VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Rookies

VikesCentric: Time for the Wildcat?

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: October 26, 2012 - 12:56 AM

I have a confession: listening to the Vikings postgame show on KFAN is a guilty pleasure of mine. Whether it's a two-hour whine-line after another bitter defeat or a string of euphoric proclamations of Viking greatness after a hard-fought victory, I always get a kick out of the enthusiasm, passion and dedication on display from Vikings fans.

But I will never understand the mindset that drives some callers to propose tinkering with something that's not broken – or to propose repeatedly debunked theories as a solution to the Vikings' current woes. In this case, I'm referring to the weekly calls for Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave to find a way to get Joe Webb into the lineup via some version of the Wildcat formation. 

Those calls are perhaps to be expected when Christian Ponder lays a pterodactyl-sized egg on the Metrodome turf like he did against Arizona, when he was picked off twice for the third straight game, completed 8 of 17 passes for 58 yards, and possessed the pocket presence of kitten chasing a butterfly. Or even when he struggles toward competence, like he did Thursday night against Tampa Bay, when he wobbled his way through a 36-17 loss.

However, it also doesn't seem to matter whether in the preceding three hours Ponder has completed 77 percent of his passes (as he did against Indianapolis), thrown a pair of touchdown passes against zero interceptions for his second straight game (as he did against San Francisco) or amassed a season-high 352 passing yards (as he did against Washington). The calls still come, reliable as an October snowfall in the Twin Cities.

I get the fans' frustration with the offense when it's not running smoothly or effectively. And I understand the tease factor of Webb, who has put together a few nice games under center in the Frazier era.

But the Wildcat – or the Blazer package, as the Vikings have called it – is a gimmick. It doesn't work consistently enough. The Dolphins shook up the NFL in 2008 when they used Ronnie Brown in the Wildcat role and scored a few touchdowns. It worked for a few weeks, most teams tried to copy the blueprint, and the league's defensive coordinators adjusted. Now it's about as fresh as Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation, which debuted that same autumn.

The only team that's running the Wildcat with any success this year is the 49ers, where Collin Kaepernick runs behind the NFL's best offensive line and the Niners are usually protecting a big lead built on the strength of a dominant defense and the efficiency of the team's base offense under Alex Smith.

On the other hand, the Vikings' history with the Wildcat is spotty, at best. Last season, Webb had six carries for a grand total of 9 yards in Blazer appearances. His success running the ball has come when he's taking snaps under center and scrambling in a broken field.

That only happens when he's the starting quarterback or called on to take over the offense due to injury. When Webb enters the game in the Blazer, the defense knows he's there to do one thing – run the ball. With the element of surprise gone, he's trying to run against nine men in the box, and the results have been predictably dismal.

Could Musgrave draw up some Blazer plays that give Webb the option to pass? Sure – but if they're going to pass the ball, the Vikings have shown that they clearly Ponder handling that duty. Pulling him out of the game for a series interrupts the flow of the offense and will only hamper Ponder's development, which – even given their 5-3 start – remains the No. 1 priority for the 2012 season.

Look, I understand fans' frustration with Ponder. We live in an instant gratification society, and when you see what other neophyte quarterbacks have done in recent years – think of what Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, among others, accomplished as rookies – it's natural to want more productivity out of Ponder.

But other teams have been rewarded for their patience with young quarterbacks. Eli Manning, Jay Cutler and Smith didn't win their first playoff games until their fourth year as a starters; Drew Brees was in his fifth season, and Peyton Manning his sixth. The younger Manning faced constant criticism before he finally broke through. Smith was benched a number of times. Cutler and Brees were traded before they blossomed as playoff winners.

Is Ponder in the same class as those quarterbacks? Clearly not … but the Vikings bet a first-round draft choice on the possibility that he will get there. They're not going to put up any roadblocks toward his development in the hope of short-term gains, especially when the Wildcat detour has been proven a road to nowhere.

In other words, fans can call for the Wildcat until they're purple in the face, but Frazier and Musgrave are committed to Ponder, for good or for ill.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Surprising Vikings earning respect from national media

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 2, 2012 - 3:37 PM

Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Vikings' loss to the Colts and in the days leading up to their game against the 49ers, football fans and pundits alike (yours truly included) were saying the Vikes "were who we thought they were." Maybe they'd win a few more games than last year, was the wide-spread belief. Maybe they'd go 5-11 or 6-10. But this wasn't a playoff team. Not yet. 

Only those infected with the kind of blind homerism that manifests itself in predicting a win for the Vikings every week with no regard for facts or reality thought the 2012 edition was significantly better than last year's team. Everyone, including most homers, thought the Vikings would lose to the 49ers. Nearly as many thought their 11-game losing streak against their division would continue this past Sunday in Detroit. 

Those Vikings homers are the ones looking pretty good right about now. 

As it turns out, just two weeks after losing at Indy these Minnesota Vikings are on the short list of the NFL's biggest surprises at the quarter pole of the season. 

A quick aside: Minnesotans love getting national attention and respect. As a lifelong Minnesotan, I know this first-hand. It must be something in the lake water. Either that or it stems from some kind of widespread self-esteem issue that permeates the region. We want everyone to know that we aren't flyover land. We're not covered in snow drifts 10 months a year. We're good enough, we're strong enough, and gosh darn it people should like us… and our sports teams. So we go out of our way to pat ourselves on the back and point out things we do well in an effort to get the attention of the national narrative and force the mainstream media to overcome their East- or West-coast bias. 

Take heart, Vikings nation. Your first-place Vikings are getting noticed by the national media. Wins against the 49ers and Lions – two playoff teams a year ago – have earned them growing respect on a national stage, even a few accolades. 

For proof, look no further than the Inter-web's NFL Power Rankings. For the uninitiated, "Power Rankings" are a weekly 1-to-32 ranking of all the NFL teams, done by most large networks, newspapers and sports web sites. They are exactly what they sound like: someone's opinion of the NFL teams ranked in order from best-to-worst. 

These NFL Power Rankings universally had the Vikings near the bottom in the 28-32 range prior to Week 1, and rightfully so given their 3-13 record a year ago and lack of giant free agent signings or splashy rookies. 

Things look differently four weeks later. With the possible exception of the Arizona Cardinals, no team has enjoyed a bigger leap in the eyes of the national "experts." 

Here's a sampling of where some Internet outlets have currently placed the Vikings in their Power Rankings: 

ESPN: 14

CBS: 13

FOX: 14

NBC: 13

Yahoo: 15 

In other words, the Vikings are now middle-of-the-pack good. They are respectable. They are worthy of mention. They are no-longer also-rans or doormats in the eyes of national football experts. That's a far cry from a month ago when no one was paying attention or giving them any chance of being good. 

So you're saying there's a chance. 

More accolades: Peter King calls Christian Ponder this year's "pleasant surprise" in this week's "Monday Morning Quarterback" column. CBS Sports' Pete Prisco calls Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier "an early candidate to be the NFL Coach of the Year." FOX play-by-play commentator Tom Brennamen is seemingly the president of the Percy Harvin Fan Club, saying if he could have any offensive player in the NFL on his team it would be Harvin. Upon reflection, Brennamen clarified himself by saying he'd rather have Harvin than any other non-quarterback. Good enough. SI.com NFL columnist Don Banks devoted 600-something words to the Vikes Monday, concluding "Even if next to no one saw them coming, these Vikings aren't going away." 

Indeed, the Vikings are winning games instead of settling for moral victories, and for that they are earning a measure of respect. The upcoming schedule is suddenly dotted with winnable games -- even some games in which the Vikings will be favored. Serious thoughts of a playoff run –though still just in their infancy -- are no longer considered complete and utter folly. 

Buckle up, Vikings fans. Your team has graduated to relevance. Next up: being a contender. We'll see if they are ready to take that next step.  

Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM. 

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

 

VikesCentric: Postcard from Training Camp

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: July 28, 2012 - 7:28 PM

The Vikings are taking a break from training camp workouts on Sunday before reconvening with pads on Monday. As I took my leave from Mankato Saturday afternoon, I did so with an appreciation for the chicken fingers and fries at Boomtown. I also left town with some initial thoughts and impressions from the first two days of Vikings camp.

 
Here are a half-dozen of them in no particular order:
 
Percy Harvin is happy now.

Percy Harvin is happy now.

1. Percy Harvin's first encounter with the media since telling the world in June that he was unhappy and wanted to be traded seemed a little too well-rehearsed. It was as if he had the "I'm happy" speech all queued up. That's fine, but Vikings fans better hope he actually means it and wasn't delivering lip-service. It's hard to shake the memory of how famously Harvin and Randy Moss got along before the Superfreak was run out of town two years ago. Indeed, Moss was said to have had quite an influence on young Mr. Harvin.
 
Let's hope Percy didn't learn the part about moping and "playing when he wants to play." The "Happy Harvin" show needs to continue.
 
2. John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph are going to be the Vikings' version of the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Not that anybody expects them to post similarly ridiculous numbers. Let's be clear on that – that nobody, not me, not Carlson or Rudolph, nor are any coaches, predicting similar success. Not yet anyway. That said, the comparison works in as much as the Vikings will be frequently running a two-tight end offense in which both tight ends are capable pass-catchers and can create mismatches for the defense and such a scheme was popularized by the Patriots last year. Head coach Leslie Frazier characterized it as an "evolution" of the tight end position and how they are used. The Vikings are just keeping up with evolution.
 
Hey, with Harvin playing the role of Wes Welker out of the slot the comparison kind of works. The Vikings just need Christian Ponder to be as proficient as Tom Brady. That's all.
 
3. Speaking of Ponder, he really seems to have a good rapport with Jerome Simpson. Then again, it looks as though Simpson is creating a good rapport with a lot of people. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave can't stop talking about the wideout's downfield "juice." Simpson's game is stretching defenses, but he's really bending over backwards for the fans in Mankato. He gestures toward the stands from the practice field, dances around when waiting on the sideline for the next drill, runs across the street to sign autographs and does push-ups as self-punishment if he drops the occasional pass.
 
He's fun to watch, and I predict he will become a fan favorite provided he stays out of trouble following his three-game suspension to start the season.
 
4. The Vikings made adding secondary depth a point of emphasis this offseason, so much so that on Friday Coach Frazier called their current secondary depth the best it's been since he's been here. That may be considered faint praise given the dearth of safeties and corners they've had in recent years, but it's certainly worth noting. The NFL is a pass-first league and nickel packages are being used a ton.
 
I know I'll be keeping a close eye on rookies Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson, as both will be playing a lot and are expected to emerge as starters sooner rather than later.
 
5. Everson Griffen is a linebacker – not a defensive lineman who sometimes sees snaps at linebacker like he did last year. He's a linebacker…with a defensive lineman's number (97). Coach Frazier wants Griffen to focus on playing linebacker this summer, noting he was their third defensive end but has a chance to be a starter at linebacker and he wants his best 11 defenders on the field. In an effort to get into linebacker mode, Griffen dropped about 18 pounds (down to 258) the last few months to help with his speed and agility – a commitment to the plan that had Frazier raving about him Friday.
 
Griffen's strength and pass-rushing ability are clear, but it will continue to be interesting to see how well he does in coverage. The weight loss should help in that regard.
 
First-round draft pick Matt Kalil.

First-round draft pick Matt Kalil.

6. The Vikings offensive line projects to be much better this year. Moving Charlie Johnson inside to left guard is a better use of his talents. At the other guard spot, Brandon Fusco – you know, the second-year lineman out of Slippery Rock – has the inside track. The prevailing wisdom is that it's his job to lose. Fusco's main competition will come from free agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz, who can play guard or tackle and will provide valuable depth at several positions should Fusco nail down the right guard spot. Musgrave said Saturday that both Fusco and Schwartz would be given first-team reps until a starter is discerned. Center John Sullivan has become a steadying force in the middle and was their best lineman last year. Musgrave raved about right tackle Phil Loadholt on Saturday, calling him a physical presence and team leader. And of course the left tackle spot belongs to big Matt Kalil, the Vikings' first-round draft pick this year. On Friday Kalil looked sleepy, frequently yawning while on the practice field. Then I realized that's just kind of the way he looks. And then I remembered training camp practices are often boring so it's hard to blame anyone for yawning. Don't be fooled by the sleepy façade, Kalil's ferocious power was hard to miss during individual drills.
 
It's easy to forget that it was just a year ago that Bryant McKinnie went from starting left tackle to the waiver wire in one day. Fast forward one year and McKinnie has yet to show up at Ravens camp and is rumored to be out of shape again. Advantage: Vikings.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Counting down to Training Camp

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: July 19, 2012 - 12:03 PM

The Minnesota Vikings sent out their training camp media release yesterday – yet another clear indication that the real start of the football season is imminent.

Truthfully, the NFL really never takes time off. Whether it's the Scouting Combine, NFL Draft, OTAs, free agency, minicamps, or players getting arrested for "too much idle time," America's sport never strays far from the headlines. And of course fantasy football drafts have already begun.

Apparently the NFL powers-that-be know their limits, though, or else last week's Supplemental Draft (in which one player was selected) would have been televised.

Be that as it may, the real fun begins next week, as every NFL team reports to their training camp, with the first (the Arizona Cardinals) reporting on July 23. The Vikings will file into Mankato on Thursday and will hold their first practices on Friday amidst throngs of purple-clad fans and a mob of media members hanging on Percy Harvin's every word, waiting for the next "controversy."

I'll be part of the aforementioned "mob" as Vikings camp gets underway, in order to get a first-hand, up close look at the 2012 edition. Yeah, I'll be as interested as anyone to see if Harvin stirs the pot again or if we find out anything more about Adrian Peterson's knee and/or arrest (the three primary storylines as camp kicks off) but I don't expect we'll get anything new on any of those fronts.

The Harvin thing is being swept under the rug (i.e. being handled internally) by the Vikings braintust and you can bet Harvin has been encouraged to do the same and only address football questions from the media in Mankato.

As for Peterson, the most I'd expect to see him doing in Mankato is individual drills on the side. The Vikings will very likely begin with him on the training camp physically unable to perform list and then play his recovery by ear. His court date has been moved to August 6 and we presumably won't know anything more about that situation until then.

Assuming the chains don't move on the Harvin and Peterson sagas for now, I'll have my eyes on numerous other situations as the Vikings prep for their preseason opener on August 10 against Randy Moss and the 49ers in San Francisco, including: Who wins the job at right guard? What's the secondary – with two rookies seeing a lot of playing time -- look like? Does Jasper Brinkley appear ready to hold down middle linebacker and is he really finally healthy? Will Jared Allen school Matt Kalil or will the All-Pro take it easy on the promising first-round pick? Do Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have the goods to contribute immediately in the passing game? Are the Vikings really set with the Blair Walsh project at kicker or will they bring in some competition? Did brainy QB Christian Ponder pick up a PHD or MD in his spare time this offseason or just grow a beard and do a lot of fishing and golfing when he wasn't watching film?

Since this is a blog and has a comments section and stuff, let's put it to good use and compile additional questions that keep Vikings fans up at night as the team prepares for 2012. What will you watch for in camp? Are you going to Mankato to get your own scouting report? Let me know what you're watching. 

 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

Reviewing a decade of drafts

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: April 26, 2012 - 12:33 PM

How will we look back on the Vikings' 2012 draft? The Purple could reap a harvest of multiple Pro Bowlers, consistent starters and quality reserves, as they did in 2007 and 2003. They could bring aboard a heap of busts that would make the 2005 draft look decent by comparison. Or they could land somewhere in the middle.

Let's take a look at their last 10 drafts to see how each group of rookies stack up. For the purposes of our discussion, we've sorted the picks into the following categories: 

Pro Bowlers: Actually selected to the Pro Bowl roster, not named as a replacement for an injured player or a Super Bowl participant

Starters: Have started at least eight games in a season, either for the Vikings or another team

Reserves: Made the Vikings' roster but did not start at least half of a season

Never made the roster: They might have played for somebody else, but they never made the Vikings' 53-man team.

And away we go …


2011

Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Christian Ponder (1), Kyle Rudolph (2)
Reserves: Christian Ballard (4), Brandon Burton (5), DeMarcus Love (6), Mistral Raymond (6), Brandon Fusco (6), D'Aundre Reed (7), Stephen Burton (7)
Never made the roster: Ross Homan (6)

 

2010
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: None
Reserves: Chris Cook (2), Toby Gerhart (2), Everson Griffen (4), Chris DeGeare (5), Joe Webb (6), Mickey Shuler (7), Ryan D'Imperio (7)
Never made the roster: Nate Triplett (5)

 

2009
Pro Bowlers: Percy Harvin (1)
Starters: Phil Loadholt (2), Asher Allen (3), Jamarca Sanford (7)
Reserves: Jasper Brinkley (5)
Never made the roster: None

 

2008
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Tyrell Johnson (2), John Sullivan (6)
Reserves: J.D. Booty (5), Letroy Guion (5), Jaymar Johnson (6)
Never made the roster: None

 

2007
Pro Bowlers: Adrian Peterson (1), Sidney Rice (2)
Starters: Marcus McCauley (3), Brian Robison (4)
Reserves: Aundrae Allison (5), Rufus Alexander (6)
Never made the roster: Tyler Thigpen (7), Chandler Williams (7)

 

2006
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Chad Greenway (1), Cedric Griffin (2), Ryan Cook (2), Tarvaris Jackson (2), Ray Edwards (4)
Reserves: Greg Blue (5)
Never made the roster: Tyrone Culver (6)

 

2005
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Troy Williamson (1), Erasmus James (1), Marcus Johnson (2)
Reserves: Ciatrick Fason (4), C.J. Mosley (6)
Never made the roster: Dustin Fox (3), Adrian Ward (7)

 

2004
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Kenechi Udeze (1), Darrion Scott (3), Mewelde Moore (4)
Reserves: Dontarrious Thomas (2), Nat Dorsey (4), Rod Davis (5), Jeff Dugan (7)
Never made the roster: Deandre' Eiland (6)

 

2003
Pro Bowlers: Kevin Williams (1), E.J. Henderson (2)
Starters: Nate Burleson (3), Eddie Johnson (6)
Reserves: Onterrio Smith (4), Mike Nattiel (6), Keenan Howry (7)
Never made the roster: None

 

2002
Pro Bowlers: Bryant McKinnie (1)
Starters: Brian Williams (4), Nick Rogers (6)
Reserves: Raonall Smith (2), Willie Offord (3)
Never made the roster: Edward Ta'amu (4), Chad Beasley (7)

Reviewing a decade of drafts

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: April 26, 2012 - 12:33 PM

How will we look back on the Vikings' 2012 draft? The Purple could reap a harvest of multiple Pro Bowlers, consistent starters and quality reserves, as they did in 2007 and 2003. They could bring aboard a heap of busts that would make the 2005 draft look decent by comparison. Or they could land somewhere in the middle.

Let's take a look at their last 10 drafts to see how each group of rookies stack up. For the purposes of our discussion, we've sorted the picks into the following categories: 

Pro Bowlers: Actually selected to the Pro Bowl roster, not named as a replacement for an injured player or a Super Bowl participant

Starters: Have started at least eight games in a season, either for the Vikings or another team

Reserves: Made the Vikings' roster but did not start at least half of a season

Never made the roster: They might have played for somebody else, but they never made the Vikings' 53-man team.

And away we go …


2011

Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Christian Ponder (1), Kyle Rudolph (2)
Reserves: Christian Ballard (4), Brandon Burton (5), DeMarcus Love (6), Mistral Raymond (6), Brandon Fusco (6), D'Aundre Reed (7), Stephen Burton (7)
Never made the roster: Ross Homan (6)

 

2010
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: None
Reserves: Chris Cook (2), Toby Gerhart (2), Everson Griffen (4), Chris DeGeare (5), Joe Webb (6), Mickey Shuler (7), Ryan D'Imperio (7)
Never made the roster: Nate Triplett (5)

 

2009
Pro Bowlers: Percy Harvin (1)
Starters: Phil Loadholt (2), Asher Allen (3), Jamarca Sanford (7)
Reserves: Jasper Brinkley (5)
Never made the roster: None

 

2008
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Tyrell Johnson (2), John Sullivan (6)
Reserves: J.D. Booty (5), Letroy Guion (5), Jaymar Johnson (6)
Never made the roster: None

 

2007
Pro Bowlers: Adrian Peterson (1), Sidney Rice (2)
Starters: Marcus McCauley (3), Brian Robison (4)
Reserves: Aundrae Allison (5), Rufus Alexander (6)
Never made the roster: Tyler Thigpen (7), Chandler Williams (7)

 

2006
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Chad Greenway (1), Cedric Griffin (2), Ryan Cook (2), Tarvaris Jackson (2), Ray Edwards (4)
Reserves: Greg Blue (5)
Never made the roster: Tyrone Culver (6)

 

2005
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Troy Williamson (1), Erasmus James (1), Marcus Johnson (2)
Reserves: Ciatrick Fason (4), C.J. Mosley (6)
Never made the roster: Dustin Fox (3), Adrian Ward (7)

 

2004
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Kenechi Udeze (1), Darrion Scott (3), Mewelde Moore (4)
Reserves: Dontarrious Thomas (2), Nat Dorsey (4), Rod Davis (5), Jeff Dugan (7)
Never made the roster: Deandre' Eiland (6)

 

2003
Pro Bowlers: Kevin Williams (1), E.J. Henderson (2)
Starters: Nate Burleson (3), Eddie Johnson (6)
Reserves: Onterrio Smith (4), Mike Nattiel (6), Keenan Howry (7)
Never made the roster: None

 

2002
Pro Bowlers: Bryant McKinnie (1)
Starters: Brian Williams (4), Nick Rogers (6)
Reserves: Raonall Smith (2), Willie Offord (3)
Never made the roster: Edward Ta'amu (4), Chad Beasley (7)

      

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