INDIANAPOLIS -- The Vikings will conduct 60 interviews with prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine between Friday and Monday night. One thing Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman is looking forward to is getting a chance to visit with the junior quarterbacks who have declared for the April draft.
It's no secret the Vikings could be in the market to select a quarterback and while team officials got a chance to talk to the seniors at the Senior Bowl in January, this will be their first chance to spend time with guys such as Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Auburn's Cam Newton. Newton and Gabbert could be gone by the time the Vikings use the 12th overall pick in the draft, unless they decide to trade up.
"We’ll focus a lot more here on the junior quarterbacks that have just came out," Spielman said. "We haven’t got a chance to visit with them. Again, we’ll regroup once we get back to the office and kind of lay out our spring schedule and where we’re going, who we’re going to see and what needs to get done for the rest of the process.”
Newton and Mallett are planning to throw at the combine, while Gabbert is not. The Vikings, though, will get a chance to see the top-level quarterbacks throw at their Pro Days.
"I know our scouts will be out at all these workouts, like we always are," Spielman said. "Coaches will be involved, some of them depending on what players work out here. I know myself and Leslie and Bill [Musgrave] and Craig Johnson will be heavily involved in the quarterbacks this spring.”
Musgrave was hired as the Vikings offensive coordinator and Johnson was named the team's quarterbacks coach in January.
Asked about Musgrave's role in the quarterback evaluations, Spielman said: “Bill’s going to be in charge of our offense and installing our offense, so he’s going to have an idea of what it takes, what a quarterback has to do, what a quarterback has to function at a high level with our offense. He’ll have a pretty significant part of the process and an opinion as we go through and make a decision on our quarterbacks.”
Spielman made it clear he likes the quarterbacks in this draft class.“I feel pretty strong about this class, about the depth of this class, not only through the first rounds, but I think through the second, third round, too," he said. "We will try to get as many of those guys as we hone in on those guys and specific guys that we target. I don’t want to give you that number."
Change in structure?
Spielman retains the same title he has had since joining the Vikings in 2006, but it's clear things have changed a bit since Brad Childress was fired as coach in November.
One indication of this came Thursday when Spielman spent time on the podium at the combine taking questions from the assembled media. He previously only did a side session with reporters from the Twin Cities. Still, Spielman attempted to downplay the fact his role appears to have increased now that Leslie Frazier is the coach.
"I know you know the Wilfs, and everybody is not real big on structure at our place," Spielman said. "I’m doing the personnel side of it. Leslie is coaching. We work together."
Asked if he had more influence, Spielman said: "I would just say that I’m looking forward… not that I didn’t look forward to working with Brad. Me and Brad worked well together, but I’m also looking forward to working with Leslie and the communication that we have had since he became the interim coach, and the process, the vital part of our offseason planning happened over the last three or four weeks. Working with Leslie in that setting, I know me and Leslie are going to work very, very well together."
Spielman doesn't seem concerned that that harmony might be disrupted if he and Frazier disagree on who should be on the 53-man roster. "Just like everything, me and Leslie will sit down and go through all the decisions on the roster," Spielman said.
As for the draft and free agency process, Spielman said the Vikings have not changed how that runs.
"I bring the coaches [in] and get them involved in April," Spielman said. "Myself and the scouts have the draft board set. The UFAs, [director of player personnel] George Paton runs the pro side of it, and we’ll get involved in the college side. We have the UFA board set. We’ll bring the coaches in and have the coaches talk about it. When we end up making decisions, myself and Leslie and the Wilfs will sit down to discuss where we’re at and what direction we’re going to go."
Not a fan
Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network, took questions this afternoon from media members. Included was one about the Vikings. Lombardi didn't exactly sound optimistic.
"I think the Vikings misconception was they weren’t as good defensively as people thought," he said. "They’re older on defense and I think they obviously have to fix their quarterback. Left tackle is a huge concern. Bryant McKinnie didn’t play as well for them last year. What are they going to do with Sidney Rice? They need an inside receiver.
"I think Minnesota has more needs than they actually think they have. When you are so close, you kid yourself into thinking you don’t have all these needs and then the next year when you don’t get there you realize we’ve got a lot of needs and I think they do."