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....
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.
The cuts are made. Decision 2010 is over. There are not really any surprises, Javon Walker was let go despite two late preseason touchdowns. Sage Rosenfels and Darius Renaud, two players who looked very good in the preseason, find themselves traded to the Giants. Still, Minnesota appears to lack depth at wide receiver and cornerback, where they have an unusually low number kept on this year's roster.
Wide Receivers (5): Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, and Greg Camarillo. Sidney Rice is on the PUP list, unavailable for the first six games..
Cornerback (5): Asher Allen, Chris Cook, Lito Sheppard, and Antoine Winfield. Cedric Griffin will not start the season in New Orleans, but is expected to return from his ACL injury of last year.
So the question is asked,"What out there?".
As of yesterday's cut there is quite a few wide receivers looking for a home. Included in this group are: T.J. Houshmandzadeh; Demetrius Williams; Chad Jackson; James Hardy; Bobby Engram; Troy Williamson, Josh Reed; Juaquin Iglesias; Kelly Washington; Brandon Jones; Michael Clayton; and Bobby Wade. There are others as well.
One that stands out is T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Before T.J. decided on Seattle it was Minnesota who showed interest in acquiring his talents. They are now available, and possibly a negotiated cheaper price than a few years ago. Ex-Vikings on the list include Williamson, Wade, and Engram. It would not be too big of a stretch to see one of them return, though my money is certain it would not be Troy.
As for defensive backs, the list is just as long. A few of the available DBs have plenty of NFL experience. Included in this list would be: Chevis Jackson; Brandon McDonald; Dre' Bly; Jacques Reeves, Nathan Vasher; Tye Hill; and Quinton Demps. Again, there are plenty more.
The name that jumps out at Vikings' fans is Bly. He had a long career playing for Detroit before ending up with the 49ers. He has forty-three career interceptions. Last year he was credited with sixteen pass defends, twenty-nine tackles, and three interceptions. Obviously there are reasons these DBs are available, but Dre' comes with a pedigree. Nathan Vasher spent six years with the Bears and logged fourteen interceptions. McDonald, let go by the Browns, has eight interceptions in his first three years, along with eleven pass defends last year. Help is there.
Do the Vikings make moves before Thursday's opener? Are they set on the 53 they have? How long until Cedric Griffin becomes the bona fide starter he was in 2009?
The questions mount.
The answers await.
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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