Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
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.
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.
A video preview of tonight's game betweein the Vikings and 49ers, featuring Dan Wiederer's interview with CineSport anchor Tara Petrolino, can be seen here.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m.
Here's Mark Craig's game preview:
VIKINGS AT 49ERS
8 p.m. at San Francisco's Candlestick Park • TV: Ch. 23 • Radio: 100.3-FM and 100.3-AM
ABOUT THE VIKINGS
After holding his own against reigning NFL sack king Jared Allen over 11 practices, rookie left tackle Matt Kalil will be tested in live game action for the first time in what should be a long Vikings career. Assuming the 49ers play their starters, Kalil, the fourth overall pick, should get at least one series against one of the league's fastest and most physical defenses. Justin Smith, a stout and quick 3-4 end, and rush linebacker Aldon Smith combined for 21 1/2 sacks a year ago. ... Also keep an eye on right guard, where the starting job is Brandon Fusco's to lose; nose tackle, where Letroy Guion has to prove he's not too undersized to make the switch from under tackle; middle linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley will see his first game action since hip surgery wiped out his entire 2011 season; kicker, where rookie Blair Walsh begins dealing with the pressure of replacing veteran Ryan Longwell; and, of course, quarterback, where Christian Ponder is coming off a season in which he went 2-8 as a starter and threw as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns. Watching the depth, especially at receiver and defensive back, will be interesting as well. Rookies to watch include Jarius Wright, who had an unremarkable camp at receiver, and Harrison Smith, who has a nasty side that he'll get to unleash on another team as he tries to become a starter.
ABOUT THE 49ERS
It won't take the Vikings long to see how their refurbished roster compares to the best the NFC has to offer. The 49ers are coming off a conference-best 13-3 record that earned rookie coach Jim Harbaugh the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award. The NFC's best defense -- one that allowed only three rushing TDs a year ago -- includes the best and most physical inside linebacker in the league in Patrick Willis. Offensively, the 49ers committed a franchise record-low 10 turnovers as quarterback Alex Smith had a stunning breakout season after bumbling through his first six NFL seasons. His five interceptions were a record low for the franchise and contributed to an NFL-leading plus-28 turnover differential. Running back Frank Gore, 29, keeps chugging along after rushing for 1,211 yards in his seventh season. And, oh yeah, there's the SuperFreak. After a year out of the league, Randy Moss is attempting a comeback in San Francisco. He's in a dead heat for the No. 2 receiver job with Mario Manningham and Ted Ginn Jr. Moss, 35, has a lot to prove. He flopped in 2010, catching just 28 passes with the Patriots, Vikings and Titans.
Jamarca Sanford’s days as a starting safety may be numbered. Ideally, the Vikings hope to slide Sanford back into a reserve role. And the ascension of rookie Harrison Smith will likely trigger that move before the preseason is finished. But don’t underestimate Sanford’s big picture value as a special teams contributor.
Special teams coach Mike Priefer spoke up Thursday to deliver his endorsement, commending Sanford’s speed, toughness and ability to use his hands well. Sanford’s hyperactive nature: also a plus.
“He’s almost as crazy as I am,” Priefer said. “I think you have to have a couple screws loose when you play special teams … He’s got great heart. He’s got great want-to. I wish I had 10 of him.”
Priefer’s praise came a day after head coach Leslie Frazier delivered an assessment of Sanford’s skills. Frazier hinted that Sanford’s grip on a starting safety spot may be tenuous, noting that the fourth-year veteran hasn’t made enough plays on balls down the field. But Frazier also said Sanford’s energy level and effort are “off the charts” and highlighted the value of his abilities on special teams.
“He’s one of those guys who goes 100 miles per hour,” Frazier said. “So there is never time where he takes any time off. And if you are an opposing special teams player and you are trying to get your breath, look out. Because Jamarca will rock you now.”
Return on investment
Competition for the Vikings’ punt returner job remains open right now. So while Marcus Sherels is the incumbent and will be the No. 1 return man heading into next week’s preseason game in San Francisco, the Vikings will also give rookies Jarius Wright and Josh Robinson a look with Bryan Walters in the mix as well.
Given that Sherels and Walters face an uphill battle to make the roster and Robinson has missed most of training camp practice so far with a pulled hamstring, Wright may have the inside track on the job.
Last season, as a senior at Arkansas, Wright didn’t return punts. For his college career, he averaged 5.9 yards on eight returns.
Out with the old, in with the new
Priefer acknowledged Thursday morning that the May release of veteran kicker Ryan Longwell was a move he encouraged General Manager Rick Spielman to make. Last season, in his first year as Vikings’ special teams coach, Priefer watched Longwell make 22 of 28 field goal attempts. That 79 percent accuracy was Longwell’s third worst in 15 seasons. More troubling: Longwell only forced touchbacks on 19 of his 77 kickoffs. The Vikings’ ranked 20th in kickoff coverage last season, allowing opponents an average of 25.6 yards per return.
“It was a tough deal because he’s been a great kicker in this league for a long time,” Priefer said of Longwell’s release. “I just thought for the future of this team kickoff-wise and even field goal-wise, I thought it was the best move.”
With rookie Blair Walsh showing off his leg strength so far in camp, the Vikings are expecting many more touchbacks in 2012. For what it’s worth, last season at Georgia, Walsh had 19 touchbacks on 68 kickoffs.
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