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Vikings coach Leslie Frazier

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune file

VIKINGS EXPECTATIONS

Senior Bowl: 3 p.m. Saturday at Mobile, Ala. • TV: NFL Network

Vikings and the draft: Hope versus reality

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • January 27, 2012 - 12:14 PM

When Senior Bowl week began Sunday with a team meeting at the Mobile Convention Center, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier delivered an impassioned sermon on expectations.

With a full week for players to audition in front of NFL coaches, scouts and general managers, Frazier had no difficulty detailing what he and his assistants hoped to see, requesting consistent effort, attention to detail and an eagerness for the moment.

"A lot of eyes are on you," Frazier said. "But you should welcome that opportunity. It shouldn't diminish it. It should not make you fear anything about this process. You should be excited about it."

The inflection of Frazier's voice filled the room with purpose, his excitement obvious.

For a team that staggered through 2011, the Vikings sure have been full of energy in the first month of 2012. Yes, that 3-13 pain still radiates. But with potentially revitalizing changes underway, promises of a turnaround are being made with great sincerity.

Ask General Manager Rick Spielman where the optimism stems from and he lights up. A talented free agent pool should give the Vikings an opportunity to begin patching several big holes in mid-March.

Beyond that, Spielman issues frequent reminders of the 10 draft picks the Vikings expect to have, a reality that puts a sparkle in Frazier's eyes.

"To have 10 picks," the head coach said, "if we can hit on those and bring in some quality players who fit what we're looking for, that really should give us an opportunity to close the gap quickly."

But here's where hopeful anticipation and harsh reality tangle, like fatigued boxers at the end of Round 12.

With all the holes the Vikings have, isn't it asking a lot to be darn near error-free through free agency and the draft? And isn't it maybe a tad Pollyannaish to believe a piggy bank of 10 draft picks will allow the Vikings' to return from the offseason flea market with a chest of gold?

Heck, on Tuesday when Spielman was asked if the Senior Bowl talent pool showed promise at the Vikings' positions of need, he chuckled.

"We have positions of need in a lot of places," he admitted.

The next afternoon Frazier also tempered the optimism, issuing an acknowledgement that the rebuilding project has too many steps to count.

"There is a lot to get done," Frazier said. "Can we get it done in one offseason? Who knows? But if we can get some of the right pieces in place, we'll make improvement this next season. That's what we have to be able to do -- make improvement in a lot of areas. So it's critical in that way."

Spielman already has begun a comprehensive roster review, looking for every upgrade possibility.

In early February, the team's unrestricted free agent meetings will launch complete with detailed comparisons of the Vikings' UFAs versus what figures to be available elsewhere.

Then, before next month's combine, Spielman, Scott Studwell, director of college scouting, George Paton, director of player personnel and the organization's college scouts, will gather for another summit designed to establish a draft strategy.

In that regard, the organization has invested heavily in this week's Senior Bowl, not just evaluating players in regards to talent but assessing how they interact, how they absorb criticism and how they approach learning.

That No. 3 pick the Vikings own? They're confident they'll land a big-time difference maker. Beyond that, however, making shrewd decisions with those other picks will be critical.

"I really believe you have to excel in those later rounds," Frazier said. "That's really the bread-and-butter of your football team, those fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round picks.

"... The advantage we now have when it comes to the later rounds, to be able to be where we are with these guys [this week] is huge. We have to replenish our roster. So this is a tremendous advantage."

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