Monday, March 30, 2015
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john carlson

This has been a depressing season with plenty of losses to inspire some very critical things written on this blog, and elsewhere, about the Vikings.  So, after weeks of being a negative nelly, I decided to devote an entire post to some positives to take away from Thursday Night’s win against Washington.

1.  Sendejo Steps In

With Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford both injured the Vikings tested their secondary depth and the results were not as bad as many would have expected.  One guy that stuck out to me for the second straight week was reserve safety Andrew Sendejo who has a knack for the big hit.  Sendejo led the Vikings with eight solo tackles and was tied with Chad Greenway for a team-leading 16 total tackles.  His coverage skills need work, but he certainly made a case for himself to remain the starter, no matter how badly Jamarca Sanford wants to play against Percy Harvin.  Sanford will likely get his starting gig back this week, but it won’t be from a lack of effort on Sendejo’s part.

2.  Progression From Ponder

Whether or not Christian Ponder is able to progress enough over the long run to be the answer at quarterback remains to be seen, but there is no doubt he “progressed” in the short term.  Thursday night we saw a Christian Ponder that looked far better than we had seen from him since the end of last year.  He completed 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception prior to leaving the game with a dislocated shoulder.  His lone interception was ugly and all too familiar, but Ponder looked as cool and comfortable as he has in quite some time.  If he could play like he did Thursday on a more consistent basis then I have no doubt the Vikings fans would be far more welcoming than they have been of late.

Kyle Rudolph at Cowboys 11/3/13
Photo provided courtesy of Vikings.com

The hits just keep on coming. Kyle Rudolph, who was injured on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder in the third quarter of yesterday’s game against the Cowboys, could be out for a month with a fractured foot.

“I think the guy just fell on his foot when he was tackling him,” Frazier said. “It’s a very significant injury for him and for our team. That gives some other guys a chance to step up. Chase Ford, who played in the ballgame and did a good job for us, he’ll play. John Carlson will get more reps now.”

Though the amount Rudolph has been utilized this season has left something to be desired amongst many Vikings fans hoping for a big year, the loss of one of Ponder’s favorite redzone targets still hurts. As Frazier stated above, this will mean that John Carlson, the Vikings $25 million back-up tight end, will get more playing time.

Phil Loadholt, who suffered a concussion Sunday, did not practice today.

Other Vikings players who did not practice and are now dealing with injuries include: Fred Evans, Jamarca Sanford, Xavier Rhodes, Letroy Guion, Rhett Ellison and Charlie Johnson.

 

Advancing a 10-6 wildcard playoff team from a year ago into a Super Bowl contender this season will take a few blue collar players willing to step up to a larger and more productive roll in 2013. Here are three early camp standout performers that have their stock trending upward after experiencing limited rolls in 2012.

Jarius Wright was inactive for the first 9 games last season but preformed well in the final 7 starts filling in for the injured Percy Harvin. The 4th round pick from Arkansas has carried over that late season momentum to OTAs and training camp this year. Wright will get most of his playing time and production in the slot but has the ability to play on the outside if needed. His confidence and his comfort within the offensive system entering his second year are on full display early on. Wright will be a top target for Ponder whether he is throwing across the middle, deep down field or just looking for a short dump off. Wright is a do it all kind of player with great hands and speed. As a backup punt returner, he might even be called upon to catch a punt once in a while. Wright’s increased roll in the offense this year and his increased production will be a key component to a successful season.

John Carlson sat out all of 2011 with the Seahawks, and was not as effective as many had hoped in his first season with the Viking in 2012. An injury last year in camp limited his ability to develop timing and chemistry with teammates which ultimately set him back. After a healthy off-season, one which also included a contract restructure, Carlson’s play is now standing out in camp. The 12,000 fans that packed Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato for Friday’s annual night practice saw Carlson find the end zone 3 times. Carlson is a big redzone target at 6-foot-5 251 pounds which Ponder will look to connect with him more often this year. Carlson only caught 8 passes last season for the Vikings. Nonetheless, he is healthy and poised this year to regain the production he had in his first 3 NFL seasons when he collected 137 receptions.

Bobby Felder is an under the radar guy to most Viking fans, but he is quietly moving up the depth chart in camp. After going undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft, the cornerback from Nichols State impressed the coaches enough last preseason to land a spot on the practice squad. The Vikings have done a good job in the past of actively promoting from within the practice squad. After a year of hard work on the scout team, Felder is ready to step up to the 53 man roster. Felder has moved ahead of Marcus Sherels as the #3 nickel corner on the latest Vikings’ depth chart. The nickel spot is not the only position he is try to win. Felder has taken camp reps as a gunner on the punt unit (1st and 2nd team). He has taken 2nd team reps on the kick off team, kick return team, and also on the punt return teams.

Cristy Brusoe in her camp notes is impressed with Bobby Felder as a punt returner. She says “he has shifty feet and quickness that isn’t duplicated by anyone other than maybe AP.” Priefer may not be giving Felder many reps as a punt returner just yet, but Frazier might want to take a look him in a preseason game. In a recent interview with Vikings.com, Frazier talked about the punt returner competition behind Marcus Sherels. “We have a few different guys. We want to take a look at Stephen Burton a little bit. We’re probably going to give Bobby Felder a chance. We’re debating about whether or not we want (Cordarrelle) Patterson to have a chance to do it as well. Jarius Wright may get an opportunity. So we have a few candidates to potentially take a look at and we’ll just see how it goes as the games unfold.”

I can’t really say that the stock on Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson or Josh Robinson is up or down right now. So, unfortunately they didn’t make the list. With that said, the success of the Vikings will greatly depend on these players’ ability to improve upon their production from a season ago. I am not worried; odds are good they will all show signs of progress in 2013. I am optimistic that their stock will slowly travel in a more northerly direction as the regular season rolls on. Come playoff time, don’t be surprised if they are all enjoying “Rock Star” status in the state of Minnesota.

We’re burning our way through the offense, and Carl will top it off by previewing the offensive line tomorrow morning, and there has been a theme throughout this “Camp Battles” feature:  Most of the competition involves the bottom of the depth chart.  The tight end position is really not much different as there projects to be very little movement near the top of the positional depth chart.

Kyle Rudolph doubled his catch total (53) in his sophomore season,  while nearly doubling his receiving yards (493) and he tripled his touchdown mark (nine).  Rudolph has been one of Christian Ponder’s favorite targets since day one and he projects to be one of the league’s better tight ends in 2013.  Not only will he remain atop the Vikings depth chart, I highly recommend adding him to your fantasy team, as well.

The oversized contract of John Carlson was restructured this offseason which should help him remain on the roster.  The Vikings signed him hoping to replicate some of the success that other teams, namely the Patriots, had been experiencing with two pass catching tight ends on the field.  “Underwhelming” is a kind way of describing Carlson’s 2012 season with the Vikings.  He only notched eight catches for 43 totals yards.  He threw a number of nice blocks throughout the season, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from being a running joke within Viking-fan circles.

With Rick Spielman’s first season as the official General Manager of the Minnesota Vikings nearing it’s end (no, I don’t necessarily mean two weeks from now) I wanted to take a look back at the moves that were made to help boost the Vikings from a three win season to an eight (or nine, or ten) win record the next year.

I want to start with the oft-criticized free agent class that he brought in.  The Vikings have really only had five free agent signings to see action this year, not including their own re-signings, so let’s take a look at what each on brought to the table.

TE JOHN CARLSON:  The $25 million contract signed by John Carlson became the butt of many jokes even before he played in his first game.  His production on the field hasn’t helped matters.  A sprained MCL caused him to miss to two games after missing all of his final season with the Seahawks, and it has been speculated that injuries have plagued his production on the field even when he was present.  His 11 catches for 60 yards on the season will surely end in his worst stats, other than the season he didn’t play, since he joined the league.  He has also yet to find the end zone as a Viking.  His solid blocking skills have gone mostly unnoticed by fans, but there are plenty of decent blocking tight ends in this league getting paid far less than Carlson.

Last week’s three reception performance was Carlson’s best of the year and he needs to continue to improve over the next two weeks if he plans on continuing to earn such lucrative salary.  At age 28, there is still some untapped potential there for a guy that has never come close to matching the expectations that scouts had for him in 2008.

GRADE:  D

FB JEROME FELTON:  Felton got off to a bad start in Minnesota when he was nabbed for a second degree DWI in a McDonald’s drive-thru in June.  After that incident, one that he says he learned a huge lesson from, Felton has been instrumental in Adrian Peterson’s record-setting rushing numbers this season.

Peterson hasn’t had as good of chemistry with as talented of a lead blocker since his rookie season when he ran behind Tony Richardson, one of the greatest fullbacks of the modern era.  Felton hasn’t carried the ball at all himself this season, and only has two catches for 18 yards, but there is no doubt that his blocking has added something that was previously missing to this offense.  Makes one wonder how many yards Peterson hasn’t gotten over the years because of Brad Childress and his stubborn support of Fahu Tahi.

Felton signed a one year deal worth $700,000 with a $50,000 signing bonus.  I would say the Vikings should be willing to offer him about twice that annual salary to return for the next year or five.

GRADE:  A

OL GEOFF SCHWARTZ:  After signing a one year deal that maxes out at $1.5 million, Geoff Schwartz has been eased into a rotation at right guard with Brandon Fusco.  By most accounts, including mine, Schwartz has outplayed Fusco but has yet to overtake the position on a full time basis for some unknown reason.  At a backup lineman’s salary, Schwartz has helped his team more than most backups in this league, and turned out to be a low-risk, medium-reward type of signing, despite nagging injury concerns.

GRADE:  C

LB MARVIN MITCHELL:  Another one year deal worth $700,000 here.  Mitchell was signed shortly after Remi Ayodele was released by the Vikings, despite Mitchell’s presence on the 2009 “BountyGate” Saints team as well.  He acted as a “Plan B” to Jasper Brinkley and provided great competition in the preseason, but Brinkley kept his job and has performed rather well in his first year as a full time starter.

A calf injury interrupted part of Mitchell’s season, as he has appeared in only nine games, but he has made a considerable impact on a special teams coverage unit that is greatly improved over last season.

GRADE:  B

WR JEROME SIMPSON:  The Vikings flirted with signing Packers free agent James Jones but shied away from the receiver because they were worried about his inconsistent hands, and instead opted to sign the suspended Simpson from Cincinnati.

Jones has done nothing but catch touchdowns for the Packers this year, his drop problems apparently solved, while Simpson has been incredibly inconsistent… when he manages to make it onto the field.  A three game suspension and injuries have kept Simpson out of four games this season, and bad drops and inconsistent routes have essentially kept him out of the other 10.

19 catches, 203 yards, and no touchdowns are stats that easily illustrate how wrong things have gone for the Vikings deep threat hopeful in 2012.

Spielman left legitimate receiver threats on the market for other teams to scoop up and instead opted to go short term and cheap with Simpson.  The risk was low, but the return has been even lower.

GRADE:  D

CONCLUSION:  Rick Spielman tortured Vikings fans by staying idle during the opening days of free agency in 2012, and has indicated we can expect more of that in the future, as he intends on playing a game of chance with these low risk and low cost signings available after all the funny money has been spent.

Carlson was his lone departure from that formula, and the jury may still be out on that one, but it isn’t looking good.  Luckily, the contract wasn’t quite as bad as initially reported and the Vikings could cut ties with minimal cap damage should they choose to move on.

Overall, Spielman’s approach to free agency led to adding one fantastic fullback, and a handful of otherwise disposable talents.

Not bad, not horrible, but not great.  That about sums up Spielman’s first free agency period as Vikings General Manager.

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