Friday, July 31, 2015

toby gerhart

Well, the Warwas clan has officially purchased their first house and are all moved in, albeit with much chaos and little organization.  Very importantly, however, we have our DirecTV tuned in and the internet working.  In other words:  I’m back.

I’ve missed a lot in the last couple of weeks, so here are a gathering of thoughts for you to chew on during this (yawn!) bye week.

QUARTERBACKS

Christian Ponder’s bruised rib seems sketchy.  Almost as sketchy as expecting Matt Cassel to be any sort of real answer.  Both players are failing the “eye test” and the Vikings delayed the inevitable, via a well-timed sack of Big Ben, which is blowing up the quarterback position and starting fresh in 2014.  I still firmly believe it is coming.

BILL MUSGRAVE

Remember when the Vikings reportedly pursued Josh McDaniels as their offensive coordinator before settling for Musgrave?  I find myself wondering if Christian Ponder’s career path would be different under new direction.  I also find myself wondering if Musgrave’s scheme is too complicated for the now-truncated preparation period NFL teams have in the offseason and preseason under the new CBA.  His offense seems to have started slow two years in a row now.

THE DEFENSE

Things are such a mess right now on defense that I can’t even begin to pinpoint what exactly is going wrong.  Is the idea that they could gamble more backfiring despite Xavier Rhodes being as good as advertised?  Did the defensive line really age that much in one year?  Are the linebackers just not talented?  Is the scheme outdated?  You tell me, because I’m at a loss, and apparently Alan Williams is, too.

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Buried at the bottom of my bucket list, right above win a mirror ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars, is a desire I’ve been craving for nearly 40 years – watch the Minnesota Vikings win a Super Bowl World Championship. If I believe what Adrian Peterson is saying, and I have no reason not to, I just might be checking one of those items off my list in the near future.

Last year at this time, I was hearing Peterson say he was planning to come back better than ever by week one. My heart was telling me “that sounds great,” but my mind was focused on how good Toby Gerhart was going to play while filling the gap until I actually saw a healthy #28 on the football field. Little did I realize that Peterson was speaking the truth. Toby would be nothing more than an afterthought as Peterson chased Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record.

At the Pro Bowl, Peterson predicted he would win the NFL’s MVP award. He was right. On that special night in February when All Day accepted his MVP trophy… he told the world he was going to win it again next year, then looked at coach Frazier with a twinkle in his eyes and added, “I’m going to win the most important award, the team award, the Super Bowl.

A couple months later, Peterson told Maggie Gray of Sports Illustrated in a video interview, “I want a couple of rings. We’ve got to start at one and we need to get it this year. We have the potential to get to the Super Bowl and win. It’s all about coming together”. The big quote that stole the show was when Peterson said “I’m going to let the chips fall. I got my bar set at 2500 yards. If that happens, the record will be shattered.”

Adrian Peterson has earned the right to talk. In 2012, he had one of the greatest seasons in NFL history falling just nine yards short of Dickerson’s rushing title. Unfortunately for Viking fans, all the experts are saying Peterson’s goals can’t be reached. They say the odds are stacked against the Minnesota Vikings and their superstar. The consensus is the goals are simply too unrealistic even for the immortal Adrian Peterson.

Nope, I’m not buying that. No way. No how. ESPN and all the naysayers need to take notice. Adrian Peterson and the upstart Minnesota Vikings will contrive the greatest multi-game sports event since Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire battled it out for the MLB home run title in 1998. One thing is for sure, America will slow down this fall to soak it all in.

Keep talking Adrian. I believe. Coach Frazier and your young impressionable Vikings’ teammates believe… and the world will soon follow.

As Adrian speaks, so may it be written and so shall it be truth!

We started off our preview series by discussing the depth chart at quarterback.  I neglected to discuss Christian Ponder’s ability to run the football, one that cannot be underestimated by opposing defenses, but when talking about the Vikings offense it isn’t going to be Ponder’s legs that steal the show.

Adrian Peterson returned from major knee surgery to make 2012 the best season of his Hall of Fame career.  He started every game for the first time in his six NFL seasons.  He averaged a ridiculous six yards per carry, despite a consistent extra man or two being brought into the box to stop him, and ended the season just nine yards shy of the all time rushing record.  His 2,097 rushing yards were more than enough to lead the NFL, but so were his 76 broken tackles and 1,438 yards accumulated after contact.  He also scored 12 touchdowns one the ground and had a whopping five runs of over 60 yards.

Peterson’s dedication and work ethic are surely a huge part of his big comeback season, and it is easy to forget about the man who paved the way for him, but Pro bowl fullback Jerome Felton deserves a lot of credit for all of that success, as well.  The Vikings were wise to re-sign Felton this offseason and make sure their duo stays intact for at least one more season, as Felton proved to be a major upgrade ahead of Peterson and also blocked cleanly in pass protection, and he never committed a single penalty.

With Peterson and Felton both having robust contracts relative to their positions, and stated goals to increase their roles within the offense, there is no doubt that they will retain their seats atop the depth chart.  The primary backup to Peterson is still expected to be Toby Gerhart, who ran the ball only 50 times for 169 yards and a touchdown last season, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see his role continue to diminish as he plays out his rookie contract.

Gerhart’s true value lies in his ability to step in and be a workhouse in the event that Peterson goes down with an injury.  He has shown the ability to do this in the past and, despite being benched for a case of fumblitis against the Niners, the lack of any big signings or draft selections at the running back position suggests that the Vikings staff feels comfortable with him as the primary backup.  Besides, he is a very serviceable option when it comes to stepping in on third down for pass protection and as a decent hands guy to run the checkdown routes.  Gerhart caught 20 balls for 155 yards in 2012, and nine of those catches converted into first downs.

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It’s been three years since the Minnesota Vikings traded up to make running back Toby Gerhart a second-round pick.

Since then, he’s done nothing to prove that he’s capable of being a reliable option behind Adrian Peterson. On top of averaging a pathetic 3.4 yards per carry last season, he failed to display the power and vision that made him a top prospect coming out of college. And we all remember that disastrous fumble-fest against the San Francisco 49ers…

Unless Gerhart magically flips a switch in 2013, the Vikings will part ways with the former Heisman Trophy runner-up. What avenue they decide to take, though, is TBD.

The first, and most appealing, of the Vikings’ options is trading Gerhart, who could be an intriguing addition for a team looking to implement some power into their ground game. While the former second-round pick won’t fetch much after three underwhelming seasons, getting something for Gerhart instead of letting him walk via free agency seems logical.

The other option is severing ties with Gerhart now and avoiding disaster. Let’s talk hypotheticals…

Let’s say – knock on wood – Peterson goes down in 2013 and is forced to miss significant time due to the injury. In that instance, the Vikings would have to rely on Gerhart to carry the load with no other proven running backs on the roster. While he has been serviceable in the short-term, he’s too inconsistent and inefficient to start more than two or three games. Avoiding that situation might be a good option for Minnesota.

If the Vikings did go with Door No. 2, a free agency acquisition would become a must. The only other ball carriers currently on the roster are Matt Asiata and a handful of undrafted rookies. Not exactly comforting in terms of depth. There are several capable options – Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Turner, Javon Ringer – wading in the free agency pool who could fill the void.

It’s something to consider moving forward, especially with Gerhart likely headed elsewhere in 2013.

Last night’s article about my opinion that the Vikings would be a great fit for running back prospect Marcus Lattimore sparked one of the better reader conversations, or debate perhaps, that we have had so far this offseason.

Naturally, I want to give my opinion.

In the discussion, there are two basic schools of thought at play, with one thinking a team should draft for need and the other saying to take the best player available.  Some good arguments have been made, but I think my perspective is a touch different.

In a world where all the stars align, a team’s draft board would align perfectly with their roster needs.  If you desperately need a running back, then you would love to see a running back be the highest ranked player available to you when you are on the clock.

It is the General Manager’s job to try and create that perfect world by moving around during the Draft.  A perfect example of such a move could be from just last year when Rick Spielman, who needed to get his team some safety help, pulled the trigger on a trade that bounced the Vikings back into the first round where they were able to grab Harrison Smith.

It is also possible, last year, that the Vikings had a higher grade on running back Trent Richardson than they did on Matt Kalil which allowed Spielman to move back a spot and let Richardson get picked up by Cleveland, while retaining the ability to still get Kalil.

Sometimes these trades don’t always work out, however, and a team is forced to choose between their best rated player or making a slight reach in the name of filling an immediate need.  I am sure that those decisions are the hardest ones to make when the pressure is on.

If I were in charge of making such decisions (which, of course, I am not) I would see no shame in taking either approach, really, but would have a philosophy that revolves around my roster’s identity.

Let me explain.

There is something to be said for a team that uses free agency and the first round of the Draft to fill immediate needs, while using day two and day three of the Draft to reinforce an already strong part of the roster.  Drafting to get deeper and stronger at an area of your roster that already is a strength, if you will.

For example, the New York Giants in recent history have not been shy about spending early picks on defensive linemen because that was their identity, their pass rush essentially won them a Super Bowl against an undefeated Patriots team, and they didn’t want to take on any risk of losing that identity through injuries.  Their defensive line also played a big part in last year’s Super Bowl run, their second in five years.

The Minnesota Vikings have openly admitted that their offense is “built to win” by running the football.  It is their identity.

Of course, having Adrian Peterson is a huge part of that, and a lot of their future success hinges on his ability to stay healthy and stay productive.  Heck, they even have a decent backup plan in Toby Gerhart, who is a lot better as an every down back than as a player pulling spot duty.

Still, I see absolutely no problem with the Vikings using the NFL Draft to ensure that their identity, being a hard running offense, is maintained and preserved long into the future despite what unpleasant surprises may end up surfacing.

So, to finally get around to the point, that is why I would have absolutely no problem with the Vikings spending a fourth or fifth rounder on a running back.  Or a guard.  Or a center.  It may not immediately improve the running offense, but if it ensures that running game will last for an entire season and well into the postseason then I think it is a pick well spent.

Besides, if we are banking on filling our needs in round four of the NFL Draft, then Rick Spielman has already messed things up pretty bad.

I am a big fan of the Best Player Available approach to the NFL Draft because I just don’t see the downside.  There is no shame in using that player to fill a need or provide depth in an area on your roster that already has a solid starter.

Besides, if the Vikings had always drafted for need, then I don’t think Adrian Peterson ever would have worn a Vikings uniform in the first place.

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