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....
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
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.
Thursday is the first game of the NFL season, a prized contest that features the two NFC Championship combatants of last year, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.
During these summer months there has been talk of the Green Bay Packers suddenly being the cream of the NFC crop. Minnesota fans feel confident that as long as Brett Favre is slinging the ball, there are hopes of a fifth Super Bowl visit. Others think the Dallas Cowboys or maybe the Atlanta Falcons will be this year's NFC representative. Long-shot lovers select teams such as the San Francisco 49ers or the New York Giants. But the reigning NFL Champion is the Saints and that will not change for many more months.
Quarterback Drew Brees is playing at an elite level and right now he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Names like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Marques Colston remind us that the offense of New Orleans is multi-talented. Combine that with a defense that forced over two turnovers a game and you have your champion. They handled the Indianapolis Colts much easier than most thought possible. They are good.
Those opportunists that create the NFL's schedule saw a game worthy of opening night. The dramatic overtime finish was quite possibly a better game than the Super Bowl follow-up. Media played up the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as the impetus for a feel good story. They could have just as easily told the story of Archie Manning and a failed franchise. That was nearly as disastrous.
A good story. But there is a better one.
It would start tomorrow with Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson righting a wrong. Instead of getting attacked every which way, throwing late interceptions, and limping around the field, this story would have Brett leaping into the arms of Greg Camarillo, Visanthe Shiancoe, or Percy Harvin as they catch another TD pass from Favre. It would show Adrian Peterson running over would-be tacklers while holding onto the football. It would star the offensive line protecting their quarterback, and defensive backs making big plays late in the game. The defense would bottle up the Saints for the entire game. And everyone would be healthy.
This story would unfold much like last year's tale. It would find Minnesota once again in the NFC Championship. Only this time they would hold onto the football and end up winning the Super Bowl with Brett Favre as their quarterback.
A tall task given the injury situation of Minnesota as well as the hype surrounding opening night for the Super Bowl Champs. The makings of a really good story.
The week started with the Indianapolis Colts taking on the despised Green Bay Packers at their home in Wisconsin. I am sure the green and gold faithful are relishing in the endless points they scored. But from my view, I saw just what I wanted to see. Let me explain...
The Colts put seventeen points on the board in fifteen minutes and twenty-one seconds. That is a pace to break sixty, which would have been just enough to eventually win the game. The first Colt score was on a two play, sixty-seven yard drive that took twenty-two seconds. Then a ten play, fifty-five yard drive for a field goal. Finally a six play, seventy-eight yard drive for another td. Sure, it was Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, and Reggie Wayne. They are very good. But it also was that same defense that surrendered 51 points in their Cardinals wild-card loss in OT last year. Green Bay's defense is suspect.
And both Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson fumbled the ball. Always good to see. We ignore the fact that Green Bay also moved up and down the field. My glasses must have fogged up.
Meanwhile, the Vikings played Brett Favre into the 3rd quarter with a chance to make friends with new receivers as well as old. First impressions are that Greg Camarillo will be the most dependable receiver on the Vikings squad. He is smart, proven by his ability to find spots in zones quickly and then holding onto the ball. Percy Harvin made some plays and took big hits. He appeared just fine. Visanthe Shiancoe was his usual reliable self. Adrian Peterson also contributed, a sign that he may get more catches than ever before. All good.
The four turnovers by the Favre-led Vikings were caused by two things. One, Bernard Berrian handed the first interception (returned for a td) right to Seattle, coughing up a bobbled ball that hit him in the numbers on a slant. Two, and more important, the offensive line and running backs did not protect Favre well at times. With starting center John Sullivan out, Anthony Herrera moved to center and rookie Chris DeGeare was given a surprise start. It was a work in progress. On one specific fumble, DeGeare tripped over feet (maybe his own?) and fell on his back untouched. Sure Favre let go of the ball a few times, but this is preseason after all.
A Vikings fan (and for sure cheese heads) could view this negatively. Favre is struggling, he is old, he turns over the ball too much. The offensive line is hurting, and suspect for 2010-11. Or, with the prescriptive purple shades, could simply point out it was #4 getting the bugs out, he being in camp for a only a week with new receivers to boot. The line was missing a key ingredient, and this was good for DeGeare's learning curve,
Add positive impressions made by Toby Gerhart (7-30) and the running back/returner Darius Reynaud (3 kick returns, 38.3 average) and one could walk away excited. Antoine Winfield made some big tackles, the rookie cornerback Chris Cook did not get burned (he did get dinged), and Ray Edwards had one of three sacks by the front line. Even Javon Walker made a big play, catching a Sage Rosenfels pass for a late td.
Sure it was only Seattle, and they looked destined for an early draft pick. But when we put on the purple eyewear, it does not matter who the opponent is, or what went wrong. All that matters is that the offense will be Favre-led and the defense as strong as 2009. And we notice things like the Packers defense getting torched for an opening quarter at home.
As plain as the glasses on my face.
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