Saturday, February 13, 2016

leslie frazier

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Cordarrelle Patterson’s future with the Minnesota Vikings has been a hot topic for three seasons now, sometimes for the good he has and done on and off the field, and often due to his lack of production on the field.

The thing that keeps cropping up within the fan base, however, is Patterson’s seemingly aloof attitude and perceived lack of dedication to being a professional football player. This narrative came to a head on Sunday when Patterson allowed Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby to catch him from behind and save a potential touchdown by popping the ball loose from Patterson’s grip.

The turnover allowed Green Bay an unnecessary chance at a comeback, while Patterson’s sideline demeanor drew scorn from Vikings fans from all around. Patterson appeared to be laughing and joking with teammates on the sideline shortly after the huge mistake and that seemingly jovial attitude came to a peak when Xavier Rhodes intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass in the endzone to keep the Packers at bay.

These images, Patterson smiling after a kicker bested him in a major way, brought all of the built up frustration with the former first rounder to a head.

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#InZimWeTrust

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Firing a head coach in the NFL is like wielding a double-edged sword. With one swing, you can eliminate problems like poor game management or outdated defensive schemes. Or, you can catch the wrong side of the blade and fracture team chemistry, as the Vikings did when they parted ways with Leslie Frazier after the 2013 season.

Fans of the team rejoiced, but one player — Adrian Peterson — was reportedly frustrated with the team’s decision to fire Frazier. According to ESPN’s Ben Goessling, Peterson contemplated leaving the Vikings near the end of the season:

“I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t feeling good about being here in Minnesota at the end of last season,” Peterson said in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN. “Coaches change, but everything was shaken up.

General manager Rick Spielman made sure to right the ship quickly, hiring Mike Zimmer as the Vikings’ newest head coach less than a month later. The move to bring in Zimmer — a no-nonsense, football-first mind — stabilized the franchise and rallied a young team to aim higher in 2015.

Under Zimmer’s leadership in 2014, the Vikings went 7-9 and succeeded in the face of multiple obstacles, including Adrian Peterson’s absence, Teddy Bridgewater’s rookie growing pains, and the implementation of a new defensive scheme. Unlike Tice, Childress, or Frazier before him, Zimmer has won over his players and quickly navigated the trials and tribulations that come with being a head coach in the National Football League.

While there’s room for improvement in year two, its safe to say Zimmer has established himself as the captain of the Vikings ship, and its time everybody climb aboard.

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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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