Friday, January 30, 2015
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harrison smith

A month ago, Vikings fans would have salivated over the idea of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o falling into their laps at the #23 spot of the upcoming NFL Draft.

Now, however, Te’o has found himself in the middle of one of the most bizarre stories to hit the sports world since… well, possibly ever.  The story of Te’o being a part of one of the biggest hoaxes of all time has led most to wonder about his character, and also doubt his ability to be a leader in the NFL which was one of his best attributes in college.

One thing that has become explicitly clear over the last few weeks are that the special connection that Te’o had with football lovers around the nation was every bit as fictional as his online girlfriend.

Weirdness and intangibles aside, Te’o still possesses first round caliber abilities and one can’t help but wonder what the Vikings might do if he is available when they are on the clock.  After all, the Vikings could clearly use some help at the linebacker position and G.M. Rick Spielman has an affinity for players coming out of Notre Dame.

Te’o has four years of experience, with progressive production coming from each season, as the heart of Notre Dame’s front season.  He is a very strong and sound tackler that does a good job of getting around or through blocks to make a play.  He plays the run with great instincts and discipline, which seems to rub off on the rest of the defense.

Te’o also possesses a range and fluidity in pass coverage that the Vikings defense could desperately use.  Over his career he has displayed an ability to play smart zone coverage (17 passes defended) and has a knack for heads-up plays (7 interceptions).

There are questions about Te’o’s speed and athleticism, and his forty time will be highly anticipated at the Scouting Combine, but I felt like he already answered a lot of those questions by dropping into coverage a lot more during his senior year with great success.  11 of his defended passes (and all seven picks) came in his senior year.

With all of that said, there is no doubt that Te’o isn’t the fastest linebacker in the world, and isn’t going to wow any scouts with his blitz abilities.  For the Vikings defense under Alan Williams, who seldom asks his linebackers to blitz, Te’o could be a great addition to a defense that places a lot of emphasis on stopping the run.

The whole hoax thing could make the Vikings a good fit for Te’o.  He would be surrounded by former teammates and other Notre Dame greats, which Rick Spielman has loaded up on recently.  Safety Harrison Smith would be playing right behind Te’o.  He could line up on special teams with Robert Blanton.  Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson are on the offensive side of the ball along with center John Sullivan.  There also may not be a head coach better equipped to deal with Te’o’s unique situation than Leslie Frazier is.

I have little doubt that Te’o could step into the regular season as a starter on this defense, besting either Jasper Brinkley or Erin Henderson.  I’m not convinced that he would be the guy we want to be selected at #23, but I am also not convinced that he isn’t, as it would depend greatly on what other options exist when they are on the clock.

Here are some of his highlights from college:

The Packers got the ball to start the second half and once again looked calm and efficient against a Vikings defense that appeared to have no answers for either Aaron Rodgers and DuJuan Harris.  An Everson Griffen sack on the drive wasn’t enough to derail the Packers completely but they did manage to hold the Packers to a field goal on a beautifully defended pass from Harrison Smith.

However, a 12-men penalty (Jasper Brinkley) unbelievably kept the Packers on the field inside the 10 yard line which of course is not good.  A quick checkdown to John Kuhn put the Packers up by three touchdowns.

The Packers, with a comfortable lead, were then able to key in on Adrian Peterson and contain him but a few nice passes to Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright gave the Vikings some life.  It wasn’t enough to keep them out of a 4th down scenario, however, and that play ended up being the nail in the coffin.  Joe Webb was stripped by Clay Matthews for the games first turnover.

On a great run stop from Fred Evans and Harrison Smith, Smith looked to be seriously hurt, proving that even when things go right for the Vikings they go wrong.  At least that seems to be the way of it tonight.  The Vikings did, however, succeed in getting the Packers offense off the field one play later.

The third quarter ended following a Joe Webb interception.

The fourth quarter has to be really, really, really, really, really, really good if the Vikings are going to pull this one off.

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The Vikings were expected to struggle greatly this week, as the Texans represent the AFC’s best, but they made it look easy as they cruised to victory.

A number of individual performances contributed to the win, but none really stand far out above the rest, so now you have the tough task of casting a single vote for this week’s VT game ball.

Here are your nominees:

CHRISTIAN PONDER:  16 of 30 for 174 yards and a touchdown.  Seven runs for 48 yards.

ADRIAN PETERSON:  25 runs for 86 yards.  One catch for 4 yards.

JARIUS WRIGHT:  Five catches for 53 yards.  One run for 8 yards.

BLAIR WALSH:  Three for three on field goals (56, 41, 39) and two extra points.

HARRISON SMITH:  Seven tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble.

ANTOINE WINFIELD:  Five tackles, one sack.

JASPER BRINKLEY:  Three tackles, one forced fumble.

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Adrian Peterson didn’t have a hundred yard game.  Christian Ponder, while making some nice plays early on, didn’t suddenly transform into Tom Brady.  Jarius Wright is obviously not at the same level as Percy Harvin.

Still, the Vikings dealt Houston a convincing 23-6 loss, and the defense can stand proud after this one.

Rookie Harrison Smith led the Vikings with seven tackles, while also adding a forced fumble and a sack.  Jasper Brinkley and company held Arian Foster to almost no gains whatsoever, and he also had a forced fumble.  Everson Griffen and A.J. Jefferson took advantage of those forced fumbles with each recovering one.  Antoine Winfield and Fred Evans each came up with timely sacks, and Matt Schaub never seemed quite able to develop the rhythm that has downed plenty of their 2012 opponents.

The special teams did their job, as well, led by Blair Walsh who broke an NFL record for 50-yard-or-longer field goals.  He scored from 56, 41, and then 39 yards out.

Coach Leslie Frazier should be proud of the way his team played on Sunday, despite the fact that his passing game still looks completely lost at times, as the Vikings have edged a huge step closer to being included in the postseason tournament.

There is no doubt that Adrian Peterson led the Vikings to victory on Sunday, but it was the rarely seen big plays out of the Vikings defense that turned this one into a runaway win for the purple and gold.

The Vikings four sacks of Sam Bradford (Greenway, Ballard, Henderson, and Robison) are nothing out of the norm for the modern day Vikings, but they seemed to have the desire and ability to put an inferior team away on a couple of occasions.  This is most noticeable because this is something we have seen very rarely this year.

Prior to Sunday, the Vikings had only 9 interceptions and Harrison Smith’s two touchdowns were the only ones returned for scores.  That is why it was so nice to see Alan Williams mixing in some different looks, blitzing a little more often than normal, and dropping Everson Griffen back into the coverage scheme that resulted in the Vikings third pick six of the season.

The interception, coupled with Chad Greenway’s opportunistic fumble recovery, gave the Vikings the keys to their first two touchdown victory since week five against the Titans.

Incredible performances out of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings defense, and their special teams unit meant that the pressure was largely off of quarterback Christian Ponder which is exactly how they are going to continue to stay competitive in their remaining two weeks.

Big plays from the defense turned this game from a nail biter into a blowout and that is something I think we need to see more of as this young team grows into a legitimate force.

At the beginning of this month I stated that the Vikings playoff hopes died on Lambeau Field in their week 13 loss and while I still think that will be the case, I have great hopes for the future based off of what this young defense has shown me this season.

It would appear, however, that this team might be once again looking at the quarterback position as their top offseason need in order to continue taking things to the next level.

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