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 Percy Harvin

Receiver/tight end snapshot: What’s next in life after Percy Harvin?

Posted by: Updated: April 17, 2013 - 7:19 AM

As the NFL Draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top draft prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.

Today’s snapshot: Wide receivers and tight ends

Current receiver starters: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright

Reserves under contract: Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Chris Summers

Current tight end starter: Kyle Rudolph

Reserves under contract: John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, LaMark Brown, Chase Ford

Level of draft need for receivers: High. Even with Jennings now on board, the Vikings owe it to themselves to surround quarterback Christian Ponder with as many weapons as possible if they are to complete his three-year evaluation fairly. Ponder and the offense badly need an outside speed threat. More reliable depth at the position is necessary, too. Nabbing at least two receivers in the draft seems likely.

Level of draft need for tight ends: None. Kyle Rudolph is still ascending, a dangerous red zone weapon who made great strides with his blocking a year ago. In Leslie Frazier’s words, Rhett Ellison still sets the standard as the team’s best blocking tight end, which has earns him a chance to be on the field more in 2013.

Biggest offseason move: The March 11 blockbuster trade that sent Percy Harvin to Seattle in exchange for three draft picks was without question a pivotal moment in Vikings’ history. Replacing Harvin won’t be easy. Despite missing the final seven games last season, Harvin still led the team with 62 catches for 677 yards and three touchdowns. He was also a major threat as a kick returner. And yet whatever unfolded behind the scenes after he suffered that severely sprained left ankle in a Week 9 loss in Seattle permanently fractured Harvin’s relationship with the franchise. Details of the divide have been kept under lock and key. And while various national outlets have taken bold stabs at trying to identify why the Harvin-Vikings divorce had to happen, members of the front office and coaching staff continue to assert  the true reasons for Harvin’s departure have not been revealed.

As Leslie Frazier said at last month’s league meetings in Phoenix: “There are a lot of layers to this situation. And one day, when I sit down and write this book, we'll divulge all the layers. But it's complicated.”

Loosely translated: Don’t put full stock in the notion that Harvin’s frustration with Ponder was the wick that made things explode. Said Frazier: “It didn't play the role that most think.”

Also, it should be made clear that contract negotiations weren’t the main cause of the strain either. Instead, it came down to the receiver’s desire to get out of town. For reasons still fully unknown.

As patient as Frazier had always been with Harvin, the mercurial receiver made it clear at the tail end of last season that he wanted out, that he desired to be moved. Rather than engaging in a potentially volatile staring contest, Vikings GM Rick Spielman sought out significant trade compensation for Harvin and came away thrilled when the Seahawks offered the No. 25 pick in this year’s draft plus a seventh-rounder this year and a third-rounder in 2014. At that point, Spielman excitedly pulled the trigger. And even with the wide hole that opened in the Vikings’ receiving corps, there was also a recognition internally that the team finished last season with five wins in the seven games Harvin missed. The Vikings were also a perfect 4-0 to close the regular season immediately after Harvin was put on Injured Reserve.

You should know: Of all the things the Vikings love about Greg Jennings – his versatility, his experience, his crisp route running – they’ve raved most about his positive energy. A few hours after signing the 29-year-old receiver away from Green Bay, Frazier noted the character and professionalism Jennings will infuse into the locker room.

Added Spielman: “You can see the leadership he brings on the field and the enthusiasm he plays with. It’s easy when you watch guys on tape, [you can see] which guys really love to play the game. And there is no question when you watch the tape on Greg Jennings, you know that he loves to play the game.”

The Vikings also feel encouraged about the hunger Jennings has brought with him. Remember that three-year stretch from 2008-10 when Jennings averaged 75 catches, 1,223 yards and eight TDs per season? The Vikings feel they can tap into that potential and get similar production going forward. Jennings wants to prove he's still that kind of player.

Jennings has missed 11 games the past two seasons due to injuries – a knee issue cost him three games in 2011 and a core muscle problem held him out for half of last year. And while he was out, the Packers’ offense didn’t miss a beat with Jordy Nelson and James Jones and Randall Cobb all excelling and becoming top-notch playmakers for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Jennings began to feel overshadowed, lost in the shuffle, under-appreciated in that equation. And so as he dove into free agency last month, he was not only looking for an offense he felt he could fit into, he was also looking to feel wanted.

The Vikings, who finished 31st in the NFL in passing offense last season, certainly wanted Jennings. And yes, his production in the coming years should be a part of the subsequent evaluation of the success of the Harvin trade.
In trading Harvin, the Vikings not only received those three draft picks from the Seahawks, they were then able to take a chunk of the money they'd been budgeting for a potential contract extension to Harvin and deliver it to Jennings.

One more thing: While everyone in the Vikings’ organization is rooting for Greg Childs to return from the brutal knee injuries he suffered last August, the team is proceeding with the understanding that Childs may never play a meaningful down in the NFL. It’s not just that the 23-year-old receiver from Arkansas blew out both knees during a training camp scrimmage last summer, tearing his patellar tendons on both sides, it’s that that setback came 22 months after his junior season in college ended with a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.

Childs fought through that rehab and returned to play in eight games as a senior. But he was nowhere near top form, tallying only 21 catches for 240 yards. And while his perseverance and optimism through his more recent rehabilitation stretch has been laudable, it’s hard to look past the notion that he hasn’t had a full season at full strength since 2009.

Frazier was asked about Childs at last month’s league meetings and had this to offer: “It'd be a monumental surprise if Greg Childs somehow, some way came back and was a factor. With his size and his athleticism, that would be a big boon for our wide receiver position. … There's a concern because of the [injury] history, for sure. We just have to kind of wait and see. He'd be making history because nobody's ever come back from that injury. But the way he's working gives you hope.”

Running back snapshot: Examining Adrian Peterson’s quest for 2,500 yards

Posted by: Updated: April 14, 2013 - 10:37 PM

As the NFL draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.

Today’s snapshot: Running backs

Current starters: Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton

Reserves under contract: Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard

Biggest offseason move: The re-signing of Felton was a big deal, even if it didn’t receive much attention or hype outside the Twin Cities. The 26-year-old fullback was superb as a lead blocker in 2012, aiding Adrian Peterson’s MVP season.

Level of draft need: Low. The depth chart seems set and solid for 2013. But Toby Gerhart is also entering the final year of his rookie contract. And if he seeks to hit free agency in 2014 to find greater opportunity elsewhere, the Vikings’ may want to start shopping for potential back-ups for Adrian Peterson.

You should know: Peterson’s vow to follow his extraordinary 2,097-yard eruption in 2012 with a 2,500-yard explosion in 2013 is downright ridiculous. And maybe it’s most preposterous because his teammates and coaches don’t question it.

Here’s what Felton said in January: “I really don’t feel like it’s out of reach. You look at it. It’s what, around 155 yards per game? With him, that’s doable.”

Added Jared Allen: “With that dude? It’s logical. And yeah, that’s crazy. … But I think too, with the way the league is now as such a pass dominant league, you’re seeing smaller fronts. You’re not having that 330-pound nose tackle anymore. You’ve got to have guys there who can rush the passer because of these spread offenses and these check-down systems. So you get a team like us that likes to run the ball with a back like Adrian and smaller [defenders] on the field, 2,500 might not be a stretch.”

And then in March, Leslie Frazier chimed in: “I think it's a good goal to have if you're Adrian Peterson. He's more than capable of getting it accomplished.”

All that said, the Vikings know it’s in their best interest to diversify their offense, to not be so one-dimensional and predictable. And so with an eye on energizing the passing attack, Peterson’s workload and production will almost certainly dip some. That will be by design with the hope that another reliable playmaker emerges. (That means you, Greg Jennings.)

Consider Peterson’s numbers from the first nine games of last season when Percy Harvin was healthy and adding pop to the offense: an average of 19 carries and 106 yards plus six total touchdowns.

And in the final seven games without Harvin around? Peterson averaged 26 carries and 163 yards with seven TDs.
Balance is a priority and so while Peterson will be aiming for 2,500 yards, Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave are hopeful they won’t have to push at that milestone to be successful.

All that said, the opposite train of thought says that if Peterson was capable of topping 2,000 yards last season while spending the first month working back towards full strength and the last two months as a marked man facing stacked defenses while fighting through a painful sports hernia injury, imagine what he might be able to do if he stays healthy for a full year and the Vikings find a balanced offense that keeps opponents from keying on him.

Yikes. Maybe 2,500 yards isn’t as asinine of a goal as it sounds.

For what it’s worth, six other backs have topped 2,000 yards in a season. Here are their numbers from the following season:

  • O.J. Simpson (1974): 270 carries, 1,125 yards, three TDs
  • Eric Dickerson (1985): 292 carries, 1,234 yards, 12 TDs
  • Barry Sanders (1998): 343 carries, 1,491 yards, four TDs
  • Terrell Davis (1999): 67 carries, 211 yards, two TDs
  • Jamal Lewis (2004): 235 carries, 1,006 yards, seven TDs
  • Chris Johnson (2010): 316 carries, 1,364 yards, 11 TDs

One more thing: When it came to a final vote at the NFL’s annual meetings in March, the Vikings actually voted in favor of the new rule that will now penalize any runner or tackler who “initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet.”

But that “Yes” vote was more a reluctant concession than an indication of support. The Vikings simply did not want to appear in opposition of a player safety proposal that already had enough votes to pass.

Only an hour before that vote was taken in Phoenix last month, Frazier repeatedly declared his skepticism.
“We’re not one of those teams who is for it,” he asserted.

His biggest worries? That dynamic backs like Peterson could be neutered if they’re forced to be thinking too much.

“It's such an instinctive position,” Frazier said. “The guys are just reacting most of the time. If you ask Adrian [Peterson] on some of his runs, 'How did you know that guy was coming from the left or the right?' It's just a sense, just a feel sometimes. … As a running back, it's instincts. For me to start thinking now, 'Oh, man, I've got to lower my shoulder or I've got to turn this way' -- I don't know. We'll see.”

We will all see how the new rule is legislated. The league has made it clear that it wants its officials to zero in on only the obvious infractions. But that will still be a judgment call from week to week. And with a back who runs as powerfully as Peterson with the thirst to deliver contact before absorbing it, it’s a rule worth monitoring.

Said Frazier: “Is it going to make the game safer without altering what these guys do for a living and how they play and how they perform? … I just know being around great running backs, whether it be Walter [Payton] or Adrian, they are so instinctual in what they do. They’re not thinking a lot of times about when they’re going to use a stiff arm, how they’re going to use it. They’re not premeditating some of the moves they make. And to make them start thinking about, should I lower my shoulder left or right or spin this way? I just don’t know.”
 

Antoine Winfield chooses Seahawks

Posted by: Updated: April 12, 2013 - 10:51 PM
The Vikings’ hopes of reeling Antoine Winfield back to Winter Park have officially been dashed. The 35-year-old cornerback agreed to a one-year deal with the Seahawks on Friday, ending his month-long exploration through free agency.
Winfield began a visit in Seattle on Tuesday and apparently liked what he heard from General Manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. But it was not an easy decision. The Vikings had made a significant push to bring Winfield back and it took until Friday for a deal to be finalized with the Seahawks.
"It was a very tough decision for me because of the relationships that I have in Minnesota," Winfield told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "I've been there nine years. I've had some really great coaches, teammates and fans there. I'm very grateful to the Vikings organization for my experience."
Winfield had made it known since being released by the Vikings on March 12 that he was looking to find an ideal fit and latch on with a team in position to contend for a Super Bowl. Seattle certainly fits that bill.
The Seahawks already have two outstanding outside cornerbacks in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Now they can add Winfield to the mix as a slot corner and veteran leader.
After nine seasons with the Vikings, Winfield joins a Seattle team that was an eyelash away from reaching the NFC Championship last season and has since added some big-name talent in its quest to take the next step. The Seahawks acquired receiver Percy Harvin in a blockbuster trade last month and then struck two days later by signing free agent defensive end Cliff Avril
The Seattle defense ranked second in the NFL against the pass in 2012 and will hope Winfield still has some juice left as he enters his 15th season. Winfield was as reliable as ever last season with the Vikings, steadying a young secondary. According to team stats, he contributed 110 tackles, 11 of those for loss and intercepted three passes. His professionalism and positive energy were frequently lauded by both teammates and the Vikings’ coaching staff during the team’s surprising push into the NFC playoffs.
As head coach Leslie Frazier noted last month: "He was the glue. The way that he was in our meeting rooms, at practice, his participation in the offseason program. He was one of those guys who had not been around a lot in the offseason [previously]. And he was at everything a year ago. So his influence, you can't put a dollar figure on that. It made a big difference on our season and in the development of a lot of players as well."
Still, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman made the executive decision to cut Winfield last month in the hour before free agency began, needing to clear salary cap room that the cornerback’s $7.25 million salary for 2013 was clogging up.
The Vikings then spent the first week of free agency re-signing seven of their in-house free agents, most notably right tackle Phil Loadholt, fullback Jerome Felton and linebacker Erin Henderson. The organization also signed receiver Greg Jennings and quarterback Matt Cassel.
According to a source, before being cut Winfield was never formally offered an opportunity to restructure his contract and initially felt blindsided by the Vikings’ decision, news given to him on a day he had gone to the team’s Winter Park facility for a routine workout.
A few hours after releasing Winfield, Spielman said he was leaving the door open for a possible reunion. And Leslie Frazier reached out to Winfield on several occasions to express his feelings and appreciation for Winfield’s talent and leadership.
But the veteran cornerback was certainly confused by the mixed messages from an organization that didn’t feel he was worth keeping around at a high price but was still asking him to consider a return shortly after.  
Winfield began testing the open market when free agency began and had one other visit with the Redskins. In Seattle, it turns out, he found the fit he was seeking. ESPN reported Winfield’s deal with Seattle to be worth $3 million. And at the very least, Winfield’s move slammed shut the door Spielman had promised to keep open.

Greenway plans to reach out to Winfield

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 20, 2013 - 3:02 PM

Spending part of the morning with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway as he interacted with children at Hudson  Hosptial & Clinics in Wisconsin was a healthy reminder that most NFL players are decent men who add value to their communities. Unfortunately, they just don't grab the headlines and the spotlight the way the lunkheads do when they get into trouble.

Greenway traveled to Hudson as part of his "Lead The Way Foundation," joking that as a Viking, he "crossed the border, but not very far because we have to tread lightly over here." He and his wife, Jenni, were well-received -- no Cheeseheads were spotted -- during an event in which they unveiled "Chad's Locker," a program that provides patients and their families access to kid-friendly technology during hospital visits.

An actual locker, labeled "Chad's Locker" and all decked out in purple with a photo of Greenway in uniform, was opened to reveal several iPads, video gaming systems, laptops and other items. This was the third hospital in the Twin Cities area that the Greenways have partnered with as they grow their "Chad's Locker" idea.   

Greenway said he was made aware of a similar idea before he had children. He thought it was a good idea. But not as good as when his children came along.

"We've spent a lot of time in the hospital the last year with my dad," said Greenway, whose father is again battling leukemia after a brief remission. "When you're in that moment in time in the hospital, it's huge to have something for your kids to occupy their time. You need them to behave, but it's also unrealistic for them to just sit there for five, six, seven hours with nothing to do."

One of the hospital's care-givers took it to another level, recalling how a young boy was able to use one of the iPads from the locker to distract himself during a lengthy chemotherapy session.

I also caught up with Greenway on a number of hot topics concerning the Vikings. Here's a look:

On the release of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield: "Obviously, when it comes to free agency, you never know what's going to happen. Even from a personal standpoint, you worry because if your cap number is high, you could possibly be that guy. Antoine didn't see it coming, obviously. To me, he's one of the top players on our football team. Veteran leader. Great guy in the locker room. Hard worker. And even at his age, he plays at such a high level. I really hope they can work something out and get him back on our team because he makes us a lot better.

On reaching out to Winfield to see if he'll return (The Vikings have said the door is open): "I haven't reached out to him yet. It probably would be a good idea for some of us veterans to reach out to him just to say, `Hey, we want you back.' If there's a chance he can work it out to come back, that would be great. It also becomes personal because he's been here nine years. He's had a long career just here. It was unfortunate to see it, but obviously we all understand the type of business it is and the job we're asked to do. Hopefully, I can talk to him. Hopefully, a bunch of guys can talk to him and tell him if he wants to play a couple more years, we'd love for it to be with us. "

On the likelihood that middle linebacker will be manned by a rookie: "we'll have to see how things shake out. We don't know what they'll do. They could move some people around. They could change some positions. It depends on how the draft goes or if they reach out to someone in free agency. Obviously, Erin [Henderson] has experience at that position, so that's something you could think about doing as well. If they want to move me there, I don't know. I'm open to whatever, but I'm not sure that's what they're thinking. But I do know that if it's a young guy who ends up starting there, it can work. Every position at some point you have to go young. So it's a normal process that takes place."

On the Percy Harvin trade: "You look at the move from a football standpoint and he's obviously one of our top players. The output that he was producing at when he was healthy was pretty amazing. The talent he has is amazing. It's hard to see a guy like that go, but obviously management thought it was a good move for our football team. And the things that we got in return for the talent level that he has is pretty deep as well. And picking up Greg [Jennings} helps. We'll be happy not to have to play against him anymore. He's also such a great character addition to our team. Just a great guy all the way around. But it's hard to see Percy go. He could be MVP of the league. Last year, I was stumping for him midseason when he was healthy and doing so well for us. That doesn't change just because he's on another team. He's got some amazing talents."

On whether Harvin's sometimes poor attitude ever spilled over to the locker room: "What he was dealing with when it came to [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and [Coach] Leslie [Frazier], that was in a private setting. We don't get to hear or know all that's going on. There were a couple of instances with him when [players] were around, but that's something that needs to be kept in the locker room, even from the standpoint that he's now on another team. For Percy, the work ethic he has and the talent he has, he put it all out there for us. As a teammate, you have to appreciate that."

More on Jennings: "Greg's got tremendous ability. I know people question his age, which makes me worry because we're the same age [Greenway is 30, Jennings will be 30 in September]. But he can still get vertical over the top of the defense. And from what I hear and know, he runs excellent routes. He's going to be there to bail out Christian [Ponder] when he needs a bailout option. And he can play the slot as well. There are going to be a lot of things he can do to ease that transition away from Percy. We do lack some depth at receiver right now, but I'm sure we'll be able to pick some guys up. We feel pretty confident about the job that Rick and his staff do."

On the league's decision to outlaw the `peel-back' blocks, making it a penalty for an offensive player to throw a low blindside block on a defender even in the box: "I'm in favor of that rule change. I've caught a couple of those in my day. At that point, when it happens, you're just saying, `Ah, it's part of the game.' That's how it works. You gather yourself and try to go on and play. But if you're talking about health and safety, you have to talk about health and safety of defensive players as well."

On the league's decision to outlaw running backs lowering their heads and delivering a blow with the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box and at least three yards down the field: "It's hard for us when you have running back like Adrian [Peterson]. But I think we've come to find out that if there's a rule that's going to be made, it's going to be administered the same way throughout the league. So it might affect us more than many other teams, but at the same point we're going to get that benefit as well. I don't necessarily agree with it. I don't agree with taking the physical portion of the game away. In any way. But I also realize that it is what it is. I'm not going to go out there and stump and say we should do this and get anything accomplished. I'm better off saying, `If these are the rules, then I'm better off playing within the rules.'"

Pete Carroll believes anyone worried about Percy Harvin's fire is 'missing the boat'

Posted by: Updated: March 20, 2013 - 11:41 AM

The NFL’s annual meeting wraps up this afternoon from the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. This morning, all 16 NFC coaches held court for the conference’s coaches breakfast in the Grand Ballroom. Included: Seattle’s Pete Carroll, the proud new coach of standout receiver Percy Harvin, a Viking for his first four seasons in the league but now a Seahawks after last week’s blockbuster trade.

I had a chance to briefly pick Carroll’s brain on the move to land Harvin and how he hopes to wrap around his brain around the receiver’s fiery personality, which at times is both his greatest strength and most dangerous weakness.

Here’s a quick taste of Carroll’s thoughts ...

Before the trade occurred, when you were trying to do some background on Percy and familiarize yourself with his situation, what specifically did you want to glean from Darrell Bevell, who had obvious comfort with him? What was some of his feedback

Carroll: Darrell had nothing but the best things to say. He said he had had a great relationship with Percy, which I found out after talking to Percy, that it was reciprocated. They work together really well. Darrell raved about his competitiveness. He raved about his work ethic. He raved about his talent. And it was a total positive, supportive perspective that Darrel had. So we felt compelled that that was a perspective that we had to call on, what Darrell provided. That cemented the idea for us as we were looking into it.

In some ways, Percy’s personality can be a bit of a riddle. And people who know him well will tell you that his competitive fire is admirable but yet can get the best of him at times. How do you sense you’ll be able to manage that and channel that fire in the right direction.

Carroll: I think it’s that way with the greatest of the great athletes. I think that’s a positive. Sometimes they push the limits. But they’re like that because that’s who they are. You know what I mean? So I don’t have any problem with that. I have no problem with guys being highly, highly competitive. And so I think there’s an understanding there that’s needed. We’ve already talked about it. I want him to be as competitive as he can be, that way we make sure he’s always helping this football team. So that’s one thing I’ve had to learn, dealing with young kids. That nature has made him what he is. So if you think that that’s a problem, you’re missing the boat I think. So we’re going to figure out how to help him along the way so he can translate that competitiveness to great play and championships and all that kind of stuff. I’m not worried about that one bit.

He was glowing at his introductory press conference. Did you have an immediate sense of why specifically he was so excited for a new start and to join the offense you guys have?

Carroll: I think, from what Percy said, it first started when he began to hear about Russell. He loves Russell’s nature. He loves his approach to the game and his outlook about working hard and competing at all times. That resonated with Percy. And he started to check into it. And I think Russell wanted to see Percy. He came in and met with him when Percy was at our facility as well. Percy had a little background with me [from being recruited to USC]. He had tremendous background with Darrell. He knew that this was a young team coming up. So I think there were a lot of things that added up. So whatever he said, I know he felt very much in his heart.

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