In his 12-year career, outside linebacker Matt Blair was named to six straight Pro Bowls, was an all-Pro once. He played in two Super Bowls.
In honor of that career the Vikings will induct Blair into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay at Mall of America Field.
But when Vikings coach Leslie Frazier introduced Blair to reporters Monday, his main message was thanking Blair for helping the team win this year. Seems Frazier likes to have former Vikings standouts talk to the team before training camp starts. Last year it was Jim Marshall, this year Blair.
“He talked to players about visualizing success,” Frazier said of Blair. “And he talked to them about not getting caught up in the past, but just focusing on the moment. And that really was something that was a part of our approach with our team. And so, without me even talking to him about what direction I wanted to take our team in that first meeting, it was so apropos to listen to him talk about success and visualizing success.’’
Blair’s message was about players putting all their emphasis on preparation so that execution becomes nearly second nature. “It takes your entire heart to make it happen,” Blair said.
Blair related a story about a game against the St. Louis Cardinals during his rookie season. He made a few mistakes covering Cards tight end Jackie Smith and was benched. But coach Bud Grant put him back on the field to start the second half. “After the game Bud was asked ‘What did Matt Blair bring to the game?’ And Bud said, ‘Lack of experience.’ From that day on I decided I need to do a little bit more. And that’s what it’s all about.”
When asked what his induction into the Ring of Honor meant, Blair got a bit emotional.
“It’s very humbling to be put in with great players – the Tarkentons, the Ellers, the Carters, the Marshalls, the Grants, those guys are just legendary.’’
One of the highlights of Sunday’s defensive effort, according to Frazier, was the pressure the team was able to get from the front four without having to resort to blitzing. It was encouraging, even though the injury-plagued Arizona offensive line has struggled.
“I don’t know if we’ve done it that effectively without blitzing,” said Frazier of the Vikings seven-sack effort. Of those, a career-high three came from end Brian Robison, two from end Jared Allen and one from tackle Kevin Williams. “In the past we probably would have mixed in a little more pressure than we did (Sunday). That was our goal, to go into this game and be able to generate a pass rush without having to bring five or six guys, and our D-line stepped up to the challenge. They dominated just like we hoped they would and really took a lot of pressure off our secondary.”
Through Sunday’s games the Vikings ranked third in the NFC with 22 sacks, with Allen tied for eighth individually with six.
Frazier said not having to blitz allowed the rest of the defense to concentrate on slowing receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., who wound up with four catches.
ON SECOND THOUGHT…
Frazier admitted that he probably would do things differently if he had the final moments of Sunday’s first half to do over.
The Vikings decided to go for a field goal rather than take a knee late in the half. The result was a Christian Ponder interception. The Cardinals missed a field goal as the first half expired.
“Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do,” Frazier said. “We probably could have went in at the half and taken that 14-7 lead and say, ‘Hey, let’s just start the second half.’ ‘’
SMITH STAYS AGGRESSIVE
Vikings safety Harrison Smith is learning how to play aggressively without going over the line and incurring the fines he’s had to deal with this season.
“Sometimes when you get fined as often as he’s gotten fined in these first seven games, it can tip your emotions and make you start playing a little tentatively,” Frazier said. “That hasn’t been the case with him. He’s been aggressive. He’s still in tune with everything we’re trying to get done. He doesn’t seem to be sidetracked by anything that happened. … He’s a bright guy, and very, very athletic. But his maturity, not letting stuff hang onto him that can be negative, it’s impressive.”
Smith turned his first career interception into his first touchdown Sunday, a score that gave the Vikings a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter.
“That’s just how I’ve always tried to be on and off the field,” Smith said. “Just learn from your mistakes, but at the end of the day, I’m not going to try to slow down my play or play softer. I’m just going to try and play within the rules and play at a high tempo.”
NOT HIS CALL
Frazier was asked if the short turn-around time between Sunday’s victory and Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay put players at further risk for injury.
He was definitely not going there.
“Touchy area, there,” he said. “That’s a bigger call than coach Frazier standing here at the podium. We do what we’re told to do. We got a game on Thursday night, we’ve got to get prepared to play that game.”
Still, the short time to prepare will make this a different week. The players had the day off Monday. The team will get one full practice in Tuesday, then have the traditional walk-through on Wednesday. The coaches have to get the team ready to play while at the same time allowing players to get over the bumps and bruises of Sunday’s game.
“You have to really be smart in your preparation of how you’re going to get it done without overtaxing them mentally, but yet getting them where they need to be physically to go out and play,” Frazier said.
--Running back Adrian Peterson’s sore ankle came out of Sunday’s game OK. Frazier said Peterson was sore, but less so than he was a week ago. It remains to be seen how much Peterson will practice this week.
--Vikings tight end John Carlson, who left Sunday’s game with concussion-like symptoms, probably will not play Thursday, Frazier said. “We will have to take him through the protocol over the next few days, and in a short week, we don’t expect him make it,” he said. Other than that, there were various bumps and bruises, but nothing Frazier said would keep a player out of the game.
The players had Monday off. But the team was required to post an injury report given the proximity to the game. So, had the Vikings practiced today, Peterson (ankle), Allen (groin), CB Antoine Winfield (knee) Carlson (concussion) and T Matt Kalil (low back) would not have participated; S Mistral Raymond (ankle) and Smith (calf) would have had limited participation; and S Robert Blanton (hamstring), LB Marvin Mitchell (calf), QB Christian Ponder (knee), RB Matt Asiata (knee) and DT Fred Evans (knee) would have fully participated.