VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
There are numerous qualities an NFL team looks for in a quarterback. They include toughness, intelligence, football IQ, strong arm, accuracy, quick legs, good work ethic, prefers film work over twitter and a good night sleep over the night life. Perhaps one valued over them all is a desire to improve, and the Vikings have that in Teddy Bridgewater.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer agrees that Bridgewater has the drive and determination to get better—which is necessary when playing quarterback, a position considered by many to be the most difficult in sports. Zimmer likes what sees in Bridgewater:
“The great thing about him is he wants to work and get better every day,” he told the Star Tribune. “I feel really good about him. He’s the quality of guy that we really want to have here.”
The drive is certainly there for Bridgewater. Speaking to the Pioneer Press recently, Bridgewater said that he “wasn’t impressed” with his rookie season (even though he was the fan’s choice for the rookie of the year).
"Yes, we did some good things as a team," he said, "but we could have been much better finishing games. That's what separates championship teams and determining whether you're playing games in January or watching games in January."
Bridgewater often avoids speaking about just himself when referring to his job. When he does well and is asked about it, he responds in terms of the team. He said, like his coach, team goals are more important than winning individual awards.
"I have that same mind-set [as Zimmer]," he told the Pioneer Press. "I could care less about the single-player awards; I'm all about team success. The ultimate goal is to win championships.”
Speaking of his team, Bridgewater was working out recently in Southern California, with a group of teammates, particularly some of the players he is going to be throwing passes to next season. Bridgewater gathered with Kyle Rudolph, Jerick McKinnon, Charles Johnson and recently acquired tight end Brandon Bostick. The group was running drills, throwing passes, trying to get better. They spent time together off the field as well, bowling, playing softball and just getting to know each other better.
"It's a special time because you get to see guys off the field," said Bridgewater told the Pioneer Press. "When you're in Minnesota, we only get to see guys in their work environment. To be able to be around the guys and see how they live their everyday lives outside of football, it builds a bond, one that will eventually be unbreakable."
Zimmer, who like Bridgewater, got a new job last season, is just as serious about getting better. He is a driven individual who likes to surround himself with others of like mind. He sees that in Bridgewater.
“I know he’s spending some time with those guys,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “I believe it’s this week he has a bunch of guys coming down to see him [in Miami, his hometown]. That stuff I feel good about, the way he progressed throughout the season. We anticipate that he’ll continue to progress at that pace. He has to continue to make the right decisions and take the plays that are there for him. All of those things are going to lead to his development.”
Zimmer would like also Bridgewater to improve by building up his body. The rigors of playing quarterback in the NFL demand that players can take a hit and stay on the field. Former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder learned that after his rookie year and came back for his second season noticeably bulked up for the coming season. Zimmer would like to see that from Bridgewater as well.
“The big thing with Teddy is he needs to add a little bit more strength, a little more weight on him,” Zimmer said. “He’s about 210 pounds, we’re trying to get him around 218, somewhere in that range.”
So, while Bridgewater is hitting the weight room, the Vikings and Zimmer should be working on putting the pieces in place around him. They have started with upgrading the receiving corps he’ll throw to in acquiring Mike Wallace in a trade with Miami. The next step is getting Adrian Peterson off his high horse (or camel) and return him to the Vikings backfield with his head in the right place.
But even more important than that is fortifying the offensive line. Bridgewater can do all the weight training and gaining he wants, but if the Vikings offensive line can’t protect him, Bridgewater will be spending more time on the injured list than behind center.
Teddy is ready to get better. He’s got the right attitude, work ethic, skills, abilities and desire to improve at his position. He’s working with his teammates to form bonds off the field so they will have chemistry on it. He’s doing exactly what you would want a young quarterback and leader of your team to do. It’s incumbent upon the Vikings that they make sure they do what is necessary to protect him and allow him to grow and develop.
"I want to have a plan before the ball is even snapped. I want to win at the line of scrimmage," he told the Pioneer Press. "I want to know where I'm going with the football, what I'm doing with protection and just sit back in the pocket and play comfortable."
Give him a decent offensive line and Teddy Bridgewater will do just that.
Head over to Vikings Journal to check out Bo Mitchell's early fantasy football rankings and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.
On Saturday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson celebrated his 30th birthday. What did you get him? A piece of your mind? A big ‘ol slice of humble pie? Maybe you went big and wrote him a reality check? Whatever you did or (likely) didn’t get him, the party went on without us. Complete with a 30 foot ice bar and a grand entrance on the back of an camel, Peterson turned the corner and became the dreaded running back over 30!
But what does that mean for his future with the Vikings? Does it make it more or less likely that he returns to the team? And is there really a precedent set for dramatically declining performance for RBs after their thirtieth birthday? Let’s find out…
It’s not like Adrian’s 30th birthday surprised anybody. We knew it was coming and this weekend just served as the place mark. So it’s unlikely that it will affect the odds that he gets traded or not. That said, there is a rare precedent set for running backs to be traded after their thirtieth birthday.
While many have swapped teams via free agency later in their careers, only one running back has been traded on the north side of their 30th birthday. On March 13th, 2014, 30-year old Darren Sproles was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 5th round pick. Obviously the value at stake is a little different with Sproles, bringing the stakes down a bit and making the risk of a 30-year old back decline. Sproles had an average season for the Eagles on most counts but actually found the endzone rushing more last season (6 times) than any other year in his career.
It’s different with AP though. On one hand we’re talking about the best running back in the league, a guy who once ran for 2,000+ yards in one season. On the other, you have to look at an aging back, with a reconstructed knee and a year of sitting on the couch (sort of, but not really). If Adrian continues an attempt to impose his will upon the Vikings and he were to be traded for a 1st round pick, it wouldn’t be crazy, but certainly unheard of.
So how about this idea that running backs hit s severe drop off after their 30th birthday, is it reality? Let’s check out the career trajectory of a few running backs that Adrian has often been compared to through this point in his career, Emmitt Smith and Eric Dickerson.
Up until his 30th birthday, Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith turned 20 carries per game into just under 90 yards per game and nearly a touchdown per game (.91 per game). After his thirtieth birthday, those numbers dropped DRAMATICALLY to 67 yards per game and less than a half touchdown per game (.45 per game). In fairness to Emmitt, these numbers do include a heinous season with the Cardinals in 2003. Even with that season and his time in Arizona aside, Emmitt’s final four seasons with the Cowboys saw a 25 yard per game drop and a decline of nearly a half touchdown per game less.
For Dickerson, the dropoff was even more dramatic. Dickerson’s pre-30 seasons were stellar. Splitting time between the Rams and the Colts, Dickerson averaged 107 yards per game and .80 touchdowns per game. Following his 30th birthday, Dickerson’s yards per game dropped by 57 yards to 49.6 yards per game! In 41 games over his final 4 seasons, Dickerson scored only 8 more touchdowns.
Admittedly, there is a lot that could go into this theory. By the time that most of these running backs turn 30, they have had high school, four years of college and 7 or so season of NFL wear and tear on their bodies. For Smith, it was nearly 2900 carries and Dickerson about 2400 by the time they turned 30. Roughly, that means there were about that many tackles as well. Your body breaks down, your body ages and naturally you begin to slow down.
Let’s even go as far as saying that Adrian’s physical body is actually that of a 29-year old (this based off of the ridiculous theory that because he didn’t play in 2014 his body has some sort of saved energy ready to expend). Even then, Peterson already has three years of college and 2,000 professional snaps (tackles) of wear and tear on that body. And don’t forget his running style. It’s not nearly the shake and bake, avoid contact style that Dickerson and even Smith employed, nope, Adrian welcomes the contact sometimes he even initiates it.
So as you can see, there truly is some relevance to those shooting out warnings for teams that are interested in dishing over high round picks for a 30-year old running back. Still, it’s likely that Peterson will be traded and likely that someone will overspend. After all, we’ve been told time and time again that Adrian is “a freak”, “a specimen” and “not like those other backs.”
This just in, he’s still human.
With the second week of the free agency period coming to a close the next few days, it’s about to be time for the Vikings to begin shifting their attention from the rest of the players on the open market to the next task at hand.
When we last talked to Rick Spielman, he told us that each off season there are three priorities that the team takes care of. First, they look at their roster and assess the players that they have on roster or have first access to. Second, they scan the free agent market and see what sort of opportunities might be out there. And thirdly, they hone in on the incoming class of professionals and prepare for the draft.
For the most part, we’re all the way through the first and second phases of the Vikings offseason plans. As we found out with the Mike Wallace trade, there is always room for a little multitasking if the price is right, but for the most part, the Vikings are done spending in free agency.
To date, the team has signed Matt Asiata, Tom Johnson, Cullen Loeffler, Shaun Hill, Joe Berger, Mike Harris and DuJuan Harris, while trading for Mike Wallace and releasing Charlie Johnson and Greg Jennings. Factoring in another $6MM for incoming draft picks, the Vikings are currently sitting with just about $8MM left over in cap space right now. That number gives them some flexibility to sign or to sit.
Leaving just $8MM clears the Vikings of the salary cap floor minimum spending level of 89% pretty easily, but it also gives them some wiggle room to either work with the money after cuts are made from training camp or begin the process to extend the contract of safety Harrison Smith. Either way, unless a player gets cut who fits the Vikings scheme so perfectly, don’t expect the Vikings to sign many more players off the free agent heap.
That leaves the third phase in Rick Spielman’s offseason plan to be the focal point for the team’s attention going forward; hone in on the NFL Draft.
Now, in reality, they’ve been multitasking the entire time and have been paying close attention to the combine and pro days around the country quite a bit. Just this last week, both Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer were in East Lansing to check out top flight cornerback Trae Waynes. But we’re on the cusp of the time where they can clear their schedules, cancel their trips and sift through all the info that they have collected with their scout teams over the past few months.
They’ve addressed some needs through free agency, mainly adding a number one wide receiver (Mike Wallace) and then filling in some emergency roles of left guard (Joe Berger) and backup quarterback (Shaun Hill). There team looks different than it did just one month ago. The needs have shifted and priorities for those needs have certainly changed.
Oh sure, they’ll be a free agent visit here or there, but they’ll be the kind that might as well have slipped under the radar. Don’t expect to hear any news of Crabtree or Raji coming to town. The next six weeks will be meeting one on one with prospects and sorting through data to formulate their draft board.
We’ve been in the “war room” before for meetings with Rick Spielman and the Vikings draft board spans the extent of the 14’x20’ meeting room. While it’s covered up with a curtain any time we’re invited in there, you can see the tail ends of notes written and stickers placed spilling over outside the shadow the curtain is casting. Stacks of papers and shelves of binders fill the rest of the space, all data that is compiled, sorted and put to use during this period of the offseason plan.
Most of the attention is obviously placed on the high value picks that come in the 1st and 2nd rounds, but the team prepares, thoroughly prepares, for all seven rounds and then some in preparation for undrafted free agents. That takes time, collaboration and devotion.
So while it may seem that the Vikings are sitting on their hands over at Winter Park, know that in reality, it’s the tireless hours they put in now that pay dividends into the future of this squad.
The draft is 40 days away from today, I cannot wait!
If James Carville from former President Bill Clinton’s campaign staff was working for the Vikings he might utter the phrase: “It’s the offensive line, stupid!” Just like a strong economy can fuel election to the White House, a strong offensive line helps coaches keep their jobs. The Vikings need to focus on their offensive line.
It’s not that general Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer haven’t paid attention to the offensive line. It’s just that they have yet to improve it (on paper) over how it finished the season in 2014. In fact, more players are gone from that line than have been added.
Thus far, the Vikings have made the following moves on the offensive line:
* On Feb. 27 the Vikings released 2014 starting left guard Charlie Johnson. At 30, Johnson was aging, his skills were declining and he was making too much (a $2,500,000 cap hit) for his production. It was the right move, but the Vikings should have had a solid plan to replace him.
* On March 11 they re-signed versatile backup center/guard Joe Berger, who can play multiple positions on the line. It was necessary for depth, but he should be a starter only if all other plans fail.
* The team made a big swing at one of the top guards in free agency, Cincinnati’s Clint Boling, and missed, leaving a gaping hole on the left side of the unfilled.
* Then on March 16 last year’s backup guard Vladimir Ducasse, who filled in for the injured Brandon Fusco, signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears. It is not a huge loss, as Ducasse has only 11 starts in 63 games in five seasons and gave way to other back ups last year.
* That was followed on March 17 by the Vikings announcing they had re-signed swing tackle Mike Harris. Harris filled in for Phil Loadholt last season and even played some guard for the team. Harris comes back on a one-year deal, and he told the Pioneer Press he was happy to return and will play wherever the team needs him to play:
“It’s a place where I feel like I can grow as a player,” Harris said. “They’ve got a great coaching staff, especially [offensive coordinator] Norv Turner. Offensively, it’s just going to get better this year, and I just want to be part of it. I’m just happy they have the confidence in me and they believe in me and want me on the team.’’
So to tally things up, the Vikings have two starters returning from significant injuries (guard Fusco and tackle Loadholt both suffered season-ending torn pectorals) a left tackle who struggled last season in Matt Kalil, center John Sullivan who is solid but will be 30 on opening weekend and a backup in Berger who is probably the starting left guard by default.
That leaves Harris on the bench with three other tackles on the roster (Austin Wentworth, Antonio Richardson and Carter Bykowski) who have a total of two seasons of NFL experience. At guard the backups are David Yankey and Jordan McCray, who failed to see the field in their rookie seasons.
Now, perhaps the Vikings staff feels confident enough in these young players (with limited experience) to step in at a moment’s notice this season, and that is why they didn’t push harder to fill Johnson’s left guard spot with an expensive blue chip free agent (Boling, Orlando Franklin or Mike Iupati, for instance).
But I would rather see Berger and Harris again being the first line backups and then fill in with the younger developing players. It says something that with all the injuries last season, Yankey didn’t get on the field in a game.
The truth of the matter is, however, that the line played better during the last quarter of the season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater appeared to have more time to throw downfield, which is in partly attributable to his development, but the line deserves some credit, as well.
At season’s end, Berger and Harris were in the line-up with Kalil, Sullivan and Johnson—so they contributed to the unit’s improved play. That, for me, makes the re-signings of those two backups good moves, but I was hoping for a little more. Had the Vikings grabbed a decent starting guard in free agency, they would have been able to avoid addressing it in the first round of the draft.
But now I believe that is what they are left with. Perhaps that was the plan: take a chance with a top guard in free agency (Boling), but don’t break the bank acquiring him. If he bites, great; if not, so be it. And if they don’t get him, then Berger becomes an even bigger priority.
The team (with its apparent plan to build a young team from the draft and not over-spend on aging veterans) will likely try to grab an offensive lineman at No. 11 in the April draft. In our last mock draft at Vikings Journal, Bo Mitchell had the Vikings selecting Brandon Scherff, offensive tackle from Iowa.
I am good with that—I have long advocated getting younger and better on the line and that starts with the draft—but it amazes me how one’s perceptions and desires change as things progress, including my own. I was all in on Boling, which I thought would allow the Vikings to grab a wide receiver or cornerback at No. 11. But the Viking missed on Boling and then traded for wide receiver Mike Wallace (and cut Greg Jennings), so the focus reverts back onto the offensive line.
There are several free agent guards still available, including Stefan Wisniewski from Oakland. Wisniewski visited some teams, but that list of teams thus far has not included the Vikings. Should it? I would say given the importance of the line, the big hole at guard and the fact that Wisniewski can also play center, he is worthy of the Vikings at least kicking the tires on him.
Head over to Vikings Journal to check out AJ Mansour's story on Trae Waynes and Bo Mitchell's early fantasy football rankings and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.
It’s interesting how the wheels keep on turning leading up to the NFL Draft. A month ago, the chips were falling and it was Brandon Scherff who was lining up for the Vikings with the 11th overall selection. Two weeks later, an apparent Louisville Cardinal reunion was in the works with WR Devante Parker slipping back to the 11 spot. Most recently though, the projections seem to fit right in line with what the duo of Zimmer and Spielman have been looking to build in Minnesota.
Take a peek around the web and one of the names you’ll regularly see falling to the Vikings at pick number 11 is Michigan State defensive back Trae Waynes. Adding to the speculation, the Michigan State pro day was held in East Lansing Wednesday morning and it’s safe to say that the Minnesota Vikings were well represented at the midweek event.
While they’ve both been busy traveling independently to pro days around the country both general manager Rick Spielman and defensive mastermind head coach Mike Zimmer were among the cohort of NFL representatives on hand to observe what the Spartans had to offer to this year’s NFL Draft class. Having both of them in attendance tips their hand a bit showing that there is something of great interest among the field. While the team doesn’t speak on the record about players’ performances leading up to the draft, one of Waynes’ former teammates at Michigan State made it seem like Waynes stole the show and turned some heads.
“I think he just sealed the deal,” Bengals rookie Darqueze Dennard told the Detroit Free Press Wednesday. “I think he just showed all the scouts and coaches who came here to witness the pro day that he's the best cornerback, the best defensive back, coming into the draft.”
Waynes started 27 games over three years for the Spartans, appearing in 36. Opting for the NFL after his Junior season, Trae will lean on the 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed and 46 tackles recorded during his final season as he prepares to take the next step. By most accounts, his on field performance paired with his physical size (6’, 186lbs) is good enough to pin him as the first defensive back off the board this year.
Furthering the Vikings level of interest in pairing Waynes with third year DB Xavier Rhodes, the team has already scheduled an individual workout/meeting with him for mid April. But they’re not alone in that request. The Jacksonville Jaguars (3rd overall pick), Tennessee Titans (2nd overall pick) and Carolina Panthers (25th overall pick) have also requested meetings with the 22-year old prospect.
Waynes is a solid man-to-man defender but struggles from the same issue that Xavier Rhodes did early in his career, he’s pretty handsy and that won’t fly at the next level. Last season Rhodes started to figure it out a bit. Maybe that was the second-year growth curve, or maybe it was the implementation and coaching of Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. Either way, Minnesota would be a good situation for Waynes to land within.
The prospect of pairing the 6’0” Waynes with the 6’1” Rhodes in the Vikings secondary will serve this team nicely in a division where tall receivers are the norm.
With six weeks to go between the first round of the NFL Draft and today, the deck will surely be shuffled again. When a guy runs a 4.31 forty as Waynes did (the second fastest time at the combine this year), heads are turned. When they are already on everybody’s radar, decisions are solidified. All of that said, the Vikings at 11, are in a good position for Waynes to fall to them allowing them to get a great value pick, at a position of need, that will continue the projection of this team solidifying their defensive backfield and moving forward into the future.
One of the many takeaways I have from the Vikings’ pair of splashy wide receiver transactions this past weekend is that Jarius Wright figures to be one of the primary beneficiaries. Opportunity is pounding on the door for Wright, and the timing couldn’t be better as he enters the final season of his rookie contract.
When I heard about the Vikings’ trade for Mike Wallace, I wasn’t surprised. Everyone knows they tried to land him in 2013 before he signed with the Dolphins – opting for “palm trees versus trees with no leaves” as Wallace mentioned in his conference call with media on Saturday.
My immediate thought upon hearing the Wallace news was, “I wonder what happens with Greg Jennings and his big contract now?” It didn’t take long to find out.
Once Jennings was let go, I had two primary responses: “I wonder if Chad Greenway is the next one up for a contract restructuring or release?” followed by “I wonder if Jarius Wright realizes he’s the No. 1 slot receiver on this team as of today?”
We’re still waiting to find out what the Vikings’ plans are for Greenway.
At this point, however, Wright has probably heard opportunity knocking. Or perhaps he heard his offensive coordinator Norv Turner tell Paul Allen on KFAN Monday morning that he likes where things are with the receiving corps, specifically mentioning Wright several times.
“I like our receiver situation. Jarius Wright came on and really played well the second half,” Turner proclaimed in response to a question about possibly of the Vikings still drafting a wide receiver.
When PA asked a follow-up question about the slot receiver situation, Wright was the player that Coach Turner pointed to immediately. “We ended up playing Jarius in the slot a great deal with Greg [Jennings] playing outside because that speed matchup was so good with Jarius,” Turner said, recalling the deep fades and deep crossing patterns Wright reeled in this past season.
“I like the fact that we can get Jarius’ speed in there [at the slot],” Turner added. “It’s a hard matchup, particularly if they want to start doubling people on the outside.”
Norv gets it. He’s forgotten more about NFL offenses than you or me, or most humans, will ever know. He realizes the NFL is built on creating matchup problems, and that’s what he views Jarius as – a problem for defenses, specifically if they opt to double-cover the speedy Wallace. The new guy’s speed is well-documented. It’s his calling card.
Remember, as Norv alluded to, Wright has some wheels, too. He recorded a 4.42 in the 40 during his combine workouts in 2012. Wright has parlayed that speed into explosive plays periodically throughout his three seasons with the Vikings, most notably in Week 14 this past season. His 87-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Jets in December is the second-longest overtime passing touchdown in NFL history.
That big play against the Jets was the highlight of Wright’s best season to date. He finished 2014 with career highs in targets (62), receptions (42) and yards (588). Hardly breathtaking numbers, but he seemed to click with Teddy Bridgewater as a third or fourth receiving option for much of the season.
While Wright’s straight-line speed is undeniable, as Arif Hasan pointed out here at Vikings Journal, Wright doesn’t exactly measure up to Jennings in terms of diversity of routes. The Vikings saved themselves some salary cap room by releasing Jennings, but they also lost an accomplished, well-rounded, receiver and a good guy. That’s the price of doing business in today’s NFL.
Jennings’ departure is Wright’s gain. Wright is set to earn $1.54 million in 2015 and will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season. What better time to cash in on a golden opportunity? It certainly sounds like Turner has plans to continue leveraging his speed from the slot.
Then again, the Vikings still could take a wide receiver in the early rounds of the draft and alter Wright’s outlook in yo-yo fashion yet again. In my latest mock draft, I have the Vikings going with an offensive lineman in round one, but a wide receiver isn’t out of the question with that first pick. And this is a deep wide receiver class, so grabbing one in the subsequent rounds is absolutely an option should they go a different direction in round one.
For now, though, as we sit here on St. Patrick’s Day, Wright is the lucky one with a great opportunity.
Meanwhile, the Vikings’ PR team seems focused on diverting everyone’s attention away from the initial reports that Wallace wasn’t happy about being traded to the Vikings – and the frequent reports that that he’s a malcontent in general – with feel-good content intended to assure everyone that Wallace really likes it here.
Speaking of Vikings’ PR challenges, I can’t believe I made it through an entire post without mentioning a certain unhappy running back.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
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