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 Brian Robison

Vikings players react to hiring of Zimmer

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: January 15, 2014 - 1:14 PM

The hiring of Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defensive coordinator, as Vikings coach has met the approval of some Vikings defensive players.

“It’s a good hire,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “I think he’s one of those guys that’s very passionate. Obviously he’s going to expect the best out of his players week-in, week-out, and I think it’s a great job.  [General manager] Rick [Spielman] and them did their homework as far as interviewing a bunch of guys and came up with what best suits our organization.”

The intense Zimmer will be a change from Leslie Frazier, who was usually calm and collected.

“We’ve got the guys in the locker room to handle any type of coach they throw at us.  I think we got a lot of mentally tough guys that, if you look at our season last year, things weren’t going the way they needed to be. Guys stayed in and fought hard, so I think we have guys that can pretty much handle anything in that locker room.”

There is a thought that Zimmer will switch to a 3-4 based defense.  Here's what Robison had to say about that:

"We’re not sure what type of defense he’s going to run because of the different backgrounds he’s had over the years, but it’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of things we do under a new scheme, or even the same scheme. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but one thing we do know is that we’ve got a new head coach and we’ve got to rally behind him and get some Ws back here.

"I would love to do a hybrid type of defense. Maybe throw in some 3-4 plays, some 4-3 plays. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me. Bottom line is if he decides we’re going to do a 3-4, I’m open to being a 3-4 outside linebacker. We stay with the 4-3, I’m totally fine with that too. I’m confident in my athletic ability to do anything at this point."

Robison talked to defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who played under Zimmer when Zimmer was a Cowboys assistant.

"Bottom line was that he said he’s a guy that’s obviously going to kind of be a hard guy on you," Robison said. "He’s going to yell at you and trying to get the best out of you but at the same time if you deserve praise, he’s going to praise you up. It’s just a different change of pace I guess from Coach Frazier."

Other Vikings reaction:

Safety Jamarca Sanford: “I’ve heard nothing but great things about him. I heard he’s a passionate coach, a player coach, a man of respect. That’s what you want out of a head coach.

“I like the way he communicates with the players on the sidelines, he’ll get in your face and he’s aggressive. I love that as a defensive player. That’s what every defensive player wants.

“You see the things he did in Cincinnati. They were playing great defense out there. That’s one aspect we’re looking to correct. That’s the last thing you want to be, almost dead last in the league in defense.”

Center John Sullivan tweeted: “Very excited to play for coach Zimmer and to see the staff that he puts together. #skolvikings”

Defensive end Everson Griffen, who will be a free agent, said: “Seems like the Bengals went far this year in the playoffs, and he called good plays on defense. Haven’t heard too much about him, but I can tell you that the way the Bengals play defense, the way they attack the ball and some of the things I’ve heard from guys around the league on his mentality, his style and aggression, it seems like a good fit for the Minnesota Vikings.”

Kicker Blair Walsh tweeted: "Congrats Coach Zimmer. Welcome to the Vikings!"

Vikings snap count: Harrison Smith eases back at safety

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: December 16, 2013 - 10:38 AM

The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.

Offense: 75 snaps

Quarterback

QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)

QB Christian Ponder – DNP

Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.

That streak is now history.

Running Back/Fullback

RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)

FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)

RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)

The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)

WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)

WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)

WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)

TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)

WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)

WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)

Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.

Offensive Line

C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)

G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)

C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)

T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)

T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)

T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)

G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)

Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.

Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)

The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.

Defense: 69 snaps

Defensive Line

DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)

DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)

DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)

DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)

DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)

NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)

NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)

DT Chase Baker – DNP

Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.

The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.

Linebacker

LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)

LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)

LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)

LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)

Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.

Secondary

CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)

CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)

FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)

SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)

SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)

FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)

CB Robert Steeples – DNP

Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.

The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.

Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)

Vikings snap counts: Henderson dressed but didn't play

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: December 2, 2013 - 8:51 AM

The morning after the Vikings 23-20 overtime win over the Bears, we take a look at the snap distribution on offense and defense

Offense: 86 snaps

Quarterback

QB Matt Cassel – 61 snaps (played 71% on offense)

QB Christian Ponder – 25 (29%)

Ponder left the game due to concussion symptoms right before halftime, but the offense was more effective under Cassel, who’s responsible for all three wins this season.

Cassel went 20 of 33 for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He finished with an 80.7 quarterback rating. Ponder was 3 of 8 for 40 yards.

Running Back/Fullback

RB Adrian Peterson – 78 (91%)

FB Jerome Felton – 38 (44%)

RB Toby Gerhart – 7 (8%)

It took the Vikings five possessions to take advantage of the Bears worst-ranked run defense in the NFL. But once they started, they relied heavily on the shoulders of Peterson, who had 35 carries for 211 yards (both season highs).

Peterson was healthy enough where the team didn’t use Gerhart as much compared to last week against the Packers where Peterson played 65 of the team’s 81 snaps (Gerhart spotted him on 14 plays).

Wide Receiver/Tight End

TE John Carlson – 78 (91%)

WR Greg Jennings – 50 (58%)

WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 48 (56%)

TE Rhett Ellison – 45 (52%)

WR Jerome Simpson – 40 (47%)

WR Jarius Wright – 31 (36%)

TE Chase Ford – 10 (12%)

WR Joe Webb – 5 (6%)

Something about Cassel brings out the best in Jennings. He caught his third touchdown this season, all thrown by Cassel, and led the team with seven receptions for 78 yards. Jennings had just one catch for two yards with Ponder. Carlson also had a solid game with four receptions for 61 yards.

Patterson started over Simpson for the third straight week and received a season-high 48 snaps. He’s had over 40 reps in three straight games, but the rookie finished with one catch for four yards. Patterson did, however, score on a 33-yard run in the second quarter

Offensive Line

G Charlie Johnson – 86 (100%)

C John Sullivan – 86 (100%)

T Phil Loadholt – 86 (100%)

G Brandon Fusco – 86 (100%)

T Matt Kalil – 86 (100%)

As it’s been for most of the season, the starting unit played the entire game against the Bears. Cassel and Ponder were sacked a combined five times in the game (Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had 2.5 sacks), but the Vikings ran for 283 yards.

Defense: 66 snaps

Defensive Line

DE Jared Allen – 58 (88%)

DE Brian Robison – 56 (85%)

DT Kevin Williams – 45 (68%)

DE Everson Griffen – 33 (50%)

NT Letroy Guion – 29 (44%)

NT Fred Evans – 22 (33%)

DT Sharrif Floyd – 21 (32%)

The front line had three of the team’s four sacks (Allen, Robison and Floyd) and hurried Bears quarterback Josh McCown six times.

Guion had five fewer snaps than he did in his return last week against the Packers (34). Evans, who had 17 reps last week, played more as a result.

Linebacker

LB Audie Cole – 66 (100%)

LB Chad Greenway – 64 (97%)

LB Marvin Mitchell – 20 (30%)

LB Larry Dean – 2 (3%)

Although he was suited up on the sideline, linebacker Erin Henderson did not play for a second consecutive game. He missed last week's game due a personal issue, which was revealed Henderson was arrested for an alleged DWI on Nov. 19. 

Cole replaced Henderson last week in his first career start and has played the entire game in consecutive weeks. He had nine tackles and a pass deflection.

Greenway left the game during the overtime session due to a wrist injury he’s played through for over a month, but he only missed two plays. He tied for a team-high 10 tackles, three for loss, and a sack.

Secondary

FS Andrew Sendejo – 66 (100%)

CB Xavier Rhodes – 66 (100%)

SS Jamarca Sanford – 66 (100%)

SS Robert Blanton – 45 (68%)

CB Chris Cook – 43 (65%)

CB Marcus Sherels – 24 (36%)

Rhodes put together another good game with six tackles, one for loss, and a nice pass deflection in the end zone against Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Cook was ejected for making contact with an official after allowing a 46-yard touchdown to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter. It left a thin unit to rely on Sherels, who typically plays a spot corner, to play opposite of Rhodes and Blanton as the nickel corner.

Jeffery broke the Bears’ franchise record with 249 receiving yards. He also had 12 receptions and two touchdowns, both against Cook. 

Halftime report: Vikings 13, Packers 7

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: November 24, 2013 - 1:31 PM

The Vikings have a 13-7 halftime lead over the Packers at Lambeau Field. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson scored on a one-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left in the half to give the Vikings their first lead. He has 14 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown.

The good: Vikings linebacker Audie Cole made the most of his first career start during the first half. He recorded his first career sack on the first play of the game and led the team with five tackles (four solo).

The Vikings also didn’t commit a penalty in the first half. The Packers have two for 20 yards.

The bad: The Vikings defense didn’t tackle well again, particularly against Packers running back Eddie Lacy. He broke tackles on practically every carry, dragging defenders in the process. Lacy has 13 carries for 62 yards

Vikings offensive tackle Matt Kalil couldn’t handle Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who had two sacks in the first half. Kalil hardly made any contact with Matthews on his first sack. Ponder was sacked three times in the first half.

The ugly: Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien looked like Johnny Manziel on his six-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Vikings defensive end Brian Robison bit on Tolzien’s pump fake, then Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion whiffed at Tolizen’s video game spin move while he dived into the end zone.

Tolzien went 7 of 15 for 98 yards. He also had two carries for 25 yards and a touchdown.

Jared Allen excited about Vikings' d-line depth, still not eager for rotation

Posted by: Updated: August 6, 2013 - 1:18 PM
Jared Allen has one predominant wish for Friday’s preseason opener against Houston at Mall of America Field.
 
“I’m hoping I’m not playing. I can have a day off,” Allen said.
 
In August, that’s status quo for the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end. But once September rolls around, Allen continues to make it clear he has little desire to come off the field unless absolutely necessary. So while chatter continues to swirl about the Vikings’ defensive line depth and the impressive rotation that might blossom because of it, Allen hopes all the in-and-out switching occurs elsewhere.
 
“For six years I’ve been facing this question: Am I rotating?” Allen said. “And I think I’ve won the battle most of the time. So we’ll see.”
 
In five seasons with the Vikings, Allen has averaged 15 sacks. Coming off a 2012 season in which he was slowed by injuries to his left shoulder and right knee, Allen feels refreshed and is eager to return to top form. So maybe Everson Griffen, whom the coaching staff believes has earned more playing time, will need to find his openings at left end behind Brian Robison or inside as a nickel rusher in pass situations.
 
“That’ll be up to the coaches to make that decision and guys to handle it how they handle it,” Allen said. “I think we have an ability to fill in and do some things pass rush-wise that are pretty special.”
 
Allen said the first Vikings’ defense he played on alongside Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards was special. But this unit, he believes, has the potential to be the best he’s ever been a part of because of all the quality depth. At present, Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans and Lawrence Jackson are all back-ups.
 
“This is how good teams stay good and develop,” Allen said. “I always look at the Steelers. They seem to continue to create new guys in their system. And our defensive line in Minnesota has always been kind of a staple."
 
The Vikings’ depth up front should force opposing offenses into a “pick your poison” scenario, creating favorable one-on-one opportunities.
 
“You can’t focus on one person on this defensive line. I think everybody along that line is capable of making an impact on the game. That’s where our advantage is. So as far as who’s going to rush where, what, why, how, that to me isn’t a big thing. The advantage is the mismatches we can create when offenses choose to take one person away. And now another guy has to win. And we have the ability to.”
 
Still, Allen hopes the rotation concept on the d-line doesn’t become a rhythm disrupter.
 
“When you rotate too many people, if I don’t know where you’re going to be, I can’t rush the way I want to rush,” Allen said. “Half the time you’ll get a sack, because you’re playing off of somebody. For example, I know within the first couple steps where Kevin is going to be. So I can adjust my rush accordingly. … That’s the feel you get and that’s the complications you get when you put too many people in. And that’s where I think guys say I need this rhythm. I need to know where people are at.”

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