Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
The Brian Urlacher-to-the-Vikings rumor reading has moved from tepid to cool today after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier shot down Tuesday's report by a Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist that Urlacher was leaning toward signing with the team.
Frazier said today on NFL AM that the Vikings would continue to plan on using players already on their team at the middle linebacking spot.
Said Frazier: "Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He was a thorn in our side for many years. At this point we want to look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position then we'll see where it takes us."
Erin Henderson continues to be the leading candidate to move from the outside to the middle for the Vikings.
Tuesday's report, along with the Vikings' rookie signings, can be found here.
Here's the transcript, courtesy of nfl.com, of Frazier's chat:
On if running back Adrian Peterson has wanted to work out too hard this offseason:
“It kind of happened not by his choice. He had the abdominal strain late in the season and that has kind of slowed him this offseason as far as being able to kick things into overdrive and doing things the way he wants to do it. It has slowed him down a little bit, but he just about back to 100% doing everything he needs to be able to do to be in the best possible shape for this season.”
On if the offseason moves were geared towards easing the workload of running back Adrian Peterson:
“We would like to be more balanced. We obviously pride ourselves on being able to run the football and being able to stop the run on defense but we think in order to take that next step, as a team and as an offense, we need to be able to create that balance by being able to pass the ball a little bit better. We think with the acquisition of Greg, along with what we did in the draft, and some of the other guys coming back – a healthy Jerome Simpson, our tight end Kyle Rudolph – we think we are going to be a better team throwing the football, which should, hopefully, open up more holes for Adrian Peterson.”
On quarterback Christian Ponder:
“This will be his third season, his second season as a full time starter. We are expecting him to take another step forward. We saw glimpses in the month in December – when we went 4-0 – of what he can be. We are really excited about some of the things we saw down the stretch of the season and we are looking for him to carry that over to our next season.”
On if the Vikings are interested in linebacker Brian Urlacher
“Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He has been a torn in our side for many years. At this point, we want to take a look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position and then we will see where it takes us.”
On new Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings:
“His experience jumps out at you for sure. Knowing where we are, at the receiver position, having a guy of his caliber – a Pro Bowl player, a great player in our league for a number of years now – his leadership, his experience, his big play ability, it’s still there. He was been banged up a bit the last couple of years but he is healthy now. We are looking forward to him having a great season in Minnesota.”
On the three first round draft picks: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson:
“I like our guys. They are going to be good players for our football team. We are hoping they are going to have an impact this first season.”
On if the expects the first round picks to be week 1 starters:
“There is enough competition on our team where they don’t have to come in and start right away. But if that were to happen, it would be a good thing for our team. Each one will have a chance to start.”
On if defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is upset with how far he fell in the draft:
“He pretty excited about being a Minnesota Viking. Once you get to know Sharrif, you realize he is a very humble guy who kind of gets it for a young guy. He is not caught up on where he was taken. He is happy to be a Viking.”
As the NFL draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.
Today’s snapshot: Running backs
Current starters: Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton
Reserves under contract: Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard
Biggest offseason move: The re-signing of Felton was a big deal, even if it didn’t receive much attention or hype outside the Twin Cities. The 26-year-old fullback was superb as a lead blocker in 2012, aiding Adrian Peterson’s MVP season.
Level of draft need: Low. The depth chart seems set and solid for 2013. But Toby Gerhart is also entering the final year of his rookie contract. And if he seeks to hit free agency in 2014 to find greater opportunity elsewhere, the Vikings’ may want to start shopping for potential back-ups for Adrian Peterson.
You should know: Peterson’s vow to follow his extraordinary 2,097-yard eruption in 2012 with a 2,500-yard explosion in 2013 is downright ridiculous. And maybe it’s most preposterous because his teammates and coaches don’t question it.
Here’s what Felton said in January: “I really don’t feel like it’s out of reach. You look at it. It’s what, around 155 yards per game? With him, that’s doable.”
Added Jared Allen: “With that dude? It’s logical. And yeah, that’s crazy. … But I think too, with the way the league is now as such a pass dominant league, you’re seeing smaller fronts. You’re not having that 330-pound nose tackle anymore. You’ve got to have guys there who can rush the passer because of these spread offenses and these check-down systems. So you get a team like us that likes to run the ball with a back like Adrian and smaller [defenders] on the field, 2,500 might not be a stretch.”
And then in March, Leslie Frazier chimed in: “I think it's a good goal to have if you're Adrian Peterson. He's more than capable of getting it accomplished.”
All that said, the Vikings know it’s in their best interest to diversify their offense, to not be so one-dimensional and predictable. And so with an eye on energizing the passing attack, Peterson’s workload and production will almost certainly dip some. That will be by design with the hope that another reliable playmaker emerges. (That means you, Greg Jennings.)
Consider Peterson’s numbers from the first nine games of last season when Percy Harvin was healthy and adding pop to the offense: an average of 19 carries and 106 yards plus six total touchdowns.
And in the final seven games without Harvin around? Peterson averaged 26 carries and 163 yards with seven TDs.
Balance is a priority and so while Peterson will be aiming for 2,500 yards, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave are hopeful they won’t have to push at that milestone to be successful.
All that said, the opposite train of thought says that if Peterson was capable of topping 2,000 yards last season while spending the first month working back towards full strength and the last two months as a marked man facing stacked defenses while fighting through a painful sports hernia injury, imagine what he might be able to do if he stays healthy for a full year and the Vikings find a balanced offense that keeps opponents from keying on him.
Yikes. Maybe 2,500 yards isn’t as asinine of a goal as it sounds.
For what it’s worth, six other backs have topped 2,000 yards in a season. Here are their numbers from the following season:
One more thing: When it came to a final vote at the NFL’s annual meetings in March, the Vikings actually voted in favor of the new rule that will now penalize any runner or tackler who “initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet.”
But that “Yes” vote was more a reluctant concession than an indication of support. The Vikings simply did not want to appear in opposition of a player safety proposal that already had enough votes to pass.
Only an hour before that vote was taken in Phoenix last month, Frazier repeatedly declared his skepticism.
“We’re not one of those teams who is for it,” he asserted.
His biggest worries? That dynamic backs like Peterson could be neutered if they’re forced to be thinking too much.
“It's such an instinctive position,” Frazier said. “The guys are just reacting most of the time. If you ask Adrian [Peterson] on some of his runs, 'How did you know that guy was coming from the left or the right?' It's just a sense, just a feel sometimes. … As a running back, it's instincts. For me to start thinking now, 'Oh, man, I've got to lower my shoulder or I've got to turn this way' -- I don't know. We'll see.”
We will all see how the new rule is legislated. The league has made it clear that it wants its officials to zero in on only the obvious infractions. But that will still be a judgment call from week to week. And with a back who runs as powerfully as Peterson with the thirst to deliver contact before absorbing it, it’s a rule worth monitoring.
Said Frazier: “Is it going to make the game safer without altering what these guys do for a living and how they play and how they perform? … I just know being around great running backs, whether it be Walter [Payton] or Adrian, they are so instinctual in what they do. They’re not thinking a lot of times about when they’re going to use a stiff arm, how they’re going to use it. They’re not premeditating some of the moves they make. And to make them start thinking about, should I lower my shoulder left or right or spin this way? I just don’t know.”
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