Is changing of guard in Vikings plans?

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2011 - 8:24 PM

At age 35, Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson has been protecting quarterbacks from some of the NFL’s nastiest pass rushers for 11 seasons. But after playing in seven consecutive Pro Bowls, his last appearance was in 2009, and he is clearly slowing down. Coach Leslie Frazier says Hutchinson relies more on veteran guile these days.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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A snapshot look at the Vikings as they prepare for Sunday's game in Atlanta against the Falcons. Player in the spotlight

Left guard Steve Hutchinson. And mostly because Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was asked to evaluate Hutchinson's play Monday and performed such a skillful verbal ballet that the "Dancing with the Stars" producers began calling.

"He's still a guy that's well-respected around the league," Frazier said. "People are still conscious of what he's able to do from a run-blocking standpoint. Probably not the same Steve that he was five years ago or four years ago, but still very effective for our team."

Hutchinson will turn 35 on New Year's Day. He's finishing his 11th season and has played 161 career games, including playoffs. At times this season it seems as if the wear and tear has begun to take a toll.

"He's getting a little bit older," Frazier continued, carefully choosing his words. "But that equates to experience in his case. It allows him to do some things from a mental standpoint that he might not be able to do quite as well from a physical standpoint. He's offset whatever he doesn't have from the physical standpoint that he had earlier by the fact that he has a number of years of experience and he can anticipate things a lot quicker than a younger guy could."

Wait. Was that a back-handed compliment?

Still, an aging left guard due to make close to $7 million in 2012? If the Vikings want to keep Hutchinson as part of their plans next season, a contract restructuring might be in order.

Most pressing question

Should Adrian Peterson play this weekend?

No. No way. Absolutely not. The Vikings shouldn't even put Peterson's helmet and shoulder pads in with the luggage when they take off for Atlanta. The franchise star has a high-ankle sprain that has him hobbling in a walking boot. The team has a 2-8 record that gives Sunday's game very little significance. There's only one decision: Put Peterson on the shelf for a week or two -- maybe three? -- and give Toby Gerhart an opportunity to prove his worth.

Keep an eye on ...

After a blowout loss in Green Bay that saw the Packers turn up their blitz knob against Christian Ponder, the Vikings knew future opponents had a working defensive blueprint. Oakland followed suit Sunday, battering Ponder with their own blitz barrage. Expect more of the same at the Georgia Dome this weekend.

To offset the added pressure, Frazier said he's searching for ways to buy Ponder just another breath. The Vikings believe there are big plays to be had downfield with another second of protection. Also, take a look back at Percy Harvin's 26-yard touchdown reception from Sunday's loss, a simple screen play that exploited the Raiders' attacking mentality.

"They get everybody going in one direction and Percy is untouched on a simple screen away from the action," Frazier said. "So yes, there are some ways to slow them down if they want to bring pressure the way we've been getting it for the last couple of weeks."

Scouting the Falcons

Low-profile coach Mike Smith found himself in the national spotlight in Week 10, opting to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29 in overtime against the Saints. Oops! The Falcons lost but quickly bounced back this past weekend with a thorough 23-17 victory over Tennessee. Atlanta piled up 432 yards in the game and used a lot of no-huddle offense. Roddy White (seven catches, 147 yards) was Matt Ryan's favorite target. But Harry Douglas (four catches, 51 yards) provides the versatility that gives the Falcons' no-huddle attack added juice.

True or false

The Vikings have nothing left to play for: False.

Defensive end Jared Allen, for one, looks at the upcoming schedule and sees a bunch of teams contending for playoff berths -- from Atlanta and Denver to New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago. Allen wants to be a dream crusher.

"Misery loves company," he said. "And we're going to make a bunch of people miserable along the way."

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Washington - WP: D. Fister 1 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: D. Gee 0
Philadelphia - WP: S. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
Toronto - LP: J. Francis 7 FINAL
Cleveland - WP: M. Rzepczynski 10
Cincinnati - LP: J. Cueto 0 FINAL
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Chicago WSox - LP: J. Danks 3 FINAL
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Pittsburgh 1 Top 12th Inning
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Oakland 5 Bottom 8th Inning
Texas 0
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