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 before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Posts about Off the field

Leslie Frazier on Sharrif Floyd: Perseverance paid off

Posted by: Updated: July 20, 2013 - 12:24 PM

With Vikings training camp just around the corner, we’ll kick off our extensive camp preview coverage with Sunday’s in-depth profile of Sharrif Floyd, the organization’s top pick this year and expected to have an immediate impact at defensive tackle. Floyd seems to be a perfect fit both in the Vikings’ defensive scheme and in the locker room. And as we detail in our Sunday story, his path to the NFL has been anything but ordinary, requiring great perseverance and resilience to overcome a rough childhood in Philadelphia. (Stay tuned for that piece.)

But now that Floyd has arrived in Minnesota, he’s ready to start establishing himself as a force. Recently, we had a chance to pick head coach Leslie Frazier’s brain on Floyd’s arrival. Here are some of the more notable thoughts Frazier shared. 

On the skill set Floyd brings to the table and why he’s a great fit at under tackle in the Vikings’ defense …
“I like his athleticism. That really jumps out at you when you’re watching tape. His quickness for a big man his size, his agility to be able to get off of blocks, get up the field, change directions is amazing. All the things we kind of look for in that position are there. But heading into the draft, I just didn’t think that when we were getting to pick he’d be around. Everybody is always looking for big guys. Especially teams that play the way we do in the 4-3. So I was surprised that we got him. And I think he’s going to be a pleasant surprise for us on the field as well. … His agility, his quickness, his strength and then the fact that he played multiple positions at Florida. All of those things were attractive. And when we got done grading everything, we talked about how we would stack the guys – who’s No. 1, who’s 2, who’s 3? And when I was going through it with our d-line coach [Brendan Daly], we all said the way we stack it we’re not going to have a shot at Sharrif Floyd. And yet lo and behold, we’re watching that draft and here he comes, coming our way. It was just ‘Wow.’ … I can’t remember what pick Dallas had [18th]. But I knew their coaches run a similar style to us and they were picking so close to where we were in the draft. And when he got past Dallas, then I started saying, ‘Whoa. This is a real possibility.’ Sure enough, it happened.”
On what’s most impressive about Floyd’s humility and ambition after all he endured growing up …
“It was like he was forced to raise himself. In the inner-city. The odds just aren’t in your favor. To be where he is today? There’s a special quality there for him to be able to take care of himself, make good decisions, wind up with the right people around. That still resonates with me. Because there are so many stories that go the other way. Sad stories. … He has an amazing quality. And myself and the staff have talked about it. A lot of times when people come up the way Sharrif did, they tend to veer off and drift in a different direction. But those who don’t, a lot of times they’re the ones who end up achieving great things. The ones who end up staying on that right path. He seems to be that type of person. He did stay away from certain things. You wonder how he was able to. But he’s the one who can achieve potential greatness because he’s seen a lot of things but made some good choices along the way.”
On the biggest transition for Floyd as he enters the NFL …
“For him the next greatest challenges will always be off the field. What you do in this building, in your preparation with the coaches and your teammates, it’s hard to mess that up when you’re as talented and driven as he is. But when you leave this building, there are so many things that come at you. And as much as I could try to prepare him for it by talking to him, he needs to know, you always need to keep making those right decisions. When you go back through Philadelphia, when you walk through the neighborhood, when you’re up in your hotel room, that part of the transition for all young guys – not just Sharrif – is still the biggest part of this transition. … He’ll find out quickly that he can fit in here talent-wise with the other players. But now when you get that idle time that you might not have had in college, what do you do? To me, that’s always the challenge. But he seems to be very mature in that way. He’s really focused on trying to do the right things. And I’m sure that’s because of his background and how he came through.”


Vikings make it official: Punter Chris Kluwe has been cut

Posted by: Updated: May 6, 2013 - 12:05 PM
It’s now official. The Vikings have cut punter Chris Kluwe.
The 31-year-old was given the news Monday morning at Winter Park during a meeting with General Manager Rick Spielman. Kluwe had been anticipating the move, one that became transparent April 27 when the team used a fifth-round draft pick on UCLA punter Jeff Locke.
Locke participated in the team’s three-day rookie mini-camp over the weekend and fared well enough for the Vikings to feel totally secure in selecting him. And that meant kicking the door open and sending Kluwe on his way.
This morning, on his Twitter account (@ChrisWarcraft), Kluwe wrote: “Thank you to all the fans, my teammates, and the Wilf family for the past 8.5 years. I wouldn't have traded it for anything.
In eight years with the Vikings, Kluwe launched 623 regular season punts, averaging 44.4 yards per punt with a 37.3-yard net. Last season, he averaged 45.0 yards per punt with a career-best 39.7-yard net. Kluwe was inconsistent at times but still had a productive campaign overall.
Still, the Vikings wanted a change in direction, something that first became obvious in January when Spielman signed punter T.J. Conley as a street free agent to come in and push Kluwe.
Upon drafting Locke, Conley was promptly let go. And it was widely believed Kluwe would be soon to follow. On Monday, he received his pink slip and will now be free to seek work elsewhere.
Kluwe’s release will not come without some controversy. The veteran punter has raised his profile in recent years by speaking out on political and social issues, most notably taking a firm stance in support of gay rights and marriage equality.
In the past year, Kluwe has appeared across many platforms expressing his opinion. He made TV appearances on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” and NBC’s “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to speak out on behalf of gay rights. Kluwe was also featured on the cover of the October issue of Out, a popular magazine that describes itself as “a gay and lesbian perspective on style, entertainment, fashion, the arts, politics, culture, and the world at large.
Kluwe’s outspoken opinions have also frequently been published on
With those extracurricular activities, cynics will ask whether the Vikings’ releasing of Kluwe is tied entirely to football ability or simply a way of ridding the organization of a player who had grown too outspoken on hot-button issues. After drafting Locke, Spielman insisted he was simply trying to upgrade the team’s special teams and that he did not take issue with any of Kluwe’s opinions.
“It has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe is off the field,” the GM said. “When we’re making decisions, we’re purely making them trying to bring in the best competition possible regardless of position. ... This was just another normal personnel move. It had nothing to do with Chris Kluwe’s off-field concerns, I have no issues if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion. That’s his right, that’s his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy to come in to compete.
The Vikings’ most recent football decision now hands the punting and holding duties over to Locke as Kluwe ventures back out to seek work elsewhere in the league.
He is hoping to catch on somewhere, certain he still has plenty left in the tank. But if and when Kluwe lands with a new team, he isn't likely to keep his opinions to himself.
As he said in an interview with the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins last week: "I’ve had guys talk to me. They’re not going to put stuff out there just because they know in the NFL the upright nail generally gets hammered down. There’s a lot of very smart guys in the NFL. But you never hear about them because they take care of business and then go home. You hear about the dumb guys because they go out and get arrested. Everyone looks at it like, oh, the NFL is filled with all these dumb, knuckle-dragging guys who get in trouble all the time. No, that’s the people you hear about. There are so many more people who are actually interesting and fascinating." 
Kluwe finishes his Vikings tenure as the leader in career punting average, with his 44.4 yards per kick ranking ahead of both Harry Newsome (43.8 yards from 1990 to 1993) and Mitch Berger (43.5, 1996-2001). Kluwe also had a franchise-record 198 punts downed inside the 20.

Here's Chris Kluwe from his appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" :

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

 Here's Kluwe on "The Colbert Report":


Spielman 'leaves door open' to Winfield returning

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: March 12, 2013 - 5:54 PM
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he wanted "to leave the door open" for cornerback Antoine Winfield's return.
Whether the 14-year veteran cornerback, who had rejected the hypothetical notion of having to accept a pay cut, would choose to walk back through that door is, obviously, another matter.
That's the question of the day since it now appears that Winfield wasn't even presented with a restructured deal before he was released.
Either way, Spielman said the Vikings will be OK at cornerback in 2013. The top three corners would be 2012 third-round pick Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, who's a restricted free agent, and Chris Cook, a promising 2010 second-round pick but a guy who has had a hard time staying on the field.
"We feel confident the way Josh has developed, and tendering A.J. Jefferson, and having Chris Cook," Spielman said today during a news conference. "And we have a couple other guys we want to look at as well."
Then Spielman surprised reporters by saying Winfield isn't out of the team's plans entirely. Of course, it wasn't as surprising as Spielman cutting the 35-year-old corner an hour or so earlier rather than pay him the $7.25 million he had left on the final year of his contract.
"By no means do we want to shut out Antoine," Spielman said. "We hopefully want to have the door open for his return, if that’s possible."
Spielman said Winfield's release wasn't based on performance. Or his locker room presence. Winfield remains -- or remained -- one of the team's best defensive players and leaders.
"Antoine played very well last year," Spielman said. "He’s probably one of those players who defied odds for his age, what he did for our football team last year. There’s no question what Antoine does for our football team on the field and off the field as well.
"It was a very, extremely hard decision to make. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep the door open for him. We’ll just have to see."
Spielman said he spoke with Winfield today. He wouldn't discuss the details of what was said, so at this point we have no indication one way or the other whether Winfield is open to return.
Obviously, since he resisted a pay cut to stay on the team, he's not likely to accept one until he's shopped around a bit. And the guess is he'd choose a comparable contract with another team with a chance to make the playoffs rather than return to the team that cut him.
"I definitely want to keep the door open for Antoine to potentially return," Spielman said. "But we have to make all the pieces fit into the puzzle as well."
Spielman confirmed the Percy Harvin trade and the re-signing of tackle Phil Loadholt. He also said the team is still wrapping up a deal to re-sign receiver Jerome Simpson and has "four or five" things going on when it comes to trying to re-sign some of the team's other free agents.
Asked if he thinks the team will be able to compete this year, Spielman said, "We think we’re going to compete next year. There’s no doubt about that because we were a playoff team last year. And by keeping your own and continuing to build through the draft, and the success we’ve have the past couple years with the draft -- and we feel very strong about this draft class coming up -- we feel that this is an approach and a philosophy that is showing success."

Hall of Famer Cris Carter talks about the most important day of his life

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: February 14, 2013 - 4:47 PM
Cris Carter, the Vikings' newest Hall of Famer, met with the Twin Cities media at Winter Park today. He talked for about 30 minutes about a variety of subjects. But the highlight definitely was his candid conversation about Sept. 19, 1990, the day that changed his career and his life. Here's our take on it:
Sept. 19, 1990 was the most important day of Cris Carter’s 16-year NFL career.
Heck, it was the most important day of his 47-year life.
“That was the last day I ever drank,” the Vikings’ newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame said Thursday during a press conference at Winter Park.
Carter spent nearly half an hour reflecting on a stellar career that included two of the best hands in league history. But it wasn’t the 1,101 catches, the 13,899 yards or the 130 touchdowns that stood out. It was Carter’s teary-eyed recollection of his first few weeks as a Viking.
Carter arrived as a troubled former Philadelphia Eagles receiver on Sept. 4, 1990. When then-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan took a hard line against Carter’s cocaine and alcohol abuse, the Vikings stepped in with a $100 check for the waiver wire fee and a plan to help Carter off the field.
“I think that 100 bucks has to rank right at the top as the best [bargain] in NFL history,” said Jerry Burns, Carter’s first head coach in Minnesota and one of the former Vikings who attended the press conference.
“The first day [in Minnesota] was very, very difficult because I would say the Vikings were somewhat aware of my situation, but not fully aware,” Carter said. “But once they opened that file, they became fully aware, realized I had an issue and they put certain steps in place that day.”
Carter played in the 1990 season opener, but didn’t catch a pass. He played the next two games and didn’t catch a pass.
He was a long, long way from getting his life straight.
“My biggest problem was the struggle with cocaine,” Carter said. “At that time, I wasn’t using [cocaine], but I was still using alcohol.”
Carter looked into the background, spotted former Vikings co-owner Wheelock Whitney and thanked him and Whitney’s former assistant, Betty Triliegi, a drug and alcohol counselor who worked with the team for nine years during the 1980s and early 1990s.
“Personally, what they did for me, that changed my life,” Carter said. “I can stand here today as a man and tell [Whitney] that if you wouldn’t have helped me that day when I came here that second week in September, I wouldn’t have made it.”
On Sept. 19, Triliegi met with Carter in the moment that changed his life.
“Betty issued me a challenge,” Carter said. “It was for a week that I wouldn’t drink. I haven’t had a drink since then.”
It was a long week, and then some.
“I was just trying to make it through the week and survive, really,” Carter said. “That’s what I was really trying to do. Make it through one week. But eventually, after surviving, I could feel my body starting to change. I could feel my ability starting to [surface]. I could be really as good as I wanted to be. I upped my conditioning, dropped my body weight and then the rest was history.”
Four weeks later, Carter went back to Philadelphia and caught six passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles.

Birk talks about Moss and finally reaching Super Bowl

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: January 29, 2013 - 7:29 AM
NEW ORLEANS -- In some ways, 1998 doesn’t seem that long ago. Then again, we haven’t been playing center in the National Football League for the past 15 seasons.
So when current Raven and former Viking Matt Birk was asked yesterday whether he thought it would take 15 seasons for him to reach the Super Bowl, he answered like a guy who has been through a decade and a half of the NFL’s aches and pains.
“I didn’t think I was going to be here 15 years later in 1998,” said Birk, the Vikings’ sixth-round draft pick that year.
Birk also was asked for his thoughts on former Vikings teammate and fellow 1998 draft class member Randy Moss. The two weren’t exactly best buds, particularly when the SuperFreak walked off the field with 2 seconds left and the Vikings lining up for an onside kick in a loss at Washington in the 2004 regular-season finale.
But Birk, whose Ravens play Moss’ 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, followed Denny Green’s old advice and kept himself up on the high road while talking about Moss.
“I was fortunate enough to play with Randy for seven years and the way he took the league by storm was unbelievable,” Birk said. “To be a part of that and to be his teammate for seven years, we had a lot of fun in the locker room and obviously won a lot of games in large part to him.  I haven’t kept in touch with him or anything like that, but obviously I’m happy for him and that he’s still playing.
“I think Randy’s been through a lot, gone through a lot of different things, but I understand having been his teammate for seven years what a competitor he is and how hard he works.”
Asked if ther are any “misconceptions” about Moss, Birk said, “I would just say he was a great teammate, extremely hardworking.  I mean the things he did on the football field were fantastic.  Those are the guys you want to play with, those types of competitors.” 


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