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.
When the Vikings made their move to TCF Bank Stadium official, there were a number of scheduling requests the University of Minnesota asked the NFL and the Vikings in their facility use agreement. Only one of the restrictions was mandatory, but the Vikings schedule this season will minimize any potential conflicts.
The Vikings schedule pretty much accommodated every request in the agreement. It’s pretty impressive (and surprising) the NFL did when it has 31 other teams to consider, and it’ll make for a better experience -- for fans, the Vikings and the university – in the team’s first year at TCF Bank Stadium.
"We are pleased that the Vikings and the NFL did their best to construct a schedule within the spirit of our agreement," Gophers senior associate athletic director Chris Werle said in a statement. "It’s our goal to make the transition as seemless as possible while we host the Vikings for the next two years. Having the football teams play on the same weekend only once during the first season will certainly help alleviate strains on the nearby neighborhoods, traffic, support staff and campus grounds."
Per the agreement:
* The Vikings could use TCF Bank Stadium for one weeknight game when classes weren’t in session (on a date coordinated and approved by the school).
The one weeknight game was the only restriction the NFL and the Vikings had. The Vikings have their mandatory Thursday night game on the road against the Packers in Week 5.
* The Vikings “shall make best efforts” with the NFL to avoid schedule conflicts with the school’s academic calendar. Some of the events included move-in (Aug. 15, 25-26, 30), Welcome Week (Aug. 27-Sept 1) and Finals (Dec. 12-18).
The Vikings host their final preseason game on Aug. 16 against the Cardinals. Their home opener isn’t until Sept. 14 against the Patriots, and they’re on the road for the only game on Finals week (Dec. 14 at Detroit).
*The Vikings “shall make best efforts” with the NFL to avoid scheduling games during the Minnesota State Fair and on Gophers football home games.
The Vikings are on the road for their final preseason game (Aug 28 at Tennessee), which is the only game during the Minnesota State Fair (Aug. 21-Sept. 1).
The next suggestion is a bit more challenging, but there’s surprisingly only one weekend that both the Gophers and Vikings play at home. The Gophers host Northwestern on Oct. 11 when the Vikings host the Lions on Oct. 12.
* “The Vikings’ coordination efforts with the NFL shall also include best efforts to accommodate University’s reservation of 2 Sundays in November and 2 Sunday’s in December for University home basketball games.”
The Vikings have a bye week on Nov. 9, then a road game at Chicago on Nov. 16. In December, the Vikings have back-to-back road games against the Lions on Dec. 14 and the Dolphins on Dec. 21.
Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, Cordarrelle Patterson, John Sullivan and a Vikings rookie to be announced -- maybe Patterson again? -- will pick up some shiny hardware next weekend.
The Vikings will hand out their 2013 awards at the “Minnesota Honors Football” awards event May 4 at the Hilton Minneapolis. The Vikings are the presenting sponsor for the second straight year.
The event is open to the public. Tickets can be purchased at www.nffmn.org.
Peterson, who rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns, was named their Offensive Player of the Year. Greenway, who led the team in tackles, was their Defensive Player of the Year. Patterson won the Special Teams Player of the Year award after averaging 32.4 yards per kickoff return and scoring two touchdowns. John Sullivan was the Community Man of the Year.
The team’s Rookie of the Year for 2013 has not been named. So who should it be?
We have spilled a fair amount of digital ink these past few days on the subject of fifth-year options. And if you’re still unsure about how they work, you should probably familiarize yourself.
That’s because no one will be making more of these decisions in the next few years than Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who has drafted five players in the first round the past two years.
In 2012, Spielman selected left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick then traded back into the back end of the first to nab safety Harrison Smith. Last year, he drafted defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (with the first-rounder acquired in the Percy Harvin deal) then jumped back into the first to select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, too.
In the case of Smith, assistant general manager George Paton explained last year that they simply wanted Smith and had the draft assets to strike the deal with the Baltimore Ravens to make it happen. But an added bonus was that the Vikings will get Smith for five years instead of four.
Which begs the question: Will NFL teams, especially the ones eyeing up quarterbacks early in the second round, attempt to move into the first round to gain that extra year of contractual control?
“It could be a consideration because look at San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick,” former NFL agent Joel Corry told me this week. “Assuming everything checks out with this Miami incident, he is going to be at a minimum of $18 million per year on his next deal. If they had traded up into the bottom of the first round [in 2011], they’d have him locked up for another year.”
Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports also had the same thought, and he spoke with an NFL G.M. about it.
"Things have changed with all the good players from that 2011 first round and it's going to cost more to get a team to move out now,” the G.M. told Kirwan. “Back in the old days teams liked to move out of the bottom of the first to avoid the contract expense but now it's reversed."
Just something to think about as the first round winds to a close two weeks from tomorrow.
The first thing that new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner did after taking the job, according to general manager Rick Spielman, was “put in 10 plays for” second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as he “was putting the X’s and O’s part of it together.”
But it will be interesting to see just how much Turner’s X’s and O’s will differ from when Bill Musgrave was scribbling the plays on a whiteboard. It’s convenient to say that Patterson will become the next Josh Gordon, but Patterson and Gordon were used much differently in 2013.
Despite a shaky quarterback situation that was not dissimilar to the one here, Gordon in his second NFL season exploded with 87 catches for a NFL-best 1,646 yards -- in 14 games, no less -- and nine touchdowns with Turner calling the plays for the Cleveland Browns. Only seven wide-outs were targeted more often.
Meanwhile, Patterson, who impressed in limited reps as a rookie, was targeted 72 times, according to Pro Football Focus, and caught 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns.
Nearly two-thirds of Patterson’s targets came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and a whopping 22 of them came on passes behind the line. Patterson caught 19 of those for 248 yards and a touchdown. He had 16 catches for 102 yards on 24 targets that were less than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Only one of his touchdowns was caught beyond 10 yards.
Quarterback play was perhaps as big of a factor as offensive scheme. Christian Ponder had enough arm strength to make deep throws but not often the poise and the clean pocket needed to complete them, and Matt Cassel doesn’t exactly have a cannon either.
Regardless, good things happened when the Vikings got Patterson the ball as quickly as possible and let him do his thing, as I witnessed firsthand while covering the Ravens last December.
Patterson broke 10 tackles as a receiver, according to Pro Football Focus, with 286 yards after the catch. His 6.4 YAC average ranked seventh in the NFL. Gordon, by the way, was sixth.
But Gordon did most of his damage downfield in Norv Turner’s vertical passing attack. More than 55 percent of his targets came when he was 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, and only Torrey Smith and A.J. Green were targeted beyond 20 yards more often. With just two targets behind the line of scrimmage, Gordon was rarely utilized in the screen game.
So while both receivers liked up at the “X” receiver or “split end” position -- here’s a helpful guide on the different receiver positions -- in their respective offenses, they played much different roles (well, once Patterson started to be utilized in Musgrave’s offense, that is).
Patterson has the size and speeded needed to thrive in a vertical passing attack, so it’s going to be fun to watch him attempt to develop into an all-around receiver like Gordon. It will be also interesting to see how often Turner tries to take advantage of what Patterson already can do.
As teams starting anew at head coach, the Vikings, Lions, Browns, Buccaneers, Texans, Titans and Redskins were given a two-week head start on their offseason conditioning programs. That head start is coming to an end this week, so we talked with Vikings linebacker Audie Cole about the importance of being allowed to get a jump on most of the league.
“Right now, I don’t think any of us is an expert on what’s going on defensively,” Cole said. “We’re still learning what the coaches want us to do because it’s different than what we’ve done. We need to pick it up as fast as we can, and to have two [more] weeks helps.”
No position on any of the teams mentioned above better illustrates the need for a head start than the Vikings’ linebackers. The Vikings have played the same defense with essentially the same linebacker responsibilities since 2006. So that means even 31-year-old Chad Greenway has never played in any other defense than the Cover-2-oriented system that came to town with Brad Childress and then-first-year defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin eight years ago.
Until April 7, the new coaching staff and its players weren’t allowed to even talk football. If they passed in the hallways at Winter Park, they could say “hello,” “how’s it goin’,” “boy, some weather we’re having, eh?” But they couldn’t talk football, per rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement established in 2011.
“It was a little strange,” tight end Kyle Rudolph admitted this week.
The Vikings' coaches, led by new head coach Mike Zimmer, went about their business. Zimmer had a new team-meeting area with theater-like seating built in the corner of the indoor practice facility. He overhauled the strength and conditioning program, and made changes to the nutrition program.
Then, on April 7, Zimmer and his coaches were allowed to teach football, at least off the field. They could meet with players and discuss actual football. Go through the playbook. Those kinds of things. But as far as on the field, only strength and conditioning activities are allowed at this point.
The Vikings, however, will get an extra voluntary veteran minicamp, which also should help. Especially at linebacker, where the Vikings have eight players, several potential answers and only one confirmed starter in Greenway. But even Greenway’s role is uncertain.
“We’re still learning what the plays are called and how the coaches want us to play,” Cole said. “It’s not that big a deal. I mean there’s only so many things you can do. Maybe, I don’t know, we won’t be as much of a Cover 2 team as we used to be. But we’re finding all of that out now.”
If one were to pencil in – lightly – a prospective depth chart at linebacker, it might look something like this:
MLB: Jasper Brinkley, Cole, Simoni Lawrence.
WLB: Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Terrell Manning.
SLB: Greenway, Larry Dean.
Brinkley was the starter in the middle two years ago, but was allowed to leave via free agency to Arizona. It didn’t work out for him there and now he’s back with a tentative sliver of a lead on Cole. Hodges, a second-year player now, is highly-regarded, but wasn’t able to seize the weak-side job against weak competition a year ago.
Of course, because of the new defense, there’s potentially some new position flexibility that the coaches will explore during the minicamps. Even Greenway, who has been a strong-side backer his entire career, might move around.
“I think I could play any of the three positions,” Cole said. “I think the way we’re doing it, anybody could play any of the positions. That’s a good thing to have. You can always have people to fit into the puzzle. We’ve only scratched the surface on what we’re going to do, so it’s going to take us a while to figure this out.
“But I think if you talk to any of the linebackers, they’d say we have the guys we need on the roster. We all think each one of us can play.”
That may be true, but it’s highly unlikely that the Vikings will come out of next month’s draft without at least one more linebacker in the mix. And depending on how the first round shakes out, that new face may come in as the top dog at one of the three starting positions.
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