Saturday, January 31, 2015
Blog Page 82

By most accounts, the 2014 offseason has been fulfilling for the Minnesota Vikings franchise and fans, and the NFL Draft was some Rick Spielman brilliance if general approval ratings are considered a fair unit of measurement.

Still, the offseason isn’t over, and most of us can scan this roster and find places we would like to see strengthened even further by Week One.  Additionally, with a new coaching regime and new schemes in place, it is especially difficult to pinpoint exactly where talent voids exist.  Even the most confident of analysts are lying if they tell you they know how this team will perform in 2014, and we can’t expect to get a great gauge for just how good (or bad) they are until week eight or possibly later.

Still, it would be very out of character for Rick Spielman to stop making moves at this point, and there is (say it with me) always room for improvement… or at least additional competition.

Here is a quick glance at a few guys that are currently looking for work that I think could make interesting additions to this roster in an attempt to elevate the position battles in training camp.  If these four guys don’t excite you, trust me, I understand.  There is a whole other wave of free agency that will flood the market just prior to the regular season, but for now we can really only speculate on the guys we know are available.  Here you go:

1.  La’Rod Stephens-Howling, RB, Age 27

Behind Adrian Peterson, the Vikings running back depth chart seems wide open, and those roster spots will be much debated when training camp and preseason rolls around.  With a new regime in place, it remains to be seen if Jerome Felton can even be considered a sure things this year.  The Vikings currently have five running backs and two fullbacks listed on the roster and I think there is room for another addition or two, especially given the likelihood of a preseason injury impacting at least one of these guys.

La’Rod Stephens-Howling is a guy the Vikings reportedly showed some interest in prior to the draft.  I’m not sure if that included an evaluation of his health or not, as he injured his ACL in the regular season opener last year, but his skillset is exactly what you want to have out of a second or third string running back.  He’s a versatile guy, capable of pass protection and catching passes, while also being able to contribute on special teams if need be.

If he can participate in training camp drills, I see no reason not to give this guy a chance to compete for a spot on the final 53.

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That is not a typo, the Vikings have signed a linebacker named Mike Zimmer, who was previous on the Jaguars roster as well as a player for Illinois State from 2009-2012. They have also signed linebacker Dom Decicco, an undrafted free agent in 2011 out of Pittsburgh that signed with the Chicago Bears, then Tampa Bay Buccaneers (BEFORE Lovie Smith arrived). Decicco played strong safety in college but was converted to linebacker by the Bears (who did the same to Urlacher out of New Mexico, sort of—he played a hybrid “Lobo” role, a mix between SS and MLB).

They also waived former Iowa guard Conor Boffeli and former Missouri Western quarterback Travis Patridge.

Zimmer played in three preseason games for the Jaguars, but didn’t do much in those preseason games, logging 38 snaps. While at Illinois State, Zimmer played across all three linebacker positions but primarily played middle linebacker. Zimmer is somewhat unimpressive athletically, posting a respectable 4.72 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, but at a worrisome 235 pounds. His 22 reps on the bench press are adequate for the position as well, and the rest of his agility and explosion scores check out.

It remains to be seen if he will be listed as anything other than a weakside linebacker, but figures to have signed on for his special teams contributions.

Given that head coach Mike Zimmer has indicated a preference for those who flash athletic ability and teachability as priorities for signings, then it’s probably true that Zimmer the player is faster in pads than on the test track, and plays with a level of precision or instinct that’s appealing.

Of note, both head coach Mike Zimmer and current Vikings linebacker Mike Zimmer were linebackers at Illinois State.

Dom Decicco primarily played as a strong safety for Pittsburgh, but was converted to the middle linebacker position with the Bears—tasked to cover the deep middle in pass coverage in their Tampa-2 system. He was projected as a weakside linebacker before the draft, and it’s hardly a surprise that that meant Tampa-2 MLB to Lovie Smith.

He doesn’t have the fluidity to play safety in the NFL, but is a good enough cover player (mostly in zone) to be an option at outside linebacker (again, traditionally as a WLB) with good instincts for the run and an aggressiveness that probably appealed to Mike Zimmer (the coach). He gets off blocks surprisingly well for his size and tackles well, reading the flow of the run well. He needs to be more instinctive (or at least trust himself more) in coverage, but plays the game mindfully and has a reputation for on-field smarts and film-study. He has been a good special teams player for the Bears. He also did well but not spectacularly in the preseason for the Buccaneers.

We should be careful not to draw too much meaning from this, but it COULD mean that the Vikings are happy with their camp depth at guard and quarterback (this would be fantastic news for Teddy and Yankey fans) but a bit worried about their linebacker depth (not a huge shock)—with players like Larry Dean and Gerald Hodges put on notice.

 In the exciting world of college football there are good players, bad players and better player. Minnesota Vikings’ third round draft pick Jerick McKinnon falls into the “better” category for a couple reasons.

A) He is one of the better triple-option threats in the country rushing for 2817 yards in his junior and senior seasons combined at Georgia Southern. McKinnon can play quarterback, running back and also has two career interception as a defensive back. Factor in his 18.5 yard average on 4 kickoff returns and you will be hard pressed to find a better Jack of all trades than McKinnon. And no, Jack of all trades doesn’t always mean master of none.  

B) With better coaching and a better offensive system, it stands to reason that McKinnon should naturally become an even better player, right?

 Well, that’s my thought process now even though I didn’t have the same vision before the Vikings selected him with the 96th pick.

  

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It’s Saturday afternoon, which means I’m mailing it in.

Pro Football Focus, the grading company that I’ve too often promoted for their excellent work, has finished their Top 101 list for the year, a list that has explicit guidelines:

- This list is based solely on 2013 play. Nothing that happened in previous years or may happen in the future is accounted for. This isn’t about class or talent; it’s about form throughout 2013.

– This list is created with an “All Positions Created Equal” mantra. So you won’t see 32 quarterbacks heading the list, even though that is the most valuable position, instead seeing how guys played relative to what is expected from their position. You might disagree with this for doing a Top 101 list which is your right, but this is how we’ve done it for the past three years and will continue doing it. This way every player has a fair shot at getting the respect they deserve.

– A repetition because it’s often the most misunderstood: this is not a list about talent or a lifetime achievement award. It is solely, 100% based on what happened between the opening kickoff of the 2013 regular season and the final snap of the Super Bowl this past February. Anything outside those dates does not matter.

So, which Minnesota Vikings cracked the list? Not many, but two you’d expect and one that is a pleasant but mild surprise:

 

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reierson

 

As a senior this past year at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, tight end Jeremy Reierson grabbed 12 catches for 159 yards and five touchdowns. Reierson has proven to be an extremely versatile player on the field, and he was disappointed to come away from last weekend undrafted. However, the TE will get another opportunity this weekend at the Vikings rookie training camp.

In an article on Northland News Center, UMD head coach Curt Weise said the following about Reierson:

“Every team is a little different. Some tight ends are used as wide receivers, some play on the line of scrimmage. You watch the Vikings offense, and I think Jeremy’s a guy that could potentially play both spots for those guys.”

Reierson spent two seasons at the University of Wisconsin before transferring to UMD. He redshirted his freshman year and did not play his sophomore year. After making the move to Duluth, however, Reierson immediately saw an increase in playing time. He received started in seven games his junior season and caught seven passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns, both during road games.

The TE might be a little big more of a risk, having fewer credentials to go off of, but it’s clear that his size and athleticism at the TE position are valuable to any team.

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