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minnesota vikings

Photo Credit: Joe Lemke (used with permission)

Since being drafted No. 17 in the 2006 NFL Draft, Chad Greenway has been a Minnesota Viking.

In a Nov. 2012 interview, Greenway expressed that he hoped to play the entirety of his career in purple and gold:

“I certainly want to retire a Viking […] I’d love to just play it out here and be able to have an entire tenure in Minnesota.”

Two years later, Greenway’s leadership, comradery and positive attitude in the locker room continue to be an asset to the team; his contribution on the field upheld its reputation, as well. Greenway missed four games due to injuries this season; in the 12 that he started, however, the linebacker tallied 93 tackles. According to league stats, he leads the NFL since 2007, with 984 tackles.

Greenway’s loyalty to Minnesota and athleticism have not changed; but there is no denying that other things have—namely, younger, talented players making an impact on the roster. As the Vikings packed up their gear and prepared to head into the offseason, Greenway demonstrated no sense of urgency to clear out his locker.

For No. 52, there is some uncertainty if he will return to this locker room next season.

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Wide receiver Charles Johnson is set to start for the Vikings against New York on Sunday.

According to the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson, offensive coordinator Norv Turner confirmed that Johnson will retain the starting split end position after getting the opportunity last week.

Cordarrelle Patterson generally holds the starting position, but his production has been much lower than anticipated this season. The sophomore WR seems to still struggle with route running, and Johnson has been given more reps recently. Last week, the official roster swap took place. After Patterson missed practices due to a personal matter, head coach Mike Zimmer reduced Patterson’s playing time.

Minnesota utilized Johnson on all 50 snaps in the win against Carolina, while Patterson played on just three overall—and not until the second half. Sunday was the first time in Patterson’s NFL career that he did not catch a single pass. While Vikings fans are surprised—and disappointed—with Patterson’s less-than-mediocre performance, Johnson is certainly earning his keep.

“C.J. is playing at a high level,” Turner said. “C.J. is the starter at X, that’s the position Cordarrelle plays. We’re going to do what we can to get him some opportunities to play there, but C.J. is playing at a real high level right now.”

Over the Vikings’ last three games, the 25-year-old has played 141 snaps and made 11 receptions for 180 yards.

Originally drafted by the Packers in 2013, Johnson suffered a knee injury early on and is just now getting his chance to prove himself in the NFL. He caught his first pass with the Vikings in Week 5, and Johnson is proving that he could play a significant role on this team.

And as for Patterson? No. 84 has been vocal about his disappointment with last week’s situation, and he told reporters that he will approach the coaching staff if he doesn’t play a larger role against the Jets. Patterson said the following:

“I’ll have to see how this week goes first and see how my reps and how my playing goes this week. Then next week if I my reps [aren’t] what I need them to be and I’m not feeling good about it, I have to sit down and talk with them.”

Regardless of what happens with Patterson, one thing is clear: Charles Johnson was handed a chance, and he isn’t looking back.

 

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Last season, Josh Robinson was called on to replace Vikings veteran Antoine Winfield in slot coverage—and the results were less than impressive. This year, however, the story could not be more different. With a new coaching system under Mike Zimmer and the addition of new defensive players to the roster, Robinson is able to play primarily outside and is really finding his groove.

Offseason transactions brought in Captain Munnerlyn to play the slot, and Robinson looks much more natural playing on the outside. Additionally, he fits better in Zimmer’s defensive scheme that utilizes more man coverage and boundary corners.

“I believe [Coach] Zimmer is doing a great job with a lot of things, which are all helping us become better players,” Robinson said. “Teaching players techniques that work and stressing the importance of accountability and consistency are the biggest contributors to our success.”

“Zimmer came to Minnesota with a reputation for being able to get the most out of defensive backs, and Robinson is probably the team’s most improved player,” said Star Tribune‘s Matt Vensel. “He is a young player with speed and cover skills, and his play this year is a reminder of the dangers of writing off a player after he struggles early in his career.”

Robinson’s 2014 numbers are certainly impressive. At the end of October, the CB was allowing one completion for every 12.4 coverage snaps, compared to 6.9 last season. Robinson also continues to demonstrate improved play-making skills, already notching seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

The more significant of the two picks—if it is fair to say that—occurred on Sept. 7 against the Rams. St. Louis set up at its 19-yard line with 1:13 remaining in the first half, and the play proved pivotal in the game. Robinson executed his coverage of Rams tight end Jared Cook, and the CB was able to intercept the pass and keep his feet in bounds on the way down. The Vikings capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown to go up 13-0 at the half, and they continued on to win the game. Robinson referred to Game 3 as the “most consistent and confidently” played contest of his career, and it’s clear these qualities were not a single-game fluke. The 23-year-old attributes several things to his sudden upswing in performance.

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(photo taken by Lindsey Young)
(photo taken by Lindsey Young)

Mike Zimmer is in his first season as head coach, and he is not satisfied with the way it’s going. With the Vikings off to a 2-4 start, Zimmer is making it clear that some players need to step it up—on and off the field. From unnecessary penalties in a game, to showing up late to practice, to more confrontations with the law, there seems to be no end to the mistakes. And the Coach is fed up with it.

According to the Star Tribune, Zimmer used the word “undisciplined” multiple times to describe his squad following Sunday’s home loss to Detroit.

“Some of the things we’re doing are leads to undisciplined play,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got to change a lot of these things. I had to fine a lot more guys this week, for whatever reason, for being late to meetings. I’m not going to let them slide. I’m going to keep fighting. I’m going to keep pounding my head. Like I told them, the fines are going to start going to the max now. I’m tired of it.”

Nobody expected this melodramatic start for Minnesota. With Adrian Peterson out of the picture and Matt Cassell suffering a season-ending foot injury in Game 3, the team has had to adapt. And Zimmer doesn’t seem to have unrealistic expectations; he just wants the players to show up 100 percent. “I can handle getting beat,” he said. “I can’t handle getting our butts whipped like that [against the Lions].”

Zimmer did not publicly target any specific players. Rather, he addressed blanket issues, one of the biggest being poor blocking and protection of the quarterback. En route to a 17-3 loss to Detroit, rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater seemed to be running for his life on every play, scrambling to simultaneously find open receivers and escape the defense. By the end of the fourth, Bridgewater had been sacked eight times. Eight. (In case you’re wondering, the NFL record for sacks in a game is 12). One of the largest problems on the offensive line this season has been Matt Kalil. Kalil delivered an outstanding rookie season, but something drastically changed after that. Now in his third year, the USC alum is frequently ranked by Pro Football Focus as the worst offensive player in the league.

Zimmer is a man that doesn’t hide how he feels. When Zimmer came to Minnesota, he carried a reputation of being a players’ coach, and he certainly lives up to that standard—in all of its facets.

When I visited the Vikings training camp for three days this summer, the first thing I noticed about Zimmer was his involvement with the players. In viewing games on television, it’s the same thing. He is not the type of coach to simply delegate to assistants or pass instructions down a line; he is fully present. He is there to coach. He is there to form relationships with his players. He is there to support them. But when things go poorly—as they are now—he is there to straighten them out.

“I want them to understand that it’s not okay to lose,” Zimmer said. “That’s what I want them to understand. I want them to understand that it’s not OK to lose, that we have to change the mentality and the mindset of this. I can remember telling the defense the same thing in Cincinnati a long, long time ago that we have to develop this mindset that it’s not okay to lose, it’s not business as usual. I’m not very accepting of these kinds of things.”

It takes more than a few months for a new coach to make a team his own, and it will be interesting to see what changes Zimmer will make to the roster. Already, he is threatening to reduce playing time. Fullback Jerome Felton says this type of move will certainly get the players’ attention. “[Game time is] what matters to players. That will get it solved real quick,” Felton expressed.

Veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn also responded to the discipline problem, saying that one aspect is an issue of accountability among teammates. Munnerlyn, who came to Minnesota this season largely to play under Zimmer, explained that it really shouldn’t be the coaches’ job to make sure players are following through. “Man, it’s your job […] We’ve got to get better.”

 

 

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(photo provided and used with permission)
(photo provided and used with permission)

 

“Hey—are you ready to play some football?”

This was the phone call quarterback Chandler Harnish received from his agent Sunday night. By Monday morning, he was in Minnesota to join the Vikings practice squad.

Harnish does have one Minnesota connection–he played under current Gophers coach Jerry Kill at Northern Illinois–but he has spent his NFL career in Indianapolis. The Colts drafted Harnish with the last overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. While he played the first five games of his career on the active roster, he spent a majority of his time on the practice squad. On Aug. 30 of this year, Indy released Harnish.

The 26-year-old is not the type to get discouraged, however. Rather, being perceived as the underdog motivates Harnish to work even harder, and he is grateful for each and every opportunity he gets.

“Some people make light of the practice squad, but ultimately I’m just very proud to be part of a team,” Harnish expressed. “There are not many guys out there who can say that. [The NFL] is hard. You can’t take this for granted. Whether you’re part of the active roster or the practice squad, it’s something you can hang your hat on.”

Harnish gained invaluable experience while in Indianapolis, specifically mentioning a strong coaching staff and working under the mentorship of veterans such as Matt Hasselbeck and Reggie Wayne. Harnish also spent the last few seasons with starting QB Andrew Luck. These specific scenarios and teammates taught Harnish not only on-field strategies for the game of football, but also how to approach preparing for a game and keeping himself healthy and ready to go—both mentally and physically.

Harnish gladly accepted this transition. Despite joining the Vikings only two days ago, he feels confident in his ability to strengthen their roster in whatever way needed.

“The nice thing about football is that a lot of it overlaps,” he said. “A lot of offenses overlap; there are very similar types of plays—you just have different words for them. Everyone has different systems, but I think I have experience with a lot of the types of throws we’re trying to make in Minnesota. I’m just excited to take on this opportunity.”

The Vikings may not have planned to need an additional passing arm, but they are happy to sign Harnish. With original starter Matt Cassel out for the season and rookie Teddy Bridgewater recovering from an ankle sprain, the QB situation for Thursday’s matchup against Green Bay remains questionable. If Bridgewater is unable to play, third-string Christian Ponder will be called upon. Harnish and McLeod Bethel-Thompson are on the practice squad.

Bridgewater started his first game as a rookie last week, when he led his team to a 41-28 victory over Atlanta. Harnish already has nothing but positive things to say about his new teammate:

“Teddy is just a really cool kid. He’s young […] he has already proven that he can play at this level. He came out and had a phenomenal game [against Atlanta]. He has a ton of upside; everyone is excited about him […] He takes notes, he learns, and he knows what’s going on. He has an incredibly bright future.”

In addition to Bridgewater, Harnish expressed enthusiasm for working with the entire Vikings coaching system and roster. “I can already tell it’s a tight-knit group of guys,” he said. “I’m just excited to move forward and get to know these guys better, to continue to work with them.

Regardless of in a game or in practice, the QB is ready to fill his role in the purple and gold.

 

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