Sunday, February 1, 2015
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letroy guion

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The Vikings were hoping some of the dings and dents suffered on Sunday would heal quickly enough to not impact Thursday night’s matchup against Washington.  It is looking like that is just wishful thinking.

The Vikings have already ruled out defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford.  Defensive tackle Fred Evans has also been ruled out while starter LeTroy Guion is listed as doubtful, giving way for Chase Baker to see extensive action.  Xavier Rhodes is listed as probable and will likely start at cornerback across from Josh Robinson, with Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton filling in for Raymond at safety.

On offense, Christian Ponder will have the odds even more stacked against him as he will likely be missing two starters on the offensive line, not to mention tight end Kyle Rudolph.  Phil Loadholt has already been ruled out and J’Marcus Webb will be filling in at right tackle.  Charlie Johnson is listed as doubtful, so Joe Berger is likely to get the start in his place.  Tight end Rhett Ellison is listed as questionable with an ankle injury that has caused him to miss time and backup running back Matt Asiata will miss another game while dealing with the tragic death of his father.

The Indigenous People of the Potomac Region, however, have only one rookie backup running back (Chris Thompson) listed as questionable.  Five others are on their injury report, but they are all listed as probable.

In short, the Vikings are hurting far worse than the Redskins as we forge into the second half of a very, very long 2013 season.

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.

 

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2013 Training Camp - Christian Ponder
(Photo by Chris Price.)

Vikings players reported to training camp this past Thursday and two days in we already have some catching up to do. Though the first two sessions were without pads, there are still some interesting notes from Friday and Saturday.

  • Let’s talk health first… Through the first two days of camp, the Vikings have emerged relatively unscathed. The biggest piece of injury related news was that nose tackle Letroy Guion was forced to leave the first day of camp with a right elbow injury. Guion, who is presently in competition for his spot with backup Fred Evans, had x-rays done that night to determine the severity of the injury. Luckily, the images came back negative and he should be participating again soon.
  • Now on to Christian Ponder as he has been the primary focus of media and fans the first two sessions. The word out of camp so far isn’t good for #7. Talk has been that Ponder has struggled early with accuracy and often checking down to his tight ends. Ponder threw an interception to Blanton in passing drills, an almost-interception on a pass to Greg Jennings which was dropped by Jamarca Sanford, etc… And apparently, struggles in the passing game continued into Day 2. It’s worth noting that the weather has been nasty at Mankato with some pretty strong gusts. Of his performance and the weather, Ponder told reporters, “The first day was tough with the wind especially… On certain throws, you try to [put] touch on the ball, and if you do that it’s gone. A couple hung in the air and the wind took them away and it looked like some bad plays. It’s going to happen.” Kevin Seifert of ESPN North notes that Ponder did have some nice passes if you’re a glass half full kind of guy.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson has already become a fan favorite at camp with a pretty nice sideline, one-handed grab.

Optimists would tell you that the Vikings are stacked at the defensive tackle position, so much so that some surprising names might be on their list of final cuts, and that it is very difficult to predict who will start next to Kevin Williams this season.

Skeptics, on the other hand, may have a bit of a different outlook on the situation.  They may look at the positional depth chart and say the Vikings have a whole lot of question marks with no sure-fire answers.  An aging veteran forced to take a pay cut in Williams.  A first round selection that might look promising, but is still a mere rookie, in Sharrif Floyd.  An underperforming nose tackle Letroy Guion.  An unproven and inexperienced player in Christian Ballard.  A late round rookie in Everett Dawkins.  The quantity is undoubtedly there, but no we must wait to see if quality emerges from the pack.

One name that should not be dismissed as a possible starter on day one is veteran Fred Evans.

“The coaches keep telling me that, hey, we need to give Fred a shot to compete for the No. 1 job,” Leslie Frazier told 1500 ESPN on Sunday.

The reason that Evans is suddenly getting serious attention, after six seasons with the team, are a direct result of how much better he looked than Guion down the stretch last season despite playing fewer snaps.  What really separates him was his ability to come up with a pair of big plays that included a crucial sack against Houston and a big-time third down stop against Green Bay.

“Based on (what Evans) did coming down the stretch — he played some lights-out football for us,” Frazier said. “He really stepped up. And we’ve been harping on that with him, his consistency, and he showed that late in the season. So, we’ll see. We’ll just see if he can continue to elevate his play, and if he does, he’ll be in line for more snaps with the first unit.”

Frazier says “more snaps” with the first team because that is the role Evans played when the Vikings opened up OTAs last week.  That is a pretty good sign for a player that has never been much more than a rotational guy in his seven NFL seasons.  The previously mentioned depth at the position means Evans, and the rest of the defensive tackles, is still sure to be a part of a rotation this season, but becoming a starter would be a huge step forward for the 29 year old Evans.

If he does become a starter, then the Vikings will be facing even more drama next offseason, as he joins the rest of the starting line as a 2014 free agent.  Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Lawrence Jackson, and George Johnson are all entering contract years in 2013 along with Evans.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

It is no secret that the Vikings could use some help at defensive tackle.  Kevin Williams seems to be slumping and, at age 32, one can’t help but wonder if it is all downhill from here.  Letroy Guion and Christian Ballard have yet to establish themselves as reliable starters, and Fred Evans is nothing more than a suitable stopgap.

The Vikings could likely get by for another season with this group, but the popular theory is that they will use the NFL Draft to try and get a jump start on upgrading.  Todd McShay of ESPN recently mocked North Carolina tackle Sylvester Williams to the Vikings, a suddenly trendy pick, so I figured now was as good of a time as any to profile Williams for you all.

At 6′ 3″ and 313 pounds, Williams was impressive at the NFL Scouting Combine, including a 5.03 forty time and 27 reps on the bench press, confirming what we already knew:  Williams is the perfect combination of speed and strength that teams look for in a defensive tackle.

Williams is a prospect that comes with a story, having personal troubles during his high school years, but managed to catch on with a small school before making himself known under the bright lights at North Carolina.  He is known as a raw and emotional player, for better and worse, that plays with a nastiness that sometimes spills over into the realm of undisciplined.

He is known for his swim move, which gets him into the backfield on a fairly regular basis, but it is also a worry that you seldom see him use any other moves to bet beyond his blocker.  He plays with an enormous amount of strength and a reach that casts a wide net for taking down running backs or making plays on the ball.  His strength and burst could allow him to play either tackle position for the Vikings, and maybe even defensive end on running downs, but he should probably be assigned learning the three-technique from day one as his primary responsibility.

Williams has been knocked for inconsistencies, especially against more elite blockers, and it is certainly a concern to see any player disappear for long stretches.  Both his work ethic and conditioning has been alluded to as a possible worry by a number of experts and draftniks, but I have yet to hear anything solid to suggest this is really concern.  Hopefully someone from the Vikings had the presence of mind to do some digging on this matter when former North Carolina defensive lineman Tydreke Powell spent some time with the Vikings in 2012.

What I really love about Williams, and I think is being overlooked, is the fact that he improved in 2012 despite the fact that star lineman Quinton Coples left for the NFL.  One would think that Coples leaving would have an adverse impact on Williams, but he nearly tripled his stats for tackles for a loss and sacks from 2011 to 2012.  Williams is still growing and improving as a football player, and the fact that he could become even better and more refined is going to be very intriguing to front offices around the league.

In a normal year there might be more buzz surrounding Williams, but this is a very deep class at defensive end, and there are certainly a handful of tackles the Vikings will have higher on their board than Williams.  Picking at #23, however, puts them in a position to consider the scenario in which Williams is the best defensive tackle available to them when they are on the clock.

I’m not certain he will even be one of their top 23 ranked players in this draft, but that doesn’t discount the idea that he would be an attractive option, especially given that they could conceivably allow him a season or two to learn and grow behind their current veterans at the position.  I think that the Vikings will have to trade back from #23, or Williams will have to fall to their second round pick, if McShay’s prediction is to come true but it certainly isn’t impossible to envision them making this selection at some point.

 

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