Friday, November 27, 2015

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More often than not, Skip Bayless embraces the role of human clickbait, bred by ESPN to incite anger among fan bases and drive traffic to his daily morning show, ESPN First Take. A little over a year ago, Bayless made the Vikings a target by criticizing then-rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater:

Bayless’s jab at Bridgewater sparked heated debate; “Are his hands too small? Is he too skinny to play in the NFL?”. One year later, and Bridgewater, like most who end up on the other end of Bayless’s buffoonery, is smashing those low expectations. He won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award and finished the season as the league’s best rookie quarterback — Bridgewater threw 14 touchdowns and went 6-6 as the team’s starter.

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T.J. Clemmings was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 11th pick of the fourth round (110th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. GM Rick Spieman waited until the fourth round to add an offensive player, and Clemmings has the size and athleticism to earn playing time as a rookie at guard or tackle. Injury concerns and a rough Senior Bowl week pushed him out of the first round and down on teams boards. The Vikings are hoping Clemmings can develop into a staple along the offensive line and prove to be this year’s steal of the draft.

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Go back and watch any Vikings game from 2014. What did you see? A promising rookie quarterback who struggled early and blossomed late in the year? A defensive end who thrived as a pass rusher and run stopper? A safety who asserted himself as one of the league’s best?

You probably saw all three, but nothing was more apparent than the struggles of the offensive line. Right tackle Phil Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle early in the year, landing on Injured Reserve and missing almost the entire season. Left guard Charlie Johnson, who was released this offseason, struggled in both the run game and in pass protection. However, success is almost impossible when lined up next to a player like 2014 Matt Kalil:

Hopefully, Vikings fans won’t have to watch more of this in the coming season. In a recent interview with the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman, Mike Zimmer explored the idea of shifting the team’s offensive line in 2015 and replacing Johnson with one of three in-house options:

“We are looking at a few guys right now,” he said. “Obviously [veteran] Joe Berger has a chance to fit in with the mix. We have actually been looking at Brandon Fusco moving over to left guard and T.J. Clemmings playing right guard. Also the kid [tackle] Carter Bykowski] that we took off of San Francisco’s practice squad has looked good as well.”

In the same interview, Zimmer shared that Matt Kalil “feels great” and will play with “a chip on his shoulder” in 2015. After the team picked up his fifth-year option, Kalil will need to bounce back from a horrendous 2014 campaign. With two healthy knees, he may have a chance to do just that. On the other side of the line, fourth-round pick Clemmings may see time at right guard; he practiced primarily on the right side, at both guard and tackle, during rookie minicamp.

After the jump, a look at the latest developments around the NFC North:

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The 2015 NFL Draft is over. The Vikings’ first rookie minicamp, which took place last weekend, is over. Up next — training camp at the end of July. Rookies took the field earlier this month to prove themselves in front of Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff, but that was just a tease. The real test, the real development, is just beginning.

One player, seventh-round pick Edmond Robinson, stands to gain the most this offseason. I highlighted him as a potential sleeper prospect in March, but Robinson has a chance to be more than just a practice squad player; if he can take advantage of his physical gifts and the excellent coaching in Minnesota, Robinson can become a contributor on special teams and beyond.

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In the theme of Mad Men, Sam Ekstrom (@SamEkstrom) of 105 The Ticket and Cold Omaha joined the show to make it two dark, handsome, mysterious, and creative dudes talking about Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings football. No smoking though because: 2015. And no drinking brown liquor because: 9am on a Monday. (Okay maybe a little brown liquor)

Also in the theme of the final season of Mad Men, I broke up the chat into two parts. Please enjoy! Preferably while sipping an ice cold Coca-Cola.

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