Every Vikings' fan feels the same. We all loved Percy Harvin's athleticism.
We will miss him.
Minnesota reportedly tried to land Anquan Boldin from the Ravens, but their 7th round offer was usurped by the 49ers' 6th round pick. I do not even want to believe that we had a chance to give Baltimore a 6th round pick to get Boldin. Because that is as no-brainer as wanting to make room for MLB Brian Urlacher.
Minnesota did use available salary cap room to land Greg Jennings earlier this month. Jennings became another in a growing line of ex-Packers who want to play for the Purple. And while Packer fans will tell you it was a smart financial decision, one can see through their bravado. They liked him.
More than any of us liked Harvin.
So now the NFL Draft approaches and Minnesota sits on two first-round picks, three of the top fifty-two, and five picks in the top one hundred. Meanwhile, the receiver group, sans Harvin, looks like it could use an infusion of talent.
Besides Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings, the pool of talent is unproven. Jarius Wright showed signs late in the 2012 season. Greg Childs, a 4th round pick last year, had promise before a freak injury in the preseason. Stephen Burton, a 7th-round pick in 2011, is also present. That is pretty much it, unless you think Joe Webb may become a wide-receiver in 2013.
Lord knows he will not return as a quarterback.
So Minnesota will construct a shopping list for the Draft in late April. Hopefully, in the back of their minds is the value of what receivers have meant to this club's success over the years. In each of the four Super Bowl visits, Minnesota had a legitimate deep threat. In 1969 it was Gene Washington. I remember as a little kid the only thing I would yell all game was "throw the bomb to Washington". It kind of rhymed. And it worked. Even if Joe Kapp was the thrower. Washington averaged 17.9 yards a catch in that first Super Bowl season.
The 1973 and 1974 seasons featured John Gilliam. Chuck Foreman, a running back drafted in 1973, was the feature ball catcher in those days. Stu Voigt, a slow but steady tight end, was among Fran Tarkenton's favorite targets. Gilliam caught just 42 passes in 1973, but for over 900 yards at 21.6 yards per catch. In 1974, he only caught 26 passes, but at 22.2 yards per catch. Jerry Burns' offense was run and throw to running backs, with an occasional bomb to keep the defense honest.
In 1976, Minnesota added two new wide receivers to their roster. Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White. Rashad, a free agent, would become the best possession receiver to date, while the rookie White brought a new level of speed that would open up the opposing secondary. With Foreman doing everything and multiple receiver options, the 36 year-old Tarkenton got us back in another Super Bowl. Three in four years.
Minnesota would not get to another Super Bowl, but they had teams that came close. Very close. And in each of those seasons, a strong receiving corps was present. In 1987, the year of the replacements, Anthony Carter was on fire, and TE Steve Jordan a competent second option. In 1998, the 15-1 season featured a trio of great receivers for Randall Cunningham: rookie Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed. And of course, the 2009 team had rookie Harvin, with Sidney Rice, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, and Bernard Berrian.
If 2013 is to be a Super Bowl return year, adding a few receivers seems important. But there are other holes. Most notably, there is no starting middle linebacker. The defensive line is aging. And the defensive backfield is missing Antoine Winfield, and was in need of help PRIOR to that fact. The landing of OL Seth Olsen from the Colts may put offensive line on the back burner.
It would not be surprising if the Vikings went to other needs with their first two picks. Or three.
Still, we should create a list just in case....
1. Cordarelle Patterson, Tennessee. 6'2, 216 lbs. Ran a 4.42 at the combine. Grades out as a top two receiver in the draft, expected to in the middle of the first round. Miami (12th), St. Louis (16th), and Pittsburgh (17th) all seem to need WRs and pick ahead of Minnesota. Houston (27th) is definitely hunting and may have to jump in front of us and them. Patterson had only one good season at Tennessee, but the talent and specs are there. A legitimate deep threat.
2. Tavon Austin, West Virginia. 5'8, 174. Ran 4.34. Many grade as top receiver in draft. He is very small, incredibly athletic and tough. Now who does he remind me of...? He had 114 catches last season, ran the ball well, and returned kicks. Austin could go anywhere in the first round, but he will not make it to the second. A slot receiver.
3. Kennan Allen, California. 6'2, 206. Did not run at combine. Also an excellent return man. Allen is more a possession receiver, as he averaged about six catches a game in his 34-game college career. Expected to go in the later first round.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson. 6'1, 214. Ran a 4.57. Bigger than most, but also a bit slow of foot comparatively. Hopkins had a big final season, hauling in 82 catches for over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hopkins had six 100 plus yard games last season. Very dependable. Returned punts.Expected to be selected in first two rounds somewhere. A possession-type receiver?
5. Justin Hunter, Tennessee. 6'4, 196. Ran 4.44. Had trouble with drops which hurt his stock. But no one denies the speed. Had better stats than Patterson for the Volunteers, including 73 catches last season for over 1,000 yards. Averaged a touchdown every six catches in college. Could go anywhere from late first to third round. Bona fide deep threat.
6. Robert Woods, Southern California. 6'0, 201. Ran 4.51. Maybe biggest pedigree of the group, but under-performed at times for USC. Anywhere from round one to three. A possession receiver.
There are more...
Possession-receivers: Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech; Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech; Aaron Dobson, Marshall.
Slot-types: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia; Ryan Swope, Texas A&M; Marquise Goodwin, Texas.
Deep Threats: Terrance Williams, Baylor; Markus Wheaton, Oregon State; Kenny Stills, Oklahoma.
The draft appears deep with mid-round receivers. Minnesota could address defensive line (Short, Williams) and linebacker (Ogletree, Reddick) with first few picks, or even a defensive back (Trufant). Some receivers will still be there with the 83rd and 99th pick.
Is there a John Gilliam, Jr.or Gene Washington clone out there?
Because it feels like we are one deep threat away....
All the teachers are doing it. Or should. We use rubrics to measure performance and create standards for use in evaluation. Once established, everyone should know what is expected of them, and what is needed for grading purpose.
4 - exceeded standards of position
3 - met standards in all areas
2 - met standard partially; stood out in areas
1 - partial standard met at best
Only a few Vikings will be evaluated in Week One.
Antoine Winfield. A Four.
Winfield had a hand in ten tackles, many of them bringing down Mike "Marion Butts" Tolbert. Antoine sacrificed himself throughout the game. He also forced a fumble; and had an interception. Minnesota could not have asked for much more from Winfield.
Adrian Peterson. Three.
Peterson, coming off of the 100 million dollar signing, ran for 98 yards on only 16 carries. While he was bottled up early by Chargers' linebacker Taeo Spikes, he created holes later in the game. If Minnesota would have had the ball for more than the 22:43 they did, Adrian would have better numbers. But he looked real good at times.
Brian Robison and Jared Allen, DEs. Three.
The Vikings' ends created pressure at times. They were also asked to drop into coverage as Minnesota relied heavily on the blitz to create pressure, which they did in the first half, but not the second. Allen had an important interception; but combined with Robison to have only a single sack. Allen finished with six tackles, Robison three. They were decent.
E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson, and Chad Greenway, LBs. Two.
The linebackers made tackles. E.J. Henderson had nine with a sack, Greenway eight. But the trio was asked to blitz frequently and only got to Rivers a few times in the game. In addition, the LBs are often responsible for running backs out of the backfield. Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews were held to 80 rushing yards on 24 carries. But they combined for 131 yards on 12 receptions. The backers might be a victim of the defensive scheme, but the grade stands.
Letroy Guion, Donovan McNabb, Bill Musgrave, and Bernard Berrian. One.
Each made costly mistakes.
Guion's two offside calls late in the game sealed the loss, though the lack of passing game made that future probably moot. Still, how does a defensive tackle jump twice while staring at the football? My 7th graders will jump less.
McNabb threw for a total of 39 yards. His early mistake throwing low to Percy Harvin resulted in his first ever Vikings' pass being intercepted and cost Minnesota 7 points. McNabb made a couple of nice runs, and was the victim of a drop or two, but overall, Brett Favre was better last year.
The Vikings' offense was pathetic in the second half. Bill Musgrave, brought in from Atlanta, did little to change that. The insertion of Joe Webb cost the Vikings one of the few series they had the ball in the second half. Percy Harvin was looked at too often early, but not enough late. Minnesota did amass 159 rushing yards, but even Tarvaris Jackson threw for more yards in week one. Realizing Harvin returned the opening kick for a TD, the Vikings managed only 10 points on offense.
Berrian was supposed to be the go-to-guy in 2011. He was thrown to twice, and once he dropped a relatively easy pass. Sure, Phil Loadholt did not do enough to protect McNabb on the play, and Berrian had his man easily beaten; but the short ball still was catchable. Go-to-guys make that catch.
A very frustrating loss to start the season, considering it was 17-7 Vikings at half time. But there were signs that things might be better. I liked the improved play of the secondary, and the special teams coverage was decent. Minnesota won the turnover battle 2:1.
The Chargers ended up with 407 yards, but the receivers were shutout for the first third of the game. Despite the strong beginning, San Diego finished with 31 first downs. Tolbert was unstoppable in the red zone. And unfortunately, Minnesota had 9 penalties for 78 yards. Many hurt.
Minnesota had better do some homework before the next test.
The third preseason game between the Vikings and the Cowboys shed light on what to expect this season. Minnesota played well, and if not for a special teams miscue, probably would have defeated a good Dallas team. But that is why they have preseason, and certainly a blocked FG return for a touchdown is no reason to have deflated hopes. These things can be fixed in time.
The offensive line, much aligned in media, responded with their best game. John Sullivan opened up a few big holes, as did Steve Hutchinson. Charlie Johnson played well at left tackle, Anthony Herrera was decent. Phil Loadholt was beaten on a rush once or twice, but held his own for the rest. The second unit faltered some, but Joe Webb appears to like that -- as he can then run free. Adrian Peterson looked brilliant again. Donovan McNabb was precise in attack. Bernard Berrian made some decent catches. All in all, a good day on the offense.
The defense once again missed a few tackles, but not too many. There was definitely openings in zone coverage that allowed Dez Bryant to haul in big gains. The pass rush, so important to the coverage, was not as strong as hoped. Jared Allen did seem to hurry Tony Romo a few times, but obviously this team needs Kevin Williams to penetrate from the inside. Fred Evans and Guion started at tackle and were adequate. Christian Ballard did get a sack in the second half. Chad Greenway looked like a 'franchise-tag' player. The Hendersons were decent, though E.J. was run through on the Cowboys only offensive TD. In the secondary, Cedric Griffin made tackles, but often it was after a decent gain. Chris Cook also gave up a few significant gains. Players fighting for roster spots stepped up, most notably Marcus Sherels and Jordan Parks.
Just about ready for the start. The only problem is, so is everyone else....
The Green Bay Packers, owners of four Super Bowl rings (including last year), are poised and ready. They get back JerMichael Finley and Ryan Grant to an already explosive offense. Aaron Rodgers has looked better every year and the only question marks seem to be the offensive line's struggle in the preseason. They are the favorite to win the division.
The Chicago Bears, last year's winner, will be in the mix. Jay Cutler has his best year in some time, and Matt Forte proved he was not on the decline in 2010. Also running the ball could be Marion Barber and Chester Taylor. The Bears' defense will be strong led by Brain Urlacher and Lance Briggs. While not expected to win the division, many are choosing the Bears as a wild-card entrant.
The Detroit Lions are poised to achieve their first winning season in a long while, and with Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson, have big play potential that has been lacking. Of course, all the attention is on the defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Expectations are higher in Detroit than at anytime since Barry Sanders left. The Lions are the popular "sleeper" pick for 2011.
So where does that leave the Vikings?
Most do not think Minnesota has a shot at the playoffs, but concede they will be improved under the new regime of Leslie Frazier and the savvy quarterback Donovan McNabb. Losing the entire Williams' wall for at least part of the season should have an impact on the defense. The secondary is suspect at best. The best hope is that the Vikings find a pass rush that limits the secondary being exposed.
An 8-8 season would be an accomplishment according to those in the know. The division is fierce, the schedule is tough. But the Dome has been repaired, and a new brighter look comes from the changed roof. The turf is new, and hopefully, safer than previous turf. Anything can happen, right?
I think the Vikings will be better than expected. If the turnover ratio changes, and it should, Minnesota will find itself in games many would not expect. McNabb's veteran leadership, combined with Adrian Peterson's skills, could be enough to make a run for the division title again. After all, Minnesota has won the division (in its' many forms) eighteen times, eight more than the nearest competitor (Green Bay and Chicago). We are quite used to winning.
A final preseason game stands in the way. Important battles to make the roster are the news of the day. The spots for the secondary and wide receiver should be especially tough. Sherels has become a fan favorite, as he is a Gophers alumni. Another former Gopher, defensive lineman Cedric McKinley, played well late in the Dallas game. At receiver, my new favorite, Emmanuel Arceneaux will try land a spot, or at minimum, make the practice squad. After his big catch against the Cowboys, the secret may be out. It is my opinion that he will soon make us forget about Sidney What's-his-Name.
My prediction? The Vikings will be better. Will better be enough? I do not know yet.
Losing to the Super Bowl champions at their home opener is not worrisome. The 14-9 loss showed that Minnesota's defense is for real. We easily rationalized the lack of offense as Brett Favre's rust being removed. The missing receivers, the injured cornerback, the excuses were greater than the effort needed to defend the loss.
And then week two arrived.
Miami was credited with the 14-10 win. But I think it is better stated a 14-10 loss for Minnesota. The Vikings visited the red zone so many times it began to look purple. On the opening drive Minnesota decided to go for it on fourth and two from easy field goal range. They did not get it. Sitting in the stands I could not help but think that was a mistake. I thought the old adage used in the NFL was "always take sure points on first drives" or some other made up saying that meant "don't be stupid". We were. Later, interceptions would thwart other attempts in the purple zone. Adrian Peterson would be stopped on a goal line stand late in the game.
The crowd sensed it from the beginning.
My first inkling that something was amiss came when I sat down and heard some twelve year-old Dolphins fan making fun of the Vikings' cheerleaders. Taunting the cheerleaders? And no one stopped him. I sat biting my tongue as this little punk was pointing out every mistake Minnesota made. "The old man's arm is tired" he said dribbling ice cream onto his aqua blue uniform as he stood and cheered a pick. "You have no wide receivers!" he screamed as defensive backs for Miami blanketed Bernard Berrian, Camarillo, and Percy Harvin, forcing another fourth down. His shrill, not yet matured voice pierced everyone's eardrums around him. All I could think was how did I end up with tickets near the future second Gilbert Gottfried?
I have never had cause to strike a child, but I was close. And the worst part about the obnoxious little mouth that never quit was that he was right. Favre struggled. Receivers failed. Considering that one of Miami's touchdowns was solely because of the offense (the fumble in the end zone), Minnesota once again shut down their opponent for the most part defensively. The offense did not struggle as much as last week, and Adrian Peterson looked like the 2008 model all day. They just turned it over. A lot. And they missed a couple of fourth down conversions. If Minnesota gets a field goal in each purple zone visit, they win by ten or so.
Yes, we lost. We are 0-2 and in trouble in the NFC North with both the Bears and Packers being 2-0. Time waits for no one in the NFL, and two losses early in the season forces a team to get better soon. The fact that the Detroit Lions are next is little comfort. Tougher games are ahead. Anyone can see the talent is there. But the season has started and good teams have to get wins. Ask the Dallas Cowboys. Like the Vikings, 'America's Team' finds itself in a hole amid speculation that they are not as good as advertised. And as a neutral observer I would say not even close.
I will have to research teams that turned around 0-2 seasons. From memory I cannot recall to many Vikings' teams that lost a few in a row to start, then did something. There has to be a few, right?
You practice and drill, You run through the playbook. Offense. Defense. Special Teams. You focus on individual skills over and over. You fight through the conditioning heat of the summer. You watch game film. You run a scout team at your defense with the plays you expect your opponent to attempt. You motivate. Prepare.
And then you lose.
Half of the teams will in Week One.
You tell yourself it was only one game. You could certainly rationalize the loss...
In the Vikings' case it was in the Super Bowl Champions' backyard while they celebrated their Champioship season. There probably will be no tougher place to play all season for any road team. Minus the weather element advantage that northern teams possess, the Saints entered Thursdays' game with every advantage. Minnesota's offense was not ready. Sure Adrian Peterson was his powerful self, but the passing game, and in particular Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, was disappointing.
You could blame the coach (we like that one). You could blame Sidney Rice for not getting his surgery sooner. Brett Favre for showing up late. The list goes on...
One aspect of the team we would not point a finger at is the defense. Minnesota's defense rose to the challenge after New Orleans' opening drive for a touchdown that was quicker than a microwaved bag of popcorn. Holding Drew Brees to fourteen points? Umm, we will take it every time. Last year Minnesota's defense shut down Brees better than any other. On Thursday they had a repeat performance. Unfortunately, Minnesota lacked a receiver other than Visanthe Shiancoe, and managed a mere nine in the loss. A 14-9 loss to the Champs is not terrible. But it is also not a win.
When you lose an opener you damage that 'ego' that teams have developed througout training camp and preseason. The fans' ego takes a hit as you begin to doubt your team, even if you have great confidence in them. Suddenly you are 0-1 and one of sixteen teams that have not won. Week Two grows in significance. It becomes an important game.
The Miami Dolphins will come to town next Sunday and be the foe in the all-important game after an opening loss. Players and fans alike are needing a win. Good teams often lose, but rarely the first two games.
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