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 Tyrell Johnson

Henderson ruled out; Tyrell Johnson visits for a workout

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: September 28, 2012 - 2:03 PM

A familiar face was spotted working out for the Vikings' personnel people as coach Leslie Frazier was announcing that outside linebacker Erin Henderson still has not passed his league-mandated concussion tests and will miss a second consecutive game at Detroit on Sunday.

Safety Tyrell Johnson, the team's second round pick (43rd overall) in 2008, was one of three players the team was working out on the nearby practice field. Johnson played with the Vikings through last season before signing with the Dolphins in April. He was released during the preseason and has been staying in shape for the inevitable pileup of NFL injuries.

"It is kind of a strange feeling," Johnson said later as he looked around the locker room. "But it's definitely exciting when you come back in and the team welcomes you back in. All your teammates are happy to see you and give you hugs and stuff. It's a very welcoming feeling just to know you have your teammates still behind you and rooting for you."

Whether Johnson is actually signed is another matter. The Vikings work out several players every week and very few are signed. The team does have some depth issues at safety, however, with Mistral Raymond out three to five weeks with an ankle injury and Andrew Sendejo listed as questionable for Sunday with an ankle injury.

Johnson said he worked out with Detroit a couple of weeks ago. He also said the serious hamstring injury that forced him to have surgery and put on injured reserve last November has healed completely.

"Having this little time off with the family is always good," Johnson said. "But having a job is even better."

Here are some other highlights from today's post-practice access:

  • Frazier on his level of concern that Henderson still hasn't passed his concussion tests: "I guess anytime with a concussion, you get a little concerned," Frazier said. "He's had two other concussions, so you hope next week things will be a little bit better. We'll see."
  • Raymond (ankle) also was officially listed as out. Listed as questionable were Sendejo and defensive end D'Aundre Reed (calf). Listed as probable were tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps), defensive end Jared Allen (neck), linebacker Marvin Mitchell (ankle) and quarterback Christian Ponder (neck). Frazier said Ponder complained of a sore neck on Wednesday and had it checked out. It's nothing that will affect him against the Lions. Rudolph, Allen, Reed, Mitchell and Ponder all had full participation in practice on Friday.
  •  Frazier on middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley having to play Henderson's position in the nickel defense for the second consecutive week: "He did a good job [against the 49ers]. He was good in coverage. He did a good job, like he always does against the run, but was not deficient at all in the passing game. As for the passing game this week? He'll be challenged, which is good. He's had a good week of practice."

 

Henderson ruled out; Tyrell Johnson visits for workout

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: September 28, 2012 - 2:00 PM

A familiar face was spotted working out for Vikings personnel staff as coach Leslie Frazier was announcing that outside linebacker Erin Henderson still has not passed his league-mandated concussion tests and will miss a second consecutive game at Detroit on Sunday.

Safety Tyrell Johnson, the team's second round pick (43rd overall) in 2008, was one of three players the team was working out on the nearby practice field. Johnson played with the Vikings through last season before signing with the Dolphins in April. He was released during the preseason and has been staying in shape for the inevitable pileup of NFL injuries.

"It is kind of a strange feeling," Johnson said later as he looked around the locker room. "But it's definitely exciting when you come back in and the team welcomes you back in. All your teammates are happy to see you and give you hugs and stuff. It's a very welcoming feeling just to know you have your teammates still behind you and rooting for you."

Whether Johnson is actually signed is another matter. The Vikings work out several players every week and very few are signed. The team does have some depth issues at safety, however, with Mistral Raymond out three to five weeks with an ankle injury and Andrew Sendejo listed as questionable for Sunday with an ankle injury.

Johnson said he worked out with Detroit a couple of weeks ago. He also said the serious hamstring injury that forced him to have surgery and put on injured reserve last November has healed completely.

"Having this little time off with the family is always good," Johnson said. "But having a job is even better."

Here are some other highlights from today's post-practice access:

  • Frazier on his level of concern that Henderson still hasn't passed his concussion tests: "I guess anytime with a concussion, you get a little concerned," Frazier said. "He's had two other concussions, so you hope next week things will be a little bit better. We'll see."
  • Raymond (ankle) also was officially listed as out. Listed as questionable were Sendejo and defensive end D'Aundre Reed (calf). Listed as probable were tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps), defensive end Jared Allen (neck), linebacker Marvin Mitchell (ankle) and quarterback Christian Ponder (neck). Frazier said Ponder complained of a sore neck on Wednesday and had it checked out. It's nothing that will affect him against the Lions. Rudolph, Allen, Reed, Mitchell and Ponder all had full participation in practice on Friday.
  •  Frazier on middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley having to play Henderson's position in the nickel defense for the second consecutive week: "He did a good job [against the 49ers]. He was good in coverage. He did a good job, like he always does against the run, but was not deficient at all in the passing game. As for the passing game this week? He'll be challenged, which is good. He's had a good week of practice."

 

 

If you're setting the bar for Vikings' success, 6-10 might be the right height

Posted by: Updated: July 24, 2012 - 10:43 PM

Just how much better can the Vikings be in 2012? That’s a question stimulating much debate right now. The oddsmakers have their hunch, slotting the Vikings as the worst team in the NFC North with 25:1 odds to win the division.

Yep, that’s about right.

My pre-training camp projection (subject to change but likely not by much): a 6-10 season. That may not seem like major improvement. Until you step back and consider that would be doubling the success of 2011.

Right now, that 6-10 prognostication draws very different reactions from the eternal optimists and the eye-rolling naysayers.

To explain, here are six reasons the Vikings will be better this fall and 10 reasons why they still may not be very good.

Why the Vikings will be better
  1. The offense has a chance to be much improved. Bill Musgrave wanted to make tight ends a major part of his offensive attack and general manager Rick Spielman responded by courting John Carlson as one of his high-priority free agents. Signing Carlson and pairing him with second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph should provide an added dimension. On top of that, the offensive line has been solidified, thanks in no small part to the drafting of left tackle Matt Kalil. If the starting five up front – Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt – stays intact, the Vikings should make noticeable improvement in protecting the quarterback. Now add the acquisition of Jerome Simpson as a vertical threat and consider the explosiveness and versatility of Percy Harvin and you can see why quarterback Christian Ponder is optimistic about what’s ahead.
  2. This is the NFL. Quick turnarounds are nearly as frequent as Sunday afternoon beer commercials. Just look at the 2011 playoff bracket. Six of those 12 teams didn’t make the postseason in 2010. The San Francisco 49ers finished 6-10 in 2010 and then went to overtime in the NFC Championship game last season. The Detroit Lions, who posted a combined record of 8-40 between 2008 and 2010, won 10 games last season. For the Vikings, making the playoffs in 2012 is probably a far-fetched goal. But making up ground should be doable.
  3. Despite the obvious youth movement, this team does still have star power. Consider the veteran standouts who have been to the Pro Bowl: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield and Chad Greenway on defense. Adrian Peterson on offense. Harvin has the potential to join that Pro Bowl fraternity, too. If the Vikings’ biggest stars stay healthy and play to their potential, they can catalyze the rebuilding effort.
  4. The early-season schedule seems soft. An opening weekend visit from Jacksonville gives the Vikings a golden opportunity to start with a win. A trip the following week to play the Colts (2-14 last season) could provide even more momentum. In the first eight weeks, the Vikings have five home games and five contests against opponents who had eight or fewer wins last season. Is it crazy to think the Vikings could head into their Week 11 bye week with a 5-5 record? Absolutely not.
  5. The close losses in 2011 may have made last season seem worse than it was. The Vikings were 1-8 in games decided by six points or fewer. Just climbing back toward .500 in those nip-and-tuck games will help immensely. That will require the defense to come up with more late stops than they were able to a year ago. It also means Ponder must cut down on his mistakes and deliver more clutch play late in close games.
  6. The positive energy percolating through Winter Park right now is contagious. For all the criticism head coach Leslie Frazier absorbed last season – much of it justified – his biggest accomplishment may have come in keeping the locker room from fracturing. Frazier seems to have a knack for keeping players’ attention and this offseason that has helped create a very ambitious and energized atmosphere around Winter Park. That may sound like little-league optimism. But if the Vikings can channel that enthusiasm into making rapid improvement in training camp, their youthful spirit gives them a chance to climb a few rungs up the NFC ladder
Why they still won’t be very good
  1. No one can say with any certainty that Ponder is the answer at quarterback. Ponder started 10 games last season and was responsible for producing only one victory. And the Vikings needed Carolina kicker Olindo Mare to miss a 31-yard field goal in the closing seconds to steal that win. (Note: Ponder also started the Vikings’ 33-26 win over Washington on Christmas Eve. But he left the game with the Vikings tied 10-10 early in the third quarter. Joe Webb led that victory charge, producing 23 second-half points.)
  2. It’s easy to forecast a Ponder breakthrough but much harder for that to actually happen. Teams with putrid young quarterbacks always like to point out that Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie and posted a 71.2 quarterback rating but then matured into a Super Bowl champion, an MVP and a shoo-in Hall of Famer. The logic: even the legends of the game tend to struggle early in their careers. Those same optimists, however, rarely point out that there have been other highly-touted quarterbacks who struggled as rookies and never got much better. (See: Tim Couch, Cade McNown, David Carr, JaMarcus Russell).
  3. By the same token, it’s easy to witness a resurgence like the 49ers enjoyed last season and cling to that as proof that quick turnarounds are viable in the NFL. But chew on this stat when setting your timetable for the Vikings’ rebuilding effort: Between 2001 and 2010, 44 teams finished a regular season with four wins or fewer. Only 16 of them (36.4 percent) climbed back to .500 the following season.
  4. Adrian Peterson may not be Adrian Peterson this fall. Yes, Peterson’s recovery has gone well since he tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee seven months ago. And sure, he’s still vowing to be back in action by the time the regular season starts. But even if Peterson does return in September, can anyone really say with certainty that he’ll be back in top form? It’s just as likely that Peterson may have lost a bit of burst, a bit of confidence in his ability to cut, a bit of aggressiveness due to the injury. Toby Gerhart is an encouraging Plan B. But he’s no Adrian Peterson.
  5. The receiving corps is still a major question mark. Percy Harvin, the team’s best receiver, spoiled his offseason with a dramatic case of mini-camp unhappiness. Keeping the dynamic playmaker healthy and happy all season will be a weekly chore. Jerome Simpson seems to have the potential to be a dynamic deep threat. But he’ll be suspended for the first three games and hasn’t yet proven he can be a consistent playmaker. Jarius Wright and Greg Childs are rookies who are almost certainly in for some growing pains. Michael Jenkins is old, coming off a season-ending knee injury and may not make the 53-man roster. And is anyone really counting on Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton to have big-time seasons? In a league that’s becoming increasingly pass happy, the Vikings may still have the most ordinary unit in the NFL.
  6. As soft as the schedule seems early, the Vikings’ post-bye week slate is brutal. At Chicago three days after Thanksgiving. At Green Bay the next week. A rematch with the Bears on Dec. 9 followed by road trips to St. Louis and Houston. A finishing game at home against the Packers. If the Vikings squeeze two victories out of that closing six-pack, they should feel fortunate.
  7. The NFC North may be the toughest division in football. Were it not for the Vikings. It’s not inconceivable to think that the Packers, Bears and Lions could all be in the playoffs come January. It’s also worth noting that the Vikings have dropped their past 11 division games, their last win in the North coming Sept. 26, 2010 – a 24-10 win over Detroit. That’s a troubling trend that’s difficult to ignore.
  8. Remember how bad the secondary was last season, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.2 percent of their passes for 4,019 yards, 34 touchdowns and a bewildering 107.6 rating? Well, the unit responsible for that has been overhauled dramatically. (So long Cedric Griffin, Benny Sapp, Asher Allen and Tyrell Johnson.) Still, to regroup the Vikings will be relying heavily on a horde of young players to get things right. That means a whole lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of rookie safety Harrison Smith, second-year safety Mistral Raymond and third-year corner Chris Cook. Don’t be surprised if rookies Josh Robinson and Robert Blanton see their share of action as well. Put all that youth on the field and growing pains will be inevitable.
  9. New defensive coordinator Alan Williams has no previous experience running a defense. Williams spent his past 10 seasons as a defensive backs coach in Indianapolis, where he worked under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell. He’s a bright guy. Energetic, too. And he has a strong relationship with Frazier, the two having worked together with the Colts in 2005 and 2006. But can Williams breathe life into a defense that was so atrocious last season? With no track record as a coordinator, who knows?
  10. Blair Walsh is the only kicker currently on the roster. And last season, as a senior at Georgia, he missed 40 percent of his field goal attempts. If the Vikings plan to win more close of those games this year, they won’t have much margin for error. And they certainly won’t be able to afford any prolonged Walsh cold streaks. Just for reference, the kickers for the 12 playoff teams last season combined to make 83 percent of their kicks. The four teams that failed to convert 80 percent of their field goal attempts were the Giants, Ravens, Broncos and Steelers.

Fourth round: Will Vikings continue building D-line here?

Posted by: Updated: April 12, 2012 - 11:36 AM

At this point, 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? On Monday, Access Vikings began 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.

 [[[ See our previous breakdowns: ROUND 2, ROUND 3 ]]]

TODAY'S ROUND: 4.

VIKINGS' PICKS: 98th overall, 128th overall (compensatory), 134th overall (compensatory).

SINCE 2007: The Vikings have done well in this round. With the three picks they've used, they beefed up their defensive line with Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Christian Ballard. They've also been active when it comes to trades involving this round. In 2007, they traded their fourth-round pick and a sixth-rounder to move up four spots and  take Robison. Later in the fourth round that year, they traded a pick to Denver for a sixth-rounder (Rufus Alexander), a seventh-rounder (Chandler Williams) and a third-rounder in 2008. Although Alexander and Williams didn't stick, the third-rounder in 2008 was used as part of the Jared Allen trade. So not bad there. However, in 2008, the Vikings used their fourth-rounder as part of the package to move up in the second round and take Tyrell Johnson. Not so good. In 2009, the fourth-rounder was traded to Houston for Sage Rosenfels, who was supposed to challenge for the starting quarterback job until Brett Favre arrived fashionably late. And in 2010, the Vikings flipped fourth-round picks as part of the deal that sent the Lions the 30th pick in exchange for the 34th pick. The Lions got the 128th overall pick, while the Vikings got the 100th pick, which was used to pick Griffen.  

HITS: 2.

1, Brian Robison, DE, Texas, 102nd overall 2007: He came in with the perception of being an undersized project whose most interesting trait was an ability to throw the shotput a world-class distance. He was confident, bordering on cocky. And for good reason. The dude can play. He was a valuable backup for four seasons. Then he made disgruntled left end Ray Edwards expendable. Robison took over the starting job in 2011 and proved he can be an every-down player. He also had eight sacks, giving him 21 1/2 in his career. 

2, Everson Griffen, DE-LB, USC, 100th overall 2010: At one point, Griffen was projected as a first-round pick. Character concerns dropped his stock considerably. At pick 100, those concerns were well worth the risk. The Vikings not only landed one of their best special teams player, they got a freakish athlete who's 6-3, 273 pounds and runs a 4.6. When the Vikings go with a 3-4 nickel package, it's only because Griffen as a roaming, rushing linebacker is a matchup problem for offenses. Griffen also is strong enough to play inside at tackle in passing situations. Look for the Vikings to continue to use him in creative ways. 

TO BE DETERMINED: 1.

1, Christian Ballard, DL, Iowa, 106th overall 2011: One could argue that he's either a hit already or is a safe pick to become one. He's got the size, strength, quickness and overall flexibility to play nose tackle, under tackle or left end. With Letroy Guion moving to nose tackle, Ballard probably will replace Kevin Williams at the three-technique as early as 2013. Ballard started two of 16 games last year and was surprisingly good on special teams. It's odd when defensive ends and defensive tackles are good special teamers, but that's what the Vikings have in Griffen and Ballard.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN ROUND 4, 2012:

1, Marcus Forston, DT, Miami, Fla.: A powerful fire-plug at 6-1, 300. He had 12 tackles for loss, including three sacks as a sophomore in 2010. He might have been a higher projection this year had a knee injury not limited him to three games a year ago.

2, DeQuan Menzie, CB, Alabama: He's the Tide's "other" corner, opposite Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round projection. Menzie is known as an intelligent player, a good tackler and a guy who would fit well in a zone scheme. His 40 time was in the 4.6 range, which might be a concern.

3, Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin: Had a strong pro day with a 4.5-second 40 and a 39.5-inch vertical. An interesting mid-round prospect who's 6 feet tall, 208 pounds.

4, Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami, Fla.: A 6-5, 215-pound vertical threat who's raw, but worth a look in the fourth round. Had a team-high eight TDs and a 17.6-yard average on 46 catches a year ago.

5, Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia: I covered his dad, Frank, a corner for the Browns from 1984-92. Frank was an exceptional press corner. That's not something the Vikings ask a lot of with their corners, but it's sure worth looking at a guy with Frank's genes and direction. NFLDraftScout.com ranks Chase as the 14th corner available. Minnifield had arthroscoping knee surgery last month. He's expected to be ready for training camp, if not much sooner. the 5-10, 183-pounder had 13 interceptions in his four seasons.  

[[[ See our previous breakdowns: ROUND 2; ROUND 3. ]]]

 


 

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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