Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
Here's a number that suggests Percy Harvin will be on the field the first time Jacksonville kicks off on Sunday at Mall of America Field.
That's the average yards per kickoff return for the teams that played the Jaguars this preseason. That also was the worst kick coverage performance in the league during the preseason.
Granted, it's a number that scrubs and guys who are no longer on the team helped compile. But it's still a fair comparison because it's not like the other 31 teams were using their best players throughout the preseason.
A look at who the Jaguars have at kicker suggests the issue is coverage-related rather than kick-related.
"[Josh Scobee] has a big-time leg," Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said today. "He's outstanding. He's very, very good. He's one of the better combination kickoff-field goal guys in the league."
The Jaguars kicked off 21 times in the preseason. Eleven of them (52.4 percent) were touchbacks.
Harvin is one of the best kick returners in the league, but the Vikings are extra careful not to give him too many touches, particularly when his value on offense skyrockets with fellow receiver Jerome Simpson suspended and running back Adrian Peterson limited at best as he returns from his left knee reconstruction.
Asked if he'll have Harvin at kickoff returner on Sunday, Priefer said, "I hope so. That's the plan. Anytime you have the best athlete on your team out there as your kickoff returner, that's what you want."
Prepping for MJD: Defensive coordinator Alan Williams isn't buying the Jaguars' claims that Maurice Jones-Drew, last year's league rushing champion with 1,606 yards, will be relegated to use on third downs because his contract holdout just ended this week.
"Did you believe that?" Williams asked reporters earlier today.
Not really, now that you mention it.
"I've seen him the last few years while I was at Indy," said Williams, the former Colts defensive backs coach. "Preseason or not, I'm not sure that if he was there that he would have been playing in the preseason anyway. So I don't take any stock in that. We'll be ready for him on first, second, third and fourth down. He's a guy you have to pay attention to. We're going to know where he's at at all times."
No advantage to facing young QBs: On the flip said, Williams said something himself that was hard to swallow.
Asked if he thinks it could be an advantage to face so many young quarterbacks early on this season, Williams said:
"I don't know because when you have a young quarterback, you don't have a ton of film on that guy. We don't have a ton of film on what [Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert] is doing in [coach Mike] Mularkey's system. I don't view that as a good thing. When you know what you're getting, you have a little bit of a comfort zone. Right now, we don't with this quarterback. No, it's not a comfort zone for our secondary whatsoever. I'd rather be able to prepare them for what we think they're going to see."
Well, there's plenty of film out there on Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But it's safe to say the Vikings would prefer facing three rookies and two second-year guys in their first nine games.
Rookie as `calming' influence: If you think rookie free safety Harrison Smith looks mature beyond his greenhorn status, Williams agrees with you.
"He's a physical ballplayer, he's smart and he does not look like a rookie out there in terms of the plays overwhelming him," Williams said. "He looks like he belongs. It's nice to have a guy out there that settles the defense, settles the secondary. We also have some other guys. [Antoine Winfield] is a guy who is a calming influence on your secondary, on your team. So he's another guy who is like that, gets lined up, is smart and who plays smart."
Asked if he's ever had a rookie be a "calming influence" in the secondary, Williams said:
"I've played with rookies before. When I was in Indy, Antoine Bethea was a rookie and played every ballgame through the Super Bowl and played great ball. Bob Sanders, when he came in as a rookie, he played when he got healthy he played a ton of ball. That's OK. As long as they're good football players. And Harrison is a good football player."
Branch will move around: Reports on second-round draft pick Andre Branch say the young defensive end will be a factor on a pretty good Jaguars defense this year.
Said Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: "For a rookie, he's very good. He'll be matched up against [left tackle] Matt Kalil a bunch. On third downs, they'll switch him over to [right tackle] Phil [Loadholt's] side. He's been very active and really impressive for a young guy."
Peterson getting between 25 and 35 reps in practice: Musgrave said "there's not too much doubt" that running back Adrian Peterson will be able to play on Sunday. "We've seen progress every day," Musgrave said. In case you're the last person in the Milky Way that didn't know, Peterson had his left knee reconstructed a little more than eight months ago. The question of every nanosecond between now and kickoff will continue to be "Will Adrian play on Sunday?'
Musgrave said Peterson's reps have been increased from 18 last week to between 25 and 35 this week. Asked how much contact has come with those reps, Musgrave said, "I'd say he's taken what a normal player would take in practice." And that means very little contact, no tackling to the ground and no targeting of the legs by defenders.
Musgrave said Peterson's practice load is about equal to what Toby Gerhart is getting.
Veteran cornerback Chris Carr was by far the biggest surprise cut as the Vikings trimmed their active roster of 21 players to reach the 53-man roster by the 8 p.m. deadline. Also cut was 12-year veteran Sage Rosenfels, the No. 3 QB who was given a $500,000 guarantee for 2012 as part of a two-year deal he signed after last season.
Here's how the Vikings reached the 53-man limit:
Placed On Reserve/Injured: OT DeMarcus Love.
Vested veterans waived: CB Chris Carr, DE Jeff Charleston, S Eric Frampton, QB Sage Rosenfels.
Waived: WR Manny Arceneaux, DT Chase Baker, OG Chris DeGeare, FB Ryan D’Imperio, CB Bobby Felder, DT Trevor Guyton, RB Lex Hilliard, OG Tyler Holmes, CB Reggie Jones, OT Kevin Murphy, LB Corey Paredes, OG Austin Pasztor, DE Nick Reed, C Quentin Saulsberry, TE Mickey Shuler, RB Jordan Todman.
The Vikings only had to clear 21 players because they get a roster exemption for receiver Jerome Simpson, who will serve a three-game suspension to start the season.
Carr came to the Vikings from Baltimore and was working with the No. 1 nickel defense consistently through training camp and the preseason. There was speculation that he might eventually be elevated to a starting role so that 35-year-old Antoine Winfield could play only in the nickel.
Instead, the Vikings decided to keep these six corners: Winfield, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Zack Bowman. Sherels' case was helped tremendously by his status as the No. 1 punt returner and Percy Harvin's primary backup at kickoff returner.
Rosenfels' release was surprising only because he was considered a security blanket for new general manager Rick Spielman. But the rocket right arm and the greater upside for 24-year-old McLeod Bethel-Thompson trumped the comfort of having the 33-year-old Rosenfels around to help the younger Christian Ponder and Joe Webb.
The Vikings will assemble their practice squad on Saturday morning. Their final 53-man roster could change tomorrow evening based on whether they're awarded any players they put in claims for. The Vikings are third in line for waiver claims, so they have a much better chance of getting players they put in claims for.
Youth movement continues
Of the 53 players the Vikings currently have on their active roster after Friday’s cuts, eight are rookies with 16 more entering either their second or third seasons in the NFL. Defensive tackle Trevor Guyton was the only player from this year’s 10-man draft class to be waived. Guyton, however, seems to be a prime candidate to be added to the practice squad.
Of the 10 players the Vikings drafted in 2011, nine are still around. The only one missing is Ross Homan, a sixth-round pick who was cut before last season.
Love goes on I.R.
The Vikings placed second-year offensive tackle DeMarcus Love on injured reserve Friday, expecting him to need surgery on a lingering shoulder/pectoral injury. As a rookie last season, Love was inactive for all 16 games. He was expected to supply some depth at left tackle behind Matt Kalil, though starting left guard Charlie Johnson would also be an emergency option there. The only other back-up tackle on the roster right now is Pat Brown.
The Vikings' first 15 cuts were so easy, they got them done two days ahead of the NFL deadline.
There are no surprises in the list below. That puts the team's roster at 75. The next round of cuts -- to 53 on Friday -- will no doubt have some surprises.
Here are the players who were released today. Eleven of them are undrafted rookies:
In this morning's paper, we brought you the five most important things we learned about the 2012 Vikings from their three-week training camp stay in Mankato. But we learned a whole lot more than that. So now, without further delay, here are 10 more training camp revelations ...
1. Christian Ponder looks for Kyle Rudolph a lot. Rudolph has big hands, long arms and added confidence. Don’t be surprised if he leads the team in targets this season.
2. Jerome Simpson’s speed and athleticism should add a new dimension to the offense. Simpson’s absence, however, for the first three weeks of the regular season due to an NFL suspension will be noticeable.
3. Special teams coach Mike Priefer will love watching rookie Blair Walsh kick. The touchback barrage that’s coming on Vikings’ kickoffs will be a snooze-fest for TV audiences but incredibly fulfilling to Priefer. Walsh’s accuracy on field goal attempts will also be worth monitoring. He seems to have the mental makeup to be a long-term answer for the Vikings.
4. Behind Percy Harvin and Simpson, the receiving corps is thin, thin, thin on proven playmakers. How long will it take youngsters like Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton to emerge? Will the Vikings keep both Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu around? Will they keep either? Do guys like Kerry Taylor and Emmanuel Arceneaux have a chance at making the team?
5. Head coach Leslie Frazier is leading with added purpose and confidence in 2012 and certain that the blueprint he has in place will produce future success.
6. Part of Frazier’s plan, in conjunction with General Manager Rick Spielman, has been to bring in young players who care deeply about succeeding and are willing to invest extra time and energy to do so. Frazier and Spielman also don’t mind guys who have a nasty edge to them, which is why rookies Harrison Smith and Rhett Ellison have fast become favorites.
7. With all the attention paid to the Vikings’ young players, veteran defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Brian Robison have quietly positioned themselves to be major difference-makers again in 2012. Hard-working, ego-free and motivated, Williams and Robison will be great influences on the defense.
8. Antoine Winfield’s workload will be worth monitoring. To use Winfield extensively in the role the coaches want to – as a slot corner in nickel packages – someone else will have to emerge outside.
9. Twenty-nine-year-old Chris Carr will get the first opportunity to excel in that outside corner role opposite Chris Cook. But Carr might just be keeping the seat warm until rookie Josh Robinson makes his rise and is able to step in.
10. Injuries have already bit the Vikings in a major way. The potentially career-ending knee injuries to rookie receiver Greg Childs provided the most devastating camp setback. But John Carlson also missed the final 11 camp practices with a knee issue. He will need to soon show that he can play to justify the big investment the Vikings made.
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