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.
So your opponent starts its Wednesday by promoting the No. 3 quarterback to starter and ends its Wednesday by trading its running back and best offensive player.
Whaddaya do on Thursday?
Defensive end Jared Allen, who is preparing for Browns QB Brian Hoyer and Browns RB to-be-determined, was asked that question earlier today.
"I’ve been trying to watch preseason tape of the quarterback and now I’m trying to throw darts at a board and see who the running back is going to be," Allen said. "If it’s going to be [Willis] McGahee [as speculation suggests], at least we can go back and watch some film on him. It is tough. It makes it tough to prepare. I think one thing coach has been adamant about, it doesn’t change the scheme. It doesn’t change the plays they’re going to run. It doesn’t change how they’re going to block them up front and it doesn’t change the fact that they’re an effective running football team."
This alleged power running game ranks 29th in the NFL. It averages 56.0 yards per game.
"They run a lot of downhill power game and they want to hit you in the mouth and that’s a fun type of football game," Allen said. "People hear Trent's gone and you hear all the talk about them kicking it in for the season. That’s not the case.
"This is a humbling league and if you don’t take every opponent serious, if you don’t think someone can come in – I was reminding the guys that we didn’t know who the Arizona running back was last year, I think he ran for like a buck, 50 – so this is how this league stays successful because guys get an opportunity to shine and we just got to make sure no one shines on us.”
Allen was referring to then-Cardinals back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who ran for 104 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries (5.2) and caught four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in a 21-14 loss at the Metrodome a year ago.
No other running back has carried the ball for the Browns in their first two games. Richardson had carried it 31 times for 105 yards (3.4). Bobby Rainey is the backup, while Chris Ogbonnaya is the first-team fullback.
Hey, they're actually going to have this draft thing. It's started and, believe it or not, they're picking players.
The Chiefs, as expected, took the safe route with a left tackle at the No. 1 overall pick. But in a surprise move (at least to those of us who are now 0-1 in mock drafts), they took Central Michigan's Eric Fisher instead of Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel.
Making the pick for the Chiefs was new GM John Dorsey. He's one of seven new GMs in the league this year. They'll be making eight of the top 14 picks, with the Jets' John Idzik making the ninth and 13th picks, assuming there are no trades, of course.
Fisher fills a need for the Chiefs and allows them to now trade disgruntled Branden Albert, their 2008 first-round draft pick.
Here's what new Chiefs coach Andy Reid said before about the comfort of taking a left tackle No. 1 overall:
“This is what I think: They’ve been fairly safe picks over the years. So if it comes down to equal here or there, and you have to choose, it might be a fairly safe pick. The percentages, with that position – you evaluate the success rate with all the positions, you’ll come back to the offensive line and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a fairly safe pick, offensive tackle.’ ”
We'll be back after periodically through the top portion of the draft.
The question with Greg Jennings has never been about ability. Over seven NFL seasons, Jennings has caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 TDs. He’s a versatile weapon who is adept at both stretching the field from the outside or keeping defenses honest as a smooth-moving slot guy.
He is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the kind of proven and consistent playmaker that the Vikings’ receiving corps needs. Yet when free agency neared, the questions about Jennings circled.
At this point -- with Jerome Simpson and his 97 career catches as the top dog in the receiving unit – the Vikings are in no position to be picky. And that’s why, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting that Jennings will visit Winter Park on Thursday, the Vikings would be wise not to let him leave without a purple jersey and a rubber-stamped contract.
This visit should be a business interview, a way of unifying a vision and hammering out the finer print of the contract details. The Vikings have had since late Friday night to communicate at length with Jennings’ agent, Eugene Parker. You can bet Parker has an asking price, one that’s moved over the past several days. And you can bet Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman has a thought in mind for what he’d like to ultimately pay.
But as Spielman said Tuesday afternoon about the chaos and unpredictability of free agency, “This is a very fluid business.”
Indeed it is.
At this point, so many other free agent receivers are off the board. Mike Wallace is in Miami. Wes Welker has gone to Denver. Danny Amendola has landed in New England. Donnie Avery is a Chief. Brandon Gibson, reports say, has visits scheduled with the Jets, Dolphins and Titans.
The Vikings? They’ve always vowed to be patient in free agency, to make sure they find guys who fit their system, their character profile and their budget. But to this point, the Vikings have given out six contracts this week, all of them re-signings of players that were already on the roster.
The biggest move by far so far was Monday’s trade or Percy Harvin to Seattle, followed a day later by the surprise release of Antoine Winfield.
The Vikings have lost their top playmaker in the passing game and their linchpin leader on defense. In a pass-happy league, they’ve depleted their receiving corps and their secondary.
At some point, they need a splash to replenish the talent pool in a major way. And there’s no way they should allow themselves – nor had they ever planned to – to get to April’s draft with Simpson as their top receiver.
That’s why today’s reported visit with Jennings shouldn’t be a getting-to-know-you encounter. It should be a determined effort to provide third-year quarterback Christian Ponder a real weapon. Welker’s two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos was a huge power-shift move in the AFC, taking the league’s most prolific pass catcher over the past six years and moving him from one Super Bowl contender to another. But Welker’s contract may have also been a shifting of power in Jennings’ negotiating leverage. Sure, there have been the mammoth deals for receivers – six years, $67 million for Harvin; five years $65 million for Wallace; five years, $56 million for Dwayne Bowe.
But now, wouldn’t it make sense that Jennings’ price tag slides closer to that Welker ballpark. If so, the Vikings should be quietly celebrating. And they should be doing everything they can to make sure that Jennings is their guy.
Looking ahead to next season ...
The Vikings’ schedule for 2013 is set, thanks to their second-place finish in the NFC North.
The Vikings will play every team in the NFC East and the AFC North, will face the second-place teams in the NFC South (Carolina) and NFC West (Seattle), and will play each NFC North opponent twice.
The game against Pittsburgh in London on Sept. 29 counts as a Vikings home game.
Other home opponents are Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, Carolina, Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago. Road opponents are Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Seattle, Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.
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