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.
When Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway puts on tape of the Seattle Seahawks offense, he sees a whole lot of what he sees on the Vikings’ practice field every day.
He sees an offense that mirrors what the Vikings do. He sees a scheme that is not overly complex from a formation standpoint. He sees a team determined to start by establishing the run, then working off of that with a play-action passing game. Familiar? Yes. Even more so because many of the Vikings’ vets were here when Darrell Bevell – the Seahawks offensive coordinator – was doing the same job here through the 2010 season.
But that doesn’t mean Seattle will be easy to stop.
“I don’t know if it gives us an advantage,” Greenway said. “You still have to go out and play and react. But we do have a better sense of what (Bevell) is trying to accomplish, having been around him so much – the type of scheme, the type of passing game he’s going to utilize off what he’s doing in the running game. And that play-action stuff. They’re going to throw some (bootleg plays) at you, try to suck the linebackers up and throw over the top of you. All these things we know. But we have to go out and play the game.”
Fellow linebacker Erin Henderson agreed. “You have a good idea of how they want to do things, what they want to get done,” Henderson said. “But you won’t know for sure until you go out and see their first 15 plays.”
Despite the good numbers Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has put up, the Seahawks have struggled to move the ball consistently and to score points; the team ranks 30th in the NFL in yards gained and 27th in scoring.
For the Vikings to make sure that continues they have to stop the Seahawks running game first. That’s a goal that, considering the problems Minnesota has had stopping the run of late, won’t be easy to reach.
But familiarity might breed defensive consistency.
“They are built very similarly to us,” Greenway said. “I mean, the biggest thing for us is going out and playing in a very tough environment. We’ll see if we can handle it or not. This will be a huge game for us.”
Thinking of home
Henderson is from Aberdeen, Maryland, which is about 45 minutes north of Baltimore. He has a lot of family there, as well as some family that lives in the New York area. So he has spent a lot of time the past few days keeping in contact with people back home to see how they’re dealing with Hurricane Sandy.
“They didn’t get hit to bad in Maryland,” Henderson said. “Just some high winds and a bit of rain, stuff like that. But I had some family in New York that got affected a little bit more. It was kind of devastating to see some of the pictures they sent us. Everybody made out OK, though.”
Still, Henderson said it hasn’t been easy to be in Minnesota while family out east dealt with the storm.
“You want to be there with them, and be there to support them as best as possible,” he said. “But you have a job to do. You have responsibilities you have to tend to here. It’s just a matter of trying to communicate as much as possible on the phone, make sure everything is OK.”
A game of inches
It’s not just last Thursday’s game that is bothering Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Halfway through the season Kluwe ranks 11th in the NFC with a 43.5-yard punting average and eighth with a 39.9 net average. Both are down from his career averages.
“I’d say mediocre,” Kluwe said when asked to assess his season so far. “I'd like to, obviously, be leading the league in both gross and net. Unfortunately sometimes you don’t punt well.”
The difference between a good punt and a bad one? Less than you might think. Kluwe said he was rushing himself a little bit, trying to go a little too fast. “And my drop hasn’t been super consistent,” he said. “That’s something to hopefully hone in on and try to get corrected.”
Kluwe said a drop that is even an inch off can change a kick. "Or maybe the ball is tilted three or four degrees forward or three or four degrees back," he said. "That can change the entire outcome of the kick. It's a very small window that you have to hit in order to kick the ball well."
Sidney Rice said it was "a tough decision" for him to leave the Vikings in free agency during his introductory news conference with the Seattle media on Saturday. (A big thank you to Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times for passing along these quotes.)
"It was a lot of things," the wide receiver said when asked why he was changing teams at such a young age (24). "It was a tough decision. I love those guys over in Minnesota - my teammates and everything like that. But unfortunately I had to move on. I'm here, I'm a Seahawk and I'm looking forward from here on out, no looking back."
Rice, who had a Pro Bowl season in 2009 but missed much of last season after having hip surgery, said nothing from what happened last season contributed to his decision to leave.
"No sir," he said. "[I] came in around the 10th or 11th game off of my injury, was able to get in and make a couple plays. There's no bad blood between Minnesota. I just want to put that out there right now. It's a great organization. I'm still good friends with a lot of people around there. Like I said, it was just time for me to move on."
It was no secret that Rice wanted a contract extension after his outstanding 2009 season and was not happy when he did not get it. Rice reportedly signed a five-year deal with Seattle that could be worth $44 million and includes $18.5 million guaranteed.
Rice's news conference came on the same day that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said former Viking Tarvaris Jackson was his starting quarterback. Jackson also joined Seattle this week, agreeing to an $8 million, two-year contract. Rice and Jackson are good friends and Rice said the situation in Seattle will be better for the quarterback.
"It's going to be great for Tarvaris," Rice said. "I felt like in Minnesota, he was never let loose. He was never allowed to play comfortably like I know he can play, and I feel like he'll get that opportunity out here to prove all those guys that think he's not an NFL quarterback wrong."
Asked why Jackson wasn't comfortable, Rice said: "Just certain things. He was never relaxed. He was always uptight, afraid to make mistakes and things like that. But as I said, I'm looking forward to him getting out here and letting it loose."
Rice also said the fact that former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell now holds the same job in Seattle will help.
"It's great," Rice said. "It's always good to be around familiar people that you know well. Tarvaris is one of my closest friends ever since I came into the league. I used to hang out at his place all the time and vice versa, he used to come over to my place and it was like that. So I feel comfortable around him. Also, Bevell. I know the offense and didn't have to learn anything new. Made a couple of tweaks in the playbook but nothing I can't pick up right away so when I'm able to get out here, I'm ready to step right on the field and be effective."
Sidney Rice's days as a Viking are over and that likely means the team will be looking for a No. 1 wide receiver.
After being courted by the Vikings and Seattle the past two days, Rice has agreed to a five-year deal with the Seahawks according to multiple outlets. He can not sign the contract until Friday evening.
Rice's contract is reportedly for $41 million and includes $18.5 million in guarantees. The bidding for his services might have been limited but clearly he cashed in on the guaranteed money.
That was the big question when it came to the Vikings because Rice has only played one full season since entering the NFL as Minnesota's second-round pick in 2007. After appearing in 13 games in each of his first two seasons, Rice put together a Pro Bowl performance playing with Brett Favre in 2009.
Rice, who is 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season and added 10 receptions for 184 yards and four touchdowns in two playoff games. Rice, however, injured his hip in the NFC Championship Game at New Orleans.
He elected to put off surgery, hoping he would recover, but ended up needing a procedure just before the regular season began. Rice missed the first half of last season and was limited to a career-low six regular-season games. He caught only 17 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, missing the final game because of a concussion.
Rice's decision to leave Minnesota does not come as a big surprise. Not only did Seattle likely offer more guaranteed money, but Rice also was unhappy last offseason when the Vikings declined to give him a contract extension. Rice will be reunited with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Seattle.
Jackson agreed to terms with the Seahawks on Tuesday and Bevell was named the team's offensive coordinator this offseason after having the same job in Minnesota for the past five seasons.
The Vikings agreed to a one-year deal with Bears free-agent wide receiver Devin Aromashodu on Tuesday but he is a journeyman player looking for an opportunity and can't be considered a replacement for Rice. With Rice gone, Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin are left as the Vikings' top two wide receivers. Others at the position on the current roster include Emmanuel Arceneaux; Stephen Burton; Greg Camarillo; Juaquin Iglesias; and Jaymar Johnson.
The Vikings have been busy trying to complete a deal for quarterback Donovan McNabb, but now might have to take a long look at the free-agent market to upgrade at receiver.
Plaxico Burress, who has missed the past two seasons while serving a jail sentence, is on the market but ESPN reports he likely will end up with the Giants or Steelers. An NFL source said this summer that the Vikings were not interested in Burress.
The New York Jets already have retained wide receiver Santonio Holmes but Braylon Edwards remains on the market.
Donovan McNabb has been tied to the Vikings in national reports throughout the offseason. And now that teams can talk trade again, the quarterback's name has surfaced in what appears to be far more than speculation.
Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network reported on Twitter that the Vikings and Washington Redskins have parameters of a deal in place for McNabb but agreeing on financial terms with him could be tricky.
This followed an ESPN report that cited NFL sources as saying the Vikings are one of the few teams that have had trade discussions with the Redskins about McNabb. A key issue, however, would be for the Vikings to work out a restructured contract with McNabb. ESPN reports the Vikings cannot make a deal with Washington if they don't have a deal with McNabb and clearly LaCanfora is being told agreeing on the terms might be an issue.
What remains unclear is why the Vikings would trade for McNabb, who was benched twice last season by Mike Shanahan as the Redskins finished 6-10. It's clear that Shanahan isn't going to bring back McNabb and thus at some point the veteran is going to hit the open market.
The only issue would be if the Vikings are concerned the 34-year-old McNabb would sign with another team, such as Tennessee, and feel it's worth giving up a draft pick to not let that happen. The Redskins signed McNabb to a five-year contract extension that appeared to be worth $78 million last November. However, as ESPN's report points out, the only thing guaranteed was that McNabb would get an additional $3.5 million in 2010.
The contract also has a clause that enables Washington to release McNabb before the 2011 season with no more money due to him.
Many believe the Vikings will sign or trade for a veteran quarterback to help ease the transition of first-round pick Christian Ponder, especially since the rookie did not get the benefit of the offseason program. However, there are different opinions on who would be a good fit to play in front of Ponder for a short period before the rookie was ready.
Another name that emerged early in the offseason was Dolphins free-agent quarterback Tyler Thigpen. There are about six teams interested in Thigpen and the Vikings are believed to be one of them.
Jackson, Seahawks agree to terms
This will come as no surprise.
There are two reports that former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has agreed to terms with Seattle. He can't sign the contract until Friday.
The move reunites Jackson with Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who held the same job with the Vikings during Jackson's entire stint in Minnesota.
Reports also say veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will not return to the Seahawks.
The Seattle Seahawks are planning to make a major effort to sign Vikings free agent wide receiver Sidney Rice, according to Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network.
Seattle has plenty of room under the salary cap and the fact former Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell now holds the same job in Seattle means this move might make sense for Rice.
Rice could step in as Seattle's top receiver.
The issue is Rice would be joining a team that appears as if it is going to have a question mark at quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck is going to depart as a free agent, according to the Seattle Times, and the Seahawks have Charlie Whitehurst behind him. There also continue to be reports that soon-to-be former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson will wind up with the Seahawks.
Rice and Jackson certainly seemed to get along during their time together in Minnesota, but it's not known if Rice would be excited about an on-the-field reunion with Jackson. It's quite possible he could be fine with it.
As for the Vikings, it was expected that trying to retain Rice would be one of their first orders of business today as NFL teams were allowed to begin negotiating with veteran players. Veterans can't be signed until Friday evening.
Where the Vikings might run into a tough situation is if Rice is offered a substantial amount of guaranteed money elsewhere. Rice had an outstanding 2009 season, playing in all 16 regular-season games, but in his other three years in the NFL he has never played the entire schedule. He missed much of last season after having hip surgery right before the start of the season.
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