Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Beware the sleight of mouth come draft time

Posted by: Mark Craig under Quarterbacks, Vikings, NFL draft Updated: April 1, 2014 - 9:15 AM

If you aren't a child and your memory is intact and you're an NFL fan who has somehow managed to maintain the ability to think for yourself, you've probably already flagged Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's "flags" comment concerning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

In fact, in the up-is-down, down-is-up world of pre-draft misdirection, some of you probably heard or read Zimmer's highly-publicized comments and came away thinking, "Hey, maybe the Vikings like this kid more now than they ever have."

As Master Tesfatsion posted Monday, here's what Zimmer told 104.9 The Horn in Austin when asked about Johnny Football:

“We asked him all kinds of questions. ...There are some flags that come up. All of the things that happened out in Los Angeles, the commercials and all that stuff (Manziel had a cameo in a recent McDonalds commercial with LeBron James); the position of quarterback in the NFL is such an important position and the reason these guys need to be a totally football-minded guy is the pressure of the position and being the face of an NFL team and doing everything right. That’s the thing you want to know about him -- will he be into work early every single day? Will be the last to leave? Will he be the guy that is working the hardest to get better?

“There is a change, otherwise all of these other quarterbacks that have come up through the years would have made it, from the college game to the NFL game as far as the speed of the defense and some of the complexities of the different defenses. So that position has got to be a position that really eats, breathes, and sleeps football where he is going to take it upon his shoulders to win. At least the Peyton Manning’s, Drew Brees’ of the world have done that and really all we have to go on in the NFL is past history.”

First of all, it's always nice to hear a coach say something that doesn't cause a veteran NFL media member's eyeballs to glaze over. Secondly, Zimmer didn't say anything that's out of whack with logical thinking by those of us in the non-football genius camp. Anybody who sells "Johnny Football" as his persona is likely heading in one of two directions: Superstar or future draft-day punch line. Try making that call with your job hanging in the balance. 

What we can't deduce from Zimmer's comments, however, is how he or the Vikings actually feel about Manziel. Honesty isn't the best policy in the NFL. It's treason come spring time.

Two years ago, Rick Spielman took over as general manager. He had plenty of time to convincingly hide the team's slam-dunk affection for left tackle Matt Kalil with the third overall pick. He also had the benefit of glaring needs that matched two other top-five caliber prospects in receiver Justin Blackmon and cornerback Morris Claiborne. For competitive reasons, Spielman even managed a straight face when saying repeatedly that all three were ranked evenly on the Vikings' draft board. (Maybe his fingers were crossed).

Spielman also managed to get people to let their guards down on the value of left tackles. He'd ask people to name the nondescript left tackles that protected some of the game's greatest quarterbacks.

“There’s the adage that you go back and forth on – is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense?" Spielman said before that 2012 draft.

Spielman wasn't doing anything wrong. In fact, he was doing everything right. Let's just try and remember that from year to year when we're tempted to put too much weight on what anyone affiliated with the NFL says about the draft before the draft.

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