Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.

Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.

Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Posts about Pat Williams

20-year perspective: Vikings' 223rd overall pick

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: May 1, 2014 - 11:13 AM

TODAY'S LOOK BACK: The 223rd overall pick.

Looking back on previous NFL drafts is oh so much clearer than looking ahead to the next one. So today, we'll go back through the past 20 drafts to give some historical perspective on the 223rd overall pick, which the Vikings own in the seventh round of next week's draft. We'll work our way up to the first round with a daily look at each round.

Pro Bowlers picked No. 223 since 1994: None.

Have the Vikings picked No. 223 since 1994?: Yes. In 1996, they took Duke tackle Jon Merrill. He never played for the Vikings or in the NFL.

Ouch 1: In 1998, the Cowboys took running back Tarik Smith. He never played a game. When the draft was over, the Rams signed linebacker London Fletcher as a rookie free agent from Division III John Carroll in Cleveland. Fletcher played 256 games over 17 seasons for three teams before retiring after last season.

Ouch 2: In 2002, the Cardinals took tight end Mike Banks. He played 18 games with no starts. Nineteen picks later, the Steelers signed defensive end Brett Keisel. And if that weren't enough, the Steelers also signed linebacker James Harrison as a rookie free agent. Keisel and Harrison helped the Steelers win a couple of Super Bowls. Harrison was the league's defensive player of the year in 2008.

Ouch 3: In 2003, the Ravens took tight end Trent Smith. He played five games. After the draft, the Chargers signed three rookie free agents -- tight end Antonio Gates, guard Kris Dielman and receiver Kassim Osgood -- who have combined on 15 Pro Bowl appearances.

Here's a year-by-year look back at the No. 223 pick:

2013: The Pick: DT Nicholas Williams, Steelers. Could Have Had: Free-agent TE Joseph Fauria, Lions.

2012: The Pick: OLB Travis Lewis, Lions. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB Vontaze Burfict, Bengals.

2011: The Pick: FB Shane Bannon, Chiefs. Could Have Had: LB Malcolm Smith (No. 242), Seahawks.

2010: The Pick: CB R.J. Stanford, Panthers. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Victor Cruz, Giants.

2009: The Pick: S Troy Nolan, Texans. Also took: Free-agent RB Arian Foster, Texans.

2008: The Pick: QB Alex Brink, Texans. Could Have Had: Free-agent FB Mike Tolbert, Chargers.

2007: The Pick: OT Mike Otto, Titans. Could Have Had: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (No. 250), Giants.

2006: The Pick: QB D.J. Shockley, Falcons. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Miles Auston, Cowboys.

2005: The Pick: WR Marcus Maxwell, 49ers. Could Have Had: NT Jay Ratliff (No. 224), Cowboys; QB Matt Cassel (No. 230), Patriots.

2004: The Pick: CB Jacques Reeves, Cowboys. Could Have Had: C Scott Wells (No. 251), Packers; free-agent WR Wes Welker.

2003: The Pick: TE Trent Smith, Ravens. Could Have Had: Free-agent QB Tony Romo, Cowboys; free-agent TE Antonio Gates, Chargers; free-agent G Kris Dielman, Chargers; free-agent WR Kassim Osgood, Chargers.

2002: The Pick: TE Mike Banks, Cardinals. Could Have Had: DE Brett Keisel (No. 242), Steelers; Free-agent LB James Harrison.

2001: The Pick: SS Than Merrill, Buccaneers. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB Antonio Pierce, Redskins.

2000: The Pick: DE James Cotton, Bears. Could Have Had: Free-agent C Shaun O'Hara, Browns.

1999: The Pick: OT Ryan Young, Jets. Could Have Had: Free-agent TE Jermaine Wiggins, Jets.

1998: The Pick: RB Tarik Smith, Cowboys. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB London Fletcher, Rams;  free-agent C Jeff Saturday, Colts.

1997: The Pick: WR Mike Adams, Steelers. Could Have Had: Free-agent NT Pat Williams, Bills; free-agent RB Priest Holmes, Ravens.

1996: The Pick: OT Jon Merrill, Vikings. Could Have Had: Free-agent K Adam Vinatieri, Patriots.

1995: The Pick: LB Jessie Cox, Colts. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Wayne Chrebet, Jets.

1994: The Pick: None. There were only 222 picks. Could Have Had: Free-agent QB Kurt Warner, Packers; Free-agent S Robert Griffith, Vikings.

Vikings free agency tracker: What's happened and what needs to happen

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 25, 2014 - 12:57 PM

Vikings free-agency tracker …

We’re tracking all things Purple, starting with what’s already happened and projecting what still needs to happen as the Vikings work their way through free agency. Here we go:



QB Matt Cassel: Agreed to terms on a two-year, $10 million deal on March 8. Signed the deal March 10.

What it means: The Vikings would have gone into free agency with their No. 1 need being a veteran quarterback to serve as their temporary bridge to the future. Cassel, who went 3-3 and played in all five of the Vikings’ wins a year ago, isn’t perfect, but he’s the best-case scenario in a weak quarterback market. Now, the Vikings can shift their QB focus to picking the right one in the draft.

DE Everson Griffen: Agreed to terms on a five-year, $42.5 million deal on March 8. Signed on March 10.

What it means: A starting right defensive end to replace Jared Allen would have been priority No. 2 heading into free agency. Signing the 26-year-old Griffen filled that need with a familiar player who’s been solid, is full of star potential and is heading into his prime seasons.

MLB Jasper Brinkley: Signed a one-year deal before the free-agency signing period began March 11.

What it means: The Vikings let Brinkley, a starter in 2012, walk away before the 2013 season. Then he failed in Arizona and was released after the season. So we’re not talking any guarantees here. He will compete with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti at middle linebacker with perhaps one of them being able to move over and compete with Gerald Hodges at the weak-side linebacker spot.

C-G Joe Berger: Signed a one-year deal March 11.

What it means: Berger might be the most underrated player on the team. He's primarily a center, and he’s been good enough to start there. But he also can be a serviceable starter and backup at both guard positions as well.

RB Matt Asiata: Exclusive rights free agent signed his one-year tender.

What it means: Asiata is a good No. 3 running back and special teams player. The Vikings still can use a change-of-pace back with pass-catching skills as their No. 2 back.

NT Fred Evans: The 30-year-old unrestricted free agent signed a one-year deal on March 13.

What it means: Evan will continue to provide depth on the nose, which is something he's done with the Vikings since 2007. He's not a front-line talent, but is a wide body with experience. Makes too many silly encroachment penalties while lined up with his head right over the ball, but is a good player to have for depth and emergency situations.

WR Jerome Simpson: The acrobatic, but inconsistent veteran receiver signed a third consecutive one-year, "prove-it" deal with the Vikings on March 14.

What it means: Focusing just on football, it means the Vikings now have four experienced receivers to go along with tight end Kyle Rudolph. Are those four receivers written down in pen as the top four that will start the season? No. Beyond Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings, anything can happen, depending on whether the Vikings come across something better between now and September. But Simpson gives new offensive coordinator Norv Turner a deep threat that can leap and pick passes out of the air. Of course, Simpson also is prone to disappearing for long stretches, dropping too many passes and getting in trouble off the field. His arrest for DWI last December could result in another league suspension to go with the three-game punishment he served when he joined the Vikings in 2012.

LG Charlie Johnson: Agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal on March 15.

What it means: Although he struggled last season and the Vikings were willing to lose him while they focused on higher priorities, Johnson has started 48 of 49 games since joining the Vikings in 2011, including all but one game at left guard the past two seasons. With Johnson's return, the starting line should remain intact for a third straight season. General Manager Rick Spielman said he's impressed by the progress of Jeff Baca, a sixth-round pick a year ago, and that the team will be looking to address the offensive line in the draft. But re-signing Johnson, 30, for about $2.5 million this season suggests the Vikings are willing to let Johnson handle the position while they groom a backup that could take his spot as early as 2015.


NT Linval Joseph: Agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million deal on March 11, the first day of the signing period.

What it means: Well, the Vikings didn’t have a starting-caliber nose tackle on the roster. They also haven’t had a true nose tackle in top form since Pat Williams’ last dominant season in 2009. Not coincidently, that was the last time the Vikings played shut-down run defense. Priority No. 1 defensively for new coach Mike Zimmer is shut-down run defense. Joseph is a 6-4, 328-pounder who’s only 25 and was a second-round pick in 2010.

CB Captain Munnerlyn: A competitive, hard-nosed, 5-8, 195-pounder, he signed a three-year, $14.3 million deal with $7 million guaranteed on March 13.

What it means: The Vikings finally have someone to replace Antoine Winfield, 12 months after making a calculated, financial-based mistake in releasing him and placing blind faith into Josh Robinson, a second-year pro who had never played inside over the slot in the nickel defense. Munnerlyn has three years of experience at starting outside and sliding inside when his former team, the Panthers, went to the nickel. He's also a 25-year-old rising star who made plays on a defense that ranked No. 2 in the league in yards and points allowed last season. In five seasons in Carolina, Munnerlyn, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, returned five of seven career interceptions for touchdowns. The guy he replaces, Chris Cook, a second-round pick in 2010, is still looking for his first career pick. He signed with the 49ers on March 14.

CB Derek Cox: The 6-1, 180-pound Cox signed a one-year deal on March 13 and hopes he can reclaim what he had for four years in Jacksonville and lost last season in his only year with the Chargers.

What it means: Remains to be seen. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer proclaims himself to be "The Fixer." Well, if he can fix this guy, he might have three good corners in Xavier Rhodes, Munnerlyn and Cox. Cox had 12 interceptions in four seasons with the Jaguars after being drafted in the third round in 2009. He signed a big deal with the Chargers last year, but was benched three times and essentially given up on after a horrendous outing against the Chiefs in November. The Vikings have eight corners on the roster, but they'll be looking for more, probably in the draft.

DT Tom Johnson: At 6-3 and 290, the 29-year old signed a one-year contract worth $875,000 on March 20.

What it means: He's another cog in the middle of the defensive line. Settled in with the Saints the past three seasons after moving all over the world to play, but New Orlean's 3-4 didn't suit him. Will likely be at three-technique, although his experience at end could make him versatile. A bit old, but it's a low risk and Zimmer clearly wants to improve the interior line.

DL Corey Wootton: The 6-6, 270-pounder got a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, plus incentives, on March 21.

What it means: Wootton can play both tackle and end, but is likely to be more of the latter under Zimmer. He had a hip issue that hampered him in Chicago, where he played the past four years. Wootton started 15 games for the Bears last season, so he's not chopped liver. This is an intriguing signing, if he returns to full health.

OG Vlad Ducasse: The 6-5, 320 pound Ducasse visited Winter Park early in free agency, and agreed to a one-year deal Sunday.

What it means: A four-year veteran, it's possible Ducasse could be a guy who moves around the line, as he was a tackle in college. Another low-risk signing that means the Vikings won't have to draft many offensive linemen. As we wrote in December in a feature on Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, the Vikings got younger and cheaper on the defensive line during free agency.


1. Veteran quarterback (Re-signed Matt Cassel)

2. Starting right defensive end (Re-signed Everson Griffen)

3. Young, true run-stuffing nose tackle (Signed Linval Joseph)

4. Cornerback (Signed Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox)

5. Left guard (Re-signed Charlie Johnson and added Vlad Ducasse)

6. Linebacker: The roster includes only unproven prospects behind Chad Greenway. Unfortunately for the Vikings, there doesn’t appear to be any good fits in free agency based on skills or age. This need is something that will be addressed in the draft. The muddied picture also will begin to clear once the new coaching staff identifies Greenway’s role and how and where intriguing youngsters Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges fit.

Other needs: Change-of-pace backup running back and more competition at strong safety. Where things stand: The running back could come as a bargain deal late in free agency or late in the draft.

Jared Allen excited about Vikings' d-line depth, still not eager for rotation

Posted by: Updated: August 6, 2013 - 1:18 PM
Jared Allen has one predominant wish for Friday’s preseason opener against Houston at Mall of America Field.
“I’m hoping I’m not playing. I can have a day off,” Allen said.
In August, that’s status quo for the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end. But once September rolls around, Allen continues to make it clear he has little desire to come off the field unless absolutely necessary. So while chatter continues to swirl about the Vikings’ defensive line depth and the impressive rotation that might blossom because of it, Allen hopes all the in-and-out switching occurs elsewhere.
“For six years I’ve been facing this question: Am I rotating?” Allen said. “And I think I’ve won the battle most of the time. So we’ll see.”
In five seasons with the Vikings, Allen has averaged 15 sacks. Coming off a 2012 season in which he was slowed by injuries to his left shoulder and right knee, Allen feels refreshed and is eager to return to top form. So maybe Everson Griffen, whom the coaching staff believes has earned more playing time, will need to find his openings at left end behind Brian Robison or inside as a nickel rusher in pass situations.
“That’ll be up to the coaches to make that decision and guys to handle it how they handle it,” Allen said. “I think we have an ability to fill in and do some things pass rush-wise that are pretty special.”
Allen said the first Vikings’ defense he played on alongside Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards was special. But this unit, he believes, has the potential to be the best he’s ever been a part of because of all the quality depth. At present, Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans and Lawrence Jackson are all back-ups.
“This is how good teams stay good and develop,” Allen said. “I always look at the Steelers. They seem to continue to create new guys in their system. And our defensive line in Minnesota has always been kind of a staple."
The Vikings’ depth up front should force opposing offenses into a “pick your poison” scenario, creating favorable one-on-one opportunities.
“You can’t focus on one person on this defensive line. I think everybody along that line is capable of making an impact on the game. That’s where our advantage is. So as far as who’s going to rush where, what, why, how, that to me isn’t a big thing. The advantage is the mismatches we can create when offenses choose to take one person away. And now another guy has to win. And we have the ability to.”
Still, Allen hopes the rotation concept on the d-line doesn’t become a rhythm disrupter.
“When you rotate too many people, if I don’t know where you’re going to be, I can’t rush the way I want to rush,” Allen said. “Half the time you’ll get a sack, because you’re playing off of somebody. For example, I know within the first couple steps where Kevin is going to be. So I can adjust my rush accordingly. … That’s the feel you get and that’s the complications you get when you put too many people in. And that’s where I think guys say I need this rhythm. I need to know where people are at.”

Pat Williams returns to the Vikings -- for one day

Posted by: Updated: April 25, 2013 - 7:24 PM
In his own words, Pat Williams was “just trying to fade away.” His last game as an immovable defensive tackle came in 2010 at the end of a turbulent Vikings season. And then, after 14 years in the NFL and six in Minnesota, Williams’ final contract expired and he found no new team to sign with.
Just like that, he was out of football. Until Thursday.
In a ceremonial gesture, the Vikings signed Williams to a one-day contract but will release him Friday, allowing the 40-year-old former nose tackle to officially retire as a member of the team whose defensive line he anchored for so long.
The idea of the one-day contract, Williams said, was that of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who called him up last month.
Said Williams: “I was like, ‘What in the world’s Spielman calling me for?’ I had no idea. He called me out of the blue.”
Williams was appreciative of the call and signed his contract at Winter Park on Thursday.
His signing bonus: “I got a Viking pen when I signed.”
In a 10-minute chat before the draft Thursday evening, Williams quickly revisited his time with the Vikings. Asked for his best memory, he instead picked out the worst.
“When that dome crashed [in December 2010],” Williams said, recalling the snowstorm that tore a hole in the roof at Mall of America Field. “We didn’t know where we was playing. It was all over the board. That was the worst.”
And while Williams had no trouble declaring the 2009 season the high point of his career, that 31-28 overtime loss to New Orleans in the NFC Championship game still has its scars, especially with Williams, now back home in Louisiana and subject to too much discussion about that loss among Saints fans.
“[They argue] that the Saints had the better team,” Williams said. “And they really didn’t. If you knew football, they didn’t. We whipped their [butts] if you really knew football. We basically gave it to them, all those [darn] turnovers. I said if we didn’t turn the ball over, we would have blown your [butts] out.”
Williams’ playing days are over. But he hasn’t moved on from football. He just accepted a position as an assistant coach at a high school in Louisiana.
“All the kids down there love me,” Williams said. “It’ll keep me busy.”

Countdown to camp: Eight under-the-radar players

Posted by: Updated: July 24, 2012 - 12:30 AM

The Vikings report to training camp Thursday and will hold their first full practice Friday afternoon at Minnesota State University in Mankato. That means the first preseason game is now 16 days away with the Sept. 9 regular season opener against Jacksonville kicking off just six-and-a-half weeks from now. As the Access Vikings team gets ready to head to camp, here’s a list of eight under-the-radar players who we’ll be watching closely, guys who could have a significant role in helping turn things around.

Jasper Brinkley
Position: Linebacker
Size: 6-1, 252
The scoop: Brinkley spent the entire 2011 season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery last August to repair a torn labrum in his hip. With E.J. Henderson gone, the door was kicked open for Brinkley to become the starting middle linebacker for 2012. But Brinkley was bothered by a groin problem during OTAs and mini-camp, leading general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier to publicly express their concerns about his durability. That leaves Brinkley with much to prove in Mankato. Especially with Marvin Mitchell, signed in April after spending last season in Miami and the previous four in New Orleans, looking for an opening.
Jarius Wright
Position: Wide receiver
Size: 5-10, 180
The scoop: Percy Harvin has two seasons left on his contract and will almost certainly press hard for a lucrative extension when this year ends. But how heavily will the Vikings be willing to invest in Harvin, a dynamic playmaker who should be part of the team’s long-term plans? Well, Harvin’s future may depend in some small part on what Wright is can show as a versatile slot receiver. No one is under the delusion that the rookie from Arkansas is quite as explosive as Harvin. But Wright has similar skills. He has eye-opening quickness and incredible balance and now must learn how to get in and out of breaks quickly and efficiently. If he can impress enough to become a regular contributor to Bill Musgrave’s offensive attack, the situation with Harvin may become even more complex.
Letroy Guion
Position: Defensive tackle
Size: 6-4, 303
The scoop: Last year’s experiment with Remi Ayodele at nose tackle was a disaster. No one expected Ayodele to be the second coming of Pat Williams. But the Vikings did expect more production than his 15 tackles and 1.5 sack for the entire season. They also hoped the massive nose tackle could be a space-filler who would help lessen the attention other teams paid to Kevin Williams. But that never happened. So now Ayodele is gone and the hope is Guion takes advantage of the opportunity to become a starter and a significant contributor. Guion has bounced around at both defensive tackle positions. But the plan going forward is to play him exclusively at the nose, where he will share time with Fred Evans. Inside the organization, Guion is praised for his athleticism and his strength and is believed to have incredible upside. Add in the energy and teaching skills of new defensive line coach Brendan Daly and a Guion breakthrough could be on the itinerary,
Blair Walsh
Position: Kicker
Size: 5-10, 192
The scoop: Walsh missed 14 of his 35 field goal attempts as a senior at Georgia last season. But the two years prior to that, he connected on 40 of 45 kicks. Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer thinks he knows the secrets to helping Walsh rediscover that accuracy. And it starts with the rookie kicker heeding Priefer’s advice to slow down his approach. Walsh’s leg strength should be a major plus on kickoffs, too. So rather than stress him out with a fierce competition for the kicking job in camp, the organization instead opted to release Ryan Longwell in May, giving Walsh more time to develop confidence and chemistry with long snapper Cullen Loeffler and holder Chris Kluwe. 
Chris Carr
Position: Cornerback
Size: 5-10, 181
The scoop: In an ideal world, the Vikings would like to reduce Antoine Winfield’s workload, aiming to use him extensively in the slot in a nickel-type role. To do so, they’ll need to find a second corner besides Chris Cook to hold things down outside. Enter Carr, who’s 29 and entering his eighth NFL season and has the ability to succeed inside and outside. With so much youth in the secondary, Carr’s veteran savvy could provide some added stability and comfort. And his presence may help as rookie Josh Robinson takes time to polish his skills.
Everson Griffen
Position: Defensive lineman/linebacker
Size: 6-3, 273
The scoop: Where exactly does Griffen fit? On the field. That’s the simplest answer the Vikings can give. And it’s why they’re tinkering with creative ways to increase Griffen’s snap count. As camp opens, Griffen is expected to see plenty of time at linebacker. The logic: There’s no sense stashing him on the sideline as a defensive end while Jared Allen and Brian Robison eat up the majority of playing time. So why not attempt a conversion to linebacker, a scenario the Vikings experimented with in various packages last season? Griffen has imposing size and yet he has the speed and space awareness to be an even greater force. Can he learn the nuances and discipline to be reliable and consistent at linebacker? Camp will offer the first opportunities to answer that question.
Brandon Fusco
Position: Guard
Size: 6-4, 306
The scoop: Fusco will compete with Geoff Schwartz to become the Vikings’ starter at right guard. But it’s a battle he should win. Spielman is incredibly high on Fusco, seeing great potential and lauding the big man’s footwork, intelligence and toughness. Fusco saw limited action last season, called into duty when injuries demanded it. And after Fusco played his college career at center at Division II Slippery Rock, Spielman came away impressed with how the young lineman adapted, embracing a new position and a new intensity level in the NFL. That has the Vikings convinced Fusco has the deportment to be a long-term contributor.
Robert Blanton
Position: Safety
Size: 6-1, 200
The scoop: Fast-forward to 2013. Maybe even late 2012. Is it possible the Vikings will be starting two safeties with Notre Dame roots? Harrison Smith is a near-lock to open this season as a starter. But how long will it take his college teammate to work his way up the ladder? Blanton has good athleticism and shows obvious smarts. He’s a reliable tackler and, in college, was effective in run support. The Vikings saw so much in Blanton that they used a fifth-round selection on him in April, fully intending to put him through the cornerback-to-safety conversion machine. Mistral Raymond, a sixth-round pick in 2011, is further along in that transition right now. But there are hopes Blanton can make a fast climb. In a best-case scenario, he could crack the starting lineup later this season.


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