Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The inevitable cuts are looming, and after tonight game, we’ll see the Minnesota Vikings’ active roster go from 89 players to 75 by September 1st. Through three weeks of preseason football, not much has changed — Teddy Bridgewater is still the man, Charles Johnson is the Vikings’ best receiver, and the defensive line is loaded with talent. There’s plenty to be excited about, but plenty left to prove for a handful of players, whether they’re clinging for life on the roster bubble or trying to find their groove with a new team.

As head coach Mike Zimmer noted earlier this week, the Vikings don’t view tonight’s matchup with the Cowboys as a “dress rehearsal.” Rather, it’s a test for his young team against a 2014 playoff contender and this year’s NFC East favorite, per 1500 ESPN’s Derek Wetmore:

“We really don’t gameplan for it. Our guys have been through all that for 16 weeks now anyway. It’s still about us and doing what we do and seeing if we can do it good against a team that we really haven’t studied much.”

“It’ll be a good test. They’re a very good offensive team, they’ve improved a lot defensively, they’ve always done a good job on special teams,” Zimmer said.

With that said, here are a few Vikings I’ll be watching closely tonight. If not a tune-up for the regular season, this evening’s game will provide the starters extended playing time and the reserves a chance to prove they belong on the roster:

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Courtesy of Matt Engstrom! (MattEngstrom1)

Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) stops by to talk about the latest happens with the Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings, project the first round of cuts down to 75 on Tuesday (and final 53), and preview Saturday’s second to last preseason game against the Dallas Jerrys Cowboys.

• Bumper sticker idea: “Don’t Hang Out With Ray McDonald”
• The three kinds of people on Twitter
• RIP Jeramie Gruber
• Teddy will never be arrested. Believe that
• Russell Wilson is 75% real. 25% fake. Teddy is 100% real.
• If you’re a female Vikings fan dating a Packers fan… You can do better, baby.
• Is Adrian really LeBron or is he Shawn Kemp?
• Goodnight, Cullen Loeffler.
• Zimmer not changing game plan in preseason to cater to bottom of roster. Wise?
• Arif & I compare 53 Man Roster Projections
• Josh Thomas vs Shaun Prater
• Zach Line should switch back to halfback: WHITE LIGHTNING!
• Mike Mauti – End of the Road
• The 75 Man Roster Game! Safe or Nah?!
• Teddy wants to complete 70% of his passes this season. Feasible?
• When’s Mike Wallace going to get loose?
• Hodges deserves to start at middle linebacker
• Is Adrian’s remorse really a facade? Reusse with the fastball.
• Minnesota-Dallas could be a legit playoff preview
• We quickly forgot all of the La’el Collins drama
• Randy Gregory/Greg Hardy pass rush.
• Is it REALLY all the offensive line?
• Dallas: Orlando Scandrick out. Big?
• Every team in the league loses their top 2 Qbs. Who wins the Super Bowl?
• Visit our new sponsor Victiv for Daily Fantasy Sports!
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All that and other “Hodges Deserves The Mike chatter on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast!

An Andy Carlson Joint.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Who is this Matt Kalil, and where has he been? I’ve watched the Vikings’ three preseason games, and the No. 75 stepping onto the field isn’t the same player I watched in 2014. We all know the story — Kalil allowed a league-high 12 sacks last season while playing every offensive snap through chronic knee pain. More often than not, Kalil looked slow, unsure of himself, and passive in pass protection, giving some of the league’s best edge rushers free shots on first-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

It wasn’t all his fault, though. Kalil’s knees became such an issue last season that he required arthroscopic surgery from Dr. James Andrews — the same doctor who repaired Adrian Peterson’s ACL — and has been taking precautionary steps to improve his health since January. Midway through training camp, Kalil reflected on his injuries and the mental toll they took on him this offseason, per Andrew Krammer:

“You get to a point where everything hurts so much, you’re like, ‘OK, one more year and then there’s no way,'” Kalil said. “There’s a lot of things, too, besides football. Obviously I love football and I’m healthy, obviously I’m going to do everything I can like I am now.”

“But if you’re not [healthy], it wears on you. If you had to go to practice and feel excruciating pain every day, it wouldn’t be really fun to work with. You feel like you have to survive at practice instead of get better and work on your skills. You know what I mean? That’s what it was like last year. It’s all good now, I’m healthy.”

Given his newfound health and confidence, Kalil can finally focus on perfecting his technique. That extra practice time, from working individually on his kickstep to battling Everson Griffen in one-on-ones, means Kalil is beginning to look more and more like his 2012 self. That Matt Kalil, the fourth-overall selection in the  NFL Draft, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and lived up to the college hype, routinely shutting down elite rushers like Aldon Smith, Robert Mathis, and Clay Matthews.

However, his road to recovery hasn’t been without bumps and bruises. As Adam wrote earlier this month, Kalil started camp as the team’s revolving door, losing one-on-one battles with Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, and even rookie Danielle Hunter. The same issues that cropped up in 2014 — lazy footwork, high pad level, a late first punch — resurfaced throughout practices, and the worries of an ever-fearful Vikings fan base grew with every poor camp report.

But then, the Vikings traveled to Canton for the Hall of Fame Game and Kalil played…great? He did, are you sure? Yes, Kalil was solid, and surprisingly, that’s been the case in every one of the Vikings’ three exhibition games. Even Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, which ranked Kalil the third-worst tackle in 2014, has been surprised by Kalil’s performances:

Where did this turnaround come from, and how has Kalil been so efficient? Granted, it’s only the preseason, and we’re dealing with a small sample size, but the film never lies — Kalil looks healthy, motivated, and engaged thus far in 2015.

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Carl: Josh Thomas, CB
When the Vikings agreed to terms with Josh Thomas on July 24, I didn’t think he had much of a chance to make the 53-man roster. After a strong camp and a great showing against the Raiders (six tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception), Thomas is making a case that he belongs on this football team. With Josh Robinson on the PUP, Jabari Price looking at a two-game suspension and Stefon Diggs flashing as the real deal for punt returner (sorry Marcus Sherels), Thomas might be earning more than just a short-term look. With 10 starts under his belt with the Carolina Panthers, the 2011 fifth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys may not be a “major” surprise at this point, but he is peaking at the right time and earns my pick to make the cut.

Brent: Chase Ford, TE
Going out on an absolute limb here. I realize it seems crazy to carry four tight ends — but I wonder if the Vikings choose to carry an extra tight end in place of a fullback. As I’ve noted in my piece projecting the final 53-man roster, I would value Ford’s receiving abilities more than I would Line’s lead blocking. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I like the opportunity to run the offense in more 3 WR sets without a lead blocker, and Rudolph’s injury history leaves me wanting another receiving tight end.  Additionally, Ellison’s and Pruitt’s ability to fill in as a lead blocker if needed ensures the Vikings don’t need to be forced to carry a fullback.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Kicking in the NFL is a lot like putting in golf. The slightest hitch, increase in speed, or head movement can throw off a kick or putt. Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting inside your own head. For golfers, the “yips” can devastate what was once a solid short game. And for Blair Walsh, the “yips” are playing a nasty game on the Vikings’ star kicker, who is struggling mightily through three preseason games.

When the Vikings extended Walsh’s contract in July —  a four-year deal worth up to $14 million, with $5.25 million in guarantees — it appeared to be a vote of confidence from Rick Spielman and the front office. Walsh had, in only his rookie season, earned a trip to the 2012 Pro Bowl after connecting on 92.1 percent of his field goals. More impressive was the fact that Walsh attempted 10 field goals of 50 or more yards, and connected on all of them that year.

He showed off the impressive leg that had made him a sixth-round pick out of Georgia, and converted more field goals than any other kicker in 2012. “After I saw the combine workout and then I went down to Georgia (where Walsh went to college) to work him out, I knew he had the leg strength to do that kind of damage as a field-goal kicker,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said before the 2012 NFL Draft, per the Pioneer Press.

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