MANKATO – Jared Allen, five times a Pro Bowl selection, isn’t a fan of the format changes that will dramatically change that game if the Vikings defensive end is fortunate enough to make a sixth trip.
The NFL and the Players’ Association announced new alterations to their all-star contest this week, doing away with the old AFC vs. NFC format in favor of a system that will have an 86-player draft presided over by a pair of NFL.com fantasy football standouts as well as legends Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.
In addition, kickoffs will be eliminated. Possession will change at the end of each quarter. And in the final two minutes of every quarter, the clock will stop if the offense doesn’t gain at least a yard.
“At some point, how many rules of the game do you change where we don’t have football anymore?” Allen said.
Allen was one of seven Vikings to play in last season’s game. He is adamantly opposed to the elimination of kickoffs, noting that former teammate Percy Harvin made his only Pro Bowl as a returner and that the new changes cheat electric return specialists such as Josh Cribbs, now with Oakland, out of a deserved honor.
Most of all, the league’s quest for creativity has Allen worried that the experience and honor he enjoyed as a first-time Pro Bowl selection in 2007 will be diminished for players going forward.
“I’m disappointed that it’s come to this and that we’re always trying to find new ways to create new ratings, create new fan experiences,” Allen said. “At some point it’s got to be about the players. This is our honor.”
Stuck in the middle
Linebacker Erin Henderson had no trouble practicing Friday, unhindered by the groin soreness he felt for a small stretch a day earlier. Still, when Henderson missed a portion of Thursday’s action, it was a reminder of how thin the Vikings are at that position.
“To say that we’d be completely satisfied with where we are depth-wise at the middle linebacker position? I couldn’t say that today,” coach Leslie Frazier said.
Presently, Audie Cole is the “next man up” behind Henderson and continues to show growth there.
Frazier also noted Henderson’s progress as a leader at middle linebacker but still called for greater maturation there, mentioning a moment in practice earlier this week when a defensive player consulted Henderson about a defensive call and received a curt response.
“[Coordinator] Alan [Williams] went up and talked to him about that and said, ‘You’re in a different role now,’ ” Frazier said. “When those guys talk to you, you have to listen and then speak almost as if you’re a coach. Otherwise they’ll stop asking you questions because they don’t want to get in any confrontation.”
With the preseason opener now less than a week away, the competition at receiver is heating up. If the plan is to keep only five on the 53-man roster and it’s assumed Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson are locks, that would leave only one opening. Right now, Stephen Burton and Joe Webb would seem to have the best shot there. Undrafted rookie Adam Thielen has been impressive early in camp as well and could be a practice squad candidate. Same goes for Chris Summers, who was on the practice squad all last season.
The Vikings will complete their first full week of camp Saturday with an under-the-lights practice at Blakeslee Stadium at 7 p.m. It’s essentially a glorified practice with little if any live contact. Still, the energized atmosphere, Frazier believes, can provide a new challenge for young, unproven players.
“It’s a different environment when you go under the lights and you feel the sense that it’s similar to a ball game,” Frazier said. “We’re going to try to create some situations in that time we’re there on Saturday night where they feel as if they’re in a game situation.”