Friday, May 22, 2015
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audie cole

The overtime victory against the rival Bears on Sunday was a positive step for Vikings fans that just wanted the team to prove they still know how to win football games, but a step back for those that want to see the Vikings nab the first overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft.

The mixed emotions about this win don’t end there, though.  A win is a win, but this was not a pretty one, and there is certainly a great deal of things we saw on Sunday that were beyond worrisome.  I’ve decided to split the difference and will look at five things I liked and five things I didn’t following the 23-20 victory.

FIVE POSITIVES

1.  Matt Cassel Shows Stones

When Christian Ponder had to exit early it was Matt Cassel, not Josh Freeman, who was dressed and ready to take the reigns.  Cassel came in as a reserve, but played in a way that should clearly give him a leg up in the quarterback conversation in Minnesota.  He went 20 for 33 and a touchdown.  His lone pick was not his fault in the slightest, as tight end Rhett Ellison bobbled a perfect strike, and it really should have ended up being a second touchdown on the statline.  The only reason it wasn’t a touchdown for the Bears, by all appearances, was Cassel’s hustle as he chased down linebacker Khaseem Greene after he returned the ball for 49 yards.  Cassel may not be the starter next week against Baltimore, because no decision regarding this team ever seems to be the obvious one, but he showed up big after the Vikings offense netted just 16 passing yards through the first half with Ponder at the helm.

2. Nobody Does It Better

Much was written about Adrian Peterson’s greatness Monday, after the future Hall of Famer broke the 10,000 rushing yard threshold Sunday, but I’m so in awe of his everyday accomplishments that I can’t even begin to put into words how prolific his career has been thus far.  Peterson ran for 211 yards on 35 carries (6.0 yard average) against the Bears and seemingly willed the offense down the field at times, including moments in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and you just know he is the still a player that makes his team a competitor week-in and week-out.  Even when they are a bad team.

Quarterback Josh Freeman will continue to ride out the 2013 season as the third-string quarterback for at least another week.  Freeman is inactive for today’s game against Chicago.

The rest of the Vikings inactive players are:  CB Josh Robinson, DT Chase Baker, G Jeff Baca, T Mike Remmers, WR Rodney Smith, and TE Kyle Rudolph.

Linebacker Erin Henderson is active this week, but Audie Cole had a nice debut in his absence last week and is again expected to get the start.

The Bears will be without S Major Wright, QB Jay Cutler, and LB Lance Briggs today.

Join us in our VT Chat Room during today’s actions.

There is little we fans find more frustrating about our Vikings than their willingness to sit on young players, hoping they develop into quality players via practice rather than rushing them into action before their ready.  The frustration is compounded when we never get a chance to see what the player has on game day and Audie Cole is the latest example.

In a curious move, just prior to Thursday night’s matchup against Washington, the Vikings decided to waive their young linebacker and promote offensive tackle Kevin Murphy from the practice squad.  With Phil Loadholt missing time, and Charlie Johnson also out, I can see the sense in needing more depth up front.  Still, making Cole the casualty just doesn’t seem to add up.

Tonight’s inactives are:  Cornerback Chris Cook, right tackle Phil Loadholt, guard Charlie Johnson, safety Jamarca Sanford, running back Matt Asiata, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and defensive tackle Fred Evans.

Surprisingly LeTroy Guion, who was listed as “doubtful,” is active for tonight’s game.  He will not start, however, and rookie Sharrif Floyd will be filling in.

Please make sure you join us in our VT Chat Room to discuss tonight’s action, including a Hall of Fame ring presentation for Cris Carter, with all the Vikings fans that hang out in these parts.

 

The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to draft Manti Te’o to start at middle linebacker.  I thought it would happen, many of you thought it would happen, and Patrick Reusse of 1500 ESPN called it a “100% certainty.”  Of course, as we all know, the Vikings passed on Te’o on three occasions before he was swiped up by the Chargers in the second round.

In fact, the Vikings ignored the position up until the seventh round when they selected Penn State’s Michael Mauti.  Now, Mauti has first round talents and leadership skills, but he also comes with an injury history that nearly caused him to go undrafted.

So, despite my opinion that the idea has never made much sense, Brian Urlacher’s name just keeps coming up in connection with the Vikings.  Yesterday, in what would seem to cynics (anybody know one?) like an obvious attempt to drum up interest in himself, a dubious “report” appeared that said the linebacker was leaning towards joining the Vikings.

The nonstop chatter about the position, and nonstop chatter about Erin Henderson’s lack of abilities, has not been sitting well with him and he took to the media on Wednesday to make his feelings known.

“I haven’t been more pissed in — I couldn’t tell you,” Henderson told 1500 ESPN after saying head  coach Leslie Frazier has told him he needs to play more angry.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been this pissed in my entire life, to just hear people talk about stuff that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

“I guess it’s getting to a point now where it’s like, ‘Dang, I just want a little bit of respect,'” he continued.  “I’m not asking you to call me the greatest linebacker to ever play the game yet. Maybe one day we might get to that point, but show me a little bit of respect for what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished in this league.”

The main knock against Henderson have centered around the occasional, but glaring, soft tackling efforts and missed assignments in the passing game.  He has seemed to play at his best on the weakside, but when faulty decision making and injuries plagued Jasper Brinkley in 2012, Henderson was actually not too bad as the middle linebacker.  He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad.

Henderson shouldn’t have to worry about Urlacher any time soon, however, as Frazier appeared on NFL AM and said the team wasn’t considering adding the veteran at this time, but he also didn’t hand anything to Henderson on a silver platter.  He said there would be a battle, a competition, for the starting middle linebacker spot.

“I’ve kind of had to deal with it my entire career,” Henderson said. “A lot of people have said I shouldn’t have been starting as the will ‘backer. Coach was saying the same thing going into the season last year — ‘Well … Erin’s going to start out camp as the will backer.’ It’s never really been just outright, ‘OK, this is Erin’s position. This is Erin’s spot.'”

I don’t know if the Vikings have been using what doubters are saying about Henderson as motivation or what, but it is kind of unsettling to hear him spout off about what fans and the media are saying about him.  It kind of takes me aback a little bit as we don’t often hear players address comments of this nature in such a direct manner.

“And to the fans who don’t believe that I can do it, you haven’t seen me do it,” he said. “How can you say that I can’t do something if you haven’t seen me do it? They say different things about my abilities or whether I should be a starting linebacker or everything else, but my numbers and the fact that I’m still here speak for themselves.”

The beauty of the Urlacher thing, even though I never thought for one second that Rick Spielman would sign him, is that he kind of provides “competition” at the position as long as he remains a free agent.  The Vikings have Henderson, Mauti, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie and Marvin Mitchell lined up to duke it out during OTA’s and training camp, but the threat of Urlacher’s name-value continuing to pop up can only push these guys that much further.

Last year, when a tremendous amount of linebacker talent was available in free agency, the Vikings gambled on Brinkley and lost.  This year they are doing the same thing by passing on great talents in the Draft, and betting on their in-house talent to get the job done.  The gamble could end up making the front office look like geniuses, but failing to invest significantly in the middle linebacker position could also end up being this team’s downfall in 2013.

Right now, however, it appears Henderson will get the first crack at making sure that doesn’t happen.

And that thousands of fans don’t end up telling him “we told you so.”

The linebacker is largely considered to be the most glaring need for the Minnesota Vikings as April’s Draft edges closer, but their decision to bring back veteran Marvin Mitchell on Tuesday helps provide them with an insurance plan in case the instant-starter they surely covet in the first two rounds next month doesn’t pan out.

Mitchell signed a one year deal with the Vikings after spending 2012 with the team as a special teams contributor and a two-week starter in place of the injured Erin Henderson.  In those two weeks Mitchell made four tackles, and added five tackles plus a forced fumble on special teams over the course of the year.

Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson are expected to return as starters at their respective outside linebacker spots, but the drama lies in the middle after previous starter Jasper Brinkley was allowed to leave via free agency this offseason.  Mitchell joins a depth chart that includes Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie, and Larry Dean.

According to Dan Wiederer of Access Vikings, the team “has not closed the door” on the possibility of Cole competing for the remaining starting spot.  Cole, a seventh round selection last year out of North Carolina State, made his biggest splash last season when he returned interceptions for touchdowns on back-to-back plays against the Buffalo Bills.  He was inactive for 11 games in 2012 and registered no stats, but you have to remember that receiver Jarius Wright was also kept inactive as a rookie until Percy Harvin’s injury forced the Vikings to play him, and he now figures to be a key part of the offense.

The Vikings have reportedly flirted with the idea of bring in Brian Urlacher, which I thought made no sense, but have otherwise not let word leak about any interest in other possible linebackers.  Larry Grant and Karlos Dansby are a few free agents still available that might make sense, but it otherwise looks like the Vikings will be looking to the Draft for that guy capable of leading their defense.

I currently have the Vikings drafting Manti Te’o in the first round of my Mock Draft.

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