Saturday, October 10, 2015

michael mauti

Linebackers coach Fred Pagac and the rest of the Vikings’ staff will have a tough time in camp and preseason trimming this group of linebackers down to the top 7 guys. The 2012 squad had 7 backers on it, so unless the Vikings eliminate the 3rd QB spot to make room for an extra linebacker this year, I think the Vikings will be forced to cut 3 of the 10 linebackers in camp.

At this point the only certainty is that 2012 All-Pro Chad Greenway will be back as the starting strong-side linebacker. The 2006 first round pick from Iowa started all 16 games last year and finished with 148 combined tackles which ranked 3rd in the NFL. Greenway’s leadership will be needed again this year as Pagac will probably rotate the other linebackers in and out as he did last season.

With some degree of certainty I can say that undrafted rookie Nathan Williams has no chance to make the 53 man roster. An ankle injury that required surgery in June has him sidelined on the PUP list which may put the screws to any opportunity show what he can do.

This off-season the Vikings moved Erin Henderson, last year’s starter on the weak side, to the middle linebacker spot. It looks like this move will stick through camp and preseason but I wouldn’t mortgage the farm that he will start all 16 games in the middle. Henderson was the Vikings 7th leading tackler with 50 solo stops last season on the outside. So far in camp Leslie Frazier is encouraged by Henderson’s transition to the middle, and Erin appears hungry to hold on to his new job. Some early camp notes and highlights include a couple big hits from Henderson and some overall solid play.

I really, really, really apologize for having been so absent of late.  Life kept me from updating VT at the rate you’ve grown accustomed to and I am sorry for that, but I am back now and ready to get back into the groove.  The Vikings minicamp is underway and the best way to get caught up is our weekly links feature.  Enjoy!

  • The Vikings have parted ways with a number of players this offseason and it is always interesting to keep tabs on how they are doing in their new surroundings.
  • Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton could see an expanded role in his second season in Minnesota.
  • Greg Childs is packing on the pounds and waiting patiently for his chance to prove himself.
  • It didn’t take more than one measly season for Harrison Smith to establish himself as one of the NFL’s most feared tacklers.
  • Chad Greenway underwent a minor operation on his knee but says he’ll be ready for training camp.
  • Terrell Owens thinks he could be a good fit in Minnesota… by which I assume he means as a season ticket holder.
  • We look forward to speed and athleticism being the source of numerous Cordarrelle Patterson highlights, but Greg Jennings says he possesses another unique trait that will separate him from other rookie wide outs.
  • When he took the nameplate off his locker, Antoine Winfield knew he wouldn’t be returning to the Vikings.
  • An extensive look into what Jared Allen did in 2012 and what we can expect in 2013.
  • Adam Thielen, Josh Robinson, and John Carlson were among the standouts from the first minicamp practice.
  • Mike Priefer spoke to reporters about the respect he has for Chris Kluwe and the decision to cut him.
  • Despite the Vikings kicking the tires on linebacker Desmond Bishop, Erin Henderson won’t accept the notion that he isn’t the guy to man the Mike position this year.
  • It is nice to see Kenechi Udeze back as a member of the Vikings once again.
  • Linebacker Michael Mauti is nearly ready to start competing for a roster spot.
  • While the Vikings posted ten wins in 2012, some are expecting disappointment during the coming season.
  • Let this page load to get a little glimpse at the minicamp action.
  • Adrian Peterson and Mistral Raymond are two guys not practicing during minicamp.
  • The Vikings might visit London three seasons in a row while their new stadium is being built.
  • Coordinator Alan Williams says Desmond Bishop had a good workout with the Vikings.

As we continue to go through the motions of Christian Ponders second offseason as the Vikings anointed starter at quarterback, we should all be clamoring for progress reports on the young signal caller that is facing a do-or-die type of season.  Leslie Frazier calls the middle linebacker position the “quarterback of the defense” and that is the position, however, that seems to be generating the most interest.

Kevin Seifert of ESPN detailed a play during today’s OTA sessions in which Ponder lofted a pass over the head of Henderson, who has been most criticized for his coverage skills, which landed in the hands of tight end Kyle Rudolph who was running a seam route (didn’t realize Bill Musgrave knew tight ends could run those) and came away with a big game.

As Seifert noted, it is only fair for readers to realize that this is one of the hardest plays to cover (hint, hint, Bill Musgrave) for a mike linebacker, especially in a practice session in which there is no pass rush.

Henderson once again bristled at the notion that he will struggle to transition to his new position and, in fact, partially dismissed the idea that he will be taking on a role different from what he has played in the past.

“It’s still football and still the same game,” said Henderson. “The majority of the game is played from nickel, so I’ve seen it from that perspective.”

“You guys have forced me to look at it as a position shift,” he said of the media attention being paid to him this offseason. “It’s definitely not exactly what you’ve done before. I can understand why it would be a big deal and why it would be looked at like a different position. But I’ve been asked to learn this position since I’ve been here and it really isn’t that different for me.”

When Jasper Brinkley’s struggles persisted throughout 2012, Henderson did play more of the mike role in nickel situations, as he indicated.  Still, this is his first year where the “quarterback of the defense” role is his to lose, as he has never really been a full-time, every-down player.  While Frazier is at least playing it off as there is a competition at the position, with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti both being mentioned, fellow linebacker Chad Greenway gave Henderson a vote of confidence on Wednesday.

“He’ll have to catch up on the pass-coverage part because it wasn’t as common of a thing for him to do before. But he’ll be fine,” Greenway said of Henderson. “I’m telling you: He’ll be great.”

If Henderson can be “great” as Greenway indicates, then the Vikings defense should be in pretty good shape this season, but if he struggles find success in the middle and the Vikings have to implement some sort of “plan B” scenario, then Rick Spielman’s unwillingness to invest heavily in the linebacker position over the last two offseasons could end up being this roster’s achilles heal.

Of course, that “quarterback of the offense” position is still pretty darn important, too.

One of the biggest keys to the success of a football team is their ability to stay healthy, as well as prove deep enough at any given position to help cover for the unhealthy, and so it is important to keep tabs on the injuries plaguing the Vikings roster even as early as OTAs in May.

For the second day in a row, Jared Allen remains the only player absent from OTAs, but there is no indication that his absence has anything to do with injury.  As we mentioned yesterday, Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN says Allen had family obligations this week, and it isn’t particularly abnormal for him to miss OTAs.

Wide out Greg Jennings faces big expectations in 2013 as he tries to improve on his last two injury riddled years in Green Bay.  That is why it is disappointing to hear that Jennings was a scratch only two days into OTAs with an ankle injury suffered yesterday.

“His ankle’s a little bit sore,” Frazier said to 1500 ESPN. “But he’ll be fine. Nothing serious. He’s on the side working with (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman.”

Meanwhile, fellow wide outs Greg Childs and Chris Summers were also unable to participate.  Childs is really no surprise, considering he tore both patellar tendons during the 2012 preseason.  An inspirational return from Childs would certainly be a welcomed surprise, but getting any sort of contribution from him in 2013 would indeed be a, well… surprise.  Summers has the potential to compete for a roster spot at the bottom of the depth chart, but he will have to recover from his ankle injury in short order to avoid another season spent on the practice squad.

NFL MVP running back Adrian Peterson had surgery for a sports hernia on February 7th, but that isn’t expected to slow him down much, as it did little to slow him down as he played with the injury for weeks prior to the end of last season.  Peterson says he is “pretty much 100 percent” and was able to fully participate in all the drills and 11-on-11 skirmishes.  Minnesota’s offense lives and dies with Peterson so the importance of his health status simply cannot be stressed enough.  It is a good sign to hear that he is doing so well at the end of May.

Center John Sullivan had microfracture knee surgery this offseason and is not currently participating in OTAs.  After a season that arguably landed him among the top the centers in the league it will be a major disappointment if he has to miss any time, or doesn’t start the season at 100%, but that is not expected to be the case.

Linebacker Michael Mauti, drafted in the final round of this year’s Draft, was expectedly unable to participate.  Mauti’s list of past injuries is so long it can only be written on a scroll, but he could also represent one of the true steals of this class if he can recover from his latest knee reconstruction and stick to the Vikings roster, and he has the talent to challenge for a starting role in the future.  The first order of business, however, will be to get the Penn State product back to full health.

That might seem like a lengthy list of injuries, but outside of Childs and Mauti there is no indication that we need to consider any of them overly serious, and this is the time of year when displays of toughness will often take a backseat to precautionary measures.  We’ll be sure to keep you updated should any other developments surface.

The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to draft Manti Te’o to start at middle linebacker.  I thought it would happen, many of you thought it would happen, and Patrick Reusse of 1500 ESPN called it a “100% certainty.”  Of course, as we all know, the Vikings passed on Te’o on three occasions before he was swiped up by the Chargers in the second round.

In fact, the Vikings ignored the position up until the seventh round when they selected Penn State’s Michael Mauti.  Now, Mauti has first round talents and leadership skills, but he also comes with an injury history that nearly caused him to go undrafted.

So, despite my opinion that the idea has never made much sense, Brian Urlacher’s name just keeps coming up in connection with the Vikings.  Yesterday, in what would seem to cynics (anybody know one?) like an obvious attempt to drum up interest in himself, a dubious “report” appeared that said the linebacker was leaning towards joining the Vikings.

The nonstop chatter about the position, and nonstop chatter about Erin Henderson’s lack of abilities, has not been sitting well with him and he took to the media on Wednesday to make his feelings known.

“I haven’t been more pissed in — I couldn’t tell you,” Henderson told 1500 ESPN after saying head  coach Leslie Frazier has told him he needs to play more angry.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been this pissed in my entire life, to just hear people talk about stuff that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”

“I guess it’s getting to a point now where it’s like, ‘Dang, I just want a little bit of respect,'” he continued.  “I’m not asking you to call me the greatest linebacker to ever play the game yet. Maybe one day we might get to that point, but show me a little bit of respect for what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished in this league.”

The main knock against Henderson have centered around the occasional, but glaring, soft tackling efforts and missed assignments in the passing game.  He has seemed to play at his best on the weakside, but when faulty decision making and injuries plagued Jasper Brinkley in 2012, Henderson was actually not too bad as the middle linebacker.  He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad.

Henderson shouldn’t have to worry about Urlacher any time soon, however, as Frazier appeared on NFL AM and said the team wasn’t considering adding the veteran at this time, but he also didn’t hand anything to Henderson on a silver platter.  He said there would be a battle, a competition, for the starting middle linebacker spot.

“I’ve kind of had to deal with it my entire career,” Henderson said. “A lot of people have said I shouldn’t have been starting as the will ‘backer. Coach was saying the same thing going into the season last year — ‘Well … Erin’s going to start out camp as the will backer.’ It’s never really been just outright, ‘OK, this is Erin’s position. This is Erin’s spot.'”

I don’t know if the Vikings have been using what doubters are saying about Henderson as motivation or what, but it is kind of unsettling to hear him spout off about what fans and the media are saying about him.  It kind of takes me aback a little bit as we don’t often hear players address comments of this nature in such a direct manner.

“And to the fans who don’t believe that I can do it, you haven’t seen me do it,” he said. “How can you say that I can’t do something if you haven’t seen me do it? They say different things about my abilities or whether I should be a starting linebacker or everything else, but my numbers and the fact that I’m still here speak for themselves.”

The beauty of the Urlacher thing, even though I never thought for one second that Rick Spielman would sign him, is that he kind of provides “competition” at the position as long as he remains a free agent.  The Vikings have Henderson, Mauti, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie and Marvin Mitchell lined up to duke it out during OTA’s and training camp, but the threat of Urlacher’s name-value continuing to pop up can only push these guys that much further.

Last year, when a tremendous amount of linebacker talent was available in free agency, the Vikings gambled on Brinkley and lost.  This year they are doing the same thing by passing on great talents in the Draft, and betting on their in-house talent to get the job done.  The gamble could end up making the front office look like geniuses, but failing to invest significantly in the middle linebacker position could also end up being this team’s downfall in 2013.

Right now, however, it appears Henderson will get the first crack at making sure that doesn’t happen.

And that thousands of fans don’t end up telling him “we told you so.”

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