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.
Coach Leslie Frazier downplayed the significance of the team's decision to work out Brian Stahovich and other free agent punters just five days after Chris Kluwe's poor performance helped put the Vikings in an early 10-0 hole en route to 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay at Mall of America Field.
"We worked out some different guys [Tuesday]," Frazier said. "We worked out some linemen, some punters. We worked out a defensive back over the weekend. We worked out different positions. It's something we'll do throughout the season. We'll probably bring in some guys next week as well.
"[General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and the personnel department do a great job of just helping us to have a rolodex of players that could be avialable if we have an injury or something else occurs. It's something that will we ongoing for us through the year, bringing in guys. We've always done that."
Kluwe has been one of the best punters in team history since signing as a free agent in 2005. Thursday was one of the worst performances of his career. He averaged just 37.8 yards on six punts. His second punt was a 20-yard shank out of bounds. The Bucs got the ball at their 42-yard line and turned the short field into a field goal
"Chris is a pro," Frazier said. "He'll figure this out. Between [special teams coordinator] Mike Priefer and our staff, he'll come through it. He's been in this league for awhile now. He knows how to look at himself and look at tape and figure things out. Mike always does a great job with him so he'll get through this."
Frazier said he doesn't think Kluwe's political activism has anything to do with Thursday's poor performance on national prime-time television.
"He's been able to deal with so many things in his career," Frazier said. "He's able to focus in these situations on the task at hand. He's been a very good punter, which he is. So I don't think anything off the field is distracting him. He knows how to focus on his job. We fully expect him to have a big game for us on Sunday."
Kluwe said the team's decision to work out punters doesn't bother him.
"That's the way the NFL is run," he said. "It's nothing personal. If they feel I'm not performing my job, they will find someone who can.
"I just approach each week the same way. That I'm going to try and do the best job possible. The way I've always approached this job is I will be cut if I don't perform. There's no extra incentive there because that's the way I've always viewed it."
Kluwe said his problem Thursday is easily correctable.
"I'm just going too fast and not letting myself get situated with my drop," Kluwe said. "So that leads to an inconsistent drop and just not hitting the ball well. Just try to slow myself down and not rush myself and just hit the ball the way I know I can hit it.
"It's just correcting some minor things and then going out and hitting the ball consistently well, which I've been able to do for quite a while now. I just have to start doing it again."
Despite Frazier's attempt to downplay the significance, Kluwe said he knows why they worked out punters.
"The main problem is you can't have a 20-yard punt in the first quarter on a long field against a team and give them momentum like that," he said. "That can't happen in the NFL. I just have to have better punt there."
Kluwe also was asked for his reaction to the outcry via Twitter and elsewhere that he "just focus on football" rather than choose to be such an outspoken proponent of gay marriage rights.
"Generally, I just ignore them," Kluwe said. "I read all of them, but I don't really think about them. The funny thing is if you look at that argument, the basic foundation of that argument is why don't you worry more about a children's game than basic human rights. Yeah, generally I'm going to go with the basic human rights on that issue."
Frazier still mulling cornerback decision: The assumption is cornerback Chris Cook's broken arm will force the Vikings to move Josh Robinson from nickel back to starter and A.J. Jefferson from dime back to nickel back. Hold on a second, says Frazier, who won't make that call until the end of the week.
Asked what he was looking for from the Cook and Jefferson, Frazier said, "The consistency in practice and who grasps the game plan the best and gives us the best chance at this stage of the season to go out and be effective at the cornerback position opposite Antoine [Winfield]."
Frazier said the coaches are leaning one way, although he wouldn't say which way.
"We have an idea of what direction we want to go," he said. "But we have to see how it goes in practice the next couple of days."
Vikings still have roster opening: The Vikings still haven't filled the roster spot that's been open since they put Cook on injured reserve on Friday. Frazier was asked if the team is waiting to make a move until Thursday's 3 p.m. trade deadline.
"It's different factors, without giving too much [information] away," Frazier said. "You want to do everything you can. I know [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and our personnel department is doing everything we can to improve our team. You want to exhaust all avenues in doing that."
In other news:
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s Week 9 game with Seattle at Century Link Field, here’s a look at a handful of eye-opening figures and facts ...
Yards per carry this season for Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who is coming off a 12-carry, 105-yard effort in Sunday’s loss at Detroit. Lynch has rushed for at least 85 yards in seven of the Seahawks’ eight games. Last week’s outburst included a 77-yard touchdown run
Yards per rushing attempt allowed by Vikings in their past three games. Thanks to the dazzling skills of quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Redskins piled up 183 yards on the ground in 32 attempts. Griffin had 138 of those yards on 13 rushes. Then, the past two weeks, the Vikings once proud run D was gashed even more Arizona’s LaRod Stephens Howling (20 carries, 104 yards) and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (29 carries, 135 yards). Suddenly, the Vikings have dropped to 16th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 107.6 yards per game.
Games this year in which rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has led the Seahawks on a fourth quarter game-winning or go-ahead drive. The latest came Sunday in Detroit when Wilson led a 12-play, 87-yard march that ended with a 16-yard TD strike to tight end Zach Miller. That score gave Seattle a 24-21 lead with 5:27 left. (Detroit responded with its own 80-yard TD stampede to win the game.) But that doesn’t diminish what Wilson has done in the clutch this season. In Week 6, his 46-yard TD strike to Sidney Rice with 1:18 left produced a 24-23 upset of New England. Twenty days earlier, Wilson threw a last-second 24-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate that punctuated a wild 14-12 upset of the Packers. You may have seen the replay of that Wilson-to-Tate score a few times. Just guessing.
Turnovers caused by the Vikings in their five victories so far this season. In those wins, the Vikings are plus-2 in turnover differential.
Turnovers caused by the Vikings in their three losses. In those stumbles, the Vikings are minus-6 in turnover differential.
Touchdowns allowed by the Seahawks defense in three home games this season. Seattle’s stingy defense has been particularly tough at CenturyLink Field, allowing an average of 346 yards and 14 points per game. Led by defensive end Chris Clemons, linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerback Richard Sherman, Seattle has six takeaways in their three home wins and have done a nice job limiting standout quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Tony Romo. Brady threw for 395 yards against the Seahawks but needed 58 passing attempts to do so.
Third down conversions allowed by Seattle in Sunday’s loss in Detroit. The Lions were 12-for-16 on third down and converted plays of third-and-5, third-and-10 and third-and-1 on their game-winning touchdown drive in the final 5 minutes.
Rushing yards for Adrian Peterson through eight weeks, most in the NFL. Peterson’s 15-carry, 123-yard outburst in last Thursday night’s loss to Tampa Bay was his second consecutive 100-yard game and the 30th of his Vikings career, a new franchise record. He holds an 18-yard advantage atop the rushing charts over Lynch.
Receptions for Percy Harvin through eight weeks, tied for most in the NFL. New England’s Wes Welker also has 60 catches so far this season. Harvin ranks fifth overall in receiving yards with 667, easily on pace for a career year and, as of right now, a probable Pro Bowl invitation.
While wondering if the 2012 draft will ever actually take place or if it's just a fictitious carrot dangling just out of reach so that we all keep blabbing on and on and on and on about the NFL ...
The Vikings' second-round pick this year is the 35th overall selection. The expectations for that player will -- and should -- be high. While he won't be expected to earn multiple All-Pro honors like the No. 3 overall pick will, the 35th overall pick should be expected to start and compete for Pro Bowls.
Looking at the past 10 NFL drafts, 38 second-round picks that were available at No. 35 have gone on to Pro Bowl seasons. That includes two Vikings -- E.J. Henderson, 40th overall, 2003; and Sidney Rice, 44th overall, 2007 -- and last year's No. 35 pick, Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton.
The Vikings need receivers and cornerbacks. Everyone is upset that they haven't thrown a gazillion dollars at those two positions in free agency. But that doesn't mean the fight is over when it comes to finding elite talent at those two positions. In the second round alone, receivers Anquan Boldin, Vincent Jackson, Greg Jennings, Sidney Rice and DeSean Jackson all have been drafted in the second round with picks lower than 48th overall. As for corners, Charles Tillman was the 35th overall pick in 2003.
Here's a look at each of the past 10 players to go 35th overall:
2002: Kalimba Edwards, DE, Lions.
Could have had: Andre Gurode, C, Cowboys (37th).
2003: Charles Tillman, CB, Bears.
Could have had: Doesn't matter. Peanut's a Pro Bowler and still playing at a high level.
2004: Igor Olshansky, DT, Chargers.
Could have had: Bob Sanders, S, Colts (44th).
2005: Reggie Brown, WR, Eagles.
Could have had: Nick Collins, S, Packers (51st), Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers (61st).
2006: Rocky McIntosh, LB, Redskins.
Could have had: Greg Jennings, WR, Packers (52nd), Devin Hester, WR-KR, Bears (57th); Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars (60th).
2007: Arron Sears, G, Buccaneers.
Could have had: LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers (46th).
2008: Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs.
Could have had: Matt Forte, RB, Bears (44th); DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles (49th); Ray Rice, RB, Ravens (55th).
2009: James Laurinaitis, LB, Rams.
Could have had: LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (53rd).
2010: Brian Price, DT, Buccaneers.
Could have had: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (42nd).
2011: Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals.
Could have had: Doesn't matter, but the Packers did get WR-KR Randall Cobb with the 64th pick.
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.
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.
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.
The Vikings will have 10 picks to use during next month's NFL Draft, valuable currency for a team in rebuilding mode. This afternoon at the owners meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla., the organization learned it would receive a pair of compensatory fourth-round draft picks after losing receiver Sidney Rice and defensive end Ray Edwards to free agency last year.
The Vikings have reported that the two compensatory picks they'll receive will be the 33rd and 39th picks of the fourth round.
The Vikings now have three picks in the fourth-round plus an additional seventh-round pick as well, bringing their pick total to 10.
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