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 Percy Harvin

Halftime report: Vikings 7, Lions 0

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: December 29, 2013 - 1:57 PM

The Vikings have a 7-0 lead at halftime over the Lions in the finale game at the Metrodome. The Vikings have outgained the Lions 235-56

The good: Cordarrelle Patterson’s only season in the Metrodome has created for some memorable plays. The latest from the wide receiver: a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. It’s the longest touchdown run for a wide receiver in franchise history.

It’s Patterson’s third rushing touchdown this season, breaking Percy Harvin’s single-season record for a wide receiver.

Defensive end Jared Allen also recorded a sack in the first half to give him 10.5 this season. He’s recorded double digit sack totals for seven straight seasons now and sits alone for 13th all-time with 127.5 sacks.

The bad: Allen also took a snap on offense and missed a shot at a touchdown. Everyone knew Allen would likely get the ball once he was announced as an eligible receiver, but he was still wide open on the play action pass. Quarterback Matt Cassel rolled out of the pocket and missed Allen badly, nailing a photographer behind the end zone. Cassel threw an interception two plays later.

The ugly: While the Metrodome is closing, this game has the feel of two teams eliminated from the playoffs with coaches on the hot seat. Some may say it’s a fitting way to say goodbye, but it surely isn’t pretty to watch.

A good example: the Lions had the fourth best run defense in the NFL entering this game. Running back Matt Asiata, who started for the injured Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, has nine carries for 57 yards.

Need another one? Both teams have punted nine times.

Adrian Peterson sets date for breaking all-time rushing mark

Posted by: Updated: July 28, 2013 - 12:37 PM

OK. It's been well documented that Adrian Peterson was agitated that he fell 9 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record a year ago. And in order to raise the bar for 2013, Peterson has announced a personal goal to chase a 2,500-yard season.

But that's not the only milestone the always motivated running back keeps in the back of his mind. Peterson also wants to some day leave the game as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, a record currently held by Emmitt Smith.

Peterson, with 8,849 yards, is approaching the halfway mark to Smith's 18,355-yard record. And last December, in our in-depth profile of Peterson as the Star Tribune Sportsman of the Year, we told A.D. that he was on pace to catch Smith in Week 4 of 2019. Peterson wouldn't accept the math, vowed to get the record sooner and promised to get back to us with his prognostication.

On Saturday, in an exclusive sitdown with the Star Tribune, we finally made Peterson do the math.

The full transcript of our discussion with Peterson will post online soon. And you won't want to miss his candid thoughts on a whole variety of topics, ranging from Robert Griffin III's ACL recovery to the trade of Percy Harvin to his suspicions of performance-enhancing drugs in the NFL to the lingering sting of the Vikings' NFC title game loss to New Orleans four seasons ago.

But here is the part of the exchange where Peterson, playing along in good spirits, finally delivered a projection on reaching Emmitt Smith.

Q Forget about Eric Dickerson’s record for a minute. Last December, we talked about Emmitt Smith’s record and I told you you were on pace to get there in Week 4 of 2019. You said sooner and promised to come back with a timetable. Emmitt had 18,355 yards. You’re now 9,506 away. We need a week and a year. When do you get there?
A Man. Oh boy. I have to do some calculations. I’ve been in the league seven years. I’m already right around [9,000]. Calculate it out … Let’s think. Maybe get a couple 2,000 yard seasons … I’ve got … Hmmm … 2017.
Q What week in 2017?

 

A Man. I better go late. I’m already getting too far in front of myself. I’ll say Week 16. There it is. Week 16 in 2017. Whoo. That’s pushing it, huh? But hey, pushing it is the only way to do it. You know it.

Just to break it down for you in full, that gives Peterson 79 games to amass the 9,506 yards he needs to reach Smith. That comes out to a per-game average of 120.3 yards per contest with the assumption that Peterson avoids injury and doesn't miss a game between now and Week 16 of 2017. Yes, it's pushing it indeed. But good fun to consider, right?

Check back to StarTribune.com on Sunday night for the entirety of our conversation with Peterson.

Vikings schedule set, with three prime-time games

Posted by: Updated: April 18, 2013 - 9:06 PM
The Vikings are back in prime-time.
 
After playing only one regular season night game in 2012 – a mandatory Thursday nighter – the team is again registering as a strong draw for the under-the-lights TV slots. Last season’s surprising 10-6 surge into the playoffs and the presence of MVP Adrian Peterson helps. And with the full NFL schedule released Tuesday evening, the Vikings have been slotted to play three night games in a span of 18 days during the middle of the season. They’ll have an appearance on Monday Night Football (at the New York Giants in Week 7); a Sunday nighter (home vs. Green Bay in Week 8); and a Thursday night cameo against the Redskins at Mall of America Field in Week 10.
 
So just how does the 2013 campaign set up overall? Here’s your quick look at what’s ahead …
 
WEEK 1
Sunday, Sept. 8
at Detroit, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
Highlight reel potential. Set the DVR. The NFL’s reigning rushing champ (Adrian Peterson) against the league’s current receiving king (Calvin Johnson).
 
WEEK 2
Sunday, Sept. 15
at Chicago, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
The quest to halt the Soldier Field slump continues. The Vikings are 1-10 there since 2000 and have lost their past three in the Windy City by a combined 61 points.
 
WEEK 3
Sunday, Sept. 22
vs. Cleveland, Noon (CBS, KFAN)
A later-than-usual home opener appears favorable against the Browns, who have finished above .500 just twice in the 21st century.
 
WEEK 4
Sunday, Sept. 29
vs. Pittsburgh (in London), Noon (CBS, KFAN)
For fans and the media, this may be the most appealing road getaway of the year. For the Vikings, it’s a critical business trip with more attention devoted to Big Ben the quarterback than Big Ben the clock.
 
WEEK 5
BYE WEEK
In conjunction with the trip overseas, this will be an early week off just a quarter of the way into the season. Will it mark a good regrouping point or come too soon?
 
WEEK 6
Sunday, Oct. 13
vs. Carolina, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
The Vikings bested Cam Newton during his rookie year but will have to be sharp again defensively to repeat that result. The Panthers, like the Vikings, rallied to win their final four regular season games last year.
 
WEEK 7
Monday, Oct. 21
at New York Giants, 7:40 p.m. (ESPN, KFAN)
Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning will play the role of host on the Vikings’ return to Monday Night Football.
 
WEEK 8
Sunday, Oct. 27
vs. Green Bay, 7:30 p.m. (NBC, KFAN)
We can only hope for a game as entertaining as the 2012 season finale when Peterson and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers put on quite the show during the Vikings’ 37-34 playoff-clinching win.
 
WEEK 9
Sunday, Nov. 3
at Dallas, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
A field trip to Jerry World should be a fun way to conclude the season’s first half. The Vikings have won the last two meetings against the Cowboys, including a 34-3 blowout in the 2009 playoffs.
 
WEEK 10
Thursday, Nov. 7
vs. Washington, 7:25 p.m. (NFLN, KFAN)
The Vikings may still be having nightmares over the game-sealing 76-yard touchdown run Robert Griffin III delivered last October. RG3’s recovery from major knee surgery will be worth monitoring in the lead up to this game.
 
WEEK 11
Sunday, Nov. 17
at Seattle, 3:25 p.m. (FOX, KFAN)
Should be a warm and fuzzy reunion with receiver Percy Harvin and cornerback Antoine Winfield, no? The former Vikings have joined a loaded Seahawks team with its eyes on the Super Bowl.
 
WEEK 12
Sunday, Nov. 24
at Green Bay, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
Christian Ponder’s Lambeau Field history: two starts, 28-for-59, 309 yards, one TD, three interceptions. In losses by a combined 68-21 count. Then came a DNP in a playoff game due to a severely bruised triceps.
 
WEEK 13
Sunday, Dec. 1
vs. Chicago, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
New Bears coach Marc Trestman (a St. Louis Park native) comes back to the Twin Cities. Trestman’s offensive intelligence is supposed to energize an attack led by Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. By this point, we’ll know whether the anticipation was justified.
 
WEEK 14
Sunday, Dec. 8
at Baltimore, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
The Ravens lost a ton of key cogs from last year’s Super Bowl run, most notably Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk and Paul Kruger. They still, however, have the league’s highest paid man in QB Joe Flacco.
 
WEEK 15
Sunday, Dec. 15
vs. Philadelphia, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
No one knows quite what to expect from the union of Eagles coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Michael Vick. If things click, the Philly offense – which also features LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson – could be scary.
 
WEEK 16
Sunday, Dec. 22
at Cincinnati, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
Expect something lopsided. These teams’ past three meetings have been decided by an average of 23 points. The Vikings last trip to Cinci was a 37-8 loss in 2005 during which they were torched by Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson.
 
WEEK 17
Sunday, Dec. 29
vs. Detroit, Noon (FOX, KFAN)
In what could be the final game ever at Mall of America Field, the Vikings and Lions reunite 112 days after their first meeting.
 
FINAL THOUGHTS
  • The Vikings hit the skids last November, dropping three of four in a disconcerting slide that raised anxiety levels. This November seems equally imposing with road trips to Dallas, Seattle and Green Bay and the lone home game coming on Thursday night against the Redskins, the reigning champs of the NFC East.
  • The Vikings don’t face a team that made the 2012 playoffs until Oct. 27. That should provide an opening for another fast start.
  • The season’s tone may be set right out of the gates with back-to-back division games on the road. The Vikings took care of business in the NFC North last season, posting a 4-2 mark. They also regrouped late last season to salvage a 3-5 road record. Finding a way to stand strong against division rivals in Weeks 1 and 2 will be a must for a team looking to replicate last season’s superb September.
  • Starting with the return to Monday Night Football in Week 7, the Vikings will have three night games in a span of 18 days. They will also begin a critical stretch there of playing four out of six games on the road.
  • For the third straight year, the regular season finale comes at Mall of America Field. In 2011, that contest was meaningless. Last year, it meant everything. What will the ramifications be this time around, especially for a contest that could well be the Vikings’ last ever at the Metrodome?

Receiver/tight end snapshot: What’s next in life after Percy Harvin?

Posted by: Updated: April 17, 2013 - 7:19 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: Wide receivers and tight ends

Current receiver starters: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright

Reserves under contract: Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Chris Summers

Current tight end starter: Kyle Rudolph

Reserves under contract: John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, LaMark Brown, Chase Ford

Level of draft need for receivers: High. Even with Jennings now on board, the Vikings owe it to themselves to surround quarterback Christian Ponder with as many weapons as possible if they are to complete his three-year evaluation fairly. Ponder and the offense badly need an outside speed threat. More reliable depth at the position is necessary, too. Nabbing at least two receivers in the draft seems likely.

Level of draft need for tight ends: None. Kyle Rudolph is still ascending, a dangerous red zone weapon who made great strides with his blocking a year ago. In Leslie Frazier’s words, Rhett Ellison still sets the standard as the team’s best blocking tight end, which has earns him a chance to be on the field more in 2013.

Biggest offseason move: The March 11 blockbuster trade that sent Percy Harvin to Seattle in exchange for three draft picks was without question a pivotal moment in Vikings’ history. Replacing Harvin won’t be easy. Despite missing the final seven games last season, Harvin still led the team with 62 catches for 677 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a major threat as a kick returner. And yet whatever unfolded behind the scenes after he suffered that severely sprained left ankle in a Week 9 loss in Seattle permanently fractured Harvin’s relationship with the franchise. Details of the divide have been kept under lock and key. And while various national outlets have taken bold stabs at trying to identify why the Harvin-Vikings divorce had to happen, members of the front office and coaching staff continue to assert  the true reasons for Harvin’s departure have not been revealed.

As Leslie Frazier said at last month’s league meetings in Phoenix: “There are a lot of layers to this situation. And one day, when I sit down and write this book, we'll divulge all the layers. But it's complicated.”

Loosely translated: Don’t put full stock in the notion that Harvin’s frustration with Ponder was the wick that made things explode. Said Frazier: “It didn't play the role that most think.”

Also, it should be made clear that contract negotiations weren’t the main cause of the strain either. Instead, it came down to the receiver’s desire to get out of town. For reasons still fully unknown.

As patient as Frazier had always been with Harvin, the mercurial receiver made it clear at the tail end of last season that he wanted out, that he desired to be moved. Rather than engaging in a potentially volatile staring contest, Vikings GM Rick Spielman sought out significant trade compensation for Harvin and came away thrilled when the Seahawks offered the No. 25 pick in this year’s draft plus a seventh-rounder this year and a third-rounder in 2014. At that point, Spielman excitedly pulled the trigger. And even with the wide hole that opened in the Vikings’ receiving corps, there was also a recognition internally that the team finished last season with five wins in the seven games Harvin missed. The Vikings were also a perfect 4-0 to close the regular season immediately after Harvin was put on Injured Reserve.

You should know: Of all the things the Vikings love about Greg Jennings – his versatility, his experience, his crisp route running – they’ve raved most about his positive energy. A few hours after signing the 29-year-old receiver away from Green Bay, Frazier noted the character and professionalism Jennings will infuse into the locker room.

Added Spielman: “You can see the leadership he brings on the field and the enthusiasm he plays with. It’s easy when you watch guys on tape, [you can see] which guys really love to play the game. And there is no question when you watch the tape on Greg Jennings, you know that he loves to play the game.”

The Vikings also feel encouraged about the hunger Jennings has brought with him. Remember that three-year stretch from 2008-10 when Jennings averaged 75 catches, 1,223 yards and eight TDs per season? The Vikings feel they can tap into that potential and get similar production going forward. Jennings wants to prove he's still that kind of player.

Jennings has missed 11 games the past two seasons due to injuries – a knee issue cost him three games in 2011 and a core muscle problem held him out for half of last year. And while he was out, the Packers’ offense didn’t miss a beat with Jordy Nelson and James Jones and Randall Cobb all excelling and becoming top-notch playmakers for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Jennings began to feel overshadowed, lost in the shuffle, under-appreciated in that equation. And so as he dove into free agency last month, he was not only looking for an offense he felt he could fit into, he was also looking to feel wanted.

The Vikings, who finished 31st in the NFL in passing offense last season, certainly wanted Jennings. And yes, his production in the coming years should be a part of the subsequent evaluation of the success of the Harvin trade.
In trading Harvin, the Vikings not only received those three draft picks from the Seahawks, they were then able to take a chunk of the money they'd been budgeting for a potential contract extension to Harvin and deliver it to Jennings.

One more thing: While everyone in the Vikings’ organization is rooting for Greg Childs to return from the brutal knee injuries he suffered last August, the team is proceeding with the understanding that Childs may never play a meaningful down in the NFL. It’s not just that the 23-year-old receiver from Arkansas blew out both knees during a training camp scrimmage last summer, tearing his patellar tendons on both sides, it’s that that setback came 22 months after his junior season in college ended with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

Childs fought through that rehab and returned to play in eight games as a senior. But he was nowhere near top form, tallying only 21 catches for 240 yards. And while his perseverance and optimism through his more recent rehabilitation stretch has been laudable, it’s hard to look past the notion that he hasn’t had a full season at full strength since 2009.

Frazier was asked about Childs at last month’s league meetings and had this to offer: “It'd be a monumental surprise if Greg Childs somehow, some way came back and was a factor. With his size and his athleticism, that would be a big boon for our wide receiver position. … There's a concern because of the [injury] history, for sure. We just have to kind of wait and see. He'd be making history because nobody's ever come back from that injury. But the way he's working gives you hope.”

Running back snapshot: Examining Adrian Peterson’s quest for 2,500 yards

Posted by: Updated: April 14, 2013 - 10:37 PM

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 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: Running backs

Current starters: Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton

Reserves under contract: Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard

Biggest offseason move: The re-signing of Felton was a big deal, even if it didn’t receive much attention or hype outside the Twin Cities. The 26-year-old fullback was superb as a lead blocker in 2012, aiding Adrian Peterson’s MVP season.

Level of draft need: Low. The depth chart seems set and solid for 2013. But Toby Gerhart is also entering the final year of his rookie contract. And if he seeks to hit free agency in 2014 to find greater opportunity elsewhere, the Vikings’ may want to start shopping for potential back-ups for Adrian Peterson.

You should know: Peterson’s vow to follow his extraordinary 2,097-yard eruption in 2012 with a 2,500-yard explosion in 2013 is downright ridiculous. And maybe it’s most preposterous because his teammates and coaches don’t question it.

Here’s what Felton said in January: “I really don’t feel like it’s out of reach. You look at it. It’s what, around 155 yards per game? With him, that’s doable.”

Added Jared Allen: “With that dude? It’s logical. And yeah, that’s crazy. … But I think too, with the way the league is now as such a pass dominant league, you’re seeing smaller fronts. You’re not having that 330-pound nose tackle anymore. You’ve got to have guys there who can rush the passer because of these spread offenses and these check-down systems. So you get a team like us that likes to run the ball with a back like Adrian and smaller [defenders] on the field, 2,500 might not be a stretch.”

And then in March, Leslie Frazier chimed in: “I think it's a good goal to have if you're Adrian Peterson. He's more than capable of getting it accomplished.”

All that said, the Vikings know it’s in their best interest to diversify their offense, to not be so one-dimensional and predictable. And so with an eye on energizing the passing attack, Peterson’s workload and production will almost certainly dip some. That will be by design with the hope that another reliable playmaker emerges. (That means you, Greg Jennings.)

Consider Peterson’s numbers from the first nine games of last season when Percy Harvin was healthy and adding pop to the offense: an average of 19 carries and 106 yards plus six total touchdowns.

And in the final seven games without Harvin around? Peterson averaged 26 carries and 163 yards with seven TDs.
Balance is a priority and so while Peterson will be aiming for 2,500 yards, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave are hopeful they won’t have to push at that milestone to be successful.

All that said, the opposite train of thought says that if Peterson was capable of topping 2,000 yards last season while spending the first month working back towards full strength and the last two months as a marked man facing stacked defenses while fighting through a painful sports hernia injury, imagine what he might be able to do if he stays healthy for a full year and the Vikings find a balanced offense that keeps opponents from keying on him.

Yikes. Maybe 2,500 yards isn’t as asinine of a goal as it sounds.

For what it’s worth, six other backs have topped 2,000 yards in a season. Here are their numbers from the following season:

  • O.J. Simpson (1974): 270 carries, 1,125 yards, three TDs
  • Eric Dickerson (1985): 292 carries, 1,234 yards, 12 TDs
  • Barry Sanders (1998): 343 carries, 1,491 yards, four TDs
  • Terrell Davis (1999): 67 carries, 211 yards, two TDs
  • Jamal Lewis (2004): 235 carries, 1,006 yards, seven TDs
  • Chris Johnson (2010): 316 carries, 1,364 yards, 11 TDs

One more thing: When it came to a final vote at the NFL’s annual meetings in March, the Vikings actually voted in favor of the new rule that will now penalize any runner or tackler who “initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet.”

But that “Yes” vote was more a reluctant concession than an indication of support. The Vikings simply did not want to appear in opposition of a player safety proposal that already had enough votes to pass.

Only an hour before that vote was taken in Phoenix last month, Frazier repeatedly declared his skepticism.
“We’re not one of those teams who is for it,” he asserted.

His biggest worries? That dynamic backs like Peterson could be neutered if they’re forced to be thinking too much.

“It's such an instinctive position,” Frazier said. “The guys are just reacting most of the time. If you ask Adrian [Peterson] on some of his runs, 'How did you know that guy was coming from the left or the right?' It's just a sense, just a feel sometimes. … As a running back, it's instincts. For me to start thinking now, 'Oh, man, I've got to lower my shoulder or I've got to turn this way' -- I don't know. We'll see.”

We will all see how the new rule is legislated. The league has made it clear that it wants its officials to zero in on only the obvious infractions. But that will still be a judgment call from week to week. And with a back who runs as powerfully as Peterson with the thirst to deliver contact before absorbing it, it’s a rule worth monitoring.

Said Frazier: “Is it going to make the game safer without altering what these guys do for a living and how they play and how they perform? … I just know being around great running backs, whether it be Walter [Payton] or Adrian, they are so instinctual in what they do. They’re not thinking a lot of times about when they’re going to use a stiff arm, how they’re going to use it. They’re not premeditating some of the moves they make. And to make them start thinking about, should I lower my shoulder left or right or spin this way? I just don’t know.”
 

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