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 draft

NFL calendar change could push draft into May, combine into March

Posted by: Updated: May 20, 2013 - 3:41 PM
Since February there has been talk that the NFL was fully engaged in brainstorming to alter its annual calendar. The primary league goal, it seemed, was to slot a major event into every month of the year if possible.
Ya know, to create 24-7-365 buzz. More so than already exists.
Initially, the chatter centered around pushing several major events back a month – moving the scouting combine to March, the opening of free agency into April and the draft into May. And while two of those three moves may still happen, a report this afternoon from ESPN’s Adam Schefter indicates that the opening of free agency may ultimately leapfrog the combine on the league calendar.
According to Schefter, the league and the NFL Players Association are hammering out the details on the schedule change with the union “close to signing off” on a proposal that would move the draft into May for at least the next three years.
Media-wise, that would provide another month or so to spin in circles with endless pre-draft analysis and 11 or 12 versions of every expert’s mock drafts. And who doesn’t want more of that?
More significantly, however, would be the flip-flopping of the combine and free agency, an interesting move that would change the dynamics between teams and agents in the offseason -- if it happens.
At present, agents are allowed to connect with team representatives at the combine in Indianapolis, legally able to discuss upcoming unrestricted free agents still under contract with that specific team. If the new change is adopted, free agency will already have opened by the time those combine meetings take place.
Which would then heighten the significance of the 3.5-day courting window that the league installed this March as a sort of cocktail hour ice-breaking period before free agency begins.
So essentially we could be looking at a situation as early as 2015 where the Super Bowl will end in early February, the start of free agency and the new league year will come in either late February or early March, the combine will be in March and the draft will be in May.
The obvious question that still needs answering: What in the world would anyone do in April?
Perhaps even more importantly for teams, opening free agency before organizations have the opportunity to watch, analyze and fully engage with prospects at the combine may change the way decisions are made to upgrade the roster. With less opportunity to become more comfortable with college prospects, we could be headed down a road where teams find themselves giving veteran free agents a longer look in free agency than they might otherwise have.
UPDATE: According to a new Tweet from Schefter, the draft moving to May would happen next year with the combine-free agency flip-flop.
An NFL spokesman has told the Star Tribune that there has been no official decision on moving the draft into May but that the need to change the date of next year's draft surfaced due to a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall. There will be no change in the start of free agency or the combine in 2014. But the league is exploring things beyond that.
At present, the re-scheduling of the 2014 draft may be slated for May 7-9.

Hold off on buying that Urlacher jersey ...

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: May 15, 2013 - 11:43 AM

The Brian Urlacher-to-the-Vikings rumor reading has moved from tepid to cool today after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier shot down Tuesday's report by a Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist that Urlacher was leaning toward signing with the team.

Frazier said today on NFL AM that the Vikings would continue to plan on using players already on their team at the middle linebacking spot.

Said Frazier: "Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He was a thorn in our side for many years. At this point we want to look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position then we'll see where it takes us."

Erin Henderson continues to be the leading candidate to move from the outside to the middle for the Vikings.

Tuesday's report, along with the Vikings' rookie signings, can be found here.

Here's the transcript, courtesy of, of Frazier's chat:

On if running back Adrian Peterson has wanted to work out too hard this offseason:

“It kind of happened not by his choice. He had the abdominal strain late in the season and that has kind of slowed him this offseason as far as being able to kick things into overdrive and doing things the way he wants to do it. It has slowed him down a little bit, but he just about back to 100% doing everything he needs to be able to do to be in the best possible shape for this season.”

On if the offseason moves were geared towards easing the workload of running back Adrian Peterson:

“We would like to be more balanced. We obviously pride ourselves on being able to run the football and being able to stop the run on defense but we think in order to take that next step, as a team and as an offense, we need to be able to create that balance by being able to pass the ball a little bit better. We think with the acquisition of Greg, along with what we did in the draft, and some of the other guys coming back – a healthy Jerome Simpson, our tight end Kyle Rudolph – we think we are going to be a better team throwing the football, which should, hopefully, open up more holes for Adrian Peterson.”

On quarterback Christian Ponder:

“This will be his third season, his second season as a full time starter. We are expecting him to take another step forward. We saw glimpses in the month in December – when we went 4-0 – of what he can be. We are really excited about some of the things we saw down the stretch of the season and we are looking for him to carry that over to our next season.”

On if the Vikings are interested in linebacker Brian Urlacher

“Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He has been a torn in our side for many years. At this point, we want to take a look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position and then we will see where it takes us.”

On new Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings:

“His experience jumps out at you for sure. Knowing where we are, at the receiver position, having a guy of his caliber – a Pro Bowl player, a great player in our league for a number of years now – his leadership, his experience, his big play ability, it’s still there. He was been banged up a bit the last couple of years but he is healthy now. We are looking forward to him having a great season in Minnesota.”

On the three first round draft picks: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson:
“I like our guys. They are going to be good players for our football team. We are hoping they are going to have an impact this first season.”

On if the expects the first round picks to be week 1 starters:

“There is enough competition on our team where they don’t have to come in and start right away. But if that were to happen, it would be a good thing for our team. Each one will have a chance to start.”

On if defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is upset with how far he fell in the draft:

“He pretty excited about being a Minnesota Viking. Once you get to know Sharrif, you realize he is a very humble guy who kind of gets it for a young guy. He is not caught up on where he was taken. He is happy to be a Viking.”



Vikings sign three draft picks; Chuck Muncie dies; Urlacher "rumored" to Vikings ...

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: May 14, 2013 - 2:27 PM

The Vikings signed three draft picks -- linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and defensive tackle Everett Dawkins -- today.

Hodges was a fourth-round selection (120th overall), while Mauti (213th) and Dawkins (229th) were seventh rounders. Hodges and Mauti are from Penn State, while Dawkins played at Florida State.

The signings were announced by the team. Hodges posted his signing on Twitter. He called it the happiest moment of his life.

A video review of the Vikings picks, if you have a little time to watch, is here. Sid also broke down the Penn State linebackers here. (Just wanted to use "Sid broke down" in the context of Sid breaking down film.  Not sure that line worked.)

Other Vikings notes:

  • Chuck Muncie, who played briefly for the Vikings at the end of a career plagued by substance abuse, has died at age 60. News reports say Muncie, a star with San Diego, had a heart attack.
  • And former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and the Vikings have been mentioned in the same sentence by a Chicago Sun Times "gossip" columnist.

Michael Sneed, who apparently is quite comfortable referring to herself in the third person, wrote: Sneed hears that former Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher, whose stellar, longtime career with the Bears began with a growl and ended with a whimper, is getting close to finding a new pigskin playground. Sneed is told that Urlacher, whose decision to leave the Bears followed their offer of a $1.6 million renewal contract, has been talking to the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos. “It’s getting close to happening, but Brian is leaning toward heading to Minnesota and is talking a one to two year contract,” said a source close to Urlacher.

As they used to say on Hee Haw, we don't like to repeat rumors ... so you better listen closely the first time.


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.”

Quarterback snapshot: How well can the Christian Ponder-Matt Cassel tandem function?

Posted by: Updated: April 18, 2013 - 8:37 AM
As the NFL Draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top draft prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.
Today’s snapshot: Quarterbacks
Current starter: Christian Ponder
Reserves under contract: Matt Cassel, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Biggest offseason move: When the inevitable finally occurred and Matt Cassel was released by the Chiefs on March 14, the Vikings quickly pounced. They had put out a “Help Wanted” ad for a back-up quarterback and saw a guy in Cassel whom they trusted to assume that role with professionalism and comfort. Cassel was given a two-year deal that could be worth up to $7.4 million. But there is also a fine-print provision within the soon-to-be 31-year-old’s contract that would allow him to opt out of the 2014 portion of things shortly after next season ended.
In essence, both Cassel and the Vikings have given themselves a safety net. For the Vikings, if it’s determined at any point in 2013 or at season’s end that Christian Ponder is not the long-term answer at quarterback, Cassel’s presence would provide a bridge as the organization searches for its next solution at the position. And Cassel himself could be an option there. 
But if Ponder excels in 2013 and locks down the role as the starter with no signs of relenting it, then Cassel could weigh his alternatives and have the option to seek a starting role elsewhere.
Level of draft need: None. Heading into the season, Ponder is the undisputed starter. Cassel owns the back-up role. With so many other needs, using a pick on a quarterback next week seems impractical.
You should know: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier feels very strongly about what Cassel will bring to the team at practice and in meetings. Here’s an exchange Frazier had with the Star Tribune at the NFL’s annual meetings in Phoenix last month …
Before the offseason heated up, you guys made it very clear that Christian is the starter. The opening was for a back-up. Matt had experience as a back-up in college behind Carson Palmer, behind Matt Leinart. He gets to New England and backs up Tom Brady. What was your feel for his understanding of that role?
Frazier: “You sense that he gets it. In my conversations with him, he made that very clear. He understands the needs for a back-up and how the back-up should conduct himself. That was great to hear. That was such a big part of us consummating this deal -- that he would understand his role and then understand the importance of a back-up handling that role the correct way. He made it very clear to me that he understood that. He’s experienced this league as a starter, he’s experienced this as a back-up. So to me, it was hey let’s get the deal done.”
And obviously he has 2008. Brady gets hurt early in the first game and just like that, he’s got the controls the rest of the season for the Patriots.
Frazier: “Exactly. And we talked about that. And we talked about his time in Kansas City when he was a starter and how his back-ups handled themselves. I like that he’s been on both ends of it. He knows the importance of that role and how to handle it.”
So what can he do with Christian so they are working in tandem and obviously the back-up is at least helping your starter to grow and develop?
Frazier: “Matt’s experience will help Christian. Being in that meeting room and being able to see things, being able to point things out. Christian hasn’t really had that per se since he became our starter. He hasn’t had that veteran back-up who might see some things that the coaches might not see. Or to speak from a players’ perspective. That’ll be big. And I think Matt’s practice habits, the way he prepares are a big deal. All those same things he learned from Tom Brady, Matt will now be able to instill some of those values with our young quarterbacks. We talked about that. He noted a lot of the things he learned from Tom. He took those to Kansas City and now he’ll bring that to our situation in Kansas City. Some of the things he explained to me about his relationship with Tom and watching how he prepared, Matt felt it really helped him. And I think that’ll help Christian now as well.”
One more thing: With Ponder, the Vikings will be looking for more consistency and signs of growth in 2013. The excuse of being a young player with limited experience is no longer valid. Ponder has 26 starts under his belt and now must prove to be reliable week after week after week. To be clear, he won’t ever be asked to be the superstar of this offense. Not so long as Adrian Peterson is whizzing around the backfield. But Ponder will again be asked to be efficient, to cut down on costly errors. That again means avoiding drive-killing sacks and game-turning turnovers.
It’s hard for the Vikings to know which Ponder will show up more often in 2013. Will it be the guy who failed to throw for 100 yards in three contests last season, the guy who had a rating below 60 on five occasions, the guy who torpedoed the team’s upset bid at Lambeau Field in Week 13 by going seven consecutive possessions without a completion while also throwing two brutal red zone interceptions in the second half? Or will Ponder ride the momentum and confidence he built in the final four weeks of the regular season into Year 3? During that stretch, he helped the Vikings’ surge into the playoffs with four straight wins by taking only five sacks and turning the ball over just twice. He helped the team score on its opening possession in all four games (three TDs, one field goal) and the Vikings never trailed thereafter in any of those wins. And in the season finale against Green Bay, Ponder threw for 234 yards and three scores while posting a career-best rating of 120.2. Under the brightest of lights with the pressure at its peak. That’s the guy General Manager Rick Spielman believes will show up more often in 2013.
The worst-case scenario for the Vikings is that Ponder struggles enough to indicate he might never be the team’s long-term answer yet displays enough signs of promise to convince the coaching staff and front office that he still needs just a little more time to get over the hump.
The hope in 2013 is that one way or the other, Ponder proves what he is once and for all.
Lastly, on a side note, there has been speculation that Joe Webb may face a conversion back to receiver in 2013. But when asked on multiple occasions last month about a possible position change for Webb, Frazier said his mindset was to take Webb to training camp as a quarterback, asking him to compete for the team’s No. 3 job.
Could that change? Perhaps. Would the Vikings be better off trying to get Webb on the field in some way with his speed and athleticism rather than stashing him down the depth chart at QB? Maybe. But again, Frazier has said directly that he’d prefer not to have Webb change positions.
“I’m not thinking that way, as we speak,” he had said. “I’m seeing Joe as a quarterback. Things may change. But I see him as a quarterback and I see him coming in and competing for a position.”


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