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 mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Posts about Super Bowl

Ex-Vikings DT Kevin Williams joins the Seahawks

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: June 12, 2014 - 7:11 PM

Former Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said in a radio interview two days ago that he was still speaking with the Vikings about a potential return. Those conversations are now over.

Williams has agreed to one-year contract with the Seahawks, the team announced on Twitter.

After the Vikings allowed Williams to reach free agency, the 33-year-old first visited with the Giants and then the Seahawks in April. He recently visited the Patriots. And in an interview this week with SiriusXM NFL Radio, he said the Vikings "might be trying to ease back into the picture."

That supposed interest was a little surprising considering the Vikings say they are happy with the depth and talent they have on the defensive line after overhauling it during a busy offseason.

In that same radio interview, Williams said he would like to join a team with a good quarterback and a chance to win. One would think Russell Wilson and the defending Super Bowl champs fit the bill.

Williams, who last offseason talked about coming to grips with the fact that he was in the twilight of his fine career, had a career-low 29 tackles last season with 3.5 sacks and one interception.

Williams, a first-round pick in 2003, was selected to six Pro Bowls in his 11 years in Minnesota. He finished his Vikings career with 463 tackles, 60 sacks, five interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

Zimmer on the challenge of drafting good safeties

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: May 29, 2014 - 8:21 AM

Perhaps trying to emulate what the Seahawks did shutting down the Broncos to win the Super Bowl, NFL teams drafted a record nine defensive backs in the first round earlier this month.

Four of those players were safeties, which was the highest number selected in at least 25 years.

After drafting Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, the Vikings were not back on the clock again until the middle of the third round. By then, safeties such as Deone Bucannon and Jimmie Ward were long gone. After they took defensive end Scott Crichton and running back Jerick McKinnon in the third round, the safeties continued to fly off the board.

The Vikings didn’t address the safety position until the sixth round, and even then, they turned to a defensive back who had lined up as the last line of defense for just a season and a half in college. The pick, Antone Exum, was announced as a corner. But after the draft ended, general manager Rick Spielman said that the plan was to start out the Virginia Tech standout at safety.

The following weekend, at the team’s rookie minicamp, head coach Mike Zimmer spoke about how difficult it can be to project some college defensive backs to the safety position in the pros.

“The safety position in college football really is hard to find guys now at least in my opinion, guys that have the coverage ability that you are looking for,” Zimmer said two weeks ago. “There are times in my career that I always thought, ‘Let’s play with three corners and one safety and make the other guy a safety because of the throwing that’s been going on in the league.’”

Zimmer continued: “The bigger corners that may not be quite as fast that are better tacklers, that are more physical, smart -- they have to be smart -- we always have a little category for those guys to be a possibility of being safeties. And Rick [Spielman], their group upstairs, really they have little niche places for all of these guys so they’ve been doing it for a while.”

Robert Blanton played cornerback at Notre Dame but was immediately moved to safety after he was drafted by the Vikings in 2012 (he did get some snaps as the team’s nickel cornerback in 2013). They took a similar approach with Mistral Raymond, who played both corner and safety, like Exum, at South Florida. They said he had the size of a safety and could cover like a corner.

This practice, of course, is nothing new. The Cardinals look smart (right now at least) for gambling on Tyrann Mathieu, who played cornerback at LSU but plays both free safety and nickelback in the NFL. The Bills have had some success putting Aaron Williams through a similar transformation. And Charles Woodson and Darren Sharper made the switch to safety as veterans.

The Vikings, who waited until the sixth round to take a chance on a tweener in Exum, are hopeful that he can make a similarly-seamless transition to the safety position in the NFL.

Can the home team win when new Vikings stadium hosts Super Bowl LII?

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: May 20, 2014 - 2:52 PM

If the streak continues for another three seasons, the Vikings will have an opportunity to become the first team to win the Super Bowl in its home stadium.

Good luck, Vikings. Chances are you’re going to need it in the months leading up to Super Bowl LII, which will be held in Minneapolis in 2018, the NFL decided in a vote of 32 owners in Atlanta moments ago.

No team has played a Super Bowl in its own stadium. In fact, the host city's team has made it past the first round of the playoffs only three times and has never advanced beyond the divisional playoff round.

Here’s a closer look at how Super Bowl hosting teams have done the year they’ve hosted the big game:

Years with a losing record: 26.

New Orleans has had a losing record nine times as the host city. The worst was 1980: The “Aints” went 1-15.

Years with a winning record: 11.

Miami has done it five times. Best record: 11-5 in 1978.

Years making the playoffs: 5.

The Dolphins have done it four times (1970, 1978, 1994 and 1998). The Buccaneers did it once (2000).

Playoff wins: 3.

The Dolphins have all three. They won wild-card games in 1970, 1994 and 1998.

Conference title games reached: 0.

How’d the Vikings do?: They finished 8-8 and didn’t make the playoffs in 1991, the season that ended with the Super Bowl being held at the Metrodome.

Is there a jinx?

Probably not, but something odd has been going on since at least the 2010 season. Three examples:

Cowboys in 2010: Remember when the “Jerry Dome” was going to be the first to host a Super Bowl won by the home team? The gigantic stadium was primed for Super Bowl XLVI in February of 2011. So, too, were the Cowboys. Or so everyone thought since they were coming off an 11-5 division-winning season in which they actually won a playoff game. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they collapsed coming out of the gate. Their 1-7 start got Wade Phillips fired. The team finished 6-10 and, oh yeah, Super Bowl week was marred by a nasty ice storm.

Colts in 2011: Remember when the “House that Peyton Built” was going to be the first to play host to a Super Bowl won by the home team? The Colts were primed to win it all at Lucas Oil Stadium that season. Heck, they had just put the franchise tag on Peyton Manning and were coming off yet another AFC South title. What could possibly go wrong? You mean other than Manning missing the entire season because of neck surgery and never playing another snap for the Colts? But, hey, at least the Colts’ NFL-worst 2-14 record gave them the No. 1 overall draft pick the year Andrew Luck was coming out of college. Short-term pain, long-term gain.

Saints in 2012: Remember when Drew Brees and Sean Payton were going to make New Orleans the first city to play host to a Super Bowl won by the home team? They had won it all just three years earlier and were still going strong, having gone 13-3 the year before. What could possibly go wrong? You mean other than Bountygate, the ouster of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the one-year suspension of Payton, the mastermind head coach? The Saints finished 7-9 and set an NFL record for most yards allowed (7,042).

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.

LSU's Cam Cameron hypes up Vikings QB target Zach Mettenberger

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 9, 2014 - 11:13 AM

It didn’t take Cam Cameron long to decide that he had a special talent in Zach Mettenberger.

It was the second scrimmage of spring football down in Baton Rouge last March. Cameron had just joined Les Miles’ coaching staff at LSU after a five-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens and was getting one of his first intimate looks at the weapons he would have at his disposal in his first season as offensive coordinator. Mettenberger made a strong impression, rifling touchdown after touchdown in the scrimmage.

“You could really see the arm talent. He’s a big, imposing guy,” Cameron said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He might have thrown double-digit touchdowns. That was the first of those moments. … I remember telling Les, ‘This guy’s a winner. We’re going to win with this guy.’ And it turned out that way.”

A year later, Cameron is marveling at Mettenberger again, though the circumstances are much different. The 22-year-old will participate in quarterback drills at LSU’s pro day today, a little over three months after he had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament he shredded in his left knee.

The Vikings are one of a handful of a quarterback-needy NFL teams that are eager to see where Mettenberger stands in his recovery and to get a closer look at Mettenberger’s powerful right arm.

“He’s come as far in a short period as any guy I’ve ever seen. He just had an ACL injury and he is going to have a full workout tomorrow. He is 85 or 90 percent and he’s throwing the ball extremely well,” said Cameron, who will lead Mettenberger’s workout today. “But [the injury] was tough on him.”

When Mettenberger suffered the injury in a win over Arkansas on Nov. 29, he was wrapping up a breakout senior season in which he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns. He averaged 10.4 yards per attempt and his 171.4 passer rating ranked fourth in the country, trailing Florida State's Jameis Winston, Baylor's Bryce Petty and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

Mettenberger didn’t sulk after suffering the devastating knee injury. Cameron said he was heavily involved in the preparation for the Outback Bowl and helped tutor freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings before LSU’s win over Iowa. He then had surgery on Jan. 2 and started to attack his rehab.

Despite the injury and concerns about his elongated delivery, lack of mobility and decision-making, Mettenberger is viewed as a second-day prospect by many draft analysts because of his prototypical size -- he is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds -- and his arm strength. And if he has a good workout today on that rebuilt left knee, he could come of the board between Minnesota’s eighth and 40th overall picks.

The Vikings have legitimate interest in Mettenberger, according to two league sources, and general manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- who had Cameron on his Washington Redskins staff two decades ago and helped shape some of Cameron's offensive philosophies -- will meet with Mettenberger privately after his pro day, something they have done with other top quarterback prospects.

At some point, they will surely ask Mettenberger about the circumstances that led him to LSU.

Before his freshman season started at Georgia, Mettenberger was dismissed from the program after an incident at a bar in which he was charged with underage possession of alcohol, disorderly conduct and misdemeanor sexual battery, amongst other charges. The alcohol-related charges would be dismissed, but Mettenberger pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery. He spent the 2010 season at Butler Community College in Kansas before transferring to LSU for the 2011 season.

“He’s had some adversity in his life, which is a good thing,” Cameron said. “No one wants to go through an ACL, but he’s kind of wired to attack things that are difficult. He hasn’t had it easy growing up. He had some adversity at Georgia. I think all of those things have helped him mature.”

Last year, Cameron compared Mettenberger to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012 (after Cameron was replaced by Jim Caldwell late in the regular season). On Tuesday, Cameron said that Mettenberger’s arm strength still reminds him of Flacco. He added that Mettenberger has toughness like Jim Harbaugh. He said his work ethic and competitiveness reminds him of Drew Brees. And he noted that Mettenberger has big hands like Antwaan Randle El.

“He’s weather-proof,” he said. “Teams in the AFC and NFC North are really going to like his guy.”

Obviously, Cameron is a bit biased -- if you couldn't tell by the big names that he just dropped -- but he believes Mettenberger is worthy of a high draft pick.

“He’s a guy you can win a championship with. And that’s all that matters,” Cameron said. “Is he better than a lot of guys who have gone in the first round? Absolutely. Does that mean he’s a first-round draft pick? Depends on how a team views him.”

We won’t know just how favorably the Vikings view him until next month’s NFL draft.

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