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.
Meetings are taking place at Winter Park this week with the Vikings planning a detailed player-by-player evaluation of their current roster. As they perform their in-house review, we’re following suit and delivering our own snapshot evaluation of each position group.
The Vikings wrapped up their final (thank goodness) practice of the season on Friday. Afterward, coach Leslie Frazier talked about the 17 players who will become unrestricted free agents after Sunday's game against Chicago at Mall of America Field.
"It's a tough deal when you have guys that can help you," Frazier said. "But in this age of free agency, most guys that can still can perform are going to want to explore. We'll do whatever we can with those guys that we really want to keep here, to keep here.
"But when guys have been contributors to your team and have helped you to get through what we've had to go through, you'd like to find a way to keep those guys around, believing that you're going to get it turned, and they're going to be a part of that turn. But you wish nothing but the best for every player who becomes a free agent. Hopefully, it works out that they're a part of what we're doing. But if not and they end up somewhere else, you want to see them succeed."
The 17 players who will become unrestricted free agents are: FS Husain Abdullah, MLB E.J. Henderson, OLB Erin Henderson, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, WR Devin Aromashodu, RB Lorenzo Booker, CB Benny Sapp, S Tyrell Johnson, LB Xavier Adibi, WR Greg Camarillo, DT Fred Evans, DT Letroy Guion, TE Jim Kleinsasser, OL Scott Kooistra, LS Matt Katula, S Jarrad Page and QB Sage Rosenfels.
Frazier was asked to evaluate E.J. Henderson, who has been with the team since 2003 and has been a starter since 2004.
"I think he's done a lot of good things," Frazier said. "After the bye, he really came on for us. He struggled a little bit early in the year, battling with injuries. But after the bye, he came back and had played better. That's in large part due to his health. We did some things to take some reps off him as well. His leadership has helped us to get through a tough season and his play has been very good for us. There are some things that he would like to do better, but overall I think he did a good job."
Asked if he thinks Henderson can still be a starting middle linebacker next season, Frazier said, "I think he does. The thing he's dealing with now is just staying healthy. The biggest thing is to stay healthy enough to participate and practice and get what he needs from practice and a game. But he can definitely still be a 16-game starter."
In other news:
Christian Ponder wants to let loose Saturday. He said as much after practice this afternoon, eager to put woeful performances against Detroit and New Orleans behind him as quickly as possible.
Ponder was 11-for-21 for 115 yards with four turnovers against the Lions 10 days ago when he was pulled in the third quarter. His attempt to rebound against the Saints didn't go much better. Through three quarters, he completed four of 13 passes for 18 yards and was sacked three times. The rookie finished that game 14-for-31 for 120 yards with two TD tosses to Toby Gerhart. But much of that production came long after the game was out of reach and the Saints defense had let off the gas.
Ponder thinks his turnover binge the previous two weeks -- seven total turnovers against Denver and Detroit -- might have had him a little gun shy.
"This past game I think I became a little too conservative and threw some balls away and didn't try to make plays," Ponder said. "And I think by the time we started playing better and I started throwing the ball better in the fourth quarter, it was already too late obviously. So I have to go out and have fun and know that we can make plays left and right and not be conservative with the ball. ... That's not me. I can't play not to lose. I have to play to win."
On Monday, Visanthe Shiancoe said teammates
to the point that they get in the young quarterback's head.
Ponder appreciates the vocal support he's been getting in the midst of his recent struggles.
"It always helps hearing positive things from teammates and knowing that they're going to have your back," he said. "They've done a great job of not being in my head too much. They don't really give me advice; obviously they don't play the quarterback position. But they do a good job with, 'Keep your head up. Let's stay competitive. We believe in you.' Those kind of things mean a lot. It's great to know those guys have your back."
Injury update: Both cornerback Asher Allen and guard Steve Hutchinson missed today's practice as they continue recovering from concussions suffered Sunday against the Saints. It is not yet known whether either player will make the trip to Washington. If Allen were out, the Vikings would likely start Benny Sapp and Brandon Burton at cornerback with Marcus Sherels playing the nickelback role and Cedric Griffin relied on at times as well. Hutchinson's absence would force Joe Berger into the starting lineup at left guard. Berger has started at two other positions this season, playing center during the Week 7 loss to Green Bay when John Sullivan was out with a concussion. Berger also started four games in place of Anthony Herrera at left guard while Herrera was dealing with an MCL injury.
It's the question that's going to keep popping up with the Vikings barelling toward a 2-14 record, which would be the worst among 51 years of Vikings football:
Are you, coach Les Frazier, concerned about your future if you finish the season at 2-14. Frazier reportedly has been assured he's coming back. Of course, it doesn't take a genius to realize he wouldn't be the first coach in the history of sports to be fired after what apparently was a vote of confidence by an owner.
"I'm really not. I'm really not," Frazier said when asked that a day after the Vikings lost to the Saints 42-20 at Mall of America Field. "I know what we're trying to get done. I'm really optimistic about the future. It's difficult, and as crazy as that may sound, I think I have a good idea of what we need to do to not be in this situation in the future. No. Not concerned about 2012 at this point, other than the Washington Redskins, 2011. That's really where the focus has to be."
In other news:
Postgame snapshot from Ford Field where the Lions beat the Vikings 34-28.
|Vikings (3757)||People (1)|
|AFC (91)||Bears (466)|
|Ex-Vikings (48)||Football on TV (53)|
|Lions (356)||NFC (1377)|
|NFL draft (264)||NFL post-season (28)|
|Packers (511)||Super Bowl (270)|
|Vikings coaches (83)||Vikings defense (259)|
|Vikings fans (118)||Vikings injury report (291)|
|Vikings management (31)||Vikings off the field (282)|
|Vikings offense (367)||Vikings quarterbacks (258)|
|Vikings road games (77)||Vikings rookies (36)|
|Vikings roster moves (40)||Vikings special teams (37)|
|Vikings training camp (132)||Injury report (344)|
|Off the field (140)||On the road (83)|
|Quarterbacks (337)||Rookies (77)|
|Roster moves (17)||Vikings draft (267)|
|Vikings trade talk (2)||Vikings players (808)|
|Adrian Peterson (972)||Anthony Herrera (161)|
|Antoine Winfield (412)||Ben Leber (97)|
|Bernard Berrian (213)||Bobby Wade (16)|
|Brad Childress (640)||Brett Favre (810)|
|Brian Robison (171)||Bryant McKinnie (107)|
|Cedric Griffin (194)||Chad Greenway (208)|
|Chester Taylor (79)||Chris Kluwe (118)|
|Darrell Bevell (120)||E.J. Henderson (183)|
|Heath Farwell (50)||Jared Allen (416)|
|John Sullivan (207)||Kevin Williams (233)|
|Leslie Frazier (937)||Madieu Williams (78)|
|Pat Williams (154)||Percy Harvin (679)|
|Phil Loadholt (165)||Ray Edwards (173)|
|Ryan Longwell (145)||Sage Rosenfels (102)|
|Sidney Rice (273)||Steve Hutchinson (191)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (172)||Tyrell Johnson (151)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (216)||Brad Childress (644)|
|Darrell Bevell (121)||Leslie Frazier (946)|