy has been suspended 4 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. For those who don’t know who Spencer Nealy is, he’s a former Texas A&M defensive end that signed with the Detroit Lions last year immediately after the draft. The Lions waived him on August 1st and the Vikings signed him later that month, on the 20th.

They waived Nealy on August 31st but did not add him to the practice squad. After the Cowboys signed Everett Dawkins from the Vikings practice squad on November, they had an opening (technically, they had an opening after waiving Audie Cole and signing Kevin Murphy, but they signed Audie Cole shortly later and demoted Murphy back to the practice squad) and signed Nealy.

A month later, on December 20th, Nealy was once again waived from the Vikings practice squad in order to make room for Robert Steeples (at least it was presumably for Steeples, who was promoted and then waived by the Vikings earlier that year. There was a lot of movement at the time, including promoting Joe Banyard from the PS, putting John Carlson on injured reserve, signing Chase Ford to the PS and what have you). He signed a futures contract with the Vikings after the season.

As @VikingsCorner pointed out, Nealy is still eligible to participate in all practices and preseason games, but will be barred from practicing with the team as soon as the season starts. Per an NFL spokesman, by way of

Spencer Nealy of the Minnesota Vikings has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2014 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

Nealy will be eligible to return to the Vikings’ active roster on Monday, September 29 following the team’s September 28 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Nealy is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games.

The specific issue was taking a banned supplement so banned because of one of its ingredients, which Nealy says he is responsible for:

Here’s Sports Illustrated’s scouting report on Nealy (linked to the Pride of Detroit blog because SI’s redesign has killed all previous article links):

At first glance Spencer Nealy does not look like a viable NFL prospect because he is a tweener that lacks the bulk and strength to hold the POA inside and the speed and all around athleticism to play on the edge. However, he is a high-effort player that makes more plays than he should because of whistle-to-whistle competitiveness. The NFL has become a very specialized game, and if used correctly Nealy can become an effective rotational player that can play LDE on run downs and 3-technique on passing downs for a 43 defense. Before becoming a feasible backup option at the next level he will need to significantly improve his hand usage, as he struggles to keep blockers from locking onto his frame.

It is unlikely he’ll make it all the way through training camp, as players who bounce around practice squads do not have a lot of wiggle room.

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Ex-Vikings center Matt Birk has been named the NFL’s new Director of Player Development, per Ian Rapaport. Matt Birk played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1998 to 2008 as a sixth-round pick from Harvard. He went to high school in Minnesota, at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.

He made six Pro Bowls while with Minnesota (missing out in 2002 and 2005, but making every other one between 2000 and 2007) and two All-Pro teams. He won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2011 with the Ravens and won the Minnesota Vikings Man of the Year award six times (and the Ed Block Courage award in 2007).

Birk founded the HIKE Foundation, which works with at-risk children to provide them with educational opportunities and has worked with 100,000 children in the Baltimore area alone to teach them to read. There’s little question about his character, though he has made political waves with ardently conservative politics. He is a pro-life activist, and penned an Op-Ed in the Star Tribune in favor of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. For these reasons, he refused to visit President Obama with the rest of the Ravens team after winning the Super Bowl.

All that aside, Matt Birk is probably a perfect person for this role. He cares a lot about many of the problems affecting NFL players and has promised to donate his brain to Boston University in order to advance the understanding of CTE and its relationship to football.

From the NFL Communications blog:

In his new role, Birk will assist in developing the game at all levels of the sport, from players to coaches to front office personnel. He will also assist in the administration of NFL game day operations.

Birk will guide the continued evolution of the Scouting Combine and Regional Combines as well as the annual all-star games for aspiring NFL players, such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game.

“I’m very excited to begin this next chapter of my football career,” says Birk, who becomes the eighth former player to take a job at the NFL office, joining Merton Hanks, Dwight Hollier, Patrick Kerney, James Thrash, David Tyree, Troy Vincent and Charles Way. “It’s a real honor for me to be entrusted with developing the game in so many different ways.”

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Birk will play a leading role in the continuing evolution and emergence of the Career Development Symposium, oversee the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program and NFL-NCAA Future Football Coaches Academy initiative.

“Matt’s experience as a terrific NFL player, a model citizen in his community and a reputation as a forward-thinking leader make him ideally suited for this role,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations TROY VINCENT. “There is no doubt he will continue to make a positive impact on our game and be a trusted advocate for those who play and coach at every level.”

Birk, who will also serve as a liaison for the Football Operations department on the international development of the game and assist in further strengthening the NFL High School Player Development program, will be based at NFL headquarters in New York.

Troy Vincent was previously the person in that role, but has been promoted since then.

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