Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings 2013 look ahead: The Big Picture

Posted by: under Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, NFL draft, Packers, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Leslie Frazier, Phil Loadholt, Vikings draft Updated: January 16, 2013 - 3:00 PM

The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. Over the next 10 days, we will deliver a snapshot evaluation of every position group.

Today, we lead things off with a big picture look at the direction of the franchise.

DIRECTION

Get excited: Head coach Leslie Frazier believes strongly in building around high-character players who are not only talented but willing to invest in bettering themselves and the team as a whole. Frazier has talked at length over the past year about molding a “tough, smart, disciplined football team.” And from the results of 2012, it’s clear his vision has been embraced throughout the organization.

Even if it doesn’t generate much buzz, team building is a big, big deal in the NFL. And Frazier is proving to be a master at it, finding ways to keep his squad united and energized even through the inevitable discouraging slumps of a long season. It was one thing for players to buy into Frazier’s blueprint for success last spring when 2011’s disastrous 3-13 finish generated so much hunger for a bounce-back season. But it was quite another for Frazier to retain his team’s belief and buy-in when a skid of five losses in seven games pushed the Vikings to 6-6 in early December. That provided a fork in the road in the 2012 season. And the Vikings steered away from the “Here we go again” path and opted instead to channel their focus on winning four consecutive games to end the season. That they accomplished that goal, earning the NFC’s final wild card berth, provided validation for all Frazier had preached.

Now the Vikings have proof that Frazier’s coaching philosophy can generate significant success. And players have seen the results of retaining strong camaraderie and a contagious team work ethic. As defensive end Jared Allen said, receiving a reward for all the perseverance was essential at the end of a long season.

“It’s like training a dog or something,” Allen said. “You can’t just keep asking him to do something without a reward. So if what the coaches are asking you to do and the hard working isn’t paying off, it’s hard to come back and say, ‘OK, I’m going to keep hitting my head against this wall and hopefully I’ll accomplish something.’ To have the payoff of success [for us] is going to breed confidence and instill that trust that, OK, what they’re saying can lead to success. We’ve done it before.

“Next year, when we’re in tight situations, what if we’re 3-3? How are you going to handle that? Guess what, we’ve been 6-6 and had to make a run and we made it. I think having that kind of confidence, you hope everybody uses that the right way.”

Frazier also seems to have a knack for getting players to focus on the littlest details of preparation each week without losing sight of the big picture after each game’s result. That Frazier is beloved by his players, his coaching staff, the front office and team ownership will go a long way toward propelling 2012’s success forward. A contract extension for the head coach is on the way soon. That’s a “when” not “if” situation.

Keep an eye on:  The opening of free agency and April's draft. In his first offseason as GM, Rick Spielman had a concrete plan for the 2012 draft and executed it nicely, putting together an impressive class that yielded standout left tackle Matt Kalil, starting safety Harrison Smith, Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh and promising receiver Jarius Wright. Spielman won't give that class a grade until after the 2014 season. That's his rule. But the early returns are encouraging, which breeds hope for repeat draft success this year.

Still, as strong as the Vikings’ 2012 draft was, Spielman’s stroll through the free agent market last spring produced a pair of high-profile signings in tight end John Carlson and receiver Jerome Simpson that didn’t pay many dividends. That duo was expected to enliven the Vikings’ passing attack. Instead, they combined for 34 catches, 317 yards and zero touchdowns. Yep, combined.

To his credit, Spielman did discover a diamond in the rough last spring in fullback Jerome Felton, who emerged as a Pro Bowler this season. Felton was selfless and tough and always prepared, aiding Adrian Peterson’s monstrous MVP-caliber season.

Remember this: Spielman’s long-term philosophy is to build through the draft and supplement with selective free agent signings. So it will be interesting to see just how active he is this March. There are a half-dozen notable in-house free agents to evaluate first: Felton, Phil Loadholt, Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Simpson and Jamarca Sanford. Then, with very few salary cap restrictions, Spielman should be able to browse through free agency for guys who register as "Vikings fits." Under the current thinking, fans should not be expecting a spending spree. There may not even be rewarded any big-name acquisitions. As much as anything, Spielman will have to make sure any higher profile signings he does make produce better results than a year ago.

Reason for worry: Even though the Vikings finished 10-6 and only a game back of NFC North champ Green Bay and even though they appear positioned to use that stellar campaign as a springboard, this is still the NFL. And there are no guarantees that the fantastic turnaround year in 2012 will be followed with another playoff run in 2013. For one thing, the Vikings may reside in the toughest division in football. Aaron Rodgers will have the Packers positioned to win the division for the third consecutive season. The Bears are a 10-6 team that now has new head coach Marc Trestman in position to try and push them over the hump. And for all the flaws in Detroit, the Lions are still stocked with talent. In other words, the Vikings’ margin for error will remain razor thin.

The Vikings will also face a much tougher schedule in 2013 than they enjoyed this past year. And we mean much tougher. In addition to the division games, there will be road trips to play the Seahawks, Bengals, Ravens, Giants and Cowboys plus a “home” game in London against the Steelers that will be followed by a very early Week 5 bye.

We won’t know the order of any of the other games until April. But at present, a home game with Cleveland seems to be the closest thing to a gimme the Vikings will have.

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Golden State 99 FINAL
Cleveland 110
Oklahoma City 113 FINAL
Phoenix 117
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Arizona 3 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Montreal 5 FINAL
Columbus 2
Philadelphia 2 FINAL
Toronto 3
Chicago 3 FINAL
Florida 0
St. Louis 2 FINAL(SO)
Winnipeg 1
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Nashville 2
Ottawa 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 0
Detroit 3 FINAL
San Jose 2
Northern Ky 78 FINAL
Kennesaw St 53
East Tenn St 73 FINAL
Citadel 74
Winthrop 50 FINAL
Campbell 65
Delaware 58 FINAL
Drexel 44
Jacksonville St 57 FINAL
Eastern Ky 63
Northeastern 65 FINAL
Elon 72
Sacred Heart 90 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 85
Western Carolina 49 FINAL
Furman 53
Char Southern 81 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Western Ill 66 FINAL
IUPUI 71
Nebraska Omaha 73 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 67
Radford 69 FINAL
Liberty 80
St Francis-NY 74 FINAL
Long Island 69
Wofford 76 FINAL
Mercer 72
Minnesota 96 FINAL
Michigan State 90
High Point 75 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 71
Samford 67 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Ohio State 81
Wagner 59 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Mount St Marys 60 FINAL
St Francis-PA 63
Houston 54 FINAL
Temple 66
Vanderbilt 73 FINAL
Tennessee 65
Chattanooga 86 FINAL
Va Military 82
Milwaukee 61 FINAL
Wright State 58
Coastal Carolina 69 FINAL
Presbyterian 80
Central Conn St 69 FINAL
Bryant 77
Ga Southern 77 FINAL
Appalachian St 58
SIU Edwardsville 61 FINAL
Austin Peay 64
Green Bay 72 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 67
Texas-El Paso 60 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 77
FIU 69 FINAL
Marshall 87
Rider 63 FINAL
Monmouth 60
Eastern Ill 57 FINAL
Murray State 65
Charlotte 65 FINAL
North Texas 81
North Dakota St 58 FINAL
Oral Roberts 74
Old Dominion 63 FINAL
Rice 54
TX-San Antonio 66 FINAL
Southern Miss 70
UT Martin 69 FINAL
Tennessee St 52
Fla Atlantic 68 FINAL
Western Ky 71
Northern Ariz 85 FINAL
North Dakota 75
Grand Canyon 70 FINAL
Chicago State 74
Utah Valley U 50 FINAL
UMKC 69
ULM 75 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Texas-Arlington 80 FINAL
Arkansas State 81
Georgia State 83 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 92
Troy 61 FINAL
Texas State 67
Arizona 82 FINAL
Colorado 54
SMU 66 FINAL
Memphis 57
Tenn Tech 73 FINAL
Morehead State 86
Rutgers 85 FINAL
Purdue 92
Southern Utah 67 FINAL
Northern Colorado 77
Montana State 68 FINAL
Eastern Wash 92
UC Davis 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 74
UC Irvine 63 FINAL
Cal Poly 56
Cal State Fullerton 72 FINAL
CS-Northridge 82
Montana 87 FINAL
Idaho 92
BYU 82 FINAL
Portland 69
Pacific 64 FINAL
Santa Clara 57
Arizona State 41 FINAL
Utah 83
San Diego 39 FINAL
Gonzaga 59
St Marys-CA 84 FINAL
San Francisco 53
Oregon State 48 FINAL
Stanford 75
Long Beach State 59 FINAL
Hawaii 78
Rice 68 FINAL
Old Dominion 83
Manhattan 67 FINAL
Monmouth 84
Georgia Southern 39 FINAL
Appalachian St 66
Marshall 74 FINAL
FIU 50
TX-Arlington 62 FINAL
Arkansas State 67
ULM 45 FINAL
South Alabama 38
Troy 75 FINAL
Texas State 59
Georgia State 39 FINAL
Ark-Little Rock 56
William & Mary 84 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 55
Delaware 68 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
UMBC 41 FINAL
Maine 61
UMass Lowell 72 FINAL
Vermont 64
Albany 65 FINAL
Hartford 50
Stony Brook 68 FINAL
Binghamton 59
Boston College 60 FINAL
(8) Louisville 77
(23) Syracuse 60 FINAL
Clemson 55
(16) Duke 62 FINAL
Georgia Tech 71
Florida 53 FINAL
Alabama 49
NC State 52 FINAL
(9) Florida State 72
Miami-Florida 59 FINAL
Wake Forest 60
LSU 57 FINAL
Ole Miss 58
(11) Miss State 50 FINAL
(2) South Carolina 69
Fairfield 74 FINAL
Iona 62
Marist 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 66
Quinnipiac 91 FINAL
Rider 53
Virginia 70 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 72
Pittsburgh 59 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 87
Ohio State 88 FINAL
Penn State 70
Massachusetts 60 FINAL
Dayton 69
(22) George Washington 81 FINAL
Richmond 69
Saint Louis 53 FINAL
Rhode Island 68
Wright State 74 FINAL
Detroit 59
Green Bay 70 FINAL
Oakland 55
Western Ky 85 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 74
Indiana 72 FINAL
(5) Maryland 83
North Texas 46 FINAL
Charlotte 71
Central Arkansas 64 FINAL
Sam Houston St 56
SE Louisiana 60 FINAL
Northwestern St 71
Nicholls 63 FINAL
New Orleans 68
Incarnate Word 44 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 58
Denver 68 FINAL
No Dakota State 87
IUPU-Ft Wayne 61 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 70
IUPUI 53 FINAL
South Dakota 69
Lamar 77 FINAL
McNeese State 98
Western Ill 49 FINAL
South Dakota St 69
Missouri 70 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 69
(13) Kentucky 56 FINAL
Arkansas 51
(20) Rutgers 60 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 80
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 59
Wisconsin 74 FINAL
(17) Iowa 78
North Dakota 68 FINAL
Northern Ariz 72
Northern Colorado 88 FINAL
Southern Utah 66
Louisiana Tech 0 Postponed
Texas-El Paso 0
Eastern Washington 53 FINAL
Montana State 63
Idaho 68 FINAL
Montana 81
Auburn 70 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
(6) Tennessee 70 FINAL
Georgia 59
Gonzaga 62 FINAL
San Diego 75
USC 48 FINAL
Washington 60
Portland 63 FINAL
BYU 65
(24) California 74 FINAL
Oregon 59
(19) Stanford 69 FINAL
(7) Oregon State 58
Chicago State 49 FINAL
Grand Canyon 73
UMKC 51 FINAL
Utah Valley U 61
San Francisco 65 FINAL
St Marys-CA 62
UCLA 74 FINAL
Washington St 69
Santa Clara 75 FINAL
Pacific 87
CS-Northridge 65 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 53
UC Santa Barbara 47 FINAL
Cal-Irvine 57
Hawaii 47 FINAL
Long Beach St 46
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
UC Davis 50
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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 NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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Poll: With Adrian Peterson's suspension overturned, what should the Vikings do?

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