Ever the optimist
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is an optimist. How else to describe a coach who can look at last Friday’s preseason loss to San Diego – one in which the offense never really found a rhythm, with quarterback Christian Ponder getting sacked five times -- and find a superlative or two?
But that’s exactly what Musgrave did during his Monday meeting with the media: “We didn’t put our best foot forward (on offense)," he said. “[But] we did some things better than we ever have done them before. We want more of those things.”
Musgrave was talking about the emphasis he is putting on getting big plays through the air.
“We hit Percy (Harvin) on a 40-yarder and missed a 54-yarder (to Harvin). We’re doing a better job of achieving those chunks down the field. We did that against Buffalo (Aug. 17) as well. We want to be able to do that, which will complement our strong running game.”
Against Buffalo, Vikings QBs completed four passes for 21 or more yards, with Ponder having three of those strikes.
That said, though, Musgrave said the offense started out slowly in the team’s first two drives against San Diego. As for those five sacks, Musgrave echoed what Ponder said Sunday. Namely that he could have avoided many of those sacks by responding to the pressure better.
With starters taking the final preseason game off, Thursday’s game in Houston will be about watching which backups shine. One who figures to be playing with unmatched intensity is safety Robert Blanton, the rookie out of Notre Dame who has yet to play this preseason.
Blanton, battling a hamstring injury, has not gotten on the field. But the combination of the coaches wanting to get a good look at him and the team’s injury situation at backup safety means Blanton will log a lot of minutes in Houston.
What does defensive coordinator Alan Williams want to see?
“Just that he can get lined up, to see if he looks like he belongs, in terms of when he has a chance to make a play, see how he functions in terms of tackling,’’ Williams said. “I do recognize it will be his first live action, so we want to see if he belongs out there.”
Blanton, a fifth-round pick, played corner at Notre Dame, and Williams said that coverage ability has carried over with his switch to safety. Blanton was good enough in coverage during organized team activities that the Vikings think he can be effective covering receivers in the slot as well.
“He was aggressive,” Williams said of what he saw in Blanton before the injury. “It looked like he had good instincts.”
Schwartz returns to practice
For the second straight day, the Vikings got a player back to practice. Monday it was guard Geoff Schwartz, who donned shoulder pads and a helmet and returned to practice for the first time since having hernia surgery Aug. 7.
Meanwhile, defensive backs Chris Carr (back), Marcus Sherels (ankle), Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and Mistral Raymond (back) and fullback Ryan D'Imperio (shoulder) missed a second straight day of practice.
On Sunday, Frazier praised the play of rookie Jarius Wright as a punt returner. Wright figures to get the bulk of the return work Thursday in Houston with Marcus Sherels nursing a sprained ankle. Monday special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was complimentary of Wright as well, though more restrained.
Wright’s 24-yard punt return late in the first half set up a Vikings score against San Diego.
Priefer said Wright made good decisions. He bluffed a return that resulted in a personal foul penalty on San Diego, for example. But Priefer said Wright could have broken an arm tackle on the 24-yard return and perhaps scored.
“I don’t think he ran with enough conviction there,” Priefer said. “When he saw it on tape, I think he believed what I was telling him.”
Priefer was asked if Wright has shown enough reliability at the position to be considered the top option. He said he wouldn’t be sure until after Thursday’s game.
--Williams said he hasn’t decided who will be the No. 3 cornerback yet. Veteran Chris Carr and speedy rookie Josh Robinson are vying for playing time there. Carr has the edge in experience and he can play both outside and in the slot. Robinson, out this week with a concussion, has shown his great speed and a knack for coverage.
-- Mistral Raymond is still in the running to start at one of the safety spots on opening day, though Williams did express regret that Raymond (back spasms) wasn’t able to play Friday after a strong game against Buffalo in the second preseason game. “He looked like a starter to me in that game,” Williams said.
--Williams was asked how many defensive backs he’d like to keep on the final roster. “Ah, 20,” he joked. Ten or perhaps 11 seems like a more reasonable number, he said.
--Williams echoed head coach Leslie Frazier’s comments Sunday by praising the play of middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley’s play against San Diego.