PHOENIX – In what turned out to be a heartening 2012 run, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier continually encouraged his players to buy into one philosophy: “Don’t ever let outsiders put limitations on what you can achieve.”
With a full buy-in to that, the Vikings used a potent combination of unity and belief to propel a 10-win season and a surprising push into the playoffs.
Now, the team heads into 2013 with heightened expectations and an understanding that the climb to the next level only gets steeper.
With roster changes still ongoing and five weeks until the team enters the draft with 11 picks, Frazier took time Monday from the league’s annual meetings at the Arizona Biltmore to discuss the Vikings’ evolution.
The key story lines …
The pitch to land Greg Jennings had as much to do with Adrian Peterson as it did with Christian Ponder.
What’s the story? Look, when you have the league MVP, you sell that. And the Vikings did so, reminding Jennings of just how dangerous Peterson is and what his presence alone does to loosen up defenses. Not that the veteran receiver wasn’t already aware. Jennings, after all, saw Peterson rack up 508 yards in three games against Green Bay last season.
As a shrewd veteran seeking an ideal fit, Jennings took inventory of the situation in Minnesota, making certain to first gain a belief in Ponder. It didn’t hurt that Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and receivers coach George Stewart then spent significant time expressing their plans to use Jennings in a variety of ways — outside, from the slot, over the middle, over the top, etc.
They expressed admiration for Jennings’ sharp route running and run-after-the-catch ability.
And then came the demonstrations from last season on how much field there’d be to use with Peterson constantly magnetizing defenders toward the line.
What Frazier said: “We had a ton of tape to show that. A ton. A ton of tape. Greg’s a bright guy. He understands offense and he understands defenses, too. So once we showed him specific things, he realized there were some golden opportunities here. … Plus, Bill and George did a great job explaining that we would use him in a fashion where he could move around and not have coverages constantly rolled toward him. I think he liked what he heard.”
Percy Harvin’s tense exit from Minnesota is no longer Frazier’s concern.
What’s the story? For four seasons, Frazier was a huge Harvin supporter, a believer in his toughness and competitive fire and a mentor who remained ultra-patient through so many of the receiver’s frustration boil-overs. But whatever happened in the edgy fallout that ultimately led to last week’s trade to Seattle has Frazier seemingly detached from the emotion he invested in Harvin.
Yes, Frazier acknowledged that he still remains fond of Harvin as a player.
He wished Harvin the best in Seattle and said he’s bummed things didn’t play out differently here. But the page has turned. It’s time to move on.
What Frazier said: “I’m going to be honest. It’s hard for me to talk about Percy Harvin now knowing that he’s a Seattle Seahawk. I’d prefer to talk about Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, the guys that are here. I wish Percy the best. He has a lot of positive attributes. But he plays for the Seahawks. And that’s the end of it. … It’s tough for most head coaches when you have to separate from players. At least it is for me. I don’t take it lightly when I have to sit down with a guy and say, ‘Hey, you know what. This is not going in the right direction.’ I’ve stood in those shoes before. But with Percy it didn’t work out. … I know he’s happy now. And that matters. That makes a difference. In the end, you have to believe both sides are in a good place.”
Phil Loadholt’s re-signing has the coaching staff ecstatic.
What’s the story? Fans rarely get overly enthused when a team signs a player who was already around. The excitement is even more muted when that player is a dirty-work offensive lineman. So the Vikings’ move last week to re-sign their starting right tackle might not have received the outside buzz it deserved. But within the Winter Park walls, there was great celebration.
In keeping Loadholt a Viking, Frazier believes the offense’s momentum can continue with a young tackle who still has his best football ahead.
What Frazier said: “It sends a message to our team. When I sat down with our players and did our exit interviews after the season, I can’t tell you the number of guys who came into my office and said, ‘Coach, we’ve got to get Phil re-signed.’ And not just offensive guys. Defensive guys too. I’m listening to this and I’m saying, ‘Man, Phil has some real influence on our team.’ Which I knew because he works hard and always plays hurt and never bucks the system. He not only does everything we ask him to do, but his work resonates with the rest of the team. … So why let him go somewhere else with all we’ve invested?”
The Vikings are in need of a starting middle linebacker.
What’s the story? The Vikings opted to let last year’s starter Jasper Brinkley move on. That created a very important opening.
It’s unlikely the Vikings will make much if any push at 34-year-old free agent Brian Urlacher. So now it looks as if the draft will be the place to find a possible playmaker (LSU’s Kevin Minter? Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o?) to sandwich between Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson.
Wanted most: a guy who can play all three downs, show solid coverage skills in the nickel and be an instant communicator.
What Frazier said: “Without question, we need leadership. That guy has to be an extension of our defensive coordinator, Alan Williams. He’s got to be able to not only run our defense, but communicate, get guys lined up, earn the respect of his teammates. … It can be scary [to turn that over to a rookie]. But it depends on the rookie. You have to measure the maturity and how far along that guy is and make your call.”