Wednesday, April 1, 2015
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Vikings

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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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(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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