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 Cedric Griffin

Vikings personnel review: Defensive backs

Posted by: Updated: January 11, 2012 - 2:11 PM

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.

Get excited: Hey, 2011 is over. And that, as much as anything, is reason for celebration after a season in which the Vikings were absolutely torched by opposing quarterbacks. Despite collecting a league-best 50 sacks, the defense allowed 4,019 passing yards and 34 touchdowns this season. Opposing quarterbacks posted a staggering 107.6 rating and were only intercepted eight times by the Vikings. As far as the secondary was concerned, it was a miserable, god-awful, wretched, horrible season. Injuries kept Antoine Winfield off the field for all but five games. Cedric Griffin proved incredibly ineffective in coverage and was also surly with the media. And worst of all, Chris Cook was arrested on felony domestic assault charges in late October. That left the Vikings depleted and vulnerable in the defensive backfield and they never came close to overcoming that weakness. But now? Hey, it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse in 2012. Winfield should be back and healthy, capable of being a factor in the slot. Asher Allen earned the confidence of the coaching staff in the second half of this season. And there are a few ounces of internal optimism that Brandon Burton could be a solid role player going forward. Look, we’re grasping at straws trying to find “Get excited” reasons for this unit. But as we mentioned, that horrible 2011 season is in the rearview mirror and the Vikings have acknowledged their glaring flaws and will work through free agency and the draft to address them.
Keep an eye on: Cook’s legal standing. The 24-year-old is due to stand trial beginning March 5. And until there’s some kind of resolution with those legal matters, head coach Leslie Frazier will not figure Cook into the team’s long-term plans. But … If somehow Cook emerges with a reduced charge and/or doesn’t have to face extended jail time, the Vikings will consider giving him a window of opportunity to work back into the mix. That’s why the team kept Cook on the payroll even after exiling him in November. Reality is reality in the NFL. And it’s difficult for a team to make the jump from awful to relevant without taking some risks. The Vikings have major holes to plug in the secondary. And Cook is a promising cornerback who blends good size (6-2, 215 pounds) with quickness normally seen in smaller corners. And when a big on-field problem has an obvious potential solution, it’s foolish to dismiss that too early.
This is a difficult dilemma for the organization. The details of Cook’s alleged assault from October are troubling. But there are also plenty of people in Cook’s background who identify him as a good kid who has sometimes made bad mistakes. The Vikings made it clear months ago that they will not give up on Cook until they absolutely have to. So now the team will wait for the end result of his current legal matters before weighing their options once again.
Reason for worry: The Vikings finished the season with only eight interceptions, worst in the NFL. That included a drought of nine straight games without a pick. All season long, opposing quarterbacks threw the ball all over the field with little fear of negative consequence. At present, the Vikings just don’t have that ball-hawking playmaker in the defensive backfield. And in a pass-happy division in which Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford combined to throw for 9,681 yards and 86 touchdowns during the 2011 regular season, the Vikings won’t be able to hide their weaknesses very easily. Plus, it’s not just the cornerback situation that is up in the air. At safety, Husain Abdullah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) both ended the season on injured reserve with series injuries. Both players are now free agents with iffy futures. So that heightens the pressure on Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond to step up their games as the Vikings work on plans to upgrade the cast around them.

Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp cited for fifth-degree assault, careless driving

Posted by: Updated: December 30, 2011 - 10:33 PM

Vikings cornerback Benny Sapp was cited for two misdemeanors Friday morning – fifth-degree assault and careless driving – after an altercation with security at Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis.

Police responded to a call shortly before 7 a.m. after Sapp and his 11-year-old son tried to enter the hospital through an entrance that was closed at that hour. A hospital security guard directed Sapp to another accessible entrance. But, according to public information officer Bill Palmer of the Minneapolis Police Department, Sapp soon returned with his son and stated his intent to enter the building through the closed entrance whether he was allowed to or not.

Denied again, Sapp left the 11-year-old with the hospital security guard, indicating the boy’s mother was inside and stating he had to go to work. According to Palmer, Sapp then returned to his car in a nearby parking deck, where a security officer attempted to detain him. A physical altercation ensued with Sapp allegedly pushing the security guard and then driving toward the exit of the ramp.

At the parking deck exit, another confrontation broke out in which Palmer says Sapp chest-bumped a security officer and later “used his vehicle to try to move the officer out of the way.” Police had no information on whether Sapp’s vehicle made contact with the security guard.

When police arrived, security was attempting to handcuff the Vikings cornerback. Palmer said Sapp complied and cooperated completely with the dispatched officers and was tagged in lieu of arrest for the two misdemeanors. He will face a court date that is yet to be scheduled.

Said Palmer: “In the state of Minnesota, you can only place someone in custodial arrest and book them into a jail facility if you have reason to believe they are lying about their identity, they indicate that their criminal conduct will continue or they’re a danger to themselves or others. As none of those three exceptions to the law applied, we had to issue a citation in lieu of arrest. So Mr. Sapp will have to call the court in the next couple of weeks and make a court date.”

A Vikings spokesman said Friday evening that the team was aware of the incident. But no additional details were available on whether the veteran cornerback would face team punishment.

It seems unlikely that Sapp will face any significant discipline for Sunday's regular season finale against the Bears. After starting three of the past four games, he was already slated to move back into a back-up role with the Vikings planning to use Asher Allen and Cedric Griffin as their starting corners against Chicago.

Asher Allen, Steve Hutchinson among Vikings inactives

Posted by: Updated: December 24, 2011 - 12:17 PM

The Vikings’ inactive list has just been released at FedEx Field and as expected cornerback Asher Allen and Steve Hutchinson are on it, both sidelined by concussions they suffered last Sunday against New Orleans. Also inactive for the Vikings today: cornerback Chris Cook, defensive end D’Aundre Reed, offensive lineman DeMarcus Love, linebacker Xavier Adibi and tight end Allen Reisner.

Hutchinson will be replaced in the starting lineup by Joe Berger with rookie Brandon Fusco also available to see time at left guard. It remains to be seen how the Vikings will handle Allen's absence. Rookie Brandon Burton may see significant time in Allen's place. Benny Sapp will start at one cornerback position. Marcus Sherels will see time in nickel packages. And Cedric Griffin may be needed to some extent as well.

The Redskins, meanwhile, will be without running back Roy Helu, who is battling knee and toe injuries. Other inactives for Washington today are Markus White, Erik Cook, Rob Myers, Kentwan Balmer, David Anderson and Doug Worthington.

Hutchinson, Asher Allen will be home for Christmas (eve)

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: December 23, 2011 - 12:00 PM

As expected, veteran left guard Steve Hutchinson will be home for Christmas (eve). He'll be joined in the Twin Cities by Asher Allen. Both have concussions and have not passed the league-mandated test to return to action. So they're a no-go for Saturday's game at Washington.

Considering the Vikings need to lose to stay in the hunt for the No. 1 overall draft pick, that's some bad news that could be good for the future of the team. In this pillow fight for the top pick, the more the merrier when it comes to backups playing.

Joe Berger will start at left guard. He's a capable backup who has started one game at center and four at right guard.

At corner, the Vikings probably will start Benny Sapp, who was out of work a month ago, and punt returner Marcus Sherels. The nickelback will be either benched-and-struggling starter Cedric Griffin or rookie Brandon Burton. 

Coach Leslie Frazier hasn't announced his plans for the rotation at corner. But, let's face it, no matter what he does, it won't hurt the team's pursuit of the No. 1 pick.

In other injury news, RG Anthony Herrera (knee), S Jarrad Page (hamstring), DT Kevin Williams (knee) and LB Erin Henderson (illness) are probable. 

Pep rally: Vikings let offensive and defensive starters go after each other

Posted by: Updated: December 22, 2011 - 2:27 PM

The Vikings completed their final practice today in advance of Saturday's game at Washington. Only this one came with a little twist. For a portion of practice, head coach Leslie Frazier let  his defensive starters and offensive starters go at it, a rarity for late December in the NFL.

It's clear Frazier is willing to try anything to keep his team's attention down the stretch of this discouraging season. And he called Thursday's practice "spirited."

"When we do a competitive practice, ordinarily we just, whoever the opponent is, work some of their plays," Frazier said. "But this time we decided to create a situation where it was Vikings vs. Vikings. I don't really want to get into the specifics. But it was good. It created a lot of fire and emotion. That was positive."

As for which unit won Thursday's battle?

"I can't pick sides," Frazier said. "So they both won. We achieved the goal. And that was to pep things up a little bit."

Hey, for a team that has gone eight weeks since recording its last victory, the Vikings will take wins anyway they can get them. And they should have a chance to record a real victory Saturday against a Redskins squad that has lost eight of its past 10 games.

Injury update: For the second straight day, cornerback Asher Allen and guard Steve Hutchinson both sat out practice as they continue recovering from concussions suffered against New Orleans last weekend. Joe Berger is in line to start for Hutchinson this weekend. Allen's spot would likely be filled by a rotation involving rookie cornerback Brandon Burton and Cedric Griffin with fellow corners Benny Sapp and Marcus Sherels figuring to see significant action as well.

Burton made his first career start last weekend against New Orleans. And while he has been out of sorts at time in the Vikings' oft-torched secondary, Frazier likes the progress Burton has been able to show when called into duty more regularly this past month.

"I think the most positive thing about Brandon getting a chance to play is the experience he's gaining," Frazier said. "There are some things technique-wise and fundamentally that he'll have to continue to work on. But I'd like to see him get a chance to make some plays if some balls are thrown his way. And I'm sure he'll have some opportunities again Saturday. Overall, I think he's done a good job of going out there and not allowing the game to be too big for him. He gives us some hope that we'll have a guy who will help us have some depth in the future."



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