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.


Posts about E.J. Henderson

Peterson wins Vikings' Ed Block Courage Award

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: December 18, 2012 - 4:40 PM

Adrian Peterson was chosen the Vikings' Ed Block Courage Award winner by his teammates.

Since 1984, each team names a winner of the award to recognize a teammate who overcomes great adversity.

Peterson has rebounded from major knee surgery to challenge the NFL's single-season rushing record.

Here is the team's release:

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been selected as the 2012 Ed Block Courage Award recipient by his teammates.

During Week 16 of the 2011 season, Peterson tore his ACL and MCL against the Washington Redskins. Eight months removed from the major knee injury, Peterson was true to his word and was in the starting lineup for Week 1 of the 2012 season. Peterson scored 2 TDs and rushed for 84 yards in the overtime victory versus Jacksonville. The 4-time Pro Bowler has appeared and started in all 14 games this season.

Peterson is in the midst of his greatest season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. The 2-time All-Pro RB currently leads the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards and is tied for 2nd with 11 rushing TDs. Over the past 8 games, Peterson has rushed for over 100 yards 8 times and eclipsed the 200-yard mark twice. His 1,313 rushing yards since Week 7 ranks as the best 8-game stretch in NFL history. With 2 games to play, the 6-year veteran is 294 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. He has tied Barry Sanders’ (’97) record of 7 50+ yard rushes in a single season. Peterson has 2 TD runs of 82 yards this season, a career long.

Since 1984 the Ed Block Courage Awards annually honors one player from every NFL team who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected by a vote of their teammates to recognize both on and off the field extra efforts and their ability to overcome great adversity, whether it be personal or professional. The Ed Block Courage Award is named in honor of Ed Block, the longtime head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts. Winners travel to Baltimore every March to receive their trophy at a gala in their honor and spend time at the local Courage House at St. Vincent’s Center, a facility specializing in working with abused children. This visit, and the time spent with the children, allows each recipient to fully comprehend the true meaning of the award.

For more information on the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation, visit www.edblock.org.

Vikings Ed Block Courage Honorees
Adrian Peterson…….2012
Anthony Herrera……...2011
Cedric Griffin............... 2010
E.J. Henderson........... 2009
Kenechi Udeze........... 2008
Chad Greenway......... 2007
Matt Birk....................... 2006
Koren Robinson.......... 2005
Corey Chavous........... 2004
Eric Kelly...................... 2003
Lewis Kelly.................. 2002
Daunte Culpepper..... 2001
Gary Anderson............ 2000
Robert Griffith.............. 1999
Randall Cunningham 1998
Robert Smith............... 1997
Scottie Graham........... 1996
John Randle................ 1995
Cris Carter................... 1994
Henry Thomas............ 1993
Darrin Nelson.............. 1992
Terry Allen................... 1991
Gary Zimmerman....... 1990
Jim Gustafson............. 1989
Leo Lewis.................... 1988
Scott Studwell............. 1987
Walker Lee Ashley..... 1986
Keith Nord.................... 1985
Steve Riley................... 1984
 

Cutting corners will be tougher in this year's secondary

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: August 4, 2012 - 1:40 PM

MANKATO -- The first full week of training camp ends with a two-hour controlled scrimmage at 7 tonight at Blakeslee Stadium. Here's what we've learned and what needs to happen:

Quarterbacks

What we've learned: After being asked 15,679 times whether having a true offseason made a difference in the progress from his rookie season, starting quarterback Christian Ponder should be allowed to smack the 15,680th person who asks this question. Let's move on, folks. Said receiver Percy Harvin: "The difference is huge. His progressions, reading defenses and confidence level has been like night and day. He believes in himself this year."

What needs to happen: Coming off a shaky week, at best, Joe Webb needs to re-instill the confidence around him that's expected when one is the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback. When asked about Webb's inconsistency and inaccuracy,  offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said: "Joe is always going to look better in games than he will in practice at this stage in his career."

Running backs

What we've learned: Toby Gerhart's added upper-body mass makes him an even bigger load in short-yardage situations. As cornerback Chris Cook said on the field seconds after trying and failing to stop Gerhart in a goal-line drill: "Man, you gotta get low if you want to stop Toby's big" um, butt.

What needs to happen: Second-year pro Jordan Todman needs to return from an ankle injury that's knocked him out the past two practices. He's the ideal change-of-pace back with speed and quickness that no other back on the roster, except Adrian Peterson, possesses. But each missed practice helps kill Todman's chances of closing the gap on veteran Lex Hilliard in the battle for the No. 3 running back job. Hilliard leads based on his four years of special teams experience in Miami.

Offensive line

What we've learned: A sports hernia suffered by Geoff Schwartz essentially ended the right guard competition before it had a chance to start. Schwartz declined comment after this morning's walkthrough, citing the team's policy on injured players talking to the media, but he could be out four to six weeks or longer. With injuries mounting on the offensive line, the Vikings added two undrafted rookie guards: Bridger Buche of Eastern Michigan and Grant Cook, a 6-4, 318-pounder who was released by the Packers last week. Defensive lineman Eric Latimore and receiver A.J. Love were released to make room for the O-line reinforcements. We've also learned that left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick, can handle himself in the NFL

What needs to happen: Someone other than Chris DeGeare needs to step up as the No. 2 right guard. DeGeare and veteran Joe Berger can play the position, but it's better if DeGeare focuses on backing up the left guard position, while Berger sticks to backup center. Undrafted rookie free agent Quentin Saulsberry, the only player to start and play in every game (49) at Mississippi State, is a longshot to watch.

Tight ends/receivers

What we've learned: Kyle Rudolph will be a popular target for Ponder in this offense. The second-year tight end has had an excellent camp and will benefit underneath if receiver Jerome Simpson lives up to his potential as a deep threat. Simpson was the camp star of Week 1. "He's just fast," said left guard Charlie Johnson.

What needs to happen: Someone other than Simpson and Harvin has to start standing out consistenty at receiver ASAP, especially with Simpson having to start the regular season with a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Rookie Greg Childs has shown the most raw talent and made the play of the week -- a 26-yard touchdown in which he outjumped cornerback Brandon Burton and caught the ball by pinning it to the Burton's back.

Defensive line

What we've learned: The team, as usual the past few years, has some impressive depth. That includes some classic edge rushers such as D'Aundre Reed showing that he can also rush from the tackle position in passing situations. If Reed, who was inactive for all 16 games a year ago, can rush from the tackle position like he has in some camp situations so far, the Vikings' pass rush will be even more formidable than it was a year ago when it led the league with 50 sacks.

What needs to happen: Letroy Guion needs some preseason action to prove that he can handle the move from under tackle backup behind Kevin Williams to playing nose tackle at a relatively light 303 pounds. If he doesn't have the bulk, can he make up for it with quickness? Said Allen: "Letroy has feet like no other."

Linebackers

What we've learned: Griffen is wildly talented and can play multiple defensive positions as well as stand out on special teams. However, the switch to linebacker won't be successful after just a week or two of focusing on the position. He's flashed in camp, but he's also been inconsistent while running with the third team.

What needs to happen: Like Guion, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley just needs some actual game experience to show that he's ready to assume former Viking E.J. Henderson's old position. For what it's worth, Brinkley has not shown signs of the injuries that have plagued him for most of the past year. He missed all of last season because of hip surgery and then missed a lot of OTA and mini-camp time because of a combination of hip and groin issues.

Defensive backs

What we've learned: These aren't your 2011 Vikings secondary. This outfit looks NFL worthy and then some so far. Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are back and looking strong. Chris Carr has been a solid third corner, if not a capable No. 2 if the Vikings want to limit the 35-year-old Winfield to the nickel back role. Josh Robinson is a lock to make the team, but the third-round draft pick lost a lot of ground by missing seven practices because of a hamstring injury. 

What needs to happen: Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said the team is likely to keep either five or six corners. If veteran Zack Bowman makes the team, as expected, the pressure mounts on the lower-tier guys such as Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels and Reggie Jones. One of them needs to shine like Sherels did during last year's preseason in order to make the team.

Special teams

What we've learned: As advertised, rookie kicker Blair Walsh has a giant leg. He's been booming kickoffs out of the end zone.

What needs to happen: Walsh needs to face the pressure of a field goal attempt that means more than ending a training camp practice. So far, he's handled that minimal pressure well. 

Countdown to camp: Eight under-the-radar players

Posted by: Updated: July 24, 2012 - 12:30 AM

The Vikings report to training camp Thursday and will hold their first full practice Friday afternoon at Minnesota State University in Mankato. That means the first preseason game is now 16 days away with the Sept. 9 regular season opener against Jacksonville kicking off just six-and-a-half weeks from now. As the Access Vikings team gets ready to head to camp, here’s a list of eight under-the-radar players who we’ll be watching closely, guys who could have a significant role in helping turn things around.

Jasper Brinkley
Position: Linebacker
Size: 6-1, 252
The scoop: Brinkley spent the entire 2011 season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery last August to repair a torn labrum in his hip. With E.J. Henderson gone, the door was kicked open for Brinkley to become the starting middle linebacker for 2012. But Brinkley was bothered by a groin problem during OTAs and mini-camp, leading general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier to publicly express their concerns about his durability. That leaves Brinkley with much to prove in Mankato. Especially with Marvin Mitchell, signed in April after spending last season in Miami and the previous four in New Orleans, looking for an opening.
 
Jarius Wright
Position: Wide receiver
Size: 5-10, 180
The scoop: Percy Harvin has two seasons left on his contract and will almost certainly press hard for a lucrative extension when this year ends. But how heavily will the Vikings be willing to invest in Harvin, a dynamic playmaker who should be part of the team’s long-term plans? Well, Harvin’s future may depend in some small part on what Wright is can show as a versatile slot receiver. No one is under the delusion that the rookie from Arkansas is quite as explosive as Harvin. But Wright has similar skills. He has eye-opening quickness and incredible balance and now must learn how to get in and out of breaks quickly and efficiently. If he can impress enough to become a regular contributor to Bill Musgrave’s offensive attack, the situation with Harvin may become even more complex.
 
Letroy Guion
Position: Defensive tackle
Size: 6-4, 303
The scoop: Last year’s experiment with Remi Ayodele at nose tackle was a disaster. No one expected Ayodele to be the second coming of Pat Williams. But the Vikings did expect more production than his 15 tackles and 1.5 sack for the entire season. They also hoped the massive nose tackle could be a space-filler who would help lessen the attention other teams paid to Kevin Williams. But that never happened. So now Ayodele is gone and the hope is Guion takes advantage of the opportunity to become a starter and a significant contributor. Guion has bounced around at both defensive tackle positions. But the plan going forward is to play him exclusively at the nose, where he will share time with Fred Evans. Inside the organization, Guion is praised for his athleticism and his strength and is believed to have incredible upside. Add in the energy and teaching skills of new defensive line coach Brendan Daly and a Guion breakthrough could be on the itinerary,
 
Blair Walsh
Position: Kicker
Size: 5-10, 192
The scoop: Walsh missed 14 of his 35 field goal attempts as a senior at Georgia last season. But the two years prior to that, he connected on 40 of 45 kicks. Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer thinks he knows the secrets to helping Walsh rediscover that accuracy. And it starts with the rookie kicker heeding Priefer’s advice to slow down his approach. Walsh’s leg strength should be a major plus on kickoffs, too. So rather than stress him out with a fierce competition for the kicking job in camp, the organization instead opted to release Ryan Longwell in May, giving Walsh more time to develop confidence and chemistry with long snapper Cullen Loeffler and holder Chris Kluwe. 
 
Chris Carr
Position: Cornerback
Size: 5-10, 181
The scoop: In an ideal world, the Vikings would like to reduce Antoine Winfield’s workload, aiming to use him extensively in the slot in a nickel-type role. To do so, they’ll need to find a second corner besides Chris Cook to hold things down outside. Enter Carr, who’s 29 and entering his eighth NFL season and has the ability to succeed inside and outside. With so much youth in the secondary, Carr’s veteran savvy could provide some added stability and comfort. And his presence may help as rookie Josh Robinson takes time to polish his skills.
 
Everson Griffen
Position: Defensive lineman/linebacker
Size: 6-3, 273
The scoop: Where exactly does Griffen fit? On the field. That’s the simplest answer the Vikings can give. And it’s why they’re tinkering with creative ways to increase Griffen’s snap count. As camp opens, Griffen is expected to see plenty of time at linebacker. The logic: There’s no sense stashing him on the sideline as a defensive end while Jared Allen and Brian Robison eat up the majority of playing time. So why not attempt a conversion to linebacker, a scenario the Vikings experimented with in various packages last season? Griffen has imposing size and yet he has the speed and space awareness to be an even greater force. Can he learn the nuances and discipline to be reliable and consistent at linebacker? Camp will offer the first opportunities to answer that question.
 
Brandon Fusco
Position: Guard
Size: 6-4, 306
The scoop: Fusco will compete with Geoff Schwartz to become the Vikings’ starter at right guard. But it’s a battle he should win. Spielman is incredibly high on Fusco, seeing great potential and lauding the big man’s footwork, intelligence and toughness. Fusco saw limited action last season, called into duty when injuries demanded it. And after Fusco played his college career at center at Division II Slippery Rock, Spielman came away impressed with how the young lineman adapted, embracing a new position and a new intensity level in the NFL. That has the Vikings convinced Fusco has the deportment to be a long-term contributor.
 
Robert Blanton
Position: Safety
Size: 6-1, 200
The scoop: Fast-forward to 2013. Maybe even late 2012. Is it possible the Vikings will be starting two safeties with Notre Dame roots? Harrison Smith is a near-lock to open this season as a starter. But how long will it take his college teammate to work his way up the ladder? Blanton has good athleticism and shows obvious smarts. He’s a reliable tackler and, in college, was effective in run support. The Vikings saw so much in Blanton that they used a fifth-round selection on him in April, fully intending to put him through the cornerback-to-safety conversion machine. Mistral Raymond, a sixth-round pick in 2011, is further along in that transition right now. But there are hopes Blanton can make a fast climb. In a best-case scenario, he could crack the starting lineup later this season.

History shows Pro Bowlers can be found in second round

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: April 17, 2012 - 9:30 AM

While wondering if the 2012 draft will ever actually take place or if it's just a fictitious carrot dangling just out of reach so that we all keep blabbing on and on and on and on about the NFL ...

The Vikings' second-round pick this year is the 35th overall selection. The expectations for that player will -- and should -- be high. While he won't be expected to earn multiple All-Pro honors like the No. 3 overall pick will, the 35th overall pick should be expected to start and compete for Pro Bowls.

Looking at the past 10 NFL drafts, 38 second-round picks that were available at No. 35 have gone on to Pro Bowl seasons. That includes two Vikings -- E.J. Henderson, 40th overall, 2003; and Sidney Rice, 44th overall, 2007 -- and last year's No. 35 pick, Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton.

The Vikings need receivers and cornerbacks. Everyone is upset that they haven't thrown a gazillion dollars at those two positions in free agency. But that doesn't mean the fight is over when it comes to finding elite talent at those two positions. In the second round alone, receivers Anquan Boldin, Vincent Jackson, Greg Jennings, Sidney Rice and DeSean Jackson all have been drafted in the second round with picks lower than 48th overall. As for corners, Charles Tillman was the 35th overall pick in 2003.

Here's a look at each of the past 10 players to go 35th overall:

2002: Kalimba Edwards, DE, Lions.
Could have had: Andre Gurode, C, Cowboys (37th).

2003: Charles Tillman, CB, Bears.
Could have had: Doesn't matter. Peanut's a Pro Bowler and still playing at a high level.

2004: Igor Olshansky, DT, Chargers.
Could have had: Bob Sanders, S, Colts (44th).

2005: Reggie Brown, WR, Eagles.
Could have had: Nick Collins, S, Packers (51st), Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers (61st).

2006: Rocky McIntosh, LB, Redskins.
Could have had: Greg Jennings, WR, Packers (52nd), Devin Hester, WR-KR, Bears (57th); Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars (60th).

2007: Arron Sears, G, Buccaneers.
Could have had: LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers (46th).

2008: Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs.
Could have had: Matt Forte, RB, Bears (44th); DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles (49th); Ray Rice, RB, Ravens (55th).

2009: James Laurinaitis, LB, Rams.
Could have had: LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (53rd).

2010: Brian Price, DT, Buccaneers.
Could have had: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (42nd).

2011: Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals.
Could have had: Doesn't matter, but the Packers did get WR-KR Randall Cobb with the 64th pick.

 

 

 

Second round: Vikings looking for another hit at receiver?

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: April 10, 2012 - 9:18 AM

Everyone from the expert draftnik to the most casual Vikings fan has discussed the Vikings' No. 3 overall pick ad nauseam. But what about the team's nine other picks? What might a team with numerous holes to fill do on Days 2-3 of this month's NFL draft? Starting today, Access Vikings will take a round-by-round look at the team's history in Rounds 2-7 since Rick Spielman began overseeing the team's draft preparation as director of player personnel in 2007. We'll also take a look at players Spielman, now the team's general manager, might select later this month.

TODAY'S ROUND: 2.

VIKINGS' PICK: 35th overall.

SINCE 2007: The Vikings have had six second-round picks in the past five drafts. The team has taken four offensive players and two defensive players. They've traded up to pick Toby Gerhart and have traded down and gotten Sidney Rice. They also picked Chris Cook after trading out of the first round.

HITS: 1.

1, Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina, 44th overall 2007: The Vikings traded down three spots, picked up a fourth-rounder and still came away with Rice. Rice became Brett Favre's favorite receiver during the 2009 run to the NFC Championship game. His hip surgery in the summer of 2010 was a key moment in the team's collapse. He left via free agency in 2011 and the Vikings have yet to replace him as a deep threat. Although injuries and his departure limited his impact, he was still a "hit" pick in the second round.

MISSES: 1.

1, Tyrell Johnson, S, Arkansas State, 43rd overall 2008: This is Spielman's most disappointing selection. In four seasons, Johnson never fit with the system or the coaching staff. He lacked instincts and wasn't a good tackler. He also had only one year in which he had more than 22 solo tackles. Johnson has signed by Miami and might resurrect his career with the Dolphins. But no one can deny that his first four seasons were a major miss, especially considering the Vikings traded up four spots to get him. They gave up a fourth-rounder, but also got a fifth-rounder that became Letroy Guion. Guion might be the team's starting nose tackle this year.

TO BE DETERMINED: 4.

1, Phil Loadholt, RT, Oklahoma, 54th overall, 2009: He's been a starter since Day 1, so he's not a miss. But he still lacks the consistency to be considered a hit.

2, Chris Cook, CB, Virginia, 34th overall 2010: On the field, he was becoming a hit until, well, you know. A 6-2 corner with above-average speed and cover skills, he was regaining the confidence he lost while battling nagging knee injuries in 2010. But then came the arrest for domestic assault that wiped out the final 10 games of 2011. He has since been found innocent of all charges and isn't expected to be suspended by the league. With a new appreciation for football and freedom, Cook should go on to make this pick a hit. Also helping this pick is the fact the Vikings also got a fourth-round pick as part of the deal that saw them give Detroit the 30th overall pick. The Vikings used that fourth-rounder on Everson Griffen, one of the team's more promising young defenders.

3, Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford, 51st overall 2010: He's definitely not a miss. He's done all that's been asked in his role as Adrian Peterson's backup. He also gives the team a strong Plan B starter if Peterson can't return from his torn ACL in time for the start of the 2012 season. However, that being said, one has to wonder whether the team simply gave up too much to get a backup running back. Besides using a second-round pick on Gerhart, the team also had to give up its third-round pick to move up in the second round. Gerhart can post a solid career and still not make that pick a strong "hit."

4, Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame, 43rd overall 2011: He has all the physical skills and certainly appears to be heading toward hit status. However, we'll need more than 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns as evidence that he was worthy of a second-round pick.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN ROUND 2, 2012:

1, Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: The 6-4, 215-pounder with the freakish 4.36 40-yard dash has become one of the pre-draft darlings. After his combine performance, many now believe he won't make it out of the first round. But if he does and the Vikings don't take Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon with the No. 3 pick, Hill is a possibility at No. 35. He caught only 28 passes in an option offense last year. But he also averaged 29.3 yards per catch with five touchdowns.

2, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: If the Vikings don't take USC's Matt Kalil with the third overall pick, they might be looking for Christian Ponder's blind-side protector at the top of the second round. Adams is a 6-7, 323-pounder that could last into the second round. He's known to have good technique, but there reportedly are concerns about character and work ethic.

3, Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Even though the Vikings have added free agent corners Chris Carr and Zack Bowman, they still can use a quality youngster to help them deal with an NFC North division that's loaded with giant receivers and big-time QBs. Gilmore fits a zone defense and has the size (6-foot, 190) and 4.4 speed to help at a position of need.

4, Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame: It's pretty well established that Spielman loves players from Notre Dame. It's also well established that the Vikings have but three safeties under contract. It's one of the unheralded positions of need. Smith is a 6-2, 213-pounder with the strength and power to possibly give the Vikings a presence at safety that's been lacking. 

5, Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: E.J. Henderson isn't expected back and his heir apparent, Jasper Brinkley, missed all of last season because of hip surgery. Hightower could be an excellent pick at the top of the second round. He's 6-2, 265 pounds, runs a sub 4.7 40 and certainly displayed all the necessary instincts of a middle linebacker while he was helping Alabama become the country's most dominant defense.     

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