Thursday, September 3, 2015

michael mauti

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.”

I thought for sure Rick Spielman and company would wait until three minutes before training camp begins to sign their rookies.  That always feels like the way of it, anyways.

This year might be different, though, as the Vikings have already gotten started on the process.

Fourth round linebacker Gerald Hodges, seventh round linebacker Michael Mauti, and seventh round defensive tackle Everett Dawkins signed their rookie contracts on Tuesday.  Each of these rookie deals are for four years and include signing bonuses.

The Vikings still have all three of their first round selections to worry about, but the rookie wage scale all but guarantees there to be little drama surrounding these guys and their contracts.

The Vikings opened up their rookie minicamp on Friday, and it was the one day that will be open to the media, so we have some actual football tidbits to pass along.  Second-year hopefuls, this offseason’s draft class, and undrafted free agent signings intermingle with players in on a tryout basis to try and shine in front of the coaching staff.  Here is what we know from Day One:

ROOKIE CLASS:  It is apparent, when watching these guys go up against each other, why the Vikings selected the guys they did at the top of the NFL Draft.  All reports seem to indicate that Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarrelle Patterson are clearly superior to the rest of the talent that was taking part in the practices.

COLIN ANDERSON:  Chris Kluwe might not be the only special teamer looking over his shoulder these days.  Furman tight end Colin Anderson is an accomplished long snapper and could potentially end up being competition for the team’s longest tenured player, long snapper Cullen Loeffler.  Loeffler is 32 years old and will carry a base salary of $915,00 this season and $1.135 million in 2014.  Anderson claims, however, that he is at Winter Park trying to make the team as a tight end.

MICHAEL MAUTI:  The Vikings didn’t make a huge investment when they selected Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti in the seventh round, but they are hoping to get huge returns.  Mauti is still rehabbing his knee injury, though, and patience will be necessary for those eager to see what he brings to the table.  Still, coach Leslie Frazier was unwilling to crown Erin Henderson the starter at middle linebacker, and says they will take a look at a number of options.

JEFF LOCKE:  Snow forced the Vikings minicamp indoors and fifth round selection Jeff Locke headed to the Metrodome to punt in front of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.  He then returned to Winter Park to take some reps as a field goal holder.  By all accounts, including Locke himself, the first day went well.  We could see Kluwe released as soon as Monday if the Vikings decide they got what they bargained for when they drafted Locke last month.

XAVIER RHODES:  He intercepted the first ball thrown in the first minicamp of his first year in the NFL.  As omens go, that isn’t too shabby.  Rhodes continued to impress throughout the practices and is an early favorite to win a starting job at cornerback, alongside Chris Cook.

DURON CARTER:  The son of the Vikings all-time leading receiver Cris Carter has a rough start to the minicamp, dropping the first three footballs going his way.  Carter improved throughout the day and is hoping to turn his tryout into a roster spot, but he will need to show more improvement if he wants to stick with the Vikings for the long haul.

 

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Some hack bloggers (anybody know one?) thought it was highly likely the Vikings would target a middle linebacker early in the Draft.  Other media types, including one guy who should return a paycheck to his employer for this clunker, thought it was a “100% certainty” that the Vikings would draft Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the first round.

They didn’t target a middle linebacker early on.  They didn’t wind up with Te’o… or Alec Ogletree… or Arthur Brown… or Kevin Minter.

In fact, they didn’t draft one until the seventh round, when they selected Michael Mauti from Penn State.  Mauti has the talent to be selected much earlier, but an injury history that rivals that of Humpty Dumpty.

Rick Spielman may have, for the second year in a row, used a little misdirection to lead to all of that speculation about the position.  Instead, he may have been planning to use Erin Henderson at that spot all along, and the proof of this might be the fact that Henderson has already packed on an extra eight or nine pounds in preparation for his possible move to the inside.  Another bit of proof might be that the Vikings quickly signed him to a two year deal worth $4 million, which seemed a little out of place considering how long they let him dangle on the free agent market last offseason before signing him to a one year prove-it deal.

Now that players are starting to flood Winter Park to take part in the offseason programs, things are perhaps starting to come into focus a little more, and we do know that the Vikings are planning on having Henderson play in the middle as of now.  This, of course, is a very similar path that his brother E,J. took to becoming a very solid middle linebacker for the Vikings.

Henderson has struggled with pass coverage at times, but he is quite a bit more athletic than last year’s starter Jasper Brinkley was, and could cover more ground.  Then, if someone like rookie Gerald Hodges can step into the weakside spot, the Vikings may have themselves a much faster group of linebackers than what we saw in 2012.  Considering the amount of mobile quarterbacks on the schedule this coming season, that might just be a key to their potential success, and is certainly something interesting to follow at the very least.

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