It usually is a hot summer, the kids have run out of things to do. Bored, stifling heat, no end in sight.. and then wham! In comes Kool Aid to make the summer fun again. Drinks for everyone. Mom is relieved.
The second game of the preseason is a chance for starters to play a half or so, second and third stringers to make some plays to determine their future, and a general non-concern for the scoreboard. In the Vikings case, team and fans wanted to see if the return of Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Antoine Winfield could improve the porous effort of week one vs. the 49ers. They did.
It is an opportunity to see if Christian Ponder can move the offense AND score touchdowns, something that did not happen week one. He did. Ponder had a great touch and pocket presence and moved the Vikings easily down the field. He found fullback Jerome Felton for a short TD pass.
Could Jerome Simpson do something spectacular? He did. A long pass play set up the first preseason touchdown that involved Simpson hurdling over a defender in full stride.
And then it is time for Vikings' fans to latch onto someone from the depths of the charts. Someone to cheer for to make the team, an underdog. Meet linebacker Audie Cole. Late in the game Cole, while being touted by local TV announcers, made them look like geniuses by picking off two passes in a row, and returning them both for defensive touchdowns.
If it were not for the injury that took away Kyle Rudolph during the game, one would think it was a perfect preseason game. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh was knocking kickoffs through the goal posts, drilling near fifty yard field goals with ease, and forcing us to forget last year's kicker, whoever he was. Safety Harrison Smith, the first round pick from Notre Dame who is supposed to help turn around a notoriously bad secondary, made a big play breaking up a pass during a blitz. Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson exciting everyone with his quickness. The sudden depth at linebacker, with tons of tackles from Larry Dean and Tyrone McKenzie and of course, Audie Cole's interception returns for touchdowns thirteen seconds apart.
Mired in the NFC North, where seemingly all other teams are great, Minnesota has a long road ahead of themselves in returning to the playoffs. Though there has been teams to turn around fortune quickly in this modern day of free agents and salary limitations, knowledgeable fans are aware that the Packer are impressive. The Lions young and hungry. The Bears steady and strong. Time to be patient, right?
And that is when Kool-Aid busts in, covered in purple and says chin up. Times are better. Think playoffs now. The 49ers did it. Why can't we? You have elite talent in Ponder, Harvin and Simpson. And do not forget Adrian Peterson, not only the best running back in the NFL, but also the best healer. And while the defense is suspect, there is a talented young group that will play very hard.
We are hot. We are bored. There is no harm in having a little of the kool-aid.
Let's begin with the first step. We (as fans) are powerless over the team. No matter how hard I cheer, how much I swear, or whatever I throw, the game is out of my control. In order for their to be a change, we have to accept this fact.
The 3-13 season an abomination. Well, after the 6-10 season of 2010 it is more a downward spiral. All this after coming a couple of plays (or thugs) from being in the 2009-10 Super Bowl. Left staring at the mess that was once among the most feared in the NFL. No more Brett Favre. Half the Williams wall gone. Offensive linemen, wide receivers, linebackers gone. Some remain. But not the same team that should have beat the Saints that fateful game two seasons ago.
I suppose inventory should be taken. it is an important step. What do we have?
The first thing that comes to mind is RB Adrian Peterson. Drafted in 2007, he has been almost saint-like, were it not for a fumbling spell a few years ago, and the recent injury, he might already be canonized. He ran for 296 yards in a single game his rookie year. He has amassed nearly 7,000 yards in five seasons. And 80 rushing touchdowns. All that despite starting only 66 of the 80 games. Playing in 73. If he continues at this pace he will pass Chuck Foreman in the minds of the fans as the greatest VIkings RB ever. For some, he already has.
Percy Harvin is the other offensive skill player that most trust. Taken 22nd in the 2009 draft, Harvin has been electrifying on game days. He won Rookie of the Year honors. He has played in 45 of the 48 potential season games, catching 218 passes for over 2,600 yards. And he has been magnificent in kick returns. And he can run the ball. Only migraine headaches stand in the way of future All-Pro seasons.
Question marks loom over much of the remaining offense. WIll Christian Ponder's game reach a higher level? Will Jerome Simpson contribute at wide receiver? Can Kyle Rudolph replace and exceed the efforts of the departed Shiancoe? And maybe the biggest question, will the offensive line get better? Was the drafting of LT Matt Kalil a sign that the OL can return to its' dominance via the run, and provide enough protection to let Ponder loose?
Yes, lots of questions on offense. Defenisvely, there are maybe even bigger questions.
It appears the defensive line is in order, and with veterans Jared Allen and Kevin Williams returning, one of the better in the league. Names like Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans demonstrate solid depth. Not quite the 1970s Purple People Eaters, but on a 3-13 team maybe a bright spot.
It is the other seven that concern fans. And rightly so. Looking at linebackers, Chad Greenway has been more than good at SLB. Erin Henderson made improvements at WLB last year. This year's MLB is Jasper Brinkley, who has shown flashes, but is not quite the star power as the departed E.J. Henderson. It is as no-name a set of linebackers as I can recall in all my years of fanship.
Worse yet, it the present secondary. The names kepe changing at cornerback, and safety, yet the results have been the same for years now. Antoine Winfield, the run-tackling extrodanairre, is back at one CB spot. Chris Cook occupies the other. The safety spots appear unsettled, with my money on Harrison Smith, the rookie from Notre Dame, eventually inheriting the free safety spot. Mistral Raymond may win the strong safety job. Others defensive backs in the mix include: Chris Carr, Marcus Sherels, JarMarca Sanford, Eric Frampton, Josh Robinson, Brandon Burton, Robert Blanton, Zack Bowman and more.. In early training camp, anyone who has ever played DB is getting looked at somewhere.
So how does a team recover from a three win season when the parts haven't necessarily been replaced?
This season marks the 5th time Minnesota has had to start the season following one with three losses or less. Three of those seasons occurred in early Vikes history. Our opening season (1961) we were 3-11. The next we were 2-11-1. The team improved to 5-8-1 in year three, became a winning team in year four. But when Bud Grant joined in year seven we were coming off a 4-9-1 season. His first year, 1967, we went 3-8-3. We then completely turned our program around. We went to the playoffs the following for years.
How did that change happen? A new coach (Grant) used to winning changed mentality. We traded our star (Tarkenton) and received numerous early picks which we parlayed with our own choices into a playoff team. In 1967 we drafted RB Clinton Jones, WR Gene Washington, DT Alan Page, DB Bobby Bryant, and WR Bob Grim. The next year we added LT Ron Yary, DB Charlie West, and RB Oscar Reed. We would add OG Ed White in 1969. The dynasty had begun.
Later, in 1984, the team fell to 3-13 under Les Steckel.. The next year Minnesota rebounded to 7-9 with Grant returning. Then in 1986 we finsihed 9-7 under new coach Jerry Burns where the Vikings traded for Anthony Carter and Gary Zimmerman. What followed was a three year playoff run. The draft of 1985 had produced this year's Hall of Fame Viking representative: Chris Doleman.
The class of 2012 includes three or four players who could have the same type of impact. And a fancy new kicker to boot. Our past suggest that the GM and front office people will play an important part in our recovery, whether it is the typical 2-3 year wait to return to the playoffs, or if that can be sped up, or worse, slowed down.
So our recovery begins with hope. Minnesota has 25 playoff visits in its' 51 years. We have 17 division championships. Four conference championships. Since thise early years we have been a steady successsful program. Will administration do their part in helping us to return to our roots?
Because it is time for them to step up.
As a fan of all Minnesota sports I watched for years as the Timberwolves lost and lost only to miss out on franchise players in the draft. The NBA local team would win just enough to miss out on lottery success. While others relished in Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and the like, we found Paul Grant, Ricky Rubio, and Pooh Richardson. We were bad enough to deserve the number one pick, just never lucky in the lottery. Or the draft (except for Kevin Garnett).
Vikings' fans are not used to early draft picks. Since 1967 the Vikings have had five poor seasons (1984, 1990, 2001, 2002, 2006). The worst of those years was 3-13 with Les Steckel in 1984 that forced Bud Grant out of retirement. In 2001 the Vikings went 5-11. Those are the only two years potentially worse than this one in over forty years. In 1985 we used the lack of success to draft Chris Doleman. In 2002 we drafted Bryant McKinnie with the 7th selection.
More recently, after the 6-10 2006 season, we drafted Adrian Peterson from the 7th spot. Kevin Williams was taken with the 9th selection (you remember the non-pick?) in 2003 after a 6-10 season. Evidently, 6-10 is a good thing to be if you want quality players. Minnesota, now 6-9, stands on the cusp of a losing season. Presently there are six teams at 5-10, at it is quite probable that only one will improve to 6-10 (Arizona plays San Fran). That means the Vikings could finish anywhere from sixth to seventeenth in the draft dependent upon this week's games.
I am sure players and coaches could care less about draft position. I feel confident that they want to beat the Lions to finish the season. Detroit has been playing better of late, and the rookie defensive tackle Suh is already a Pro Bowler. This game is more about 'king of the hill' than it is about the draft. Frazier's contract talks have been sparked since the Eagles' win and a 4-2 finish would solidify his standing with management.
But we fans can look to the future. We must. Considering we face losing seasons about once every ten years, what else are we to do?
The Vikings face numerous free agents with the upcoming bargaining agreement changes, including potentially losing Chad Greenway, Ray Edwards, Ben Leber, Sidney Rice, and many more. On the flip side, the possibility of fourth and fifth year players becoming unrestricted free agents means the market is going to be large as well. The names read like a Who's Who in football. Suddenly, players like DeAngelo Williams, Haloti Ngata, Santonio Holmes, Jonathan Joseph, Eric Wright ... become unrestricted free agents.
So we face the Lions with much on the line in terms of the draft. A loss would benefit Minnesota greatly in the 2011 Draft. A win would simply keep the Lions in their place below us.
... Let's win.
In this, the fiftieth year of the Minnesota Vikings franchise, we find a team in need of a cornerback. It could be that he is on the team right now. Antoine Winfield occupies one starting spot. Until he was injured he was definitely one of the best in our half-century history. Now he is still a hard-hitting strong corner, who may or may not have lost a step.
The other corner should be Cedric Griffin's. He has shown skills worthy of a starting position. But he is not available as he recovers from last year's significant injury. Chris Cook, drafted to offer some depth is also hurt. Lito Sheppard was signed to add depth but he is in the later stages of his career. Asher Allen is improving, but has shown signs of his inexperience already in this preseason.
How important is a good corner?
Other positions carry a host of famed players for the Purple on both offense and defense. Minnesota can boast all-time greats such as: Fran Tarkenton, Daunte Culpepper, Chuck Foreman, Adrian Peterson, Robert Smith, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Anthony Carter, Sammy White, Steve Jordan, Ron Yary, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, Mick Tingelhoff, Matt Birk, Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Chris Doleman, Alan Page, Kevin Williams, John Randle, Matt Blalr, Roy Winston, Scott Studwell, Jeff Siemon, Paul Krause, Joey Browner.
And the best we can do at corner is Bobby Bryant?
It is hard to believe that the best corner in Vikings' history is Bobby Bryant. I watched him play. He was not very big, maybe 170 pounds. He was not very fast. He was injured a fair amount of his career.
But he was.
He played from 1968 to 1980 with the team when the defensive front four was nicknamed the "Purple People Eaters". With an outstanding pass rush Vikings' defensive backs benefited tremendously. Bryant had fifty-one interceptions, second all-time to safety Paul Krause, who had fifty-three. Both were great benefactors of that outstanding pass rush. Bryant was a hard tackler who was very aggressive. In addition to his interceptions, Bryant forced thirteen fumbles and recovered fourteen. In other words, six times a season Bryant helped create a turnover.
The question then is can Minnesota find Bobby Bryant? Is it Cedric Griffin? Will Allen or Cook rise to the occasion? Many of the national media has questioned Minnesota's ability to finish ahead of the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Besides concerns in the offensive line and Brett Favre's durability (despite being probably the most durable player in NFL history), pundits point to defensive back. They see the injuries and the inexperience.
Which is why management must find a Bobby Bryant, Or maybe even better. We would take the skills, aggressiveness, and fortune and add size, speed and durability that number twenty lacked. It might be in a trade, Or off of the waiver wire. Because the pass rush is there. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are good. The Williams' wall All-Pro worthy. Backups like Fred Evans and others are better than most teams.
He just has to be out there. He can be better than Bobby Bryant.
Fifty years of drafts. It began in 1961 with the selection of running back Tommy Mason from Tulane. That first year the Vikings also selected quarterback Fran Tarkenton of Georgia in the third round. As the new franchise struggled in the early years, their draft picks were causal to the futility. Only 1964 first round pick DE Carl Eller from Minnesota was considered significant. Then in 1967 the Vikings landed a slew of talent with the three first round selections of RB Clinton Jones, WR Gene Washington, and DT Alan Page. Then came the real change to whom the Vikings would become. In 1968 the Vikings selected OT Ron Yary from USC; and in 1969 chose OG Ed White of California with their first pick in the second round. The Vikings then had the foundation for their four Super Bowl visits.
In the first forty-nine years the Vikings have used their first first-round pick a total of three times to select an offensive lineman. Those three players were Yary, Randall McDaniel (1988), and Bryant McKinnie (2002). Considering that OL make up over 20% of all every down starters on a football team, Minnesota's percentage of 6.1% is paltry. In the year 2010, at this the 50th NFL draft for Minnesota, most are hoping for the gift of an offensive lineman. Of course, with the success of 2009, the Vikings have been relegated to the 30th selection, followed by the 62nd, 93rd, 128th, and two 5th round picks at 161st and 167th. There are more picks, but rare is a 6th or 7th rounder of value.
A look at the last ten years of drafting suggests good picks often, but also great picks lost. A quick review, with Vikings picks bold and missed picks to follow....
2009 WR Percy Harvin 22nd, OT Michael Oher 23rd, DB Vontae Davis 25th.
2008 S Tyrell Johnson 43rd, RB Matt Forte 44th,WR DeSean Jackson 49th.
2007 RB Adrian Peterson 7th, DB Darrell Revis 14th, WR Sidney Rice 44th.
2006 LB Chad Greenway 17th, DB Antonio Cromartie 19th.
2005 WR Troy Williamson 7th, DB Antrel Rolle 8th, DE DeMarcus Ware 11th, Shawne Merriman 12th, OT Jammal Brown 13th, DE Erasmus James 18th, OT Alex Barron 19th, DE Marcus Spears 20th, DB Fabian Washington 23rd, QB Aaron Rodgers 25th, WR Roddy White 27th.
2004 DE Keneche Udeze 20th, RB Steven Jackson 24th, DB Ahmad Carroll 25th.
2003 (the year of the blunder) DT Kevin Williams 9th, QB Byron Leftwich 7th, OT Jordan Gross 8th, LB Terrell Suggs 10th, DB Marcus Trufant 11th, DB Troy Polamalu 16th, RB Willis McGahee 23rd, TE Dallas Clark 24th, RB Larry Johnson 27th.
2002 OT Bryant McKinnie 7th, DB Roy Williams 8th, TE Jeremy Shockey 14th, DT Albert Haynesworth 15th.
2001 RB Michael Bennett 27th, WR Reggie Wayne 30th, QB Drew Brees 32nd, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch 34th.
2000 DT Chris Hovan 24th, LB Keith Bulluck 30th, LB Rob Morris 28th, WR Dennis Northcutt 32nd, DE John Engleberger 35th, OT Chad Clifton 44th, DT Fred Robbins 55th, DE Michael Boireau 56th, DB Deon Grant 57th.LB Marcus Washington 59th, OL Brad Meester 60th.
In my humble opinion, the 2010 Draft needs to address offensive line and defensive back. Throughout our history we have neglected these two position despite the fact that they are nine of the twenty-two regular positions.
Further, the Vikings have a track record that includes some great picks. I hope that we can include 2010 with years like 1961, 1967, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2007, and maybe 2009. Included in those years is Mason, Tarkenton, Washington, Page, Randy Moss, Matt Birk, Williams, EJ Henderson, Nate Burleson, Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin, Ray Edwards, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Phil Loadholt.
That would be a better present than years like: 2005 Troy Williamson, 2004 Keneche Udeze, 1995 Derrick Alexander, 1994 DeWayne Washington, 1989-1992 when we had no 1st rounders, and many more. The list of missed All-Pros and needed position players is too extensive to review in full.
The draft is only a few days away. The excitement has begun to grow. It has grown enough to bring me away from my passion for the Twins in this early Spring, and re-focused my sport love for football. 2009 was very close indeed. Dominating the Saints and Cowboys showed we are not far away form the prize. A solid draft in 2010 could be the difference.
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