Friday, March 6, 2015
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Minnestota Vikings

Joe Berger has been a veteran presence on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line for 3 seasons. He joined the Vikings in week 2 of the 2011 season after originally being selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 6th round of the 2005 NFL draft. He has appeared in 83 regular season games with 29 starts in his 10 year career with Carolina, Dallas, Miami and Minnesota.

Berger has been a solid reserve contributor for the Vikings playing in 45 games and starting 9 times. Berger is a versatile player who can contribute on special teams and has starting experience at center and both guard positions.

In 2013 Berger saw action in all 16 games with starts against Washington in week 10 and Philadelphia in week 15.

Joe Berger just signed a one year deal in March for $920,000. His cap hit is only $635,000 so from a dollars-and-cents stand point he is probably not in any danger of being cut. Berger’s performance is also at a satisfactory enough level to safely project him onto the 53 man roster again this season. The only question is his age. Berger celebrates his 32nd birthday on May 25th… wait, that’s today.

Happy Birthday Joe!

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?

The Lions have won their last two opening games by scoring 27 points each against the Rams and Buccaneers over the past two seasons. I don’t think the Vikings offense is ready for a shoot-out in the Motor City, so let’s hope the defense and special teams can keep us in the game.

 The Lions lost their final eight games of the season last year to end a disappointing 4-12 campaign after making the playoffs in 2011. You can bet Jim Schwartz will have his team fired up and ready for a fresh start on Sunday.

 Detroit has averaged 26 points in 4 preseason games and could be on the brink to a fast start in 2013. Detroit has scored 11 touchdowns and converted 72 first downs compared to 8 touchdowns and 65 first downs for the Vikings over the last 4 weeks.

 The good news for the Vikings is Mathew Stafford only connected on 49% of his passes in preseason. So, if the Vikings’ defense can set the tone early and disrupt the connection between Stafford and Calvin Johnson, they might have a chance to grind out a win.

 In week four last year at Detroit, the Vikings sacked Stafford 5 times and the special teams returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns to steal a 20-13 victory. Can the Vikings dial up a similar game plan again this week?

The Lions added another weapon this off-season in RB Reggie Bush. Stafford might look to dump the ball off to Bush a lot to help relieve some of the pressure from our front four. It is no secret the Vikings’ corners will need to do a great job covering Calvin Johnson, but I think the linebackers and safeties will also need to do a good job containing Bush and TE Brandon Pettigrew if the Vikings want to leave Detroit with a win.

The Vikings signed defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo to the eight-man practice squad joining RB Joe Banyard, G Travis Bond, DT Everett Dawkins, TE Chase Ford, OT Kevin Murphy, WR Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen.

Cornerback Bobby Felder and defensive end D’Aundre Reed were waived/injured and placed on injured reserve after clearing waivers. Both players have ankle injuries sustained in the final preseason game.

Okpalaugo is a 6-foot-4 260 pound defensive end from Fresno State that has the tools to play standing up and with his hand on the ground. The undrafted rookie had a good preseason for the Dolphins racking up 3 sacks, 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. Okpalaugo is a unique versatile prospect with long arms and explosive leaping ability. He shows good change of direction movement and can drop back into zone coverage and be used in multiple formations.

Okpalaugo was a fan favorite in Miami this preseason, but he was playing one of the deepest positions for the Dolphins. Miami may have been trying/hoping to hide Okpalaugo on thier practice squad, but Rick Spielman will stick it to the Dolphins any chance he gets.

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.

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