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 Ryan Longwell

Walsh wins NFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: September 12, 2012 - 9:55 AM

First, he wins Zygi's purple tie, and now this ... 

Eden Prairie, MN (September 12, 2012) Vikings rookie K Blair Walsh has been named the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 6th-round draft pick out of Georgia was a perfect 4-4 on field goals in his NFL debut. Walsh connected on FGs of 20, 42, 55 and 38 yards, he was 2-2 on extra points. The 55-yard kick sent the Vikings/Jaguars game to overtime and is tied for the 2nd longest FG in team history. Walsh connected on a 38-yard FG in overtime that proved to be the game-winning kick. The 38-yard kick is tied for 3rd longest OT winner in team history.
Walsh is the 1st rookie kicker in Vikings history to win the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. Ryan Longwell is the last Vikings kicker to win the award in 2008. Other Vikings kickers to win the award are: Fuad Reveiz (2x), Gary Anderson (4x), Eddie Murray and Ryan Longwell (2x).


Vikings return to practice after opening victory

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: September 10, 2012 - 12:54 PM

The story of the Vikings' 26-23 victory over the Jaguars, along with a postgame breakdown video is here.

JIm Souhan wrote about Adrian Peterson's day here.

The hero of the day was rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who replaced Ryan Longwell this season and got his shot to shine right away, Mark Craig reports.

Mark also wrote about Christian Ponder's outing, which improved as the game went along.

And Mark's Five Extra Points are here.

Percy Harvin's impressive day was the lead to the notebook.

And ... then there is Sid's column.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and players talk early this afternoon, so the guys will have more notes in just a bit.

Final gun report: Walsh's field goals give Vikings the victory

Posted by: Updated: September 9, 2012 - 3:15 PM

Rookie kicker Blair Walsh has quite the nerve. The Vikings’ wild win was made possible by the 55-yard game-tying field goal that Walsh made as the final gun sounded. Ryan Longwell, whom Walsh supplanted this season, wouldn’t have had the range to make that kick. Walsh then won the game with a 38-yarder in overtime. Walsh's end-of-regulation kick was made possible by the moxie shown by second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who with only 20 seconds left on the clock, completed passes to Devin Aromashodu for 26 yards and to Kyle Rudolph for four yards to push the ball to the Jacksonville 37. Ponder, after a rocky start, finished 20-for-27 for 270 yards,

Bad news: There were shades of 2011 in the building. Not only did the Vikings play miserably for the first 27 minutes of game action with offensive ineptitude, costly penalties and a defense’s inability to get off the field on third down, then came a near-galling finish with Blaine Gabbert hitting Cecil Shorts III on a 39-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 20 seconds left. Shorts’ TD grab came one play after the Jaguars converted a fourth-and-3 with a 10-yard pass to rookie receiver Justin Blackmon. It was a defensive unraveling that could have been miserable had the offense and Walsh not produced a miracle comeback.

Extra point: Adrian Peterson not only got the green light to play Sunday. He carried the ball 16 times, rushed for 88 yards and scored both Vikings’ touchdowns on runs of 3 and 2 yards. Peterson’s first score, with 1:47 left before halftime, provided a huge boost of energy to the Vikings offense, which had punted on its first four possessions. Peterson also rushed for 27 yards on the Vikings’ game-winning drive in overtime and broke Robert Smith’s franchise record for career rushing yards.

Next up: The Vikings will head to Indianapolis to play the Colts in Andrew Luck’s regular season home debut at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts are getting walloped in Chicago this afternoon (34-21 at last check).

Here's the game report from the Associated Press:

MINNEAPOLIS - His left knee fully healed, Adrian Peterson ran hard for Minnesota. Rookie Blair Walsh's leg handled the rest.

Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation expired and another in overtime, and Peterson returned from his left knee injury to lift the Vikings to a 26-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Peterson ran 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings, who led for most of the second half until Blaine Gabbert's 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Jaguars a 23-20 lead.

For the first time since the NFL's new overtime scoring rule was installed last season, the first team to score didn't immediately run off the field a winner.

After Walsh's 38-yard kick, the Vikings had to play defense again while the Jaguars had their chance to match. But Gabbert was hurried into a fourth-down overthrow, spoiling the debut for new Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey, who played for the Vikings in the 1980s and was Atlanta's offensive coordinator the past four seasons.

For two teams that combined for eight wins last season, this game had a little bit of everything.

Cornerback Chris Cook's sack helped force a punt by the Jaguars in the closing minutes, but the Vikings went three-and-out and punted the ball right back clinging to a 20-15 lead.

With no timeouts, 91 seconds left and starting at his 24-yard line, Gabbert put together perhaps the best drive of his brief career. He completed a fourth-down pass to rookie Justin Blackmon and then found Cecil Shorts III open in man-to-man coverage against Cook near the sideline.

Shorts, who played at Division III Mount Union College in Ohio and had only two receptions last season, pivoted to make a twisting catch just inside the pylon with 20 seconds left, sending a stunned silence over the stadium.

But the Vikings still had two timeouts, and with two quick passes by Christian Ponder they hustled in position for Walsh to kick the tying field goal with room to spare as the fourth quarter ended.

They won the coin toss and, with 27 yards on three carries by Peterson to become the franchise's career leading rusher, set up Walsh for his go-ahead kick. Drafted in the sixth round out of Georgia, Walsh replaced veteran Ryan Longwell this year.

Ponder finished 20 for 27 for 270 yards, though he lost a fumble while taking a sack in the third quarter that led to one of Josh Scobee's three field goals.

Peterson, who was supposed to be on limited use a little more than eight months out from reconstructive surgery to fix torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, had 17 of Minnesota's 29 runs.

Gabbert went 23 for 39 for 260 yards and two scores, but he dropped a snap in the third quarter that was recovered at the Jacksonville 44 by Kevin Williams to set up Peterson's second touchdown run. His Superman-like leap over the line from 2 yards gave the Vikings a 14-9 lead. He then somersaulted up from his back to celebrate with his teammates, yet another sign of his recovery from such a devastating injury last Christmas Eve.

Peterson's first carry was unremarkable in style, a simple 4-yard gain after a stutter step at the line of scrimmage, but the crowd realized the significance and applauded Peterson almost as loudly as they did when he sprinted out of the tunnel during the pregame introduction.

That's all the Vikings gave their fans to cheer until the end of the first half, going almost an hour between first downs, but with one 3-yard touchdown run by Peterson they wiped out most of a bad half by moving within 9-7.

Gabbert, whose 65.4 passer rating was the worst among all qualifying quarterbacks in the league last season, looked more comfortable in the pocket to start his sophomore season and didn't force any throws.

But despite some tough inside running by Maurice Jones-Drew, who skipped training camp in protest over his contract, the Jaguars didn't finish off their drives with touchdowns.

Vikings rookie offensive tackle Matt Kalil blocked Scobee's extra point in the second quarter, too. The Jaguars produced fewer total yards than any other NFL team last season.

Jones-Drew, who like Peterson was purported to be in a limited role, gained 77 yards on 19 carries for the Jaguars.



Vikings get started against 49ers

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: August 10, 2012 - 5:28 PM

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:

8 p.m. at San Francisco's Candlestick Park • TV: Ch. 23 • Radio: 100.3-FM and 100.3-AM


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.


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 may not start at safety, but has special value for Vikings

Posted by: Updated: August 2, 2012 - 2:24 PM

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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