Thursday, July 2, 2015

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After an offseason that saw Minnesota’s expectations for 2013 go up and down numerous times, observers seem to have the lowest amount of faith in them since Donovan McNabb was quarterback following an ugly opener in Detroit.  However, a key to almost any team’s season-long success is their ability to stay healthy, and Friday’s final injury report offers some hope for Week Two’s matchup in Chicago.

The Vikings have seven players listed as “probable” and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee), who didn’t play in Detroit, is one of them.  Williams practiced on Wednesday and Thursday, missed Friday for a personal reason, and is expected to suit up against the Bears.  Williams may not be the full-time player we are used to him being, but a defensive line rotation was a part of the plan for this season anyways, and his return certainly can’t hurt.

Also “probable” are:  Linebackers Larry Dean (shoulder) and Erin Henderson (heel), right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee), safety Mistral Raymond (shoulder), cornerback Josh Robinson (quadriceps), and center John Sullivan (knee).  Each of these guys was able to participate in full during Friday’s practice.

The Bears have listed both Julius Peppers (illness) and Charles Tillman (knee) as “probable” for Sunday’s divisional showdown.

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The Vikings practice squad is always fluid, with players coming and going, but the details of these eight spots lose a lot of intrigue once the offseason ends and the regular season begins.  Still, there are some interesting things to keep an eye on as these moves are made.

For example, on Wednesday the Vikings signed defensive back Robert Steeples to the squad, and the fact that they assigned him jersey number 26 is perhaps a clear signal that the return of Antoine Winfield is not atop the front office’s priority list.

Yesterday, running back Bradley Randle was released from the practice squad along with defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo.  Meanwhile, running back Joe Banyard was signed to the practice squad.  Last week, it was Banyard being cut and Randle being added.  The Vikings have employed a technique in recent years where they go back and forth with certain players, adding them and dropping them from the practice squad, as a way of essentially keeping two guys in the mix while only tying up one roster spot.  This could be the case here as both Banyard and Randle have traits worth developing at the NFL level.

Additionally, defensive end D’Aundre Reed has officially parted ways with the team via an injury settlement, as did guard Seth Olsen.

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The Vikings offense has received the most attention following the week one loss in Detroit, but the defense certainly didn’t inspire much confidence with their performance, either.  Part of the problem was visible in the middle of the defense, with Detroit’s running game producing quite nicely, and it was noticeable that defensive tackle was out of action.

According to 1500 ESPN, the defensive line rotation may get a boost this week against Chicago, who has a talented duo of running backs themselves.  Williams was able to practice in a limited capacity on Wednesday and Leslie Frazier said he hoped to see him back in the lineup this Sunday.

Also limited in practice were CB Josh Robinson (quad), C John Sullivan (knee), and RT Phil Loadholt (knee).  The Bears are little healthier right now with CB Charles Tillman (knee) being their only player limited in Wednesday’s practice.

Antoine Winfield is not retiring after all.

At least not yet.

Winfield’s agent, Ashanti Webb, said the 36-year-old free agent cornerback has yet to file retirement papers. On the same note, Webb said he hasn’t “heard anything substantive from (Vikings) to bring back to Antoine.”

Before the season opener, shortly after reports came out that Seattle would release the veteran corner, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said that he would “welcome” a chance to reunite with the Winfield.

“You know, I have a ton of respect for Antoine,” Frazier said. “He did a lot of good things for us here, had a great career here in Minnesota and really helped me look good at times with some of the plays he made. I have a deep affection for him.

“But if he wanted to play, I’d welcome the opportunity to work with Antoine again if that’s what he wanted to do. But if he’s retired, I wish him nothing but the best. He’s been a great player, a great person, and he’s going to enjoy retirement. But he was a tremendous player for a long time in our league.”

Minnesota’s defense struggled against Detroit on Sunday. While some of the blame should be attributed to the game planning against the Lion’s potent passing attack, the team’s secondary allowed many unnecessary plays for long yards.

One would assume the Vikings would welcome Winfield back, but apparently little conversation has happened between Winfield and Minnesota since his release from the Seahawks. Familiarity with the Vikings’ defense would make it appealing for both sides, but many other teams in the NFL employ some form of the tampa-2 scheme that Winfield could smoothly transition to.

The other day I hit a squirrel.  I didn’t mean to and I did everything I could to safely miss the thing.  I went right and so did the squirrel.  I went left and the squirrel reversed course and stayed right in front of me.  This went on for a number of slight swerves when suddenly a definitive “THUD” made the outcome of this little episode quite clear.

On Sunday afternoon, the Detroit Lions played the part of my car, doing seemingly everything they could to keep that squirrel (the Minnesota Vikings) alive.

In the end:  THUD.

Things started out fairly promising.  A botched field goal attempt led to the Vikings first offensive snap, which Adrian Peterson took to the house from 78 yards out, but it was all downhill from there.  Here are my graded observations from the action:

GRADE A

Watching Adrian Peterson take that ball 78 yards for a touchdown really gave me hope about this game.  Hope is officially dead for a week one win, but runs like that still give me hope for the rest of the season.  In the hours following this loss I had to keep reminding myself just how ugly that loss to Indianapolis was last year and that the 2012 Vikings were able to turn things around, so the 2013 version might be able to do the same.

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