Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
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.'"
Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8.
A somewhat controversial proposal became a new addition to the NFL rulebook on Wednesday, triggering much reaction and leaving Vikings coach Leslie Frazier feeling somewhat conflicted.
The new rule, one of six passed at the league’s annual meetings this week, now calls for a 15-yard penalty to be assessed on any runner or tackler who “initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet.”
The measure was proposed as a means of reducing head, neck and spine injuries. And that aim to improve safety wound up being the major factor in producing a 31-1 vote in favor of the rule.
Following three days of heated debate, the Cincinnati Bengals were the lone dissenters. Yet the Vikings’ final vote in favor of the proposal seemed in stark contrast with the views team representatives had expressed during the meetings.
Frazier was vocal with concerns about the way the new rule may be legislated, left as a judgment call by each respective officiating crew. He also feared the rule’s implementation could be detrimental to physical tailbacks such as Vikings star Adrian Peterson, potentially exposing him to greater risk and changing the way he plays.
“The little guys aren’t going to be tackling the Adrian Petersons of the world up high, I can promise you that,” Frazier said Wednesday morning before the final vote. “They’re going to always try to get leverage and get their pads lower than his pads. That’s what they’re taught. But now, from my vantage point, these running backs who have to get their pads down, if they’re not able to [lower their heads] and protect themselves, you may open yourself up to potential lower-body injuries.”
Still, despite those objections and the reported vocal skepticism shown Tuesday by owner Zygi Wilf, the Vikings wound up persuaded by the league’s intense push to enhance player safety, swayed by presentations on how the new rule should reduce concussions plus other neck injuries.
Under the NFL’s current climate, opposing measures to improve safety is a difficult decision.
Said Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee: “Where [in the past] we’ve really focused on the big hits, the open field hits and hits where a player truly can’t defend himself, I think in this step what we’re undertaking is trying to protect the players from themselves.”
It should be noted that the new rule will only be enforced outside the tackle box and more than 3 yards down field. And the competition committee is encouraging officials to only penalize the obvious foul.
Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating, noted again Wednesday that in the study of 30 games from last season (every contest from Weeks 10 and 16), only 11 plays were found that would be penalties under the new rule.
Of those 11 instances, Blandino said, only about half were violations by running backs.
In theory, runners ducking into hits with the hairline or sides of their helmet will not be punished. But with the speed of the game and the judgment of each officiating crew differing from week to week, things could get dicey.
An hour before the Vikings cast their vote on the rule, Frazier remained adamantly opposed.
“You have to look at what this could potentially do to a running back and how he plays the game,” he said. “That’s a bigger issue. Is it going to make the game safer without altering what these guys do for a living with how they play and how they perform? … I just know being around great running backs, whether that be Walter [Payton] or Adrian, they are so instinctual with 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.
“So to make them start thinking about should I lower my shoulder left or right or spin this way, I just don’t know. I just don’t know how this is going to affect this position.”
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.
Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper has been named in a foreclosure lawsuit over his 9,867-square foot home in South Florida's Broward County, according to the South Florida Business Journal.
Culpepper, a former All-Pro who finished runner-up to Peyton Manning in the 2004 NFL MVP voting, also has a lawsuit against him for failure to pay home association dues in the gated community. According to the report, the house is not Culpepper's main residence.
In 2003, Culpepper signed a 10-year, $102 million deal with the Vikings. He didn't earn the entire $102 million, but did get a $16 million signing bonus and play through four of the 10 seasons.
A devastating knee injury at Carolina in 2005 changed his career forever. In 2006, he clashed with then-new coach Brad Childress and the Vikings over his rehab and his contract. He was traded to Miami before the season. The Dolphins restructured his contract and gave him a $7 million signing bonus.
Although Culpepper met his goal of returning from knee surgery for the start of the 2006 season, he played only four games and was released. He later played for Oakland and Detroit. His last NFL season was 2010 with the Lions.
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