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.
Sage Rosenfels was supposed to be the Vikings’ starting quarterback once. In 2009, it was all lining up for him to get his chance. But then Brett Favre had one last itch he needed to scratch and Rosenfels’ first tour of duty in Minnesota was non-descript. Back for a second stint now, Rosenfels is competing with Joe Webb to be the Vikings’ back-up. He’s also has had a chance to watch Christian Ponder’s offseason growth. We visited briefly with Rosenfels on Wednesday after the team’s OTA practice to get his breakdown of where Ponder is now and where he may be headed in his second season.
Here’s some of what Rosenfels had to say:
On Ponder’s strides since the end of last season …
“Every day and every rep that he gets out here, he’s getting more and more comfortable. His approach is the way it should be. It’s very professional and very serious. And he’s genuinely always looking to get better. That approach will help him out. And I've see him making strides these past few weeks. It’s all about being really comfortable. And when a quarterback is playing comfortable, your mind makes quicker decisions. He’s starting to do that."
On how a quarterback gets the comfort dial turned to the right notch ...
"It just takes reps. First you have to get really comfortable in practice. And you have to have a lot of reps to do that. And then in games, you’ll be a little bit more comfortable every time. Over the course of weeks into years, you get more and more comfortable. I’m sure the veterans in the league that have more than 100 starts, they rarely think about the crowd or other things. They’re just so into the game because there’s no real concern about all the other stuff. I think some younger guys can get concerned with the things that are going on that have no impact on the success of the game."
On why Ponder’s skillset has the Viking optimistic that he’s their franchise quarterback ...
"Like what everybody says, he’s athletic. He’s got a strong arm. He’s a smart guy. He’s eager to learn. He’s motivated. So he has those things. But it’s up to him to use those things to his advantage. So I do see him doing that. And we’ll see what happens as time goes on. But I’m optimistic seeing the way he works."
On Ponder’s biggest hurdle going forward ...
"The hurdle is to probably just clear your mind and do it. The NFL is a whole different world that you grew up thinking about. And there’s all this sort of buildup. And the key is to just go out there and do it and perform and not always worry about the consequences. I’ve seen him do it in practice. And then at some point, it’s going to need to carry over to the games. That’s all he has to do, to go out there and actually perform."
On Ponder’s admitted tendency to be his own worst critic …
"He’s a perfectionist. You can definitely tell that. And sometimes I tell him, you need to just hose it. Sometimes he maybe tries to be too perfect with a throw. And sometimes you just have to let it rip, let it go. The corners are quick in this game. So you can’t always try to make the perfect pass. Sometimes you’d rather have a little more juice on it. Those are the types of things that I sometimes try to get across to him. You want to be as perfect as you can, especially in the individual drill work. But at the end of the day, when the team stuff’s going on, you have to just play. Because the game’s not a perfect game. You wish it was."
On the challenge of getting out of your own head …
"You practice everything you do in the offseason and the beginning of practice is all about sort of being perfect. But once the team stuff goes on, it sort of becomes mass chaos. So it’s hard to stick entirely to your fundamentals. You still have to play the game There are different speeds to this. There’s the early practice [individual work] speed. There’s the 7-on-7 speed. There’s the practice team speed. And then there’s game speed. So there’s all these things that get a little more and more crazy. Yes, you have to stick to your fundamentals but also realize there’s a game going on too."
On the value of Ponder’s charisma …
"It’s really important that a quarterback doesn’t think of himself as any better than anyone else on the team. I think he has that approach and guys respect that. I think everyone has been around, whether it’s high school of college, a situation where the quarterback put himself first. I think Christian is always eager to hang out with the guys or the offensive lineman. Go out to dinner. Go fishing. He sees himself as one of the guys. Because he is. He has a lot to learn. And he’s really one of the young guys trying to fit in with the older guys."
Was Jonathan Vilma really smack dab in the middle of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program? Before the NFC Championship game in January 2010, did Vilma really offer a cash reward of $10,000 to any teammate who was able to injure Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre?
For more than two months now, that's what the public has been led to believe, fed those above allegations by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. And Goodell took substantial punitive action May 2 when he suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season.
Now Vilma is fighting back. And not just with an appeal. He's going directly at Goodell and suing the NFL commissioner for a litany of, what he asserts, have been reckless accusations.
Vilma filed his lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court in Louisiana. A copy of the suit can be read here.
In a nutshell, this is Vilma's "Prove it" challenge to Goodell. All those allegations that have been circulating since early March? Vilma wants Goodell to reveal evidence and/or sources that corroborate what he claims to have found through an extensive investigation. The suit, itself, is fascinating. Represented by Peter R. Ginsberg Law, LLC and Williams Law Group, LLC, Vilma has accused Goodell of the following ...
For those who have not taken a communications law class, slander involves defamation by the spoken word. Libel involves defamation by the written word.
It would seem Vilma is most interested in hearing the commissioner's defense for all he has alleged so publicly to this point about the bounty scandal. Where's the concrete evidence? Who are the sources?
In a May 2 press release issued by Goodell to explain his punishment of Vilma and the other implicated Saints players, the commissioner claimed Vilma “assisted Coach [Gregg] Williams in establishing and founding the [Bounty] program,” and “offered a specific bounty - $10,000 in cash – to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.”
Vilma's 16-page lawsuit, however, contends the following ...
Vilma accuses Goodell of making inflammatory statements damaging to his reputation. Says the suit:
"[The allegations] falsely taint and permanently damage Vilma, in the eyes of NFL Clubs, media, fans and sponsors, as a player who brazenly disregards NFL rules and intentionally attempts to injure his opponents. Media will forever mention his name in the context of the Bounty investigation and fans will forever remember Vilma with ill repute rather than remember his substantial accomplishments on and off the field. In addition, NFL Clubs will be less likely to sign Vilma as a result of his tainted reputation and sponsors will be less likely to pay Vilma to promote their products and services."
It will be interesting to see how this litigation unfolds. The ball is back in Goodell's court now with Vilma's "Prove it" challenge waiting to be addressed.
Everyone from the expert-level draftnik to the most casual Vikings fan has discussed the Vikings' No. 3 overall pick ad nauseam. But what about the team's nine other picks? What might a team with numerous holes to fill do on Days 2-3 of this month's NFL draft? Access Vikings is taking a round-by-round look at the team's history in Rounds 2-7 since Rick Spielman began overseeing the team's draft preparation as director of player personnel in 2007. We'll also take a look at players Spielman, now the team's general manager, might select later this month.
At this point, everyone from the expert draftnik to the most casual Vikings fan has discussed the Vikings' No. 3 overall pick ad nauseam. But what about the team's nine other picks? What might a team with numerous holes to fill do on Days 2-3 of this month's NFL draft? On Monday, Access Vikings began a round-by-round look at the team's history in Rounds 2-7 since Rick Spielman began overseeing the team's draft preparation as director of player personnel in 2007. We'll also take a look at players Spielman, now the team's general manager, might select later this month.
TODAY'S ROUND: 4.
VIKINGS' PICKS: 98th overall, 128th overall (compensatory), 134th overall (compensatory).
SINCE 2007: The Vikings have done well in this round. With the three picks they've used, they beefed up their defensive line with Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Christian Ballard. They've also been active when it comes to trades involving this round. In 2007, they traded their fourth-round pick and a sixth-rounder to move up four spots and take Robison. Later in the fourth round that year, they traded a pick to Denver for a sixth-rounder (Rufus Alexander), a seventh-rounder (Chandler Williams) and a third-rounder in 2008. Although Alexander and Williams didn't stick, the third-rounder in 2008 was used as part of the Jared Allen trade. So not bad there. However, in 2008, the Vikings used their fourth-rounder as part of the package to move up in the second round and take Tyrell Johnson. Not so good. In 2009, the fourth-rounder was traded to Houston for Sage Rosenfels, who was supposed to challenge for the starting quarterback job until Brett Favre arrived fashionably late. And in 2010, the Vikings flipped fourth-round picks as part of the deal that sent the Lions the 30th pick in exchange for the 34th pick. The Lions got the 128th overall pick, while the Vikings got the 100th pick, which was used to pick Griffen.
1, Brian Robison, DE, Texas, 102nd overall 2007: He came in with the perception of being an undersized project whose most interesting trait was an ability to throw the shotput a world-class distance. He was confident, bordering on cocky. And for good reason. The dude can play. He was a valuable backup for four seasons. Then he made disgruntled left end Ray Edwards expendable. Robison took over the starting job in 2011 and proved he can be an every-down player. He also had eight sacks, giving him 21 1/2 in his career.
2, Everson Griffen, DE-LB, USC, 100th overall 2010: At one point, Griffen was projected as a first-round pick. Character concerns dropped his stock considerably. At pick 100, those concerns were well worth the risk. The Vikings not only landed one of their best special teams player, they got a freakish athlete who's 6-3, 273 pounds and runs a 4.6. When the Vikings go with a 3-4 nickel package, it's only because Griffen as a roaming, rushing linebacker is a matchup problem for offenses. Griffen also is strong enough to play inside at tackle in passing situations. Look for the Vikings to continue to use him in creative ways.
TO BE DETERMINED: 1.
1, Christian Ballard, DL, Iowa, 106th overall 2011: One could argue that he's either a hit already or is a safe pick to become one. He's got the size, strength, quickness and overall flexibility to play nose tackle, under tackle or left end. With Letroy Guion moving to nose tackle, Ballard probably will replace Kevin Williams at the three-technique as early as 2013. Ballard started two of 16 games last year and was surprisingly good on special teams. It's odd when defensive ends and defensive tackles are good special teamers, but that's what the Vikings have in Griffen and Ballard.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN ROUND 4, 2012:
1, Marcus Forston, DT, Miami, Fla.: A powerful fire-plug at 6-1, 300. He had 12 tackles for loss, including three sacks as a sophomore in 2010. He might have been a higher projection this year had a knee injury not limited him to three games a year ago.
2, DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama: He's the Tide's "other" corner, opposite Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round projection. Menzie is known as an intelligent player, a good tackler and a guy who would fit well in a zone scheme. His 40 time was in the 4.6 range, which might be a concern.
3, Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin: Had a strong pro day with a 4.5-second 40 and a 39.5-inch vertical. An interesting mid-round prospect who's 6 feet tall, 208 pounds.
4, Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami, Fla.: A 6-5, 215-pound vertical threat who's raw, but worth a look in the fourth round. Had a team-high eight TDs and a 17.6-yard average on 46 catches a year ago.
5, Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia: I covered his dad, Frank, a corner for the Browns from 1984-92. Frank was an exceptional press corner. That's not something the Vikings ask a lot of with their corners, but it's sure worth looking at a guy with Frank's genes and direction. NFLDraftScout.com ranks Chase as the 14th corner available. Minnifield had arthroscoping knee surgery last month. He's expected to be ready for training camp, if not much sooner. the 5-10, 183-pounder had 13 interceptions in his four seasons.
Everyone from the expert draftnik to the most casual Vikings fan has discussed the Vikings' No. 3 overall pick ad nauseam. But what about the team's nine other picks? What might a team with numerous holes to fill do on Days 2-3 of this month's NFL draft? Starting today, Access Vikings will take a round-by-round look at the team's history in Rounds 2-7 since Rick Spielman began overseeing the team's draft preparation as director of player personnel in 2007. We'll also take a look at players Spielman, now the team's general manager, might select later this month.
TODAY'S ROUND: 2.
VIKINGS' PICK: 35th overall.
SINCE 2007: The Vikings have had six second-round picks in the past five drafts. The team has taken four offensive players and two defensive players. They've traded up to pick Toby Gerhart and have traded down and gotten Sidney Rice. They also picked Chris Cook after trading out of the first round.
1, Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina, 44th overall 2007: The Vikings traded down three spots, picked up a fourth-rounder and still came away with Rice. Rice became Brett Favre's favorite receiver during the 2009 run to the NFC Championship game. His hip surgery in the summer of 2010 was a key moment in the team's collapse. He left via free agency in 2011 and the Vikings have yet to replace him as a deep threat. Although injuries and his departure limited his impact, he was still a "hit" pick in the second round.
1, Tyrell Johnson, S, Arkansas State, 43rd overall 2008: This is Spielman's most disappointing selection. In four seasons, Johnson never fit with the system or the coaching staff. He lacked instincts and wasn't a good tackler. He also had only one year in which he had more than 22 solo tackles. Johnson has signed by Miami and might resurrect his career with the Dolphins. But no one can deny that his first four seasons were a major miss, especially considering the Vikings traded up four spots to get him. They gave up a fourth-rounder, but also got a fifth-rounder that became Letroy Guion. Guion might be the team's starting nose tackle this year.
TO BE DETERMINED: 4.
1, Phil Loadholt, RT, Oklahoma, 54th overall, 2009: He's been a starter since Day 1, so he's not a miss. But he still lacks the consistency to be considered a hit.
2, Chris Cook, CB, Virginia, 34th overall 2010: On the field, he was becoming a hit until, well, you know. A 6-2 corner with above-average speed and cover skills, he was regaining the confidence he lost while battling nagging knee injuries in 2010. But then came the arrest for domestic assault that wiped out the final 10 games of 2011. He has since been found innocent of all charges and isn't expected to be suspended by the league. With a new appreciation for football and freedom, Cook should go on to make this pick a hit. Also helping this pick is the fact the Vikings also got a fourth-round pick as part of the deal that saw them give Detroit the 30th overall pick. The Vikings used that fourth-rounder on Everson Griffen, one of the team's more promising young defenders.
3, Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford, 51st overall 2010: He's definitely not a miss. He's done all that's been asked in his role as Adrian Peterson's backup. He also gives the team a strong Plan B starter if Peterson can't return from his torn ACL in time for the start of the 2012 season. However, that being said, one has to wonder whether the team simply gave up too much to get a backup running back. Besides using a second-round pick on Gerhart, the team also had to give up its third-round pick to move up in the second round. Gerhart can post a solid career and still not make that pick a strong "hit."
4, Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame, 43rd overall 2011: He has all the physical skills and certainly appears to be heading toward hit status. However, we'll need more than 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns as evidence that he was worthy of a second-round pick.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN ROUND 2, 2012:
1, Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: The 6-4, 215-pounder with the freakish 4.36 40-yard dash has become one of the pre-draft darlings. After his combine performance, many now believe he won't make it out of the first round. But if he does and the Vikings don't take Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon with the No. 3 pick, Hill is a possibility at No. 35. He caught only 28 passes in an option offense last year. But he also averaged 29.3 yards per catch with five touchdowns.
2, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: If the Vikings don't take USC's Matt Kalil with the third overall pick, they might be looking for Christian Ponder's blind-side protector at the top of the second round. Adams is a 6-7, 323-pounder that could last into the second round. He's known to have good technique, but there reportedly are concerns about character and work ethic.
3, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Even though the Vikings have added free agent corners Chris Carr and Zack Bowman, they still can use a quality youngster to help them deal with an NFC North division that's loaded with giant receivers and big-time QBs. Gilmore fits a zone defense and has the size (6-foot, 190) and 4.4 speed to help at a position of need.
4, Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame: It's pretty well established that Spielman loves players from Notre Dame. It's also well established that the Vikings have but three safeties under contract. It's one of the unheralded positions of need. Smith is a 6-2, 213-pounder with the strength and power to possibly give the Vikings a presence at safety that's been lacking.
5, Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: E.J. Henderson isn't expected back and his heir apparent, Jasper Brinkley, missed all of last season because of hip surgery. Hightower could be an excellent pick at the top of the second round. He's 6-2, 265 pounds, runs a sub 4.7 40 and certainly displayed all the necessary instincts of a middle linebacker while he was helping Alabama become the country's most dominant defense.
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