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.
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.
The Vikings are holding their three-day mandatory mini-camp this week at Winter Park and one of the most mandatory things they need to figure out between now and their Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is how to improve their secondary.
Actually, it shouldn't be too difficult to improve given how low the bar was set last year. The Vikings' secondary was bad -- historically bad -- in 2011.
Their Quarterback Rating allowed (107.6) was the second-worst mark in the history of keeping track of such things. Their eight interceptions were tied for the lowest in the league despite the fact they also tied for the NFL lead with 50 sacks. There was a lot of pressure from Jared Allen and company, but little to show for it. They couldn't cover or produce turnovers.
That's a bad combination.
Getting Antoine Winfield back from last year's broken collarbone will obviously help a lot. So too will getting some kind of return on investment from 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook. Cook's off-field issues coupled with the sudden retirement a few weeks ago of 2009 third-round pick Asher Allen underscores the Vikings' biggest problem in the secondary: they haven't drafted particularly well.
Actually, that's being kind. Their drafting of defensive backs over the last 12 years (starting with the 2000 NFL Draft) has been nothing short of catastrophic.
Consider the following: from 2000 to 2011 the Vikings drafted a total of 18 cornerbacks and safeties. Those 18 defensive backs have played a grand total of 38 seasons in the NFL – or slightly more than two seasons per player – and have combined for just 35 interceptions. Do the math. That's less than two career interceptions per defensive back that the Vikings have drafted since the turn of the century. It's also less than one interception per season. That's not good.
Are interceptions the only way to measure the value of a cornerback or safety? Absolutely not, but it's a very good metric. And when you consider that more than half of the interceptions (20) from those 18 players came from two just players -- Cedric Griffin and Brian Williams -- it's even more unsettling.
Compounding the problem, the Vikings have shown a particular penchant of swinging and missing on defensive backs as high as the second and third rounds, including the aforementioned Allen and Cook. Tyrell Johnson (2008 second round) left this offseason with two pickoffs to his credit in four seasons. Remember Marcus McCauley (2007 third round), Dustin Fox (2005 third round), Willie Offord (2002 third round) and Eric Kelly (2001 third round)? The four of them combined for five career interceptions.
But many of those players were selected under previous player personnel regimes, some during the "triangle of authority" years.
Recently-anointed general manager Rick Spielman is undoubtedly ready to turn the page, starting with this past April's draft. You can bet Spielman is counting heavily on this year's third-round selection, lightning-fast corner Josh Robinson out of UCF, to buck the unfortunate Vikings' draft trend of early-round misfires in the secondary.
The very early reports on Robinson are exactly what you'd expect of a guy who ran the fastest 40 at the combine: he's a blur. The Vikings also appear to have struck gold with their second first-rounder from this year's draft, safety Harrison Smith. If the two of them can contribute right away – and Smith definitely should since he's penciled in as a starter – and other offseason additions such as former Bears corner Zack Bowman and former Ravens corner Chris Carr are even serviceable, the Vikings secondary will be better in 2012.
It's far too early to tell just how much better they'll be, but let's face it: they can't be worse. I'm boldly predicting an improvement to mediocrity and a return to double-digit interceptions.
Hey, it's a start.
After an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Vikings’ first-round draft picks on Thursday night, the rest of NFL Draft Weekend turned into a bit of a snoozer for most Vikings fans, and Saturday’s somewhat controversial selections seem to have drawn a fair amount of angst amongst the Purple Faithful. In particular, the selection of Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in Round 6 has seemingly caused the most outrage amongst Vikings fans and detractors alike.
In the end, I fall on the side of the naysayers on this one, but I’ll get to that in a bit. First, there actually are several arguments in favor of the move.
To start with, incumbent kicker Ryan Longwell is 37 years old (he’ll be 38 by the time the season starts) He missed six of his 28 field goal attempts in 2011, and missed five of his 13 attempts from beyond 40 yards. He’s also still owed $7 million over the next three seasons, with a cap hit of another $2.6 million on top of his base salary. From a pure business standpoint, it makes little sense to pay a 38-year-old kicker with obvious limitations coming off one of the worst seasons of his impressive career $7 million when a rookie would cost a tiny fraction of that cost. The $2.6 million cap hit (Longwell’s $3.5 million signing bonus, spread evenly across the life of his 4-year deal) would be a tough pill to swallow, but continuing to pay Longwell through his age 41 season might be throwing good money after bad. Even if Walsh misses a bunch of field goal attempts (he made just 74 percent of his kicks in college), would it really matter in 2012? Are the re-building Vikings just a couple of field goals away from the playoffs next year? Is paying a kicker who may be past his prime like one of the best in the league really a good allocation of Zygi Wilf’s money?
There’s also a case to be made that jettisoning the weak-legged Longwell in favor of the stronger Walsh is also a savvy move from a pure football standpoint as well.
Longwell’s major limitation is his inability to produce touchbacks on kickoffs. In 2011, he ranked 28th in the NFL with just 19 kickoffs, and he ranked 34th by forcing touchbacks on just 24.7 percent of his kicks (in part because of this, the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL in average opponent starting position, according to Football Outsiders' drive stats. Vikings opponents started the average drive at the 31-yard line, while the 49ers defense/special teams led the NFL by forcing opponents to start each drive, on average, at their own 24-yard line).
That might not seem very important, but according to people who are a lot smarter than me, it is. According to an article on a website called Advanced NFL Stats, touchbacks are a lot more valuable than you might imagine. The article is from 2009 and is therefore somewhat outdated, but the findings remain valid today. You can see all the nerdy details here if you’d like, but the highlights of the research done by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats are these:
Using a concept called Expected Points, Burke concludes that a touchback is worth the rough equivalent of half a sack (to drastically oversimplify things, this means that forcing a team to start out at their own 20-yard line twice in a game has roughly the same negative effect on the expected points that team’s offense will score as does sacking the quarterback once).
The Minnesota Vikings filled two of the most glaring holes in their starting lineup within a span of three hours Thursday night, selecting USC left tackle Matt Kalil and Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with a pair of first-round selections.
As company spokesmen, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier have done a nice job of drumming up interest among possible suitors for the third overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. By publicly declaring the Vikings' interest in left tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon – three top talents at positions of Vikings need – they have turned up the heat on trade talks.
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