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.


Areas to feel good and not so good about

Posted by: Mark Craig under Vikings, Vikings defense, Vikings offense, Anthony Herrera, Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Tyrell Johnson Updated: August 29, 2011 - 9:19 AM

Did a story for today's paper based on some observations after watching tape of the first-team offense and defense in Saturday night's 23-17 preseason loss to the Cowboys.

In a nutshell, the highlight was the offensive line. It deserves a pat on the back, particularly left tackle Charlie Johnson and right guard Anthony Herrera, who started in his first game since major knee surgery nine months ago.

Taking one more look back at Saturday's game, here are three areas to feel better about and three on the flip side:

Feeling better

1, Offensive line.

I'm not saying all the problems are solved because the line played well in the third preseason game. That would be silly. The line will continue to have some growing pains. But the boys up front proved they're not a unit in total disarray. There is something to build on here. With the first unit together on the field, the Vikings averaged 6.4 yards per carry and allowed no sacks. The only knockdown of Donovan McNabb came when  right tackle Phil Loadholt got beat by an outside speed rush.

Some random thoughts: I think Herrera won his starting job back on Saturday. He's not a dominant player, but he's the best right guard on the team. If his conditioning can catch up, he's the starter. ... I'm not as crazy about Loadholt switching to left tackle. I think that's his future position, but I think it has to come after an offseason of working at the position. Loadholt still gets beat too often by speed rushes on the right side. He'd be facing even quicker D-Ends on the left side.

2, Receivers.

If the line is playing well, the Vikings will run the football. If the Vikings run the football, the play action will work. And if the play action works, the Vikings receivers will make more plays down the field than any of us are expecting. Granted, that's a lot of ifs. But is there anyone not feeling better about Bernard Berrian today than they were before Saturday's game?

Random thoughts: I like how offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave moves Percy Harvin around. You ever think you'd see Harvin lined up as a fullback in an old-fashioned Power-I? He caught a short pass out of that formation on Saturday. Harvin also was one of four players who shifted at the safe time before the snap of the ball. That's a lot for a defense to keep track of.

3, Kickoff coverage.

If I had the guts, I'd predict little Larry Dean makes the team. The undrafted rookie is a long shot, but last year's D-II Defensive Player of the Year has an instinct for football that shines in kick coverage. He darted between two blockers and made the tackle on the game's opening kickoff.

The Cowboys got the ball four times off kickoffs. Their starting spots were their 21- , 13- , 21- and 15-yard lines. That's awfully good.

Feeling not so much better

1, The strong safety competition.

The Vikings want a playmaker to emerge between Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson. But they might have to settle for much less. Sanford got the start and was the better tackler. He made a nice open-field solo tackle on TE Jason Witten. Johnson isn't as good of a tackler. He missed a tackle on Felix Jones' 5-yard touchdown run.

Random thoughts: Sanford, I believe, has won the job.

2, Weak-side linebacker.

I'm not saying Erin Henderson won't turn into a fine linebacker. But it's concerning that he got the job without any real competition. Kenny Onatolu was hurt early in camp. Jasper Brinkley is more of a middle linebacker. And he also has been sidelined the past week. Henderson left the game early in the first quarter Saturday. He was replaced by David Herron, who was signed thee day before. Erin won the job by default. The Vikings are hoping that's good enough.

3, Cornerback depth.

It has to be frightening for the Vikings that the three corners they're counting includes a player who's 34, a player who has torn each ACL over the past two seasons, and a player whose rookie season was derailed by knee injuries and a lack of confidence. That puts the team in the hope-and-pray category when it comes to front-line corners.

Random thoughts: I know we all keep saying Marcus Sherels is making plays, but he's still in the developmental stage. If he keeps it up, eventually we have to say the kid can play. He made a pass defense in Saturday's game that, to me, showed as much about his ability to play the position as the tipped interception that fell into his hands the week before in Seattle. Playing in the slot, Sherels shadowed the receiver on a short route. He was behind the receiver when the ball was thrown, but he broke on the ball, reached around the receiver with his right hand and batted the ball down. The play couldn't have been defended much better than that.   

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