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.

Posts about Percy Harvin

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: In defense of the offense

Posted by: Updated: October 2, 2012 - 11:25 AM

Even when you're riding high at 3-1 and shocking the world with back-to-back wins over 2011 playoff teams, some people just aren't satisfied. Yes, the Vikings knocked off the Lions 20-13 on Sunday afternoon, but given the Eeyorean nature (did I just coin a term?) of the Purple's fanbase – well-deserved, mind you, after 52 years of frustration – the win just wasn't "pretty" enough to satisfy some Helga-horned observers.

Most of the postgame grumbling was aimed at the Vikings offense, which produced just two Blair Walsh field goals and advanced the ball into the red zone once all day. And while it's true that Christian Ponder finished with a mere 111 passing yards – the fewest in a Vikings victory since Brett Favre's first game (Sept. 13, 2009, at Cleveland), when Brad Childress' foot was still firmly on the brake pedal – a deeper dive into the stats reveals an offensive performance on Sunday that was anything but … well … offensive.

First, the ugly totals: Detroit outgained the Vikings 341-227, had 23 first downs to the Vikings' 15, and even won the time-of-possession battle (30:42 to 29:18) despite rushing for just 55 yards.

However, those totals are skewed by two factors:

1. Because the Vikings scored touchdowns on Percy Harvin's kickoff return and Marcus Sherels' punt return, they only had nine offensive drives, compared to Detroit's 12. That matters. The Vikings' average drive on Sunday lasted seven plays and covered 45 25 yards, so if they had managed average performances on those two drives forfeited to the special-teams touchdowns, you can tack on 50 more yards of total offense. (NOTE: Thanks to reader flipside42 for catching that transcription error. Time to switch to decaf.)

2. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson made his Vikings debut and had a huge impact on the game, despite his pedestrian totals of four catches for 50 yards. He also used his speed to draw two pass interference calls against Detroit's Bill Bentley, both of which put the Vikings into Lions territory and led to Walsh field goals. Those 57 yards of penalties don't count toward the total offensive output.

Thus, if you give the Purple 50 more yards for two average drives the offense missed (could have been more, could have been less) and if you add on the 57 penalty yards drawn by Simpson, the 227-yard game from the offense looks a bit more respectable at 334 yards.

And yes, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas. But those of you who want to find the cloud in Sunday's silver lining of a victory should look beyond the surface-level statistics before you start moping about the Vikings offense.

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: Is the dreaded 'moral victory' the Vikings' only hope?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 20, 2012 - 4:28 PM

Unfortunately, Minnesota sports fans suffering from a lack of enough actual victories have become all too accustomed to moral victories the last couple years. I loathe moral victories as much as the next guy. Legitimate contenders for anything played with a ball or puck should never be satisfied with moral victories and you will never get any Vikings player or coach to admit that some kind of moral victory is ever good enough.

 
On paper, however, a victory of the moral variety looks like the Vikings' best chance at anything associated with the word "victory" when they clash with the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.
 
Jim Harbaugh's troops are going for three straight against the NFC North after beating up the Packers in Week 1 and toying with the Lions in Week 2. The 49ers have won 15 of 18 regular season games since Harbaugh took over and are the favorite of many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in February.
 
The Vikings have matchup problems all over the place.
 
Let's start with the most obvious one: the Vikings' offense is predicated to a large extent on the exploits of Adrian Peterson, but there is no better team in the NFL against the run than the 49ers. Amazingly, Peterson is feeling good after his first two games post-knee surgery and he always feels good at home, where he has rushed for 13 touchdowns in his last nine games. However, the Niners have ceded just one 100-yard effort to a running back in their last 39 games and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns to running backs in their last 19 games. That's defensive dominance teetering on the absurd.
 
Assuming Peterson has nowhere to run this Sunday, Christian Ponder's early-season accuracy (he currently leads the NFL with a 75.8 completion percentage) will be put to the test in many third-and-long situations. Of course, Ponder's lowest completion percentage and quarterback rating, by down, is on (you guessed it) third down.
 
Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season, which is great. But beating the Niners in the turnover department has proven tough to do during the Harbaugh Era. The 49ers' plus-28 turnover differential in 2011 was the second-best in NFL history, behind only the 1983 Washington Redskins (plus-43). Their quarterback Alex Smith has thrown 216 straight passes without getting intercepted. Of course, the Vikings have an NFL-low eight interceptions since the start of 2011. Thus, don't look for turnovers to turn the tide in favor of the Purple on Sunday.
 
The Vikings' issues against the pass are well-chronicled, and while the announcers and fans in attendance preoccupy themselves with the return of Randy Moss to the Metrodome to play against the Vikings for the first time in a regular season game, the Vikings' biggest problem will be in containing Vernon Davis, the Niners' Pro Bowl tight end. The Vikings have allowed six tight end touchdowns in their last eight games Meanwhile, Davis has caught an NFL-leading three touchdown passes this season and, going back to last year's playoffs, has seven touchdowns in his last three games. Matchup nightmare.
 
Are the 49ers unbeatable? No, obviously not. If the Cardinals – who had lost 13 of their last 15 road games -- can go to New England and beat the Patriots – who had won 24 of their last 25 home games – as they did last Sunday, anything can happen.
 
The last time the 49ers lost a game that mattered was the NFC Championship game last winter, in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants. That game was lost on a fumbled punt return, so maybe Chris Kluwe, Percy Harvin, Jamarca Sanford or Marcus Sherels can pull something out of their sleeves on special teams and upset the Niners.
 
Or maybe the Vikings' only real chance of victory is the dreaded moral victory. Maybe Peterson can score a touchdown or somehow run for 100 yards. Perhaps they can end Smith's string of passes without an interception or figure out a way to keep Davis from scoring. Maybe they can stay within a touchdown of the Niners, unlike the Packers or Lions who both lost to them by eight. Maybe the media will be able to get the condescending Harbaugh to answer a question in the post-game press conference.
 
VikesCentric followers, let's hear from you. The Vikings have what appear to be some winnable games in the weeks ahead, but do they have a chance against the 49ers? What would constitute a moral victory for the Vikings against the 49ers? Better yet, what is the Vikings' blueprint for actually pulling off the upset this Sunday? 
 
 
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: Jumping to conclusions

Posted by: Updated: September 10, 2012 - 3:30 PM

It’s just one week, but everyone still wants to jump to conclusions about, well, just about everything we saw during the Vikings’ scintillating Week 1 win over the Jaguars. Let’s run down a handful of conclusions one might reach after Sunday, and discuss whether they’re more trend or mirage.

Blair Walsh has ice water in his veins.

Or “intestinal fortitude,” as head coach Leslie Frazier told the media after the game. For a 22-year-old rookie kicking in his first career game, Walsh could not have been more clutch. He calmly knocked down the 55-yarder to force overtime like it was just another routine extra point, then booted the 38-yarder in overtime for the (eventual) win.

Verdict: Trend. Walsh destroyed all doubts about whether the Vikings “wasted” a sixth-round pick on him, and vindicated General Manager Rick Spielman, who put his faith in Walsh by cutting expensive veteran Ryan Longwell in the offseason. We knew Walsh had a big leg, but after his clutch performance on Sunday it appears he’s got the guts to go along with it.
 
Adrian Peterson is not human.
 
Without playing a single preseason snap and a mere eight months removed from a knee injury that usually takes at least a year or more to completely heal from, Peterson didn’t miss a beat. After looking a bit tentative early in the game, Peterson settled down after scoring his first touchdown before looking like vintage AP on a couple of long runs (of ten and 20 yards) in overtime.
 
Verdict: Trend. He’s superman. Nobody will ever underestimate him again.
 
The secondary still stinks.
 
Sophomore Blaine Gabbert completed only 51 percent of his passes as a rookie and threw for almost as many interceptions (11) as he did touchdowns (12). On Sunday, what was supposed to be an improved Vikings secondary let him complete 23-of-39 (59 percent) for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
 
Verdict: Trend. Here we go again. Despite the return of cornerbacks Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield and the infusion of some young talent (safety Harrison Smith and nickel corner Josh Robinson), the Vikings had few answers for what was one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL a year ago. They managed to hold highly touted rookie wideout Justin Blackmon in check, but there were frequent breakdowns that led on numerous times to wide open receivers converting big plays for the Jaguars. Winfield has lost at least a step, Cook looked rusty, and the safety tandem of Smith and Mistral Raymond was far too inconsistent. In particular, on the fateful last-minute touchdown catch by the Jaguars’ Cecil Shorts, Raymond barely moved from where he had lined up. He was inexplicably frozen right after the snap, appearing, for some reason, to be shadowing Gabbert in the pocket while one receiver ran right past him and leaving Cook on an island against Shorts. How do you not ensure that there’s adequate coverage deep on that play?
 
Christian Ponder has arrived.
 
Ponder got off to a rocky start, but he engineered five scoring drives after halftime, including the game-tying one with 20 seconds on the clock and a methodical overtime drive. Most importantly, he didn’t commit a turnover.
 
Verdict: Mirage. Outside of Peterson looking healthy, Ponder was easily the most promising takeaway from this game. He completed nearly 75 percent of his passes and got in a groove once he got Percy Harvin involved. Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph are starting to emerge as legitimate go-to guys for Ponder, and if Peterson is this effective in the running game Ponder should continue to have opportunities to grow. But let’s not confuse a home opener against a bad Jaguars defense that was missing its’ top cornerback for the Bears or Packers on the road in late November. Sunday was a positive step in nearly every way for Ponder, but there will be more bumps in the road.
 
The play calling remains dubious.
 
The Vikings gained a total of two first downs on their first four drives of the game, all of which resulted in punts. Other than a reverse to Percy Harvin on the third play of the game, Harvin was completely invisible in the offense until the fifth drive. Later, they stalled out several times inside the red zone and had to settle for field goals when a touchdown would have put the game out of reach.
 
Verdict: Trend. The entire offense looked out of sync early on. Perhaps it was because nobody knew what to expect while breaking Peterson in, or perhaps the team was just sluggish coming off an equally sluggish preseason. Whatever the case, there shouldn’t be any excuse for excluding Harvin from the game plan for almost an entire half. Things finally got moving on the fifth drive, when Ponder threw it to Harvin three straight times to open a drive that began with just over two minutes left in the half. That ultimately resulted in the first of Peterson’s two touchdowns, and things were generally much improved for the remainder of the game. But why did it take nearly an entire half to get the ball into Harvin’s hands? Later, a nice Ponder-to-Rudolph connection gave the Vikings a first-and-goal from the three-yard line. Instead of just jamming Peterson down the Jaguars’ throats for a third time, the Vikings got cute; first running Harvin straight up the gut out of the backfield, then throwing a pass to third-string running back Matt Asiata before a broken play resulted in an incomplete pass to little-used tight end John Carlson on third down. Matt Asiata? Really? By not punching the ball into the end zone after three straight bizarre play calls, the Vikes left the door open for the late Jaguars’ comeback. The Vikings game plan should be pretty obvious and simple: Get the ball to Peterson and Harvin. End of story. Bill Musgrave seems to be doing a decent job with Christian Ponder’s development, but there continue to be a handful of head-scratching moments in just about every game.
 
Jared Allen was invisible.
 
Other than a sack on the second Jaguars offensive play that was reversed because of a questionable offside call on Allen himself, we saw little from last year’s NFL sacks leader. He was essentially stifled by Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe, and the Vikings inability to generate a pass rush was part of the reason Gabbert was able to dissect the secondary.
 
Verdict: Mirage. It was uncharacteristic and disappointing that he didn’t show up at home in the season opener – he failed to register a sack in just three games all of last year – but Allen will get his. Call it an off day and expect to see him terrorize Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck next week. If Allen and Brian Robison can generate a better pass rush next week and beyond, it will make the inexperienced secondary look a lot better.
 
Winning cures all ills.
 
It was ugly at times and you’d expect the Vikings to win a home game against one of last year’s worst AFC teams, but a win is a win is a win.
 
Verdict: TBD. The Vikings will take wins any way they can. Coming off the worst season in franchise history, they’re not in a position to be worried about who they beat or how pretty or ugly it is. Take last year, for example, when they easily could have been 3-0 after the first three games but turned that into 0-3 with a series of incredible second-half collapses. If the team wins a couple of those games early last season, there’s a school of thought that says the remainder of the year could have been totally different. One thing is very clear: if they’d lost on Sunday in the waning moments on a Blaine Gabbert-to-Cecil Shorts miracle, it could have sent them spiraling the wrong way before the season was even two weeks old. The impressive comeback should do wonders for this team’s confidence, and with an early-season schedule that’s littered with winnable games (Colts, Titans, Redskins, Cardinals, Bucs all within the next seven weeks), that confidence could lead to some more W’s.

Christian Peterson is the Director of Operations at LeagueSafe.com and Managing Editor of LeagueSafe Post. He has been a contributor to Vikings.com and is a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on FM 100.3 KFAN on Saturday mornings during the football season. Follow him on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

VikesCentric: More rehearsal needed

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 24, 2012 - 10:49 PM

In NFL circles, the third preseason game is cleverly referred to as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Teams use the third game to hone their timing for Week 1 by playing their starting units longer than in any of the other exhibition contests before resting the regulars in the fourth game in an effort to preserve their health. Suffice it to say Friday night's dress rehearsal didn't exactly go as planned for your Minnesota Vikings.

 
Yes, the Chargers needed a walk-off field goal to win the game 12-10. But anyone who witnessed what took place at Mall of America Field knows this was not at all what Leslie Frazier had in mind.
 
Before delving head-first into the negativity, know that I looked really hard to find a silver lining in Friday's messy showing. Believe me, I did. And the best I could come up with was that a fan won a trip to Cancun during a first-half promotion down on the field. Seriously, that's the best I could do.
 
The Vikings defense held the Chargers to 202 total yards and no touchdowns. Normally that would be impressive, but the Bolts didn't get the memo on the whole "dress rehearsal" deal. San Diego de-activated 18 players, including three-fifths of their injured offensive line starters, injured starting running back Ryan Mathews, as well as completely healthy quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates.
 
Holding Charlie Whitehurst in check just isn't the same as flummoxing Rivers.
 
The Vikings' first-team offense was utterly listless, as Christian Ponder led the starters to three points even though they played deep into the third quarter.
 
The closest thing to a first-team offensive highlight came about midway through the second quarter when Christian Ponder finally hooked up with Percy Harvin downfield after a few earlier missed connections. The 40-yard, over-the-shoulder grab was a thing of beauty… but was quickly followed three plays later by a Chargers interception with 8:32 remaining in the first half. The pick was ruled a drop at first, but the fill-in referees overturned the call while Vikings fans amused themselves by doing the wave and paying no discernible attention to the game. If this had been a regular season game, the reversal would have been the fans' cue to boo lustily and berate the refs even though it was the right call.
 
Yeah, it was a bad dress rehearsal for the fans too.
 
It was kind of hard to blame them, given what they were watching. However, I have no excuses for the woman who quite literally failed the dress rehearsal by wearing a No. 85 Jim Kleinsasser jersey. I had to double-check the media guide to be sure, but Jimmy never wore any number other than 40 with the Vikes. Sigh.
 
Other sad trombone performances included first-round draft pick Matt Kalil looking like a rookie for the first time this preseason. Chargers pass-rushers seemed to give him consistent trouble and the big left tackle was beaten in the first quarter for a sack by Chargers linebacker Larry English – that's third-string linebacker Larry English if you are following along on your Chargers depth chart.
 
Backup running back Matt Asiata made the strongest bid at being my Vikings silver-lining player, rushing for 48 yards on nine carries and scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes left, but the silver was tarnished somewhat by the third-quarter fumble he lost at the Chargers' four-yard line. Fellow running backs Lex Hillard and Derrick Coleman also coughed up fumbles.
 
In all the Vikings turned the ball over four times, punted five times, allowed five sacks and were flagged six times for 81 yards.
 
It was more mess rehearsal than dress rehearsal.
 
One week after selling a heaping helping of hope to their fans with a 36-14 shellacking of the Bills it seems the Vikes have a lot more rehearsing to do between now and the start of the real games. It's enough to make you wonder whether they might call an audible and give their starters a little extra run next Thursday in their preseason finale against Houston.
 
 
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

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