Wednesday, July 1, 2015

leslie frazier

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

If I were to ask any Vikings fan what they thought of Mike Zimmer, they’d likely tell me he’s the greatest head coach since Bud Grant. In one season, Zimmer has started to erase memories of the past 12 seasons, when Mike Tice, Brad Childress, and Leslie Frazier led the Vikings to a combined 92 wins and 99 losses. It may be too early to proclaim Zimmer a top-flight head coach, but he’s well on his way to a long career in Minnesota, and that starts with a winning season in 2015.

But, what if the Vikings had never hired Zimmer? What if, in some cruel, twisted universe, the Wilf brothers were forced to choose one of three head coaches — Tice, Childress, or Frazier — to lead this team? What if Zimmer had never inherited Xavier Rhodes, or even worse,  what if Teddy Bridgewater was forced to operate from Musgrave’s minuscule play card?

Optimism around the team definitely wouldn’t be as high, and Minnesota’s faithful sports fans would suffer yet another year of futility. Luckily, that’s not the case, but it’s always fun to look back and remember our favorite head coaching blunders and mishaps. After the jump, I’ll share a few quotes that encapsulate everything that made each of the Vikings’ last three coaches such disastrous hires:

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Our weekly look throughout the NFC North at what is the hottest topic for each of our foes:

GREEN BAY PACKERS

This is the time of year when overreactions to OTA’s are a dime a dozen.  Out of Green Bay, however, one rookie is making clear strides towards an unlikely landing spot on the starting roster.  With Jermichael Finley still looking like a giant question mark, and Andrew Quarless reeling from an injury, third round selection Richard Rodgers is turning heads in Green Bay.  We all hope that Mike Zimmer can fix a lot of things on this Vikings defense, but in the recent past they have struggled to match the size and athleticism presented by opposing tight ends, and Rodgers seems like the type of guy that could feast against a Leslie Frazier defense.  If you are looking for a late-round fantasy sleeper, however, being a potential starter in Green Bay’s offense can’t possibly be a bad thing.

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2013 proved one of the Minnesota Vikings’ best draft years to date. The Vikes grabbed first-rounders Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 23, 25 and 29, respectively. Patterson delivered an outstanding rookie year, making his mark offensively and guaranteeing to be one of the top receivers in the game.

On defense, though, in an area where Minnesota has historically struggled, Rhodes impressed fans with his speed from Day 1.  He logged a 4.43 40-yd-dash at the NFL combine, and that explosiveness carried over into games.  Rhodes was not perfect—and has plenty left to improve upon—but he showed the kind of promise that hasn’t been seen from a defensive rookie in MN for quite some time.

Rhodes tallied 48 tackles in his debut season. Let’s put this into perspective.  Former CB Antoine Winfield, one of the best in Vikings history, had 38 tackles as a rookie in 1999. Nobody wants to put the cart before the horse, but it is an interesting comparison to draw.

At 23 years old, Rhodes struggled a bit with penalties in the beginning—oftentimes, his close coverage and quickness crossed the line, drew a yellow flag. Toward the end of November, though, Rhodes’ playing style began to level out. Physicality no longer proved the only aspect of his game, and his numbers reflected the development.  Rhodes combined for 13 tackles and eight passes defended over three games. Prior to Thanksgiving, the CB had totaled only two passes defended all season.

“[Rhodes] is starting to make more plays now,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing with more confidence. [I’m] seeing some things you’d like to see long-term […]he’s beginning to hit his stride now.”

The rookie developed a physical edge and dexterity to his game, and he looked to be finishing out the season with a bang.

“The next step is, some of those balls he’s knocking down, they can turn into interceptions,” Frazier said. “When I was watching one of those balls he got his hands on […] I was saying, ‘man, a year from now, that’s going to be an interception.’ He’ll have the confidence to not go up with one hand, but two and catch the ball. This is where he is in his development, so hopefully he’ll keep growing.”

(photo credit: www.rantsports.com)
(photo credit: www.rantsports.com)

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Rhodes suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 15 against Philadelphia. The damage sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

If Rhodes had finished out the season, he would have no doubt continued to improve with each game.  You can be sure that he will come out for the 2014-15 season raring to go. The CB left on a high note, and that confidence and energy will carry through the offseason and into next year.

Rhodes will play a major role in the Vikings defensive scheme in 2014.  Especially with a new coaching staff led by former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, fans can expect big things from the second-year CB.  Zimmer can be credited with the turnaround of Adam “Pacman” Jones in Cincinnatihe is no stranger to guiding young athletes and pulling out every bit of potential.  He comes to Minny with the defensive mind that the team needs to succeed; we can expect Rhodes to thrive under new and rejuvenated direction.

In addition, Rhodes will likely not automatically inherit the starting slot, which may actually be to his advantage.  Fellow CB Josh Robinson missed several games last season due to injury, and he and Rhodes can be expected to duel it out for the starting position when they both return healthy.  That early motivation is good for any player, and a sense of competition will hopefully increase performances and consistency.

The 2014 NFL season is a mere six months away … and Xavier Rhodes is ready to make an impact.

 

 

 

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Josh Robinson, Chris Cook

At just 23 years old, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson holds two years of pro experience and is making a bigger impact on the league with each and every game.

Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Robinson started playing football in fourth grade. It didn’t begin with organized little league and fundamentals; rather, Robinson found it fun to just play around with friends. “I grew up playing street ball!” he exclaimed.

Robinson loved the game from Day One and was clearly a natural athlete. However, the cornerback says he didn’t see the NFL as a very real option until after his second year of college. As a junior at the University of Central Florida, Robinson started all 12 games at corner and recorded 48 tackles, 15 passes broken up, and two interceptions—with one returned for a touchdown. He also returned seven punts (51 yards) and four kickoffs (94 yards).

That same year, the UCF Knights beat Georgia in their first-ever bowl win. “I was able to face an elite WR in AJ Green, which gave me a lot of confidence,” Robinson said. Finding consistent success against top receivers and being encouraged by a strong coaching staff, Robinson started down the path to the pros.

Robinson played college ball under the direction of head coach George O’Leary, who had previously served as the Vikings defensive coordinator under Tice. At UCF, O’Leary described Robinson as having “great closing speed and great transition speed.” This statement certainly proved true at the 2012 NFL Combine—the cornerback ran a 4.33 40-yard dash. Several teams took notice of the impressive combine numbers, but two months later, Robinson ironically found himself drafted by his coach’s former team.

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Every ounce of respect shown to Leslie Frazier in the moments following his dismissal from the Minnesota Vikings has been matched by the respect shown to Mike Zimmer upon his arrival.

Zimmer is a favorite among Bengal fans and observers and they let their displeasure be known when news broke he would be leaving to fill the head coaching vacancy in Minnesota.  His players, current and former, showered him with complimentary quotes and soundbites across all of the various media outlets.  Even his former employers have come out of the woodwork to vouch for this guy.

Widely described as man who should have been a head coach long ago, Zimmer brings Vikings fans exactly what they wanted, which is a defensive-minded coach that has a winning pedigree on his resume and a shotgun blast of a personality.  While he may be just as revered as as Frazier around the NFL, Zimmer is the polar opposite when it comes to motivational tactics and sideline composure.

Zimmer has experience with a variety of defensive schemes and it will be interesting to see what he chooses to do with this roster, but it seems highly likely that the Tampa-2 scheme we have grown so used to is now a thing of the past.  We will likely see a more aggressive attack from up front and, finally, an emphasis on quality play in the secondary.

His son, Adam, is an assistant defensive backs coach with the Bengals and seems like a possibility to get a promotion if he follows his father to the Land of Lakes.  Some have even speculated that the younger Zimmer could be a candidate for the Defensive Coordinator position under his father’s close watch.

The more pressing matter will be the offensive coordinator position.  Adam Schefter has has reported that the Vikings received permission from the Cleveland Browns to interview Norv Turner for the position.  Turner, of course, is currently in limbo after Cleveland has failed to hire their new head coach after firing their previous one for no apparent reason… but I digress.

If hiring Zimmer means getting Turner as their offensive coordinator then I consider this offseason to already be on a successful course.  While his head coaching years turned him into a punchline, I firmly believe there are few offensive minds in the NFL that can compare.  Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and [insert some quarterback here] would instantly become more likely to see major successes in the future if Turner replaces Bill Musgrave.

The Vikings have yet to announce the hire.  I expect they are currently sorting through all of the assistants that are still employed, and letting them know their status with the team prior to making anything official through the media.  In a lot of ways this is the right thing to do, as I’d rather learn about my demise from my boss than from a reporter with a Twitter account.

So, tomorrow’s news is likely to be a little more dour and consist of firings, but right now the future is looking bright for the Minnesota Vikings.  At the very least, the fans seem to be happy for the first time in a long time.

[UPDATE:  The Vikings have announced the hiring via an awkward video on their official team website.  CLICK HERE to check it out.]

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