Wednesday, March 4, 2015
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MN Vikings

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

As far as football experience goes, Birk certainly has an impressive resume.

A Midwestern kid from St. Paul, MN, Birk played high school football for Cretin-Derham Hall. He then went on to become an NFL draft pick, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, a Super Bowl champion, and currently works as the NFL Director of Football Development in New York City.

And it all started with the Minnesota Vikings.

Despite having an excellent college career at Harvard University and earning several first-team honors, the center never fully expected to be drafted in 1998. He instead mentally prepared to be a free agent, to simply find an invite to a team’s camp. However, Birk took an opportunity over spring break to work out with the Vikings; the rest, as they say, is history.

“You think, ‘there are 32 teams—what are the chances I’m going to play for my hometown team?’ […] The phone rang, and it was [then-head coach] Denny Green—he said they were going to draft me with the next pick. My name came up on the TV, and it was a tremendously special moment.”

Birk played two seasons as a backup for the Vikings before taking over the starting center position in 2000. In that first year, he started all 16 games and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Birk continues to call 2000 his most memorable season, as the team rebounded from losing some significant players and impressively finished 11-5.

With the exception of missing a season due to injury, Birk cemented himself as an integral part of the Vikings roster for a decade. In addition to Pro Bowl honors, the center was named All-Pro twice and Minnesota Vikings Man of the Year six years in a row.

Despite going on to finish his career with four seasons—and a Super Bowl victory—with the Baltimore Ravens, Birk remains tied to Minnesota. A part of Birk’s spirit will undoubtedly always wear the purple and gold, and he felt incredibly optimistic about the Vikings’ year, calling the 2014 season’s end “tremendous.”

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(photo used with permission)

Although he hasn’t called Minnesota a permanent home since he was five years old, Matt Engstrom lives and breathes the Vikings.

Engstrom was born in Minnesota, and he immediately fell in love with the purple and gold. He remembers spending time with his father and grandmother, watching the games on television or listening to them on the radio. Engstrom was a child of the Purple People Eaters era, and a framed poster of the 1974 team hung in the family’s basement near the pool table—one of his earliest memories.

By the time Engstrom moved to California with his mom, his allegiance to the Vikings had already formed. It is a long-standing devotion; Engstrom bleeds purple into most areas of his life, including his career.

In addition to his love for the Vikings, Engstrom is passionate about art, drawing, and humor. He pursued a profession that would perfectly fit these three things and has been in the animation industry for almost 20 years. In what some might consider a dream job, he currently works as a Supervising Director for DreamWorks Animation Studio.

“My job, simply put, is to take a script and visually tell the story in the clearest, most humorous way [possible],” he explained. “To make sure the viewer is feeling exactly what the moment calls for.  My job is very similar to what a live action movie director’s job would be like—except I don’t deal with ‘live’ actors, I deal with artists that draw our ‘actors.’”

Engstrom’s job mainly consists of setting up scenes to effectively communicate the mood of the moment—whether that be dramatic, scary, tense, or funny—and acting out and drawing the characters’ actions.

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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