Tuesday, May 31, 2016

leslie frazier

The Vikings were once again embarrassed at home by a team that, on paper, should have been very beatable.  The 35-10 beatdown delivered by the Panthers was frustrating to watch and served as a loss of all hope for many Vikings fans this season.  The mess that is the 2013 Minnesota Vikings has so many problems that are so widespread, it is difficult to sift through it all and diagnose any problems, but here are eight things that have stuck out to me through the first five games of the season.  Sorry for focusing solely on the negative, but even hack bloggers need to vent.

1.  Musgrave Is Tripping Over Himself

Bill Musgrave made a Monday Night Countdown appearance on the “C’mon Man” segment thanks to his incredibly undersized play card.  I think ESPN deserves the award, however, as there are about 99 other things that Musgrave should be called out on before the size of his playbook.  For starters, how is it that Adrian Peterson only gets 10 carries against Carolina?  Think about what the acronym “MVP” stands for and then tell me that it is truly, honestly, absolutely possible for an opposing team to neutralize him that quickly and that early in a game.  He’s a true game changer and the Vikings should never stop feeding him the ball.  The team abandoning the run game was magnified by the ineptness of Musgrave’s passing game.

Perhaps even worse is the fact that Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton only saw six snaps all game long.  That’s right, the same Vikings team that had no answer for incoming power blitzes intentionally kept a Pro Bowl caliber blocker on the sideline.  I can’t imagine the reasoning here and it is just the latest example of Musgrave, who had already shown an inability to deal with these types of blitz schemes in the preseason against Buffalo, shooting himself in the foot for no apparent reason.

The 2013 NFL season has started off on the wrong foot for the Minnesota Vikings, and head coach Leslie Frazier is willingly taking the blame after dropping the first 2 games on the road against division opponents. I am all for Frazier being more hands on and establishing a stronger vocal approach with his players and staff, but I wouldn’t say he is the right person to blame for the losses.

 The Vikings have played hard, overcame some adversities, made plays, and put themselves in a position to win both games, but miscues, inconsistent play and poor execution has shown it’s ugly head much too often for the Vikings to secure a win. The team has had moments where they have played very well and have looked the part of a playoff caliber team, yet other moments of blunder and mayhem have haunted an otherwise solid overall effort.

 Fans can point the blame in a number of directions up and down the Vikings roster, but no player is more scrutinized than 3rd year QB Christian Ponder. After 2 games this year, Ponder’s play continues to resemble something you would see in a Robert Louis Stevenson mystery-horror novel.

 A 67 QB rate with twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes would scare the… pigskin off most football coaches. But not coach Frazier. Despite rumors of a short leash, Frazier stuck with Ponder through the good and the ugly at a rainy Soldier Field.

 With 3:02 left in the first half against the Bears, and the game knotted at 14 each, Ponder threw a pick six on 1st and 10 from the Vikings 31 yard line. Most coaches might have been tempted to pulled the plug at that point on the struggling QB. However, after the interception, Frazier went over and looked into Ponders eyes, said a few encouraging words and saw enough confidence in his QB to stick with him. Ponder went on to complete 12 of his next 18 passes including a 20 touchdown strike to Kyle Rudolph. Three nice second half drives led to Blair Walsh field goals that capped a solid second half performance.

 So which Christian Ponder will we see verses the Cleveland Browns this weekend?

 The Browns are 0-2 and have scored a combined 16 points in 2 games… so, this would be a great time for the “good” Mr. Ponder to make an extended appearance on Sunday. However, if the “ugly” Mr. Ponder shows up, the home crowd boo-birds might come out in full force. Will Leslie Frazier continue to be patient and wait around for the “good” Mr Ponder to come and go? Or could a more hands-on approach by “Dr.” Frazier be the answer to controlling the mysterious erratic play of young Mr. Ponder?

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Following the Vikings’ 31-30 loss to the Bears Sunday, head coach Leslie Frazier was quick to take blame for not stepping in to adjust the defensive schemes on the final drive, which resulted in a game-winning touchdown pass for Chicago.

During Monday’s press conference, Frazier clarified on it.

“We’re talking about a sequence that was a very important sequence during the course of the game,” Frazier said. “You can’t take away all the good things our defensive did yesterday. There are just some things from my standpoint that I have to manage better. That’s all.”

The last defensive play is apparently not an isolated incident where a bad call or communication issue was the problem. Andrew Krammer of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities recalls multiples times where it “seemed to be multiple plays where communication broke down and defenders seemed to be playing different calls.”

Frazier was also not too pleased that Cordarrelle Patterson only had six snaps, saying that issue would be “rectified” next week. This comes a week after Frazier told reporters following Week 1 that Patterson getting limited reps was a “coaches decision”—not necessarily his decision—and that Patterson is fully caught up with the whole offensive playbook.

Nothing Frazier have said suggests offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams are in jeopardy of losing their jobs, but his latest presser suggests he is not happy with some of the decisions made by his staff.

Keep in mind that Frazier is fighting to keep his job, as he is only under contract through the 2014 season. Head coaches very rarely play out the final year of their contract so he is looking for a contract extension by season’s end.

Chase Baker, George Johnson and Troy Kropog were long shots to make the roster just four weeks ago, but hard work and consistent effort paid off for these young players.

 Chase Baker might have the best chance to stick. The undrafted rookie from Boise State had 11 tackles during preseason working on the inside of the defensive line. Standing at 6-1 298 pounds, Baker has just enough meat on his bones to earn a few snaps as a backup rotational depth player this season. During camp and preseason, he has been asked to learn the three-technique position while also staying focused on the nose tackle spot as well. Jared Allen said, “He has probably grown the most of all the young guys I’ve seen in camp. That is good because he just might be asked to play a role on this team. We’re hurting at D-tackle right now.” 

Lady luck has been on Baker’s side as Christian Ballard left the team for personal reasons, Sheriff Floyd and Kevin Williams have been banged up a bit which opened the door for Baker to get plenty of reps needed to win a roster spot. After spending his rookie year on the practice squad, Baker might be ready to take the next step in 2013.

George Johnson, the 6-4 265 pound 4th year DE beat out D’Aundre Reed and Lawrence Jackson to win the 4th and final DE roster spot. Johnson was promoted to the Vikings 53 man roster in late December of 2012 and has impressed the coaches enough this off-season to make the final cut in 2013. In 2010, Johnson was signed by Tampa Bay as an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers. Johnson worked his way up to playing in 2 games for the Buccaneers in 2011 before an injury put him on IR. Johnson looks to build on his 7 total career NFL tackles. Johnson’s 5 solo tackle in preseason lead all Vikings’ DEs, but in the regular season he will have a hard time taking snaps away from Jared Allen, Brian Robison or Everson Griffen.

Troy Kropog won the swing tackle position, at least for the next four weeks until DeMarcus Love comes back from his suspension. The 6-6 308 pound tackle from Tulane has been in the NFL for 4 years. Kropog was drafted in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. The Vikings promoted Kropog from the practice squad to the 53 man roster last season when Percy Harvin was placed on IR. Kropog has played in 7 games with 0 starts in his NFL career. It will be interesting to see what the Vikings do with the backup tackle position in the next few weeks. Will Kropog stick when Love comes back, or will the Vikings look to upgrade the backup tackle position by signing a free agent? Frazier had talked about finding a swing tackle in the 2012 draft, but that did not appear to have happened. Was that just a smoke screen? Do the Vikings have confidence in Love or Kropog? Stay tuned… I don’t think this story has reached the final page.

The Vikings have had a pleasantly quiet offseason, with nobody really being “that guy,” but Thursday’s news of DeMarcus Love’s four game suspension for violating the NFL’s policies against performance enhancing drugs is somewhat of a damper.

“I’m really hurt about it,” Love told Access Vikings after Thursday’s practice.

He should be.  Love was selected by the Vikings in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft, but was inactive throughout his entire rookie season, and then was placed on injured reserve for all of 2012 with a torn pectoral muscle.  This latest setback could very well spell the end of his run with the Vikings and could possibly end his career before he ever got to play a single snap.

“He won’t be on the field with us, won’t be able to practice with us, won’t be able to play with us,” Leslie Frazier said of the situation. “So that can’t help your development if you’re not on the field. But while he’s here, we’re going to work as hard as we can to help him come along.”

There as certainly no guarantee that Love would have made the final roster heading into September before this suspension, even with depth somewhat lacking at offensive tackle, as he was truly considered a “bubble” player that needed to have a good training camp as recently as yesterday.  It is for that reason, however, that I think Love’s chances of being a Viking in September may have actually been helped by the suspension.

If the Vikings are awarded a roster exemption during Love’s four game suspension then the Vikings would have very little, if anything, to lose by keeping him around until week five of the regular season.  They could push the decision to keep him or not off until he is eligible to return, which would be after four weeks of football have been played and four weeks of injuries have been sustained.  If the four weeks is up then they could easily part ways with him and his $550,000 salary.

If the Vikings don’t get a roster exemption and he still remains on the roster then that is a sign that the team both believe in his abilities as a player and also believe that his remorse over this situation is genuine.

“I was shocked, man,” Love said on Thursday. “I’ve never cheated and never will. Not intentionally. Unfortunate it’s something I can’t change. It happened. It didn’t work out in my favor and so I’ve got to face the consequences.”

He knows that the suspension could be detrimental to his career, but hopes that his tale will be one of caution to other players on the Vikings roster, at the very least.

“One thing about it is it’s bad for me,” he said. “But it also gives other guys a heads up so they know that you really have to watch what you put in your body. Because whatever it is, they’ll find it. And you’ll eventually have to pay for it.”

Love was given the same “heads up” when Kevin Williams had to face a two game suspension in 2011, Love’s rookie season, for the whole StarCaps saga.  That apparently wasn’t enough to keep Love from making a similar mistake.

The Vikings now, more than ever, have a glaring vacancy at the backup tackle position.

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