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Continued: And now, making the Vikings pieces fit

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 28, 2012 - 10:49 PM

At the conclusion of a chaotic Saturday during which the Vikings were on the clock as often as any other NFL team, Rick Spielman finally emerged from the war room, came to the dais inside the Winter Park field house and waxed optimistic about his latest draft haul.

Over a span of 61 minutes earlier in the day, he made his most important charge, selecting four players in the fourth and fifth rounds. And with pick No. 118, the Vikings general manager finally dug into the receiver grab bag he had long touted as incredibly deep.

Arkansas' Jarius Wright, Spielman asserted, will be a big-time speed threat as both a slot receiver and potentially in the return game. That assessment best be valid. After all, 18 receivers came off the board in this weekend's draft before the Vikings secured Wright.

Less than an hour later, Spielman nabbed a second receiver, Wright's college teammate and childhood buddy, Greg Childs.

"They've been together, I think, since birth," Spielman joked.

With that, another position of need had been addressed.

Overall, the Vikings made seven picks Saturday, plowing through the draft buffet line with wide eyes.

A couple of receivers here, a defensive back there, some linebacker and defensive line aid on the side.

And when the day ended, for all intents and purposes, so did the heavy offseason lifting.

From coaching and front office changes in January to detailed scouting research in February to some calculated free-agency shopping in March to this weekend's draft frenzy, the Vikings feel they have made great progress in clearing away the rubble from last year's 3-13 implosion.

Yet now, even with all these new pawns, the chessboard mostly belongs to three central figures whose abilities will most determine the direction of the franchise for the next half-decade and beyond.

Spielman? He long desired to be the team's voice of authority, the big personnel decision-maker, the guy assuming pinpoint responsibility for the end product. That wish has been granted, and Spielman's fingerprints are all over this draft.

Christian Ponder? He simply wanted a vote of confidence plus some additional support to test just how good he can be as an NFL quarterback. He has been granted all that.

Coach Leslie Frazier? He wanted a locker room filled with players who fit his vision. Talented, intelligent, team-first guys. Frazier has a bunch of them now.

"Our theme was getting smart, tough football players who love to play the game," Spielman said. "And I think all these guys we were able to draft fit that bill."

There can be no excuses going forward. The NFL world can now definitively evaluate whether Ponder is a viable franchise quarterback; whether Frazier is adept as a head coach; and whether Spielman is a shrewd talent evaluator and productive GM.

Finishing touches

A 48-hour whirlwind began Thursday night with Spielman wheeling and dealing and landing a pair of immediate starters in left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith. If this were golf, that would have been the equivalent of a 310-yard drive striped down the middle of the fairway.

Which means Spielman's decisions on Friday and Saturday became something of a putting contest. Without success there, the end result on the scorecard won't reflect the impressiveness of that big drive.

Yet Saturday provided a couple of head-scratching moments, none more notable than the fourth-round selection of fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison out of Southern California.

For those who wondered immediately whether that pick was a bit of a reach, Ellison was in the same boat. Well, actually, he was relaxing on a river near his California home when the surprise call from the Vikings came.

"I wasn't really expected to get drafted or anything like that," Ellison admitted. "I was pretty shocked."

Ellison burst into tears, so overcome with emotion that he didn't process much of his conversation with the Vikings, who were convinced Pick 128 was their last chance to nab the USC standout.

"I was crying pretty hard," Ellison said, "so I don't know if they understood anything I was saying. I'll have to give them a call back later."

The Vikings also used their lone sixth-round pick on a kicker, Georgia's Blair Walsh. Despite seemingly having bigger needs at other positions, they rolled the dice on a guy with a strong leg who was twice an All-Southeastern Conference selection but missed 14 of his 35 field-goal attempts in 2011.

"Watching him at the combine," Spielman explained, "he was the best kickoff guy we saw there."

The big picture

Spielman might not be able to avoid criticism on those two selections. That's the nature of the beast, the micro-analysis of the draft so ubiquitous that even late-round moves seem to carry supreme importance.

But in bolstering the supporting cast for Ponder, Spielman made valuable upgrades this past week.

Ponder now has a star left tackle in Kalil plus two new rookie receivers from Arkansas (Wright and Childs) plus, oh yeah, a late free-agent acquisition in former Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson, whose speed and athleticism should energize the offense.

Defensively, the Vikings drafted two Notre Dame defensive backs (Smith and Robert Blanton) plus additional reinforcements at corner (Josh Robinson), linebacker (Audie Cole) and defensive end (Trevor Guyton).

If Frazier coveted ammunition for a pass defense that was feeble at best in 2011, he now has it with five drafted rookies who fit the system and the character profile the coach drew up.

Most of all, the Vikings targeted players who work hard and love football. Had Spielman mentioned passion any more Saturday evening -- seven references in total -- his postdraft news conference would have needed to be delayed until after 10 p.m.

"Myself and Coach Frazier and [owners] Mark and Zygi [Wilf] sat down and really honed in on where we need to go with this roster and what we're looking for," Spielman said. "And that was a huge part of this planning process when we had our big meeting in January. That's the direction we've been going."

Seventeen weeks have passed since the Vikings last played. Much has changed. With the roster, with the coaching staff, with the front office hierarchy.

All of it has been done to give Spielman, Ponder and Frazier a chance to prove themselves. The stage is now theirs.

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Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 83 4th Qtr 5:21
San Antonio 81
Milwaukee 25 2nd Qtr 12:00
Portland 18
Houston 9:30 PM
Denver
Indiana 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 2 1st OT 4:30
Minnesota 2
Dallas 0 1st Prd 5:30
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
NC A&T 55 FINAL
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
TX A&M-CC 73 FINAL
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 44 2nd Half 11:08
Auburn 53
New Mexico St 41 2nd Half 6:22
Baylor 50
San Diego St 41 2nd Half 8:28
Cincinnati 36
Eastern Mich 31 2nd Half 11:57
Michigan State 50
Loyola Marymount 48 2nd Half 5:11
Stanford 55
Incarnate Word 67 2nd Half 7:17
Grand Canyon 69
Northeastern 31 2nd Half
Cal Poly 17
Central Arkansas 19 1st Half 5:25
New Mexico 25
Howard 19 1st Half 3:56
Pepperdine 21
Portland 4 1st Half 18:00
UNLV 0
CS-Northridge 10:00 PM
Oregon
Grambling St 10:00 PM
Washington
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
UNLV 84
NC A&T 70 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 60 2nd Half 0:19
Eastern Washington 68
North Texas 5 1st Half 3:39
San Francisco 23
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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