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 NFC

Vikings getting private workout with San Jose State QB Fales

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 21, 2014 - 9:58 AM

The Vikings' Please-Help-Us-Pick-the-Right-Quarterback Tour will continue this weekend with a private workout and sitdown with San Jose State's David Fales, the Sacramento Bee has reported.

Fales, who threw for 4,189 yards last year and 33 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, is considered by most to be a mid-round selection when the draft finally rolls around in May.

With the eighth pick in the draft, the Vikings may get boxed out on the top three quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel). So visits with prospects like Fales and Alabama's A.J. McCarron, whom the Vikings met with last week, might be even more important.

General Manager Rick Spielman and offensive coordinator Norv Turner were seen at Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr's workout on Thursday. On Wednesday, the two of them were among the Vikings' contingent that watched Blake Bortles' Pro Day at Central Florida.  Fales also had his Pro Day on Wednesday and reportedly threw the ball with impressive accuracy.

Spielman has said the team will perform its due diligence, looking at 10 or more quarterbacks before the draft. So if the Vikings do get shut out at No. 8 overall, don't take your eyes off the rest of the QBs on the board.

Even with Gerhart gone, Vikings don't need to rush things at running back

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 20, 2014 - 9:52 AM

Adrian Peterson will celebrate his 29th birthday on Friday.

Wait. Strike that. He's a running back. They don't celebrate birthdays.

Yes, Peterson could be the exception to the rule. Again. He could blow by 30 like a locomotive, break Emmitt Smith's rushing record and play until he's 36, 37, who knows? After all, when you go for 2,097 the season after one of your legs nearly broke off at the knee, well, you have pretty much proved you have a high ceiling and don't deserve sports writers placing any sort of limitations on what you can and can't do.

But it is interesting or, better yet, a sign of the times that Peterson's dependable, primary backup the past four years won't be around as Peterson heads into the stage of his career when common sense suggests he will need a dependable, primary backup most. It's also a sign of the times that Peterson's long-time dependable, backup, Toby Gerhart, left without a peep from any direction to sign a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Jaguars.

The Vikings went into free agency with a need for depth at running back, but you couldn't have found a single person to rank it among the team's top eight or so needs. General Manager Rick Spielman also made it sound like a low priority.

"I know you can't go into the season with just two running backs," Spielman said. "So that's an area that we've talked about a couple of running backs that are currently out on the market. But we've also honed in on a couple of running backs in the draft as well."

The Vikings aren't doing anything unusual by not rushing to sign a veteran running back to replace Gerhart. Not in a league where the value placed on most veteran running backs lies somewhere south of the value placed on kickers.

There are so many good, young running backs available that it makes little sense to make a big investment in a veteran with NFL wear and tear.

In the Vikings' case, they have Matt Asiata, a 26-year-old with 47 career carries. At 6-feet, 234 pounds, he's not a change-of-pace guy, but he's a powerful runner who shows signs of being the kind of pass protector that Gerhart was (and Peterson isn't) on third downs. Whether Asiata can catch the ball as well as Gerhart remains to be seen, but when the Vikings needed a No. 3 back to step up for the injured Peterson and Gerhart late last season, Asiata proved satisfactory in a pinch.

He carried the ball 30 times for a forehead-splitting 51 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Eagles. Two weeks later, he ran just 14 times, but gained 115 yards in a season-ending win over the Lions.

The other reasons for the Vikings' patience at running back are two young backs on the practice squad. Both of them are intriguing prospects. Neither of them came into the league with any fanfare, but this league has a long history of backs coming out of nowhere to make an impact.

Joe Banyard, 25, is a 5-11, 210-pounder who saw action in three games for the Vikings last year. He caught one pass for 11 yards and has enough skills to compete for an NFL job.

The other guy on the practice squad is Bradley Randle. Bradley is one of those guys you see in Mankato the first time and say, "Who's that guy?" In Randle's case, I remember saying, "Who's No. 38?" 

You knew he wouldn't make the team, but he was fun to watch. The 5-7, 190-pounder had the kind of moves and speed you'd expect from someone standing 5-7 and wearing an NFL uniform. When he came out of Nevada-Las Vegas last year, he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash.

The Vikings didn't have room for him, so they cut him, signed him to their practice squad, cut him and then re-signed him to their practice squad late last year.

If Asiata can fill the No. 2 role, a guy like Randle could be quite the change of pace from either of the top two guys.

Saints DT Tom Johnson reportedly visiting Vikings

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 19, 2014 - 7:27 PM

The Vikings reportedly are bringing in Saints free agent defensive lineman Tom Johnson for a visit and a physical on Thursday. He would help provide the depth the team was trying to fill when it brought in Chicago's Henry Melton, who has since signed with Dallas.

FoxSports 1 reported that Johnson will go through a visit and a physical. USA Today reported that if Johnson passes his physical, the Vikings already have a one-year, $845,000 deal with added incentives already in place.

To say Johnson is a journeyman is an understatement.

After going undrafted in 2005, the Colts signed him, but then cut him in training camp. He was out of football in 2005 before signing back with the Colts in May of 2006. Indianapolis assigned him to the Cologne Centurions of the now-defunct NFL Europe.

Johnson spent 2008 with two Arena League teams, the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Philadelphia Soul. He moved on to the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders in 2009 and 2010.

He has been with the Saints since 2011. In three seasons, Johnson, who turns 30 on Aug. 30, has played 55 games with no starts and has five sacks and 55 tackles.

The 6-3, 288-pounder played end in the Saints' 3-4 scheme. The Vikings need depth at the three-technique tackle spot and end. They tried to sign former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, but he ended up signing with Dallas.

Mayock: Bortles looked `like he's supposed to look'

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 19, 2014 - 3:29 PM

For the second time in three days and the third time in less than a week, the Vikings have sent, among others, coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and General Manager Rick Spielman on the road to watch a quarterback during his college pro day.

After watching Alabama’s A.J. McCarron last week and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater on Monday, the Vikings were among the masses that went to Central Florida today for Blake Bortles’ workout. They'll also be at Johnny Manziel's pro day on March 27.

According to NFL Network analyst  Mike Mayock, who covered today's workout, Bortles was satisfactory. And that’s a step up from Mayock’s level of disappointment with Bridgewater’s shaky and inaccurate effort on Monday.

“I thought [the workout] looked like it was supposed to look like,” Mayock said of Bortles’ pro day. “When you’re talking about a 6-foot-5, 229-pound quarterback, he’s athletic, and that’s obvious. … I thought it was really solid from every perspective. … Really good arm strength. I wouldn’t say elite, but I’d say really good. I think the word for this kid is `potential.’ Young, he’s got a lot of work to do and I can see that on tape. But what I saw out there is he’s potentially a franchise quarterback.”

The word “potentially” must feel frightening to the men who must make the call on whether to take this guy or any of the other top quarterbacks near or at the top of the draft on May 8. Make the right call and you turn around your franchise, save your job and raise your guru status. Blow the pick and you’re right back in this spot three years later, assuming you don’t get fired.

Making that pick can be the toughest decision that an NFL executive has to make. ESPN’s Ben Goessling did a strong piece on why quarterbacks are so difficult to assess. It made me think of answers that Tony Romo gave to a couple of questions I posed to him during a conference call prior to last year’s Vikings-Cowboys game.

Romo isn’t the greatest quarterback in the game today, but you have to admit he's become a ton or two better than anyone would ever expect from an undrafted free agent.

I asked Romo what it is about quarterbacks and the draft selection process that can lead to No. 1 overall picks flopping and undrafted free-agents flourishing.

“I think sometimes only certain people can evaluate the quarterback position at a high level,” Romo said. “I think it’s a very tough thing to do because there are so many things that go into it. And I think it’s a difficult position to gauge. Just [the offensive] system alone dictates differing decision-making processes and I think that unless you’re really the guy coaching him and teaching him, you don’t necessarily know his strengths and negatives.”

I then asked Romo for the one trait he would look for if he were in charge of drafting a quarterback coming out of college?

“Instincts,” he said. “Just their ability to get through progressions at a fast rate. You can always work on accuracy, you can always work on footwork. You can get guys to do the right things and be leaders and all that stuff. But inherently what you can’t teach him is to see the field quickly, react quickly and get through stuff fast. That’s where I find that [teams] just miss the mark the most times with young guys.”

Poise and a quick thought process when all heck is breaking loose. Find that and you find the key ingredient for greatness at quarterback. And, no, there isn't a combine drill that measures this trait.

When will action supplant Vikings' vague level of interest in Kevin Williams?

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 19, 2014 - 9:10 AM

Lying is a strong word, so we won't use that one. So we'll phrase the following question this way: How do you know an NFL executive is being less than forthright for competitive reasons, particularly in the spring, when he's elbowing 31 other execs while trying to overhaul his roster at the start of a new league year?

A: His lips are moving. (Ba-dump-ba).

When it comes to being less than forthright for competitive reasons, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman performs at a high level. That's not a rip. Unless you're the Browns and you're still nursing that Spielman smokescreening you choked on while trading up one spot to take Trent Richardson in 2012.

We bring this up because Henry Melton, the former Bears defensive tackle, finally ended his multi-city free agency tour by picking a team to sign with. In picking Dallas, Hank managed to choose the only defense worse than the Vikings a year ago. And in doing so, he also cracked the door open a smidge for the possibility that the Vikings might bring Kevin Williams back for a 12th season.

The Vikings tabbed Melton as the guy who could provide depth at the three-technique tackle spot and replace some of that interior pass rush that Everson Griffen provided off the bench the past four years. Griffen, of course, is now the starting right end.

Melton left Winter Park late last week without a deal, but the Vikings had stayed in touch with his agent just in case.

The day that Melton left town, Spielman was on a conference call with local reporters. He was asked if the Vikings still have interest in Kevin Williams, who will be 34 in August.

Asking the Vikings if they want Williams and Williams if he wants the Vikings has been a popular question around town for months. It, so far, has produced the vague responses that now qualify as hot news. The Vikings say they love Williams and will see how things go. Williams says he loves the Vikings and will see how things go.

Well, it might be time to find out how things actually will go. For the record, here was Spielman's public comments on Williams as of last Friday:

"I talked to his agent a few days ago and we’re continuing to monitor that. There’s no decision that’s been made. I told him we’d leave it open but we are trying to address some other needs that we definitely wanted to get done first, but there’s no decision that’s been made on Kevin Williams at this point."

Signing Williams isn't -- or shouldn't -- be like signing some other guy off the street in March. The Vikings can't -- or shouldn't -- just bring him in to compete for depth at defensive tackle. They need to have a better feel for whether this soon-to-be 34-year-old will make Mike Zimmer's team and have a role that he's 100 percent comfortable with.

If the possibility of bringing him in and then having to cut him to make room for some more affordable no-name youngster with an upside is even a remote possibility, then the Vikings should look to sign someone else. That has to -- or should be -- part of the decision-making process involving Williams.



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