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 Vikings fans

Vikings unveil new Norseman logo ... sort of

Posted by: Updated: February 14, 2013 - 1:14 PM

Remember those nights where you'd have eight, maybe 10 Coors Lights, then throw a dollar into the "Photo Hunt" machine on the bar just for added amusement?

Well, we've got a free challenge for you here on the Access Vikings blog -- beverages optional.

Can you spot the differences between the Vikings old logo and their brand new logo, which the franchise is insisting "speaks to the direction the team is heading while still preserving the tradition of the Norseman"?

Give it a quick look.




Yep, the one on the left is the Norseman of the past. The one on the right if the Norseman of the future.

And yes, the Vikings made this grand announcement to season ticket holders first on Thursday morning. And now they have the announcement up on their website.

So now we get to the spoiler alert. If you're not ready for the answers, stare at those logos again. Now here, per the Vikings, are the five distinct differences:

1)  Horn Shape
The shape of the horns has been adjusted and the shading in the horns has changed.

2)  Horn Base
The base of the horn now resembles the horn on the players’ helmets.

3)  Face Detail
Thicker lines have been added to the mustache and face.

4)  Vikings Gold
The Vikings Gold is now brighter and less brassy.

5)  The Braid
The braid has been shortened, resulting in a reduced logo height.

And here's the organization's explanation for why these changes are being implemented now:

As the Vikings transition into the drafting of plans for the new stadium and the prevalent Norseman usage throughout that facility, the team realized this is the appropriate time to make these logo enhancements. The evolution will not happen overnight; Vikings fans can expect to see both versions of the logo during the transition period, but the enhanced mark will be noticeable immediately throughout Merchandise with the enhanced Norseman could be available as early as March. ... We are looking forward to many exciting changes for our team and fans in the next few years, leading up to the opening of our new stadium.  These logo enhancements are just the beginning...

Man, if this is just the beginning, who knows what might be in store next?

Anyway, now that we've got your observational senses alert, see if you can have better luck with the Jacksonville Jaguars logo change. Or try to find Waldo.

Eventually, we can circle back to the topics of Percy Harvin's future and Leslie Frazier's contract. For now, enjoy the change.

Vikings 2013 look ahead: Specialists

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: January 25, 2013 - 8:19 AM
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the specialists.
Get excited: The Vikings have the best place-kicker in football and he just turned 23 three weeks ago. Now, kicking is a crazy, unpredictable facet of football (see: D. Akers 2011 vs. D. Akers 2012), but there’s nothing to suggest that Blair Walsh won’t be confidently kicking footballs as a Viking for the next 10-15 years.
Last year’s sixth-round draft pick made the Pro Bowl and, more impressively, was a runaway winner in All-Pro voting as he shattered numerous rookie, team and league kicking records during a season that was better than anyone, including Walsh, imagined. The kid made 35 of 38 regular-season field goals, set the NFL record for most 50-yard field goals (going 10 for 10) and bombed a team-record 53 kickoff touchbacks.
Walsh was clutch from the second he kicked the game-tying 55-yarder as the fourth quarter expired against Jacksonville in Week 1. Fittingly, he finished the regular season by kicking a last-second 29-yarder to beat the Packers and clinch a playoff berth. Walsh also made his only post-season attempt a week later at Green Bay, so his final total was 36 of 39, or 92.3 percent. When a leg that big can also make 92.3 percent, well, that’s something special.
Vikings fans also should be excited to have Mike Priefer as special teams coach. Respect for his teaching skills, schemes and presence is gaining momentum around the league. That’s why the Bears interviewed him for their head coaching job.
One of the reasons the Vikings took a chance on Walsh was their faith in Priefer. It was Priefer who made the difficult call and suggested it was time to replace Ryan Longwell, a popular and accurate long-time veteran kicker. And it was Priefer who helped Walsh go from a 60-percent kicker as a senior at Georgia to the NFL’s best place-kicker just a year later.
Keep an eye on: No one outside of Winter Park saw Ryan Longwell being replaced a year ago at this time. No one outside of Winter Park even thought Longwell needed to be replaced at this time a year ago. So it’s best to keep your eyes open as 31-year-old punter Chris Kluwe enters his ninth season.
That’s not a suggestion that Kluwe needs to be replaced. In fact, the feeling here is the complete opposite.
Although some fans, reporters and even Priefer grew exhausted by Kluwe’s over-exposed persona, the dude can still punt better than anyone else has in team history. He had a few uncharacteristic hiccups and shanks, but, remember, he also had a bit of a bum left knee, which required post-season surgery to repair the meniscus.
Something else critics should remember: His net average (39.7) was a career high. His gross (45.0) was third highest in his career. And not to be overlooked is the roles that he and long snapper Cullen Loeffler played in Walsh’s success.
Kluwe’s outspoken, Twitter-crazed nature suggests there always will be a cause for which he will feel the need to draw attention. But that’s manageable. There are enough hours in the day to do all the necessary things that go into being a good punter and still have about 20 hours left to eat, sleep, play video games and have a life while fighting for gay marriage rights, Ray Guy’s Hall of Fame credentials or who knows what else is around the next corner.
Reason for worry: The kick and punt return positions aren’t necessarily a worry. In fact, Marcus Sherels provides the opposite of worry. He’s a comfortable fallback plan at both spots. Having him is having a sense of relief that the ball isn’t going to pop loose near the goal line on a kickoff or hit the ground and roll 25 more yards on a punt.
However, the cost of that comfort is a low percentage of big plays in the return game. They aren’t impossible, of course. The guy did return a punt 77 yards for a touchdown at Detroit. But he’s never going to be a threat like Percy Harvin.
Harvin is the one to worry about here. He’s one of the best kick returners in the league. It would be a shame to deny the team the benefits of that incredible talent, but it’s something the coaches and front office will no doubt worry more about now that they’ve seen Harvin’s health last only nine games.
Harvin wasn’t injured on a kickoff return. But the wear and tear of extra touches – particularly ones that come on the most violent play in football – can’t be dismissed when the guy taking the beating is the second-best player on the team.
Replacing Harvin on kickoffs would be much easier if the Vikings found an electric game-breaker to replace him. Even better would be a replacement who also excelled at punt returns.
What are the chances of that happening when there are so many other needs with higher priority status? Not great. After all, the Vikings have a young, comfortable Plan B.

Week 17 Picks & Power Rankings: Dome too much for Pack?

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: December 28, 2012 - 7:27 AM
What else would you rather do on a Friday morning than watch a poor man swing away at his weekly NFL Picks and Power Rankings? We’ll even throw in some extra purple with Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons to Go `Uh-Oh.’
Power rankings
1, Broncos (12-3)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: Twelve wins. Ten-game winning streak. Sounds like pretty much any other Peyton Manning season the past decade or so. Only this team also ranks No. 3 in defense. With this offense, the Broncos might be better off not having home-field advantage. Manning might want to spend the AFC title game indoors in Houston than outdoors in Denver.
2. Falcons (13-2)
Last week: No. 2.
Comment: I don’t believe any records are kept on this, but Atlanta might be the most overlooked 13-2 team ever. Why? Well, for starters, their past two seasons have seen them go 23-9 in the regular season and 0-2 with a 72-23 point differential in the playoffs. The Falcons also haven’t won a playoff game since 2004.
3. Seahawks (10-5)
Last week: No. 8.
Comment: The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, but Seattle is the more productive running team. They have three guys averaging 4.6 yards or better with over 350 yards. Marshawn Lynch has 1,490 and 11 TDs on 297 carries (5.0). QB Russell Wilson has 431 yards on 83 carries (5.1). And Robert Turbin has 359 yards on 78 carries. (4.6). So how has Russell, a rookie third-round draft pick, responded with the benefits of having this No. 2-ranked running game? He’s completed 63.4 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 98.0 passer rating. He’s also helped the Seahawks win their last three games by a combined score of 150-30, including a 42-13 win over the 49ers last week.
30. Jaguars (2-13)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: Need further proof that Tom Coughlin is a good coach? Here you go: Since the Jaguars fired Coughlin 10 years ago, Coughlin has more Super Bowl wins (2) than the Jaguars have playoff victories (1).
31. Lions (4-11)
Last week: No. 31.
Comment: Unfortunately for Calvin Johnson’s receiving numbers, this is the final week that the Lions will be able to fall hopelessly behind in a meaningless game.
32. Chiefs (2-12)
Last week: No. 32.
Comment: The Chiefs rank last in interceptions thrown (20) and interceptions caught (7). Ouch.
6. Packers (11-4)
9. Vikings (9-6)
13. Bears (9-6)
6. Packers (11-4)
Last week: No. 7.
Comment: Mike McCarthy won’t win NFL Coach of the Year, but he at least deserves some thought for no other reason than leading this team to a 10-2 mark after the “Fail Mary” fiasco in Seattle. When the replacement officials botched that last-second touchdown that gave Seattle the win and essentially ended the labor dispute with the regular officials, the Packers were 1-2 and looking at three more road games in their next four weeks.
9. Vikings (8-6)
Last week: No. 11.
Comment: If not for the “Fail Mary,” the Packers would have less to play for when they face the Vikings on Sunday. Green Bay would have the No. 2 seed and a bye wrapped up. And the Vikings wouldn’t be looking at the likely scenario of having to travel to Green Bay next week if they made the playoffs.  
14. Bears (8-6)
Last week: No. 13.
Comment: He’s good, mind you. But at what point do we give pause before we keep referring to Jay Cutler as an elite quarterback and therefore a thorn in the Vikings’ side for years to come? Cutler has 18 TDs and 14 INTs. Christian Ponder has 15 and 12. Cutler an 80.2 passer rating. Ponder has a 78.8. I won’t compare the completion percentages since Ponder has no passing game beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. Cutler needs better protection, but he also needs to complete better than 58.8 percent of his passes.
31. Lions (4-10).
Last week: No. 31.
4. Patriots (11-4); 5. Redskins (9-6); 7. 49ers (10-4-1); 8. Colts (10-5); 10. Bengals (9-6); 11. Texans (12-3); 12. Ravens (10-5); 14. Saints (7-8); 15. Cowboys (8-7); 16. Panthers (6-9);
17. Rams (7-7-1); 18. Dolphins (7-8); 19. Chargers (6-9); 20. Steelers (7-8); 21. Giants (8-7); 22. Titans (5-10); 23. Browns (5-10); 24. Jets (6-9); 25. Bills (5-10); 26. Cardinals (5-10); 27. Raiders (4-11); 28. Eagles (4-11); 29. Buccaneers (6-9)
1, The first drive: It’s baby steps, but given the state of this offense, especially without Percy Harvin, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave deserves a lot of credit for giving Ponder an early script that has been tremendously successful during the team’s current three-game winning streak. In the first drives against Chicago, St. Louis and Houston, Ponder has looked decisive, confident and all the other things he lacks far too often. He’s 7 of 7 for 111 yards, one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown. The other drive ended with Adrian Peterson rushing for a touchdown. The Vikings never trailed after those touchdowns.
2, Peterson’s high standards: It’s been funny to hear people talk about how the Texans “shut down” or “took away” the Vikings’ run game. If running for 174 yards on 42 carries (4.1) is “shut down,” then shut me down every week. Yes, Peterson didn’t run for 150 yards, but the NFL has ruled that guys who aren’t chasing Eric Dickerson are allowed to carry the ball, too. Plus, I might be one of the few who actually was impressed that Peterson managed to get 86 yards the way the Texans played that game. Houston had cornerbacks completely ignoring the passing game while darting in from the edges to tackle Peterson whether he had the ball or not. Twenty-two of Peterson’s carries went for 25 yards. But three of them went for 61. All in all, it was a very productive running game.
3, Defense and the Dome: Before getting thumped 23-6 last week, the Texans hadn’t gone without a touchdown since Matt Schaub joined the team. And the Vikings hadn’t given up fewer points since beating Atlanta 24-3 in the 2007 opener, which was Peterson’s NFL debut. The Vikings haven’t played with this much confidence on defense in a very long time. And they get the significant edge of playing this game at the Metrodome. The Packers have a great passing attack, obviously, but they’re also 27th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.
1, Packer swagger: No team in the league – other than whichever one Peyton Manning happens to play for – goes into a game with a higher level of confidence than the Packers. It doesn’t matter who’s hurt, where the game is being played or whether the replacement officials cheated them the week before. Aaron Rodgers gives this team a consistency that Brett Favre never did. And right now, the Packers have won a franchise-record 12 consecutive division games.
2, Ponder’s nerves: In my ledger, Ponder has played eight games in which I’ve felt he’s shown that the Vikings can continue to build around him as the long-term answer at QB. That means he’s played seven – in my mind – in which he’s shown the opposite. That point is probably moot because the consensus feeling is this next offseason will be bone dry when it comes to quality QBs via the draft, free agency and trade. So Ponder gets at least one more year. Playing well at home against the Packers with the playoffs on the line sure would help. Have you ever been at a wedding and your tie is too tight and you’re miserable? And you get to the reception and you get to loosen the tie and you feel fantastic? A win sure would loosen the noose that Ponder’s wearing.  
3, `Claymaker’ is back: Vikings fans kind of figured out that Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was pretty good when he ripped the ball out of Peterson’s hands and returned it for a touchdown as a rookie in 2009. Peterson ran for 210 yards against the Packers four weeks ago. But Matthews didn’t play in that game. Asked how big a deal that was not to have Matthews, coach Mike McCarthy said, “He’s our best player on defense.” In other words, it mattered. Plus, the Packers were humiliated by poor tackling. They’ll give a much better effort this time.
Vikings 24, Packers 21: Blair Walsh opened the regular season with a winning field goal in overtime. He’ll end it with one against the Packers. The Packers are the better team. And they’re on a 9-1 roll. But I’m going with the home team and the fact the Vikings essentially need this to make the playoffs. Sure, they can get in with a loss if the Bears, Giants and Cowboys also lose. But what are the chances in the NFL that three teams you need to lose are going to lose?
Record picking Vikings games: 8-5.
GB minus-3 ½ at VIK: Vikings by 3.
NYJ plus-3 ½ at BUF: Bills by 7.
MIA plus-10 at NE: Patriots by 14.
BAL plus-3 at CIN: Bengals by 7.
CLE off at PIT: Steelers by 7.
JAC plus-4 at TEN: Titans by 7.
PHI plus-7 ½ at NYG: Giants by 3.
DAL plus-3 at WAS: Redskins by 10.
CHI minus-3 at DET: Bears by 7.
TB off at ATL: Buccaneers by 3.
CAR plus-5 at NO: Saints by 7.
KC plus-16 at DEN: Broncos by 10.
OAK off at SD: Chargers by 14.
ARI plus-16 ½ at SF: 49ers by 10.
STL plus-10 ½ at SEA: Seahawks by 14.
Overall Record Last Week: 10-6. Vs. Spread: 8-8
Record Season: 127-76-1. Vs. Spread: 99-99-1.
HOU minus-6 ½ at IND.
Colts 28, Texans 20: The Texans still need to win to clinch home-field advantage after last week’s lifeless 23-6 loss to the Vikings at home. But they’re heading for the perfect storm: A division road game that features the return of Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who has spent the past three months battling leukemia.
Last week: CHI minus-5 ½ at ARI. Prediction: Cardinals 28, Bears 21. Actual: Bears 28, Cardinals 13.
Record: 8-7.

Frazier maintains he has confidence in Ponder

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: December 3, 2012 - 2:19 PM

Defending quarterback Christian Ponder was the general theme of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier’s press conference at Winter Park on Monday, a day after the Packers beat the Vikings 23-14 at Lambeau Field.

Ponder was 12 for 25 for 119 yards and had two critical interceptions in the game, negating a 210-yard rushing performance by Adrian Peterson.

Frazier said he “never really” considered replacing Ponder with backup Joe Webb, but said Ponder would “have to be better” on Sunday when the Vikings play the Bears at the Metrodome.

What does Frazier say to the fans who want Ponder benched?

"When you are in a business where you're judged by results and results for us are based on wins and losses, when you come up short that does create some frustration,” Frazier said, “but we do have confidence that Christian will continue to get better. That was a tough day at times for him yesterday. … We think he's more than capable of being successful. He showed it early in the season, he's played some consistent football for us. We've got to get him back to playing that way.”

Frazier acknowledged that Ponder was tentative at times: “Sometimes you got to throw the ball when guys come out of their breaks. In our league, it's not very often that guys are going to be wide open. So when we say throw it on time, on time means when the guy comes out of his break deliver the football. You've got to be able to make that decision whether you can get it in there or not.”

“I still think he's a very confident quarterback. I really do. We just got to get him to the point where we're making some of those plays that we know he's capable of making. … in our business, so much falls on the quarterback's shoulders. He's the guy who gets a lot of accolades when the team wins and he gets a lot of blame when your team loses. But there are some things he can do better and he knows that.”

Frazier was asked about backup quarterback Joe Webb, and said, “We think Joe can do it. We think he's a quality quarterback. He's our backup now. If he had to step in and play, we have confidence that he would do a good job. But we do have confidence that Christian is going to play better. He knows he has to in order for us to win. But with Joe, we think he's very capable. That's why we kept him on the roster, kept him in the spot that he's in. We know if necessary he'd be able to help us.”

Frazier didn’t seem to rule out pulling Ponder from a game, however. When asked about Vikings players losing faith in Ponder, Frazier said, “When you're struggling at a position, the guys know how we talked about everybody doing their jobs and why it's important for us to have our success. You don't want to send mixed messages at any position. It's important that all the positions do their jobs and function well. The quarterback position is always under that bright light. … There's a lot riding on this next ballgame for our football team and I'm sure there are a lot of guys looking and wondering if we can get it done under the current situation. I believe we can. I believe we'll play better, not only at the quarterback position but at other positions as well.”

Vikings wide receivers did not catch a pass against the Packers until the final minutes, and have come under heavy criticism the past few games for their lack of production.

“They've got to get open,” Frazier said. “They've got to make the catch when the opportunity comes. … We had a number of dropped balls in that Chicago ballgame and it wasn't all just on Christian to get some completions. It's a combination of protection along with guys getting open and making catches when they have an opportunity and the quarterback being able to deliver the football. That's part of having a good passing game. So our receivers know that, our quarterback knows it, our offensive line knows it and now we've got to find a way to be more productive in the passing game."

On the injury front, Frazier said defensive end Jared Allen had back spasms and was having an MRI today, although he suspected Allen would be ready to play Sunday against Chicago. Center John Sullivan (rib contusion) is also likely to play. Percy Harvin (ankle) has missed the past two games, and Frazier said the team would know more about him “as the week goes on.”


Smith, Rudolph cleared from concussions; Harvin will test ankle

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: November 28, 2012 - 12:27 PM

Coach Leslie Frazier came bearing good news -- at least for Vikings fans -- on the injury front.

Two key starters that were iffy on Monday don't seem so iffy anymore. Tight end Kyle Rudolph and free safety Harrison Smith were cleared to practice after suffering concussions on Sunday. Rudolph, however, might not practice because of a "shoulder strain" he's dealing with, Frazier said.

Also, receiver Percy Harvin will test his ankle in practice today. He's missed the past two games because of a sprained left ankle.

"Percy is going to try and see what he can do and then we'll get a better gauge [on his status for Sunday's game at Green Bay] post-practice," Frazier said. "But he'll attempt to do some things, so we'll get a better feel for where he is."

Harvin went through some drills with the team's athletic trainers on Tuesday, Frazier said.

"We took him through a few things indoors," Frazier said. "He was OK, but definitely not there yet. So we want to increase it today and see how he does."

Frazier also said running back Adrian Peterson (shoulder strain) will try to participate in everything the team does, but will have a limited number of reps.

So, overall, Frazier was pretty darn happy about the team's health heading into its first December game.

"No question," Frazier said. "To know that Kyle and Harrison have been cleared, that's a big deal because they are two of the keys to our football team. And the fact that Percy is going to attempt to do something today, that's encouraging. It's just a matter of how far he can go. But it's a big deal that those guys are out there practicing."

We'll have a post-practice update once the injury report is released.


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