Tuesday, April 28, 2015
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jeff davidson

I can’t help but wonder if one of the 13 categories that GM Rick Spielman talked about in regards to  finding the next head coach for the Minnesota Vikings could be, Super Bowl Experience. Well, Ray Horton just happens to have three Super Bowl rings setting on his office desk. Horton hasn’t had the opportunity to win one as a head coach yet, but his time may be just around the corner.

Currently the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Horton’s job status is somewhat uncertain because the Browns are also looking to fill a vacant head coaching position as well.

Horton is ready to be a head coach in the NFL, but at the very least, Horton should be a front runner to fill one of the many vacant defensive coordinator positions available right now. Spielman’s willingness to interview Horton is a strong indication that the Vikings are ready to move away from the 4-3 cover two scheme.

Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is well respected around the league and within the Vikings organization.  Time and again his players praise his approach, the media marvels at his command, and results show up in the form of Adrian Peterson’s rushing totals.

With Leslie Frazier fired, however, Davidson’s future with the team is as uncertain as any of his coworkers’ and the Atlanta Falcons wanted to give him the opportunity to bolt early.

According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, Atlanta requested an interview with Davidson Thursday, as they currently have a vacancy at his position.  The interesting part is that the Vikings denied their request and, by doing so, have greatly hindered his ability to find employment elsewhere.

At this time it is unclear what Minnesota’s motivations are for denying the request.  It is possible that Rick Spielman really wants to retain Davidson and hopes his new head coaching hire agrees.  It is not totally impossible that Davidson could get some consideration at a position of elevated responsibility such as Offensive Coordinator or Assistant Head Coach.

It is also entirely possible that Spielman is just being really conservative, maintaining rights to an asset of his, as some show of gamesmanship with an NFC opponent at the expense of an employee’s career potential.

Regardless of the motivations, Davidson is still a member of the Vikings, but the hammer will drop soon on a number of the team’s assistants and Davidson could very well end up being one of them.

There are a number of interesting position battles to keep track of during next month’s training camp, but perhaps no position has a higher level of competition than that of the currently vacant right guard position.

By drafting left tackle Matt Kalil fourth overall, the Vikings were then able to slide Charlie Johnson inside to left guard.  With Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan being near certain starters, that leaves only the right guard starting spot available to the best candidate.

During last week’s minicamp all indications are that Brandon Fusco will enter camp as the penciled-in starter.  Geoff Schwartz, however, plans to have something to say about that.

Unfortunately for Schwartz, who started 19 straight games in Carolina, his hip is still bothering him and he needs to heal up before he can truly give the Vikings coaches a glimpse of what he’s got.

“Just need to get back on the field,” Schwartz said during OTA’s. “That’s basically what it is. Get 100 percent healthy and let my play do the talking.”

Jeff Davidson coaches the Vikings offensive line, but he came over from Carolina where he got a firsthand look at Schwartz in the locker room and on the field.  Davidson, however, is not tipping his hand as to who might be the preferred option at right guard.

“I’d say the jury’s still out on that right now,” Davidson said. “We’re hopeful.”

Schwartz openly cites his familiarity with Schwartz as a primary reason he signed with the Vikings after receiving interest from both Detroit and San Francisco, but he also wanted a legitimate chance to start, and felt that joining a team that had just released their two previously starting guards was an easy choice.

“I believe I’m a starter,” Schwartz said. “So I was looking at spots that had competition at my position, and this is one of them. So it was another reason why, I came to compete.”

Most of us would be a little taken aback if one day our boss came through the office and introduced a new employee… who would be taking your job, while you moved to another.

In the case of Charlie Johnson, it shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise when the Vikings used their first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on USC left tackle Matt Kalil, but offensive line coach Jeff Davidson wasn’t going to treat Johnson, or the situation, like it was no big thing.

Davidson immediately set up a meeting between Kalil and Johnson to try and make sure everybody knew exactly where they stood after it became apparent that Johnson would be moving to left guard.

“I just saw (Johnson) and explained to him, ‘You two guys are going to be best friends,'” said Davidson of the meeting. “And I introduced Charlie to his family, Matt’s family, as well. They all know who he is. I said, ‘There isn’t going to be any bad blood.’ And Charlie said, ‘I just want to win games.’ He does not care where he plays this game. He just wants to help us win. That’s the type of guy he is.”

“It wasn’t anything like, ‘Aw, man. Here it goes,'” said Johnson, explaining his feelings after the Vikings selected Kalil. “It was more of an ‘Alright, let’s go. Let’s get to work.’ I came up here the next day and he was up here eating lunch and talking. And I sat down and talked with him for a minute and it was on from there. So it was no big deal.

“There is no animosity,” Johnson continued.  “Look, I’m going to play. I feel that I’m one of the best five guys we have on our offensive line room. So I’m going to play. To me it doesn’t matter where it’s at.”

According to Davidson, it only took until week three of the 2011 season to figure out that Johnson might be better suited at the guard position, and he was more than willing to share that with Johnson.

“This was something that’s kind of been ongoing,” Davidson said. “I’m going to try and put it as nice as I can. I’m a no-nonsense guy. And essentially when I think that I see a guy and I know what he is capable of and what he would help us most at, I’m going to let him know that. Our postseason interviews that we had when I talked to Charlie, I said, ‘You may be our left tackle. You may be our left guard. I don’t know yet. We’re going to be better at two positions if we get a left tackle in here.”

“He is a good athlete so he was able to survive — the term I might use — at left tackle,” Davidson said of Johnson. “The fact that he has an opportunity to be able to use his athleticism as a puller, the smarts to be able to help our new left tackle, and transfer information from our center to that, he’s going to help fill the bill at guard. He can play any position on the line if we asked him to, in all honesty. I just think if we had to pick one for him it’s the offensive guard position. So this helps us in a lot of ways.”

Everyone is sure making it sound like the starting job at left guard is Johnson’s to lose, despite a hefty quantity of intriguing interior linemen ready to battle for employment during training camp.  If Johnson manages to thrive in his new role with the Vikings, he could finally be looking at long term certainty for his career, and the Vikings could finally be looking at long term certainty along their offensive line.

Matt Kalil will likely sign a four year deal with a fifth year option within the next few weeks, which will cement him as the franchise’s left tackle.  Center John Sullivan signed an extension in December that will keep him employed through the 2016 season.  Johnson, if he sticks as a left guard, has two seasons remaining on his contract.

Perhaps we can look forward to once again having a dominant left side of our line?

Over the last month or so Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman has used the media to suggest he is open to taking LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the third overall selection.

That notion has flown in the face of what almost every draftnik in the world thinks they will do: select USC left tackle Matt Kalil.

It may never be truly known whether or not Spielman’s professed love for Claiborne was a smokescreen or just him telling the truth (my money is on the former), but as we draw nearer to the NFL Draft it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine Claiborne being the selection.

Two red flags have recently popped up that should prevent the Vikings from taking the risk at the three spot. 

First, at his Pro Day, it was revealed that Claiborne’s career in the NFL will start with a surgery.  A torn ligament in his left wrist needs to be repaired and it should give teams pause when considering the young corner.  However, Claiborne did continue to play through the injury in college, so maybe some teams will view his toughness as a plus that outweighs the negative that is the injury itself.  At third overall, however, it’d be a tough sell to select a player that immediately has medical questions.

Second, reports have emerged today that Claiborne bombed the Wonderlic Test with a shockingly low score of 4 (out of 50).  The weight scouts should put into Wonderlic scores, and the validity of the reports themselves, can be questioned and argued.  However, this information cannot be ignored by any front office.

So, while Morris Claiborne has accumulated a pair of troubling headlines over the last month, Kalil continues to be regarded as one of the safest selections in the upcoming Draft.

On Tuesday, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson was asked if he thought Kalil had a ceiling in the NFL.

“Do I think he has a ceiling? No,” he said in response.  “I think he’s a pretty good player. I’m going to leave it just at that.”

As I have been all offseason long, I am convinced the Vikings will select Kalil third overall if they stay put in that spot.

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