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.
Chris Cook is looking for redemption Sunday when the Vikings meet the Packers.
The Vikings’ third year cornerback was torched during his rookie season by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Cook, coming off early season arthroscopic surgery on both knees, was pulled by coach Brad Childress after Rodgers lit up the visiting Vikings for 166 passing yards in the first quarter of a 28-24 victory on Oct. 24, 2010.
Things got worse six weeks later when the Packers beat the Vikings 31-3 at the Metrodome. Cook gave up receptions of 47 and 39 yards to James Jones, and was pulled by Childress after Jones caught a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Cook was yelled at by teammate Ray Edwards on the sideline, and after the game both Cook and cornerback Asher Allen were criticized by teammates.
Childress was fired the next day.
Cook missed both meetings last season after an arrest for domestic assault on the eve of the first Packers game, which he spent in jail. He was inactive for the rest of the season, and missed the Vikings’ 23-14 loss to the Packers two weeks ago because of a broken arm.
“I’ve been looking forward to this game,” Cook said. “My rookie year, I was coming off both my knee surgeries, and they were picking on me – a lot. I expected that coming off two knee surgeries. But I don’t have knee problems now, so we’ll see how it goes this week.”
Cook said Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL.
“He’s Brett Favre-like, but I feel he makes better decisions at times,” said Cook. “He’s crazy accurate, that’s the thing that stands out. He can put balls in places the other guys can’t put it in. It’s amazing to me to me. Every time I watch him I think, man, this guy, he’s great.”
Houston running back Arian Foster bought Segways for his offensive linemen, so the question about what Adrian Peterson will do for his offensive line has been bandied about at Winter Park.
“We’ll see how it all plays out, how many yards he gets, when we win the game,” said center John Sullivan. “All I’m hoping for is a good performance from him and our offense and our entire team. The playoff berth is all we reaIly care about. I don’t really care about presents. I’m not too focused on that right now.”
Robison, Winfield ready
Defensive end Brian Robison (sprained shoulder) missed the Vikings’ 23-6 victory over the Texans on Sunday, which was doubly troubling to him because he played college football at Texas. He expects to play Sunday against the Packers.
“I’m doing much better, doing a lot of stuff hard in the rehab room, just trying to get it back,” Robison said. “I feel like I got a good range of motion, it’s just getting the strength back in it.”
Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who fractured a bone in his right index finger, expects to play Sunday with his right hand padded.
The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced tonight, and Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh has an outside chance of making the NFC team. Walsh has an NFL record nine field goals of 50 yards or longer.
“It’s one of those things where it happens, it’s awesome, if it doesn’t happen, keep on pushing,” Walsh said. “I’m more focused on what I have to do in practice. Accolades are great and all, but this game is more important.”
After a poor senior season at Georgia, it was a bit of a surprise when the Walsh was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round. He has made 32 of 35 field goal attempts, however, and all 32 conversion attempts.
“I knew I was capable of doing it from the start,” Walsh said. “The biggest surprise is the number of attempts we’ve gotten. Thirty-five attempts is a lot. It’s a different beast at this level, each kick is so important, it matters so much when the game is so close.”
Veteran Ryan Longwell, who was cut to make room for Walsh, tweeted his support for Walsh’s Pro Bowl candidacy on Sunday.
“It was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had said about me by anyone,” Walsh said. “My response was 100 percent truthful -- guys like him have set the bar for other kickers who come in the league, and they hold us to a higher standards, and we try to emulate careers like his.”
The Vikings signed tight end Chase Ford to their practice squad. Ford, a rookie from Miami, has been on both the Philadelphia and Dallas practice squads this season. Tight end Allen Reisner, who has been on and off the Vikings’ roster the past two years, was claimed by Jacksonville after the Vikings cut him on Saturday. The Jaguars also signed guard Mark Asper, who had been waived by the Vikings.
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s Week 6 game with Washington at FedEx Field, here’s a look at a handful of eye-opening figures and facts.
Vikings defensive players who have recorded either a sack or had a hand in a takeaway this season. In Sunday’s win against Tennessee, Jared Allen and Brian Robison each took down Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck once. Antoine Winfield intercepted a pass in the second quarter. And Jasper Brinkley forced a Chris Johnson fumble that rookie safety Harrison Smith recovered. The defense is in a groove right now as it heads to play the Redskins.
Career interceptions by Winfield, who has now recorded at least one pick in 13 of his 14 NFL seasons. Sunday’s pick was Winfield’s first since the 2011 season opener. He has also now intercepted passes from 17 different NFL quarterbacks. The two quarterbacks Winfield has victimized most? Peyton Manning and Joey Harrington, who were each picked off four times by Winfield.
First-half points allowed by the Vikings during their three-game winning streak. The Vikings shut Tennessee out in the first half Sunday. That came after surrendering six points to Detroit the week before and three to San Francisco in Week 3. In those three games, the Vikings’ defense has been on the field for 13 first-half drives, allowing 369 net yards and 22 first downs.
Rushing yards per game allowed by the Vikings to the top running back of their first five opponents. That’s a decent stable of backs too – Maurice Jones-Drew, Donald Brown, Frank Gore, Mikel Leshoure and Chris Johnson. Jones-Drew had the biggest game of that quintet, rushing for 77 yards on 19 carries. The last back to rush for 100 yards against the Vikings was Washington’s Evan Royster (19 carries, 132 yards) on Christmas Eve last season.
Rushing yards per game by Redskins back Alfred Morris this season. The 5-foot-10, 218-pounder is in his rookie season and was the 12th running back taken in April’s draft, selected in the sixth-round (No. 173 overall). But Morris currently ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards with 491, trailing only Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles (551) and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (508). Morris had 115 yards on 18 carries in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons
Rushing yards so far this season by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin is a multi-dimensional quarterback who can fluster defenses with his arm and his legs. He has thrown four touchdown passes this season and rushed for four more. Yet the worry that his dazzling and athletic running style could expose him to extra danger was confirmed Sunday when he suffered a concussion on a 7-yard red zone run against Atlanta.
Yards from scrimmage this season for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who returns Sunday to the site of where he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. At the time, Peterson’s injury was thought to be a devastating setback for one of the league’s top playmakers. And while Peterson hasn’t necessarily shown he’s back to 100 percent yet, his recovery and 2012 production has been remarkable. For comparison, Peterson’s 499 yards this year have come on 109 touches. Through five games in 2011, he had 547 total yards on 119 touches.
Leslie Frazier’s record as Vikings head coach in games played at FedEx Field. Last December, Frazier’s team scored an improbable 33-26 victory in a game during which they lost running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Christian Ponder on successive plays early in the second half. In place of Peterson, Toby Gerhart rushed for 105 yards after halftime. In place of Ponder, Joe Webb went 4-for-5 for 84 yards with TD tosses of 17 yards to Kyle Rudolph and 8 yards to Percy Harvin. Webb also rushed for 34 yards, including a 9-yard score. A year earlier, the Vikings beat Washington 17-13 in the first game after Brad Childress was fired with Frazier supplanting him as coach.
Receptions so far this season by Percy Harvin. In history, only one other Vikings has had more catches through the season’s first five games. That was Cris Carter, who had 41 grabs in 1994 on his way to a 122-catch, 1,256-yard season. Harvin is currently on pace to catch 122 balls for 1,302 yards. He recorded his first two offensive touchdowns of the season against Tennessee on Sunday – a 4-yard run and a 10-yard reception. Harvin had 108 receiving yards and now has nine career 100-yard games. In last season’s win at Washington, Harvin had five catches for 65 yards as a score.
Brett Favre still has a way with words.
Nearly two years since Favre was persuaded into playing a second season with the Vikings – his return to Winter Park tracked by helicopters and blanketed with ultra-sensationalized coverage -- Favre took time recently to reflect on that 2010 chaos and the 6-10 season that followed.
Just a warning: some of what the legendary quarterback had to say probably isn’t going to sit well with Vikings’ fans.
Yes, Favre’s first season in Minnesota was magical. Remember that last-second 32-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Greg Lewis in Week 3? Remember those 12 regular-season victories and the playoff thrashing of Dallas? Remember how close the Vikings were to reaching Super Bowl XLIV before a handful of unfortunate twists resulted in a 31-28 NFC title game loss to the Saints?
Well, as magical as the Vikings’ 2009 run was, 2010 provided a boatload of frustrations. Those 10 losses. The 19 interceptions Favre threw. His 69.9 quarterback rating. The failed return of Randy Moss. The firing of coach Brad Childress. The roof collapse at Mall of America Field. And the nasty hit Favre took on the icy turf at TCF Bank Stadium that effectively ended his career.
In some ways, Favre confesses, he saw such struggles coming. In a one-on-one sitdown down with Deion Sanders that aired this week on the NFL Network, Favre offered a candid if somewhat bothersome explanation on why he felt compelled to play for the Vikings in 2010.
“First of all,” Favre said, “the money was too good. The money was too good. And I hate to say it’s about money. I felt the money was a lot. But the guys, I kind of felt like even though I knew it was going to be next to impossible [to duplicate the 2009 success] – I wouldn’t tell them [that]. Sidney [Rice], Jared [Allen], [Steve] Hutchinson and Adrian [Peterson], they were like, ‘Unfinished business.’ I just knew that it probably was finished.”
Favre recalled the visit he received at his Mississippi home in the middle of the preseason when Allen, Hutchinson and kicker Ryan Longwell showed up in Hattiesburg, to persuade him to make another run.
One of the first thoughts to run through Favre’s mind?
“I knew this wasn’t going to end well,” he told Sanders.
“No one ever talked about this is going to be hard to duplicate,” Favre said. “But I think we all [were thinking it].”
And so before anyone knew it, a 2010 season that was supposed to provide an energized encore to 2009’s thrill ride, sent the Vikings on a stumble from which they have still yet to right themselves.
Asked by Sanders if he has now found closure on his 20-year career, Favre nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “I probably knew when I got off the plane [in 2010]. I didn’t have to play a down. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t give my all. It just wasn’t to be, and I think I knew that. I really know it now.”
A humble man by nature, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spoke up for his importance in shaping the future of the franchise when asked whether he feels the youth movement being orchestrated by new General Manager Rick Spielman puts the head coach in danger of not being able to win enough games to keep his job beyond 2012.
"The thing you have to understand when we're building a team, it's `we.' It's not `Rick,'" Frazier said today following the team's second day of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) practices. "Rick could not build this team without the head coach being in concert with him in doing that. That wouldn't be good for he or I."
Frazier is entering the second of a three-year deal. It's also the final year that the team has to pay former coach Brad Childress.
Frazier has a 6-16 record, resides in the NFL's toughest division (NFC North) and is leading a team that's universally considered at least a year away from contending. He'll have a second-year quarterback, three new starters on the offensive line, possibly two rookie starters at safety, new faces at nose tackle and middle linebacker, and a rookie kicker who missed 14 of 35 kicks at Georgia last year. Oh yeah, his best player (Adrian Peterson) had his left knee rebuilt in late December.
Still, Frazier said he participated fully with Spielman in the decisions to let go of several veterans, including reliable kicker Ryan Longwell.
"There isn't a decision that's made that the two of us don't talk about and agree upon," Frazier said. "It would just not be good. So the decisions that have been made are decisions that were discussed and we were in agreement that this is the right thing to do. It's hard build a team if the general manager and the head coach aren't on the same page. And we are, thank goodness."
Harvin, Peterson put on hill-climbing exhibition: It's tough to say who worked harder at Winter Park today: The players in uniform or the two injured guys racing repeatedly to the top of the steep hill near the practice fields.
The two injured guys -- running back Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin -- didn't look quite so injured based on how well -- and how many times -- they ran up the hill. Peterson continues to be ahead of schedule following late December surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Harvin had minor shoulder surgery recently. He's got full strength back, but is being held out of the early OTAs as a precaution.
"The good thing is those guys are competing; they push one another," Frazier said. "That's good for us. Two great athletes like that pushing one another in their rehab, That's a good thing."
Peterson has been in town rehabbing his knee. Harvin arrived Monday night, earning a pile of credit from teammates and coaches impressed that he decided to show up for the voluntary workouts.
"I gave him a big hug," Frazier said. "He texted me Monday night, Memorial Day. I wasn't sure what his flight schedule was going to be. He said, `I'm in town, what doctors do I need to see tomorrow morning?' I texted him back and asked, `Is this the Percy Harvin? He's just great for our meetings, great for our coaches ... Just to have him on the side and in the meetings. He's a guy who is so well-respected by our team and is such a playmaker, and now he's become one of the leaders on our team. It is great that he would be here in a voluntary decision."
Harvin said he never had a doubt about showing up.
"If I remember correct, I told you guys [media] last year at the end of the season that I was going to make it a point to make sure most of the team was here," Harvin said. "I think we got 98 percent here."
Jared Allen, Greenway only veteran no-shows: Defensive end Jared Allen and linebacker Chad Greenway were the only veteran no-shows. As noted earlier, cornerback Asher Allen told Frazier last Thursday that he has decided to retire.
Frazier said Greenway had a "family matter" to tend to. He also said he "hopes" to see Allen show up for OTAs next week. OTAs are voluntary, so Frazier chose to focus on the fact that all but two veterans were attending.
"The fact that we have the guys we have here is something to get excited about, and that's what I'm excited about," Frazier said. "Participation is a big deal. A big deal when you're trying to install the things that we're installing and trying to build a championship team."
Center John Sullivan is here, but didn't practice. He left the facility limping with a sleeve covering his left leg. The injury isn't believed to be serious.
Erin Henderson ready for `prove-it' year: Linebacker Erin Henderson was asked if he was ready for a "prove-it" year after signing a one-year deal this offseason.
"Of course," he said. "You got to improve. The moment you get complacent, the moment somebody's going to run you out the door. You got to come to work everyday and grind. It's tough work, but you have to find a way to get it done."
Ponder looking for better percentage on first downs: It's rare when a player gives specifics when asked for specific things he's looking to improve on. Normally, they spout cliches or give some kind of general mumbo jumbo. Quarterback Christian Ponder gave us that rare answer today when asked for the thing he wants to improve on most.
"For me and the offense, No. 1 is doing a lot better job on first down," Ponder said. "We want to be completing 75 percent of our passes on first down. I think we were low 60s, around 63 percent, last year.
"That's going to help us be so much better on third down and eventually points scored per game. I think it's important for me. I have to do a better job moving around in the pocket and not taking off so early. Get a better feel for the pocket and make better decisions. ...Just smarter decisions. not trying to force the ball down the field. I think if we have `go' routes called and it's not open, to check it down. I think it comes down to patience and knowing your reads and finding the open guy. Football is not that hard of a game. You have to find the open guy and get the ball to him."
Brinkley still holding back following hip surgery: The good news is it's May 30 and players aren't supposed to be ready for opening day on May 30. But Frazier said he's still looking for middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley to prove he can come back from the major hip surgery that wiped out his entire 2011 season. Brinkley is working with the first unit and the starting job is his to lose.
"He's getting there mentally, but there are still some things that he's holding back on," Frazier said. "He's got to get to the point where he's got to let it go a little bit. It's still early. We've only had two practices and we'll see how he progresses. But we'll need him to let it go at some point."
The biggest transaction news out of Winter Park this week was the Monday night release of kicker Ryan Longwell, the Vikings cutting ties with the veteran kicker after six seasons. Longwell made 135 regular season field goals and 228 extra points during his days in purple. In fact, if you’re curious as to when the Vikings last played a game without Longwell, you’d have to rewind to Jan. 1, 2006, a 34-10 blowout of Chicago. Paul Edinger was the Vikings kicker then, Brad Johnson was the quarterback, Mike Tice was in his final game as head coach. (For further perspective, at that time Jared Allen was finishing his second season in Kansas City, Adrian Peterson was finishing his sophomore year at Oklahoma and Christian Ponder was a budding senior at Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas.)
On when the decision was made to move on from Longwell …
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