Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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chad greenway

Minnesota Vikings’ safety Andrew “Dinero Frio” Sendejo collected a cool $188,500 in NFL performance-based bonuses for his contribution on the football field in 2013. Sendejo’s extra coin was second only to right guard Brandon Fusco’s $237,000 bonus.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team shells out $3,460,000 to players based on their number of plays divided by their adjusted regular season compensation.

Sendejo’s bonus was well deserved because he actually played adequately filling in for the injured Harrison Smith.

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.

Erin Henderson watched Blair Walsh kick a 36 yard field goal to tie the game at 10 all against the Greenbay Packers on Monday night. With 5:09 left in the 2nd quarter, Henderson trotted out on the field to direct the defense in a critical junction of the game. Greenbay started the drive on their own 20 yard line. On 1st and 10 Eddy Lacy took the hand off from Aaron Rodgers and was tackled for a 2 yard loss on a great play by Henderson. Rodgers then dumped the ball off to Lacy on 2nd and 12 as Henderson fought through a block from guard Josh Sitton and held the play to a short gain. It was 3rd and long when Greenbay broke the game wide-open. The Vikings were in a nickle formation, which they had used for most of the game, Henderson and Marcus Sherels both blitzed while Everson Griffen dropped back into coverage from his DT position. Rodgers read it perfectly and hit Jordy Nelsen with a quick pass over the middle just outside of Chad Greenway’s coverage. Greenway, Everson Griffen and Andrew Sendejo all struggled to make the tackle as Nelson raced 76 yards for the score.

On the previous defensive series, Henderson, the Vikings leading tackler, had nice stops on 2nd and short and also on 3rd and short. Henderson finished the game with 7 tackles and 7 assists to lead the way for the Vikings.

Immediately following the NFL Draft, no matter the year, fans eagerly fantasize about seeing what the new crop brings to the table.  This offseason, Vikings fans have been giddy about the prospects of the Penn State linebacker duo, consisting of Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and figured the relative lack of depth at the position would quickly see one of them forced into action.

They may end up having an impact in the NFL, and we all hope they are studs, but it now appears that their moment will have to wait for current group of formidable veterans to fizzle.

The strong side spot is manned by a Pro Bowl caliber talent in Chad Greenway, entering the third year of his $40.6 million contract, and that is unlikely to change barring an injury.

We entered this offseason unsure if unrestricted free agent Erin Henderson would be retained, but the Vikings showed confidence in his abilities by signing him to a two year deal worth $4 million.  They didn’t have enough confidence in his abilities, however, to keep them from signing recently released linebacker Desmond Bishop to a one-year deal.

As we continue to go through the motions of Christian Ponders second offseason as the Vikings anointed starter at quarterback, we should all be clamoring for progress reports on the young signal caller that is facing a do-or-die type of season.  Leslie Frazier calls the middle linebacker position the “quarterback of the defense” and that is the position, however, that seems to be generating the most interest.

Kevin Seifert of ESPN detailed a play during today’s OTA sessions in which Ponder lofted a pass over the head of Henderson, who has been most criticized for his coverage skills, which landed in the hands of tight end Kyle Rudolph who was running a seam route (didn’t realize Bill Musgrave knew tight ends could run those) and came away with a big game.

As Seifert noted, it is only fair for readers to realize that this is one of the hardest plays to cover (hint, hint, Bill Musgrave) for a mike linebacker, especially in a practice session in which there is no pass rush.

Henderson once again bristled at the notion that he will struggle to transition to his new position and, in fact, partially dismissed the idea that he will be taking on a role different from what he has played in the past.

“It’s still football and still the same game,” said Henderson. “The majority of the game is played from nickel, so I’ve seen it from that perspective.”

“You guys have forced me to look at it as a position shift,” he said of the media attention being paid to him this offseason. “It’s definitely not exactly what you’ve done before. I can understand why it would be a big deal and why it would be looked at like a different position. But I’ve been asked to learn this position since I’ve been here and it really isn’t that different for me.”

When Jasper Brinkley’s struggles persisted throughout 2012, Henderson did play more of the mike role in nickel situations, as he indicated.  Still, this is his first year where the “quarterback of the defense” role is his to lose, as he has never really been a full-time, every-down player.  While Frazier is at least playing it off as there is a competition at the position, with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti both being mentioned, fellow linebacker Chad Greenway gave Henderson a vote of confidence on Wednesday.

“He’ll have to catch up on the pass-coverage part because it wasn’t as common of a thing for him to do before. But he’ll be fine,” Greenway said of Henderson. “I’m telling you: He’ll be great.”

If Henderson can be “great” as Greenway indicates, then the Vikings defense should be in pretty good shape this season, but if he struggles find success in the middle and the Vikings have to implement some sort of “plan B” scenario, then Rick Spielman’s unwillingness to invest heavily in the linebacker position over the last two offseasons could end up being this roster’s achilles heal.

Of course, that “quarterback of the offense” position is still pretty darn important, too.

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