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.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- GM Rick Spielman has made this roster young again.
--- Chris Crocker's arrival is not a good sign for the team's safety depth.
--- The Vikings activated S Andrew Sendejo from the PUP list.
--- Here's our best guess at what Mike Zimmer's depth chart would look like.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Packers haven't picked which game they'll honor Favre in 2015. Some free advice: maybe don't choose the Vikings as opponent— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 4, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Brett Favre is "truly honored" to be heading into the Packers Hall of Fame.
--- Marquess Wilson, the Bears’ No. 3 WR, fractured his clavicle in practice.
--- Lions RB Reggie Bush is determined to stay productive.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are back to their normal routine, with a 10:30 a.m. walkthrough and a padded practice that starts at 3:30 p.m. Coordinators Norv Turner and George Edwards are scheduled to talk.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
As the folks at Football Outsiders pointed out in this recent ESPN piece, at least one team has gone from worst to first in its respective division in each of the past 11 seasons. So what are the odds the Vikings can do it in 2014? Based on their simulations, Football Outsiders says they have a 12.9 percent chance, the third-worst odds among the eight last-place finishers from 2013. Of course, as their projections show, anything is possible. Even the Raiders winning the Super Bowl.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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