On Wednesday morning at Winter Park, the Vikings let the local media in for a glimpse into their offseason conditioning program. Throughout the morning, players stopped to talk about last season, the offseason and the season ahead. Here are a half-dozen things we learned …
Chris Cook is vowing to win back the trust of his teammates and coaches.
Background: Cook missed the final 10 games of 2011 after being arrested and charged with felony domestic assault. The promising cornerback was acquitted of all charges in mid-March, clearing the way for him to return to the starting lineup. But it’s safe to say the Vikings won’t readily tolerate another off-the-field misstep. Cook said his first exchange with head coach Leslie Frazier after his trial ended was positive and encouraging. He’s also acknowledged feeling a void between late-October and March with football out of his life.
Says Cook: “I won’t say [that void] is closed up because I can never replace those 10 games that I missed. It was hard having to sit out for the 10 games and it’s something I always think about. It’s not something that I can just put away, even though I’m back in this setting, this environment. It’s still something I have to deal with … I definitely appreciate [football] a lot more than I have in the past. This is what I love to do … I never really knew what was going to happen, when it was going to be over with or what decision the organization was going to make. I was always hopeful that they would keep me around and give me a second chance."
John Carlson is happy to be home and happy to surrounded by some fellow Notre Dame guys.
Background: Of all the new Vikings, Carlson was far and away the free agent target that the team went after hardest in March. The former Litchfield High School star is still processing the reality of being back to continue his NFL career in his home state. He’s also thrilled to have four other Fighting Irish guys in the locker room with him in John Sullivan, Kyle Rudolph and rookies Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton. General manager Rick Spielman is obviously impressed with the Notre Dame program to a certain extent. Is there anything that makes Fighting Irish players unique?
Says Carlson: “I’d like to think that we’re disciplined guys. The mental side of the game is a big part of the game, so the mental preparation is something that we take pride in. I like to think that we’re physically gifted enough to play at this level, too. Hopefully it’s the total package.”
Alan Williams is fast earning the respect of his new players.
Background: Williams was hired in January to replace Fred Pagac as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator. He had spent the previous 10 seasons as a defensive backs coach with the Colts, working alongside Leslie Frazier in 2005 and 2006. Chad Greenway believes Williams has a demeanor similar to former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy as well as Frazier.
Says Greenway: “[He’s] just real steady, real consistent. You know what you’re going to get every week. As a player you like that. You’re not going to be too up and down with the ebbs and flows of a game or a season. So yeah, he’s been very impressive to talk to, very impressive as far as the knowledge of what he wants to get done around here. And I think he’s just asking for leaders to step up and try to portray that to the young guys of what he wants to get done … I honestly don’t foresee a lot [of changes]. This is a system that he’s been in for a long time. I’m sure there will be some tweaks within it. But for the most part, I think it’s going to remain relatively the same.”
Jerome Simpson is fast.
Background: Last week, just a few days before diving headfirst into the draft, the Vikings signed Simpson to a one-year deal. The hope is that the 2-year-old receiver can add a needed element of speed and athleticism to the Vikings’ passing attack.
Says Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder: “The guy's unbelievable. I was throwing post routes and trying to overthrow him and I couldn't. The guy is so fast.”
Charlie Johnson is unselfish.
Background: After starting all 16 games at left tackle in 2011, Johnson is now being designated as the team’s likely 2012 starter at left guard. That move became imminent last week when the Vikings made Southern Cal left tackle their top overall draft pick. Johnson responded by giving Kalil a brief but open-arms welcome to Winter Park last Friday. Johnson has also made it clear to anyone who will listen – Frazier, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, his teammates, the media – that he has zero reservations about sliding inside to guard.
Says Johnson: “It wasn’t anything like, ‘Aw, man. Here it goes.’ It was more of an ‘Alright, let’s go. Let’s get to work.’ … [I plan to work with Matt] quite a bit. You’re going to take time out. Again, it’s a new face. And along the offensive line, the whole thing is to work in synch and work together. So that’s a big part of it. Bringing a new face into it, you kind of have to get used to what he does – what kinds of steps does he take, what does he like, what doesn’t he like. Stuff like that. It will take a little bit of time. But we’ll figure it out … My skill set is for playing football. I wouldn’t say that I have a skill set for guard or I have a skill set for tackle. I feel like I have a skill set to play offensive line and play football.”
Brandon Fusco has cut back on the fast food
Background: With the selection of Kalil, the Vikings feel they’ve solidified 80 percent of their starting five on the offensive line. Kalil will start at left tackle, Johnson at left guard, John Sullivan at center and Phil Loadholt at right tackle. That leaves an opening at right guard where Fusco may be the early favorite to win the starting job. But he will be challenged in training camp by Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger and Chris DeGeare. Fusco says he will have to spend the next few months learning the Vikings’ playbook and also insists he’s made great strides since the end of last season with his overall strength. He’s put on seven pounds and made alterations to his diet.
Says Fusco: “That was a big thing in my offseason program, eating healthy, eating those veggies and all those lean meats. I’m used to eating McDonald’s and Burger King all the time. So it was a little habit I had to change … I think I’m a little more solid upper-body and my leg strength is a lot better from last year … This offseason I worked out twice a day and I didn’t take a day off. It tells you how much I really want this job and want to stay on this team for as long as I can and make myself a future right guard for this organization.”