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 before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Posts about Ben Leber

Vikings announce training camp schedule, add veteran defensive end from Saints

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: June 28, 2012 - 9:06 PM

The Vikings announced their training camp schedule today.

The team reports to Mankato on Thursday, July 26, and the first practice will be the following day on the Minnesota State campus.

Camp lasts three weeks, ending Wednesday Aug. 15.

For the most part, the team will have a morning walk-through practice at 10:30, and a more intense afternoon practice, daily.

The scrimmage open to fans is on Saturday, Aug. 4 at Blakeslee Stadium.

Days off are Sunday July 29, Sunday Aug. 5, and a three-day stretch from Aug. 9-11 when the Vikings have a preseason game in San Francisco.

The Vikings also made one player move today, adding defensive end Jeff Charleston, 29, and waiving rookie defensive tackle Terrell Resonno of Missouri.

Charleston, a six-year veteran, played the past four seasons for the Saints.

And the team also announced some radio and television plans. The radio crew will be heard simulcasting the games on television (Ch. 11) for the preseason games, and ex-Vikings linebacker Ben Leber will join as a sideline interview man.

The KFAN crew, of course, includes play-by-play guy Paul Allen and color commentator Pete Bercich and veteran sideline reporter Greg Coleman.

Here's the team's release on that matter ...


Eden Prairie, MN (June 28, 2012) – During a fan forum with Vikings Season Ticket Owners today, the team announced the Vikings Entertainment Network (VEN) will use the Vikings Radio Network broadcast team of Paul Allen and Pete Bercich for the 2012 Vikings preseason television broadcasts. The preseason games, aired on KARE 11 (on WUCW August 10 at San Francisco), will be simulcast over the Vikings Radio Network and its flagship station KFAN 100.3 FM.

“Hundreds of thousands of Vikings fans enjoy listening to PA’s exciting calls and thorough analysis from Pete and Greg on the radio during Vikings games,” said Vikings Vice President of Sales & Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer Steve LaCroix. “This is a unique opportunity to incorporate our voices of the Vikings with our television viewers."

Former Vikings punter Greg Coleman will continue his sideline reporting role, while former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber will be added to handle sideline interviews during the preseason TV broadcasts. To hear from the members of the broadcast team, click here.

The addition of Leber unveils him as part of the 2012 VEN team. Leber will serve as video talent on and will have regular appearances on the Vikings pregame TV show, Vikings GamePlan. Vikings preseason TV is co-produced by VEN and PKO Productions and airs live on KARE 11.

In addition to the preseason plans, a new TV show will debut this season. “Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron” will feature a documentary-style format and will focus on the rare inside access that a team network can provide. Beyond the Gridiron will use voice narration as well as the topic interview subjects to tell each story rather than a traditional show “host.” The new show replaces Vikings Weekly, which completed a successful six-year run at the end of the 2011 season. Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron will be co-produced by VEN and Elite Edge Productions and will air Saturdays on KARE 11 and Sundays on FSN.

Vikings GamePlan, presented by Sports Authority, will return for its sixth season as the team’s pregame TV show. Hosted by Paul Allen, GamePlan features interviews with current players, game film review with Head Coach Leslie Frazier, expert analysis and more. Vikings GamePlan is co-produced by VEN and FSN and airs Sundays on KARE 11 and FSN.



Linebacker market taking awhile to settle

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 19, 2012 - 1:32 PM

Unless the Vikings plan to play an 8-1 defense, chances are they're keeping a very close eye on the free agent linebacker market with two of their 2011 starters -- Erin and E.J. Henderson -- still unsigned.

The problem is the market is taking especially long to settle for some talented young linebackers such as Atlanta's Curtis Lofton, 25, Detroit's Stephen Tulloch, 27, and Erin Henderson, 25. 

The Vikings want Erin back because of his age and upside. But the Vikings also have virtually pushed him into the street while encouraging him to shop around, see what he's worth and then return to talk some realistic financial compensation. If you follow Erin via Twitter at 50@ErinHenderson, that's not sitting too well with him.

"In a nutshell ... market value and franchise value aren't always going to match. If someone can play 3 positions 4 u, their value has to go up," Erin wrote a couple days ago. He's since tweeted about how he produced more in his one season as a starter than did his predecessor, Ben Leber.

In other words, it's not getting any prettier between Erin and the Vikings.

The team hasn't ruled out E.J., according to General Manager Rick Spielman. While it was surprising to hear Spielman say that, it wouldn't be all that bad a move, especially when it's obvious the team has no plans to be a major player in free agency.

Yes, Henderson will be 32 in August. Yes, he has a titanium rod in one leg and has been beat to heck in his nine NFL seasons. But he's also a strong team leader that probably could be signed to a relatively cheap one-year deal. Let's not forget that E.J.'s heir apparent, Jasper Brinkley, is coming off major hip surgery after missing all of last season. And it's probably safe to say Erin would be more open to returning to the Vikings if E.J. were around for another season.

There are younger, better options at middle linebacker in free agency. But they reportedly are holding out for the kind of payday that nobody seems willing to pay at this point.

Lofton wants $9 million a year, which might be why there hasn't been any news on him visiting anywhere. Tulloch reportedly wants at least what the Browns gave D'Qwell Jackson, which was $42.5 million over five years. Only the Saints have reportedly had Tulloch in for a visit.

Seattle's David Hawthorne, 26, is another middle linebacker that you'd think would be getting more interest. He's reportedly visiting the Lions, which could be a ploy by Detroit to get Tulloch to lower his price.

It's too early for Vikings fans to panic about the linebacker position. But it's unlikely that a team with as many holes to fill as the Vikings have will be drafting a linebacker (or two) high enough to count on him (them) starting in 2012. So it would appear the team either needs to sign one or two Hendersons or starting kicking the tires on some of these other free-agent LBers.

Update: Per the NFL's Jason LaCanfora, free agent fullback Jerome Felton will visit the Vikings.

Felton, 25, is a player the Vikings tried to claim off waivers last September, but lost out to the Panthers. Felton played in nine games for Carolina, got released and then played five games for the Colts.

The Vikings are trying hard to upgrade their lead-blocker position. Ryan D'Imperio, who played linebacker in college, and tight end Jim Kleinsasser handled the position last season.

Sunday night, the Vikings signed former Dolphins fullback Lex Hilliard. 

Meanwhile, as for the Tim Tebow questions, no, no, no, a thousand times no; the team won't be pursuing Tebow, who will be traded now that the Broncos have signed Peyton Manning. The irony for a 3-13 team that's had its share of decades with no long-term plan at quarterback is that quarterback is now the only position in which the long-term plan is solid.  

Vikings don't tender Booker, Onatolu

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 13, 2012 - 12:06 PM

In what comes as no surprise, the Vikings didn't give tenders to restricted free agents Lorenzo Booker and linebacker Kenny Onatolu. They're free to sign with any team.

That doesn't mean the Vikings won't eventually end up re-signing one or both of them. It just means that the team doesn't feel it needs to pay the financial security of a tender to two players that probably aren't going to have too many teams nibbling on their fishing line when free agency starts at 3 p.m.

Booker has some value as a secondary kick returner and a change-of-pace running back. But a role player like that can't fumble the ball the way Booker did in 2011 and expect to hang around long. 

Onatolu is strictly a special teams player. A good one, but not one that can't be replaced. When Onatolu has played linebacker during the preseason and in limited regular-season opportunities, he's simply made too many mistakes and has been caught out of position too often.

In other news as the world collectively breathes into a paper bag to avoid passing out from excitement just three hours from the start of free agency ...

  • Former Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson, released on Saturday, will be meeting soon with the Tennessee Titans. A signing there would reunite Hutch with former Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck and possibly entice a certain four-time NFL MVP QB to give Tennessee a second look.
  • Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber will be working out with the Eagles.


Shiancoe, Johnson injuries are 'mild'

Posted by: Updated: August 9, 2011 - 5:16 PM

MANKATO -- Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and safety Tyrell Johnson did not practice Tuesday, but coach Leslie Frazier describes both players' hamstring injuries as mild.

"They should be fine," Frazier said.

Frazier said that Johnson could return to practice on Wednesday, but Shiancoe would sit out a big longer because he was hurt on Monday.

Frazier also sounded as if he was leaning toward holding out Shiancoe from the preseason opener on Saturday at Tennessee. “I would think with Visanthe we would be very cautious and we’ll just how it does tomorrow [before] making the decision," Frazier said.

As for the status of right guard Anthony Herrera, Frazier said the team likely will make a decision on him after the third preseason game. Herrera, who is recovering from ACL surgery last winter, is on the physically-unable-to-perform list and at this point can be brought off at any point. But if he's moved to the reserve/PUP list to start the season that would mean he would have to sit out the first six weeks of the regular season.

That means Chris DeGeare very well could be the starting right guard on Sept. 11 for the regular-season opener at San Diego.

Decisions, decisions

Frazier and the coaching staff are planning to meet tonight to discuss how they will approach Saturday's preseason opener as far as giving out playing time.

"We’ve got a set number of plays that we want to get the starters," Frazier said. "We’ll talk a little bit more about it tonight and settle on it and let them know tomorrow. But we have a decision tomorrow."

Although the offensive starters need work together, Frazier does not see himself leaving those players on the field for a long period Saturday.

“I don’t think so," he said. "We want to get Donovan [McNabb] and some of the guys some rest, but at the same time we’ve got three games after this one. We want to get the timing down, but I think we have enough to get the legs under them a little bit, but we don’t have to play a half or play two quarters or play a quarter and a half right now. We’ve got time.”

Very excused absence

Safety Husain Abdullah will miss practice Wednesday but Frazier has no issue with that.

Abdullah will attend President Barack Obama's Iftar dinner that celebrates Ramadan at the White House on Wednesday night.

"For this occasion, no," it wasn't a tough choice, Frazier said. "A chance to meet the President, visit the White House. I told him I hope in February or next May or whenever it is we’ll be going as a team. We’re excited for him. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity and a great honor.”

Said Abdullah: "I found out last Friday, I think. I actually got a call from my brother and he was like, 'Did you get an email from your PR guy?' And I was like, 'No …' And he was like, 'Well, you need to go talk to him.' And I talked to him, and it was an invite to a dinner at the White House."

Abdullah said he has a 10 a.m. flight from the Twin Cities to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Ramadan started on Aug. 1 and ends on Aug. 29 and that means Abdullah does not eat or drink between sunup and sundown. The Vikings are aware of this and have helped Abdullah in recent years with his nutrition and to remain hydrated.

"It's the same plan as last year – hydrate, 2 a.m. get the protein shake, kind of a meal-replacement thing, and I'll eat some food if I've got it, and just have dinner and breakfast," Abdullah said. He also said the new CBA rules which only allow one practice a day, plus the cooler conditions in Mankato during camp, have been a big help. 

"It takes some mental toughness," Abdullah  said. "I'm starting to get used to it. I've been doing it since I was 7 – I'm 6 now. It's not overly difficult."

Gipson asked to be waived

Cornerback Marcell Gipson, who left the team last week after the death of his grandmother, was waived after asking to be released, according to Frazier.

"He has some things going on with his personal life, losing a [grandparent]," Frazier said. "He felt like he needed to stay home, get a job and take care of his family. I respect that. But it gives us a chance if he changes his mind we can sign him again and maybe be on our practice squad or whatever if we’re interested in doing that."

The Vikings could have kept Gipson's rights but that would have ended his chance to play this season.

"[If we] put him on the non-football list, then he would have had to sit out an entire year, we couldn’t touch him, no other team could touch him for the entire year," Frazier said. "So this gives us some flexibility if he changes his mind and says, ‘You know what coach? I kind of want to come back and try pro football again.’ We’d have a chance in 2011.”

Leber signs

If Erin Henderson was worried that Ben Leber might return and take back the starting job at weak side linebacker, he doesn't have to be concerned anymore. Leber, according to ESPN's John Clayton, has signed a $1.25 million, one-year deal with the St. Louis Rams. Leber reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks on Monday.


Leber visits Seahawks

Posted by: Updated: August 9, 2011 - 8:51 AM

MANKATO -- Free-agent linebacker Ben Leber visited the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, according to multiple reports.

The Seahawks already have signed former Vikings Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice.

It appears the Vikings are going to give Erin Henderson every shot to win the weak-side linebacker job that Leber had held in Minnesota. Nose tackle Pat Williams also remains on the market and isn't expected back in Minnesota.



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