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 Ex-Vikings

A day of leftovers after Vikings mini-camp mania

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: June 21, 2013 - 2:38 PM

It'll be pretty slow on the Vikings front for the next month ... the only real news dangling out there is where former Packers LB Desmond Bishop will land, and it could be with the Vikings.

Bishop said Thursday that the New York Giants and Jacksonville might be next on his visit list, after stops at Winter Park and in Kansas City. So that situation seems likely to drag out a bit.

Nothing eventful from the Vikings mini-camp, but lots of access for the media. Here are a few leftover nuggets from coach Leslie Frazier and the team's coordinators (hey, someone transcribed all this, we might as well get some in the paper):

Frazier on his final message to his team: Just reminding them about the things they’ve got to get done in this time away and remember that they represent us in their hometowns, wherever they travel at, that we all represent one another and take care of their bodies. It’s going to be an important time away, but rest and do the things you want to do but take care of your bodies.

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer on new punter Jeff Locke: Very talented like we knew he was. He’s working very hard. I knew he would be a hard worker, I didn’t realize to this extent. He does everything I ask him to do drill wise and more. He is very contentious. He’s worked very hard as a holder as well so everything is going in the right direction. He’s got just a couple things we’re working on with his footwork, taking out some of the wasted motion that he had coming from college. He’s worked very hard at that and we’re definitely seeing some progress. He has to get his get-off a little bit quicker and overall it’s going to make him a more consistent performer and that’s obviously what we’re looking for.

Priefer on ex-Vikings punter Chris Kluwe: A lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn’t get along but I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe, based on what he’s done in his career as a man and as an athlete. For anybody that stands up for what he believes in like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that. We had a long talk after the draft. He knew the writing was on the wall and I wasn’t going to lie to him, I figured if a young guy came in and had a good rookie mini camp then that was what was going to happen. I wish him the best of luck in Oakland, I really do.

Frazier on quarterback Christian Ponder:
I really like the way that he has matured mentally and just seeing how he has taken the reins from a leadership standpoint. He is more vocal than he has been in the past. His football above the neck has been impressive in the time that we’ve been out here on the field practicing. So he’s got the athletic ability but you want him to make good decisions under the center and some of the things he’s done in these practices kind of leads me to believe, along with our staff, that he’s grown a lot in that area making better decisions with the football, which should in turn help us down the line. He’s worked his tail off trying to improve his accuracy. Our coaches have put him through a bunch of different drills and through his hard work I think he’s improved in that area. Now we’ve got some things we’ve got to get done in training camp, but he’s put in the work to improve and we are seeing it.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave on Ponder: This is his second orthodox offseason. He didn’t have one initially after he was drafted so there are much fewer unknowns for him at this stage even than there were a year ago. He knows more of what to expect and let himself go a little bit and not be so guarded. We always want to be accurate and we’re always working on our feet in the quarterback room. His decision making we’re assessing every day with all these competitive periods. It’s been good.

Musgrave on balancing an offense that includes NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson: The more first downs we get, the more we get to stay on the field. Offense is so different from defense, where on defense if you’re successful you get to go three-and-out and sit on the bench. On offense we want to stay out there. So the better we become running the ball, which we’re already pretty good with Adrian, if we can be better throwing the ball we can stay out there and everybody can get more touches or more opportunities and that’s our plan, to be more productive in the passing game, to balance the running game with Adrian and then everyone will get their shot.

Musgrave on the battle for third-string quarterback between James Vandenberg and McLeod Bethel-Thompson: We like both of them. They both have done a good job. They both get the scraps. They don’t get a lot of plays. They stand back there for 15, 20, 25 minutes, get cold and then they get thrown in there and asked to perform at a high level, but both of them are very sharp and they’re working very hard. [Vandenberg has] great visualization skills. He doesn’t get a lot of turns, but I feel like he knows our system very well. He visualizes the concepts, he knows protections and when he gets in there the wheels don’t fall off. He definitely belongs up here.

Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams on rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges:
He has great feet. It looks like looks like he has good instincts. I can’t wait until the pads get on to see how he hits and how he runs around and mixes it up. I think that’s what all the coaches are waiting on to see. Right now we are just in shorts and they all look great so I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm and wait until we get pads on.

Frazier on his expectations for rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd: We’d like to be able to get him in a rotation system where he’s a part of what we’re doing with our four-down when he’s getting in sometimes with Kevin [Williams] and just rotate. Hopefully it gets to the point where he’s productive enough where he can warrant increased reps as the year goes on. That would be optimum if he’s able to get in the rotation, have success and we can gradually add more reps to his play as the season goes on.

Williams on Floyd: He’s quick twitch, he can anchor in the run, he’s very disruptive at the three and he has good pass-rush moves. I know his stats may not have shown it, but he’s been tremendous in these OTAs and he’s another one where we can’t wait to get the pads on to kind of see what happens when we get the pads on and if he’s still as productive. The one thing with him, and I just mentioned it a second ago about young guys playing situational football and the situations are new to them and they make some mistakes, he’s game ready. He had a good coach at Florida and they prepared him well and it’s not too much different what we’re doing here. So a lot of things translate over to what he did in college, so we’re looking for good things from him.


 

 

 


 

Antoine Winfield chooses Seahawks

Posted by: Updated: April 12, 2013 - 10:51 PM
The Vikings’ hopes of reeling Antoine Winfield back to Winter Park have officially been dashed. The 35-year-old cornerback agreed to a one-year deal with the Seahawks on Friday, ending his month-long exploration through free agency.
Winfield began a visit in Seattle on Tuesday and apparently liked what he heard from General Manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. But it was not an easy decision. The Vikings had made a significant push to bring Winfield back and it took until Friday for a deal to be finalized with the Seahawks.
"It was a very tough decision for me because of the relationships that I have in Minnesota," Winfield told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "I've been there nine years. I've had some really great coaches, teammates and fans there. I'm very grateful to the Vikings organization for my experience."
Winfield had made it known since being released by the Vikings on March 12 that he was looking to find an ideal fit and latch on with a team in position to contend for a Super Bowl. Seattle certainly fits that bill.
The Seahawks already have two outstanding outside cornerbacks in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Now they can add Winfield to the mix as a slot corner and veteran leader.
After nine seasons with the Vikings, Winfield joins a Seattle team that was an eyelash away from reaching the NFC Championship last season and has since added some big-name talent in its quest to take the next step. The Seahawks acquired receiver Percy Harvin in a blockbuster trade last month and then struck two days later by signing free agent defensive end Cliff Avril
The Seattle defense ranked second in the NFL against the pass in 2012 and will hope Winfield still has some juice left as he enters his 15th season. Winfield was as reliable as ever last season with the Vikings, steadying a young secondary. According to team stats, he contributed 110 tackles, 11 of those for loss and intercepted three passes. His professionalism and positive energy were frequently lauded by both teammates and the Vikings’ coaching staff during the team’s surprising push into the NFC playoffs.
As head coach Leslie Frazier noted last month: "He was the glue. The way that he was in our meeting rooms, at practice, his participation in the offseason program. He was one of those guys who had not been around a lot in the offseason [previously]. And he was at everything a year ago. So his influence, you can't put a dollar figure on that. It made a big difference on our season and in the development of a lot of players as well."
Still, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman made the executive decision to cut Winfield last month in the hour before free agency began, needing to clear salary cap room that the cornerback’s $7.25 million salary for 2013 was clogging up.
The Vikings then spent the first week of free agency re-signing seven of their in-house free agents, most notably right tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton and linebacker Erin Henderson. The organization also signed receiver Greg Jennings and quarterback Matt Cassel.
According to a source, before being cut Winfield was never formally offered an opportunity to restructure his contract and initially felt blindsided by the Vikings’ decision, news given to him on a day he had gone to the team’s Winter Park facility for a routine workout.
A few hours after releasing Winfield, Spielman said he was leaving the door open for a possible reunion. And Leslie Frazier reached out to Winfield on several occasions to express his feelings and appreciation for Winfield’s talent and leadership.
But the veteran cornerback was certainly confused by the mixed messages from an organization that didn’t feel he was worth keeping around at a high price but was still asking him to consider a return shortly after.  
Winfield began testing the open market when free agency began and had one other visit with the Redskins. In Seattle, it turns out, he found the fit he was seeking. ESPN reported Winfield’s deal with Seattle to be worth $3 million. And at the very least, Winfield’s move slammed shut the door Spielman had promised to keep open.

Carter in, Peterson waiting

Posted by: Updated: February 2, 2013 - 5:35 PM

I covered Cris Carter's arrival in Minnesota. He had earned his dismissal from the Eagles, abusing drugs and alcohol. The Vikings picked him up on waivers because Jerry Burns thought he could turn into a great receiver. Burnsie was right.

Carter was your classic underperforming diva wide receiver when he arrived. He and I hit it off the following training camp. He agreed to a long sit-down interview. He told me if I told his story honestly, we'd get along fine, and if I didn't, he'd punch me in the eye.

I didn't pull any punches, and he didn't throw any. He wanted to make his story public, and he was my go-to guy in the lockerrom until I left the Vikiings beat to cover baseball following the 1992 season.

When I began covering football again, in 1998, Carter and I didn't have the same relationship, but I loved watching him play. Dennis Green gave perhaps the quiintessential quote on Carter: He said Carter expanded the field. It was an early version of the ``catch-radius'' idea. Green meant that with Carter, a quarterback could throw the ball three feet out of bounds, or five feet over his head, or at his toes, and Carter would catch it.

Near the end of his career, I asked Carter how he played so long, as a guy who was willing to go over the middle to make catches. He began listing the people he employed: Nutritionist, physical therapist, chiropractor, chef, personal trainer...the list went on for a while.

I'm not sure I ever covered a more dedicated athlete.

His downside was linked to his greatest strength: He put so much into playing football that he couldn't stomach those who didn't match his commitment.

I think he was deserving of the Hall of Fame. He was elected to the Hall on Saturday in New Orleans.

I'm at the NFL Awards Ceremony, awaiting word on whether Adrian Peterson will win the MVP award.

Carter and Peterson have very different personalities. They have this in common: There is or has been any doubt about their desire to be great.

I stopped Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on the red carpet and asked if he's talked with Peterson about the award. ``Oh, yeah,'' Frazier said. ``He's still upset that he didn't win the Heisman. He'll be the first to tell you he should win this.''

Mark Craig and I will have all the Hall of Fame and NFL award coverage from New Orleans in tomorrow's paper and at startribune.com.

 

 

Ex-Viking Larry Bowie dies

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: January 2, 2013 - 1:58 PM

Larry Bowie, a guard who played for the Vikings for eight seasons in the 1960s, has died.

Bowie's career with the Vikings ended in 1968 when he had a blood clot removed from his brain during the season.

Bowie, 73, was taken by the Vikings in the sixth round of the 1962 draft out of Purdue. He was a starter in five of his eight seasons.

A memorial service for Bowie is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Sandberg Funeral Home in North St. Paul.

 

Vikings first-round pick in 1970 passes away

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: December 4, 2012 - 5:18 PM

John Henry Ward, who was the Vikings' first-round selection (25th overall) in the 1970 NFL draft and played as an offensive lineman with the team for six seasons, has died.

Ward, 64, was a businessman in Oklahoma City.

Here is a story from the Daily Oklahoman's Berry Tramel.

John Henry Ward, a two-sport all-American at Oklahoma State and a lineman on Bud Grant’s grand Minnesota Viking teams in the 1970s, died of cancer Tuesday in Oklahoma City. He was 64.

“He was much more than an amazing football player and wrestler,” said Ross Powell, who played little league football on a team coached by Ward. “His post-NFL career is every bit as impressive as his football career. He was a mentor to hundreds of kids, not only as a football coach but a life coach as well.”

Ward came to OSU from Tulsa Rogers and became a 1969 all-American tackle in football and a 1969 all-American in wrestling, with a third place finish at heavyweight in the NCAA Championships.

Ward played on two Viking Super Bowl teams.

“One of the most likable guys there,” said Terry Brown, a teammate of Ward with both OSU and the Vikings. “Everybody liked to be around him. He was an ultimate teammate. Would go to battle for anybody.”

Ward loved to hunt. He suffered a broken leg in a Viking game. Two weeks later, his cast came off. Turns out Ward would go hunting with his broken leg. So doctors put him in an L-shaped cast so he couldn’t walk.

“Bud Grant would come to Oklahoma and go hunting with him,” Brown said of the iconicMinnesota coach. “They spent a lot of time hunting together.”

After football, Ward ran a cattle ranch, managed a farm/ranch retail store, was elected a county commissioner and eventually became executive director for the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

In 2002, Ward became vice president of The Poultry Federation and director of its Oklahoma City operations.
 

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