Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
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.
Aaaaand …. here we go! In many ways, the Vikings’ 2013 season officially gets underway Friday – first training camp walkthrough at 10:30 a.m., first practice at 2:45 in Mankato. And yes we know a lot can and will happen between now and Sept. 8, the day the Vikings open the regular season at Detroit. But taking the 90 players currently on the roster, we’re delivering our in-depth position-by-position report as a primer for the opening of camp.
Currently on roster: 16
Likely to make opening day roster: 9
Certain to make the team: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans
On the bubble: Christian Ballard, Lawrence Jackson, Everett Dawkins, D’Aundre Reed, George Johnson
Practice squad candidates: Chase Baker, Anthony McCloud
Camp depth: Collins Ukwu, Marquis Jackson
Biggest offseason developments: The Vikings were stunned when star defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, widely projected as a top 5 pick for April’s draft, was still on the board when they came on the clock at No. 23. They didn’t hesitate a second in making Floyd their top pick, the first of three first-rounders they nabbed. … The Vikings also restructured the contract of defensive tackle Kevin Williams, reducing his 2013 pay by $2 million and eliminating the 2014 season from his current deal.
What we’ll be watching: Allen and Robison were each hampered significantly in 2012 by injuries. Allen dealt with a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a meniscus issue in his left knee for most of the season. And Robison played through an elbow injury for most of the year before a severely sprained shoulder hindered his mobility even more for the final two regular season games and the playoffs.
Those physical setbacks were a partial reason the team’s sack total dipped from 50 in 2011 to 44 last season. But now both veteran ends feel as if they are back at full strength and aiming to stay as fresh as they can.
Allen’s disdain for the dog days of training camp are well documented. And he figures to add at least a couple of quips weekly to reinforce those sentiments. So it won’t be a surprise if the coaching staff ends up giving Allen several afternoons off during the stay in Mankato to keep him fresh physically and mentally.
On the interior, once the pads come on, we’ll be eager to see just how quickly Floyd adapts and excels in the middle of the defense. And it will also be a big camp for Guion, the incumbent starter at nose tackle who will have to fend off Evans to retain that role.
All in all, Allen feels terrific. He’s re-energized. He’s dedicated. He’s eyeing a dominant 2013 and believes he has three or four more good seasons left.
But there is also an intriguing subplot lurking.
In April, Allen turned 31. Two months earlier, he had surgeries to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a meniscus problem in his right knee. And, oh yeah, he has entered the final year in his six-year contract.
So with all factors considered, could this really be Jared Allen’s last season as a Minnesota Viking? A farewell tour?
To be clear, that’s not Allen’s desire. But it could be his reality. Which is why he refuses to spend much time thinking about life beyond January.
“I pray about it,” Allen said. “I talk to my wife. And we’ll end up going where the good Lord takes us. But I don’t know where that path is headed.”
-- May 24
The Vikings made the biggest splash on the first night of the NFL Draft, landing defensive help with their own picks and then making a shocking trade to pick up a wide receiver.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida was taken at No. 23, cornerback Xavier Rhodes of Florida State was taken at No. 25, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee was landed at No. 29.
Still, the circus isn't coming to town. The Vikings, in desperate need of a middle linebacker and completely in love with Notre Dame, opted not to take Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o, who you might have heard, was entangled in a bit of an embarrassing internet girlfriend hoax.
The Vikings had to trade both their Friday picks, the second and third rounders, in the Patterson deal. They also sent a fourth and seventh to New England for the talented, but troubled, wideout.
Floyd, who is 6-2 1/2, 305 pounds, can play nose tackle this year and move to under tackle next year, when Kevin Williams is expected to be done as a Viking. Williams turns 33 this August and will make a guaranteed $4.9 million in the final year of his restructured contract.
Floyd is the first defensive linemen taken by the Vikings in the first round since Williams was taken ninth overall in 2003. Floyd also is the first defensive tackle taken above the fourth round since Williams was taken 10 years ago.
Vikings GM Rick Spielman didn't wait long to replace Antoine Winfield, taking Rhodes two picks later. A big corner who some thought would go earlier seems like a decent pick that should start or at least be among the top three corners.
Spielman was holding a news conference to discuss the team's first two first-rounders when he sprinted out of the room and the trade with New England was announced a short time later.
Patterson addresses another big need after the team traded star Percy Harvin to Seattle in the offseason. He will give quarterback Christian Ponder the big, outside receiver he's been missing
Well, all that Percy Harvin speculation came to a head in a big way Monday with the Vikings pulling the trigger on a trade and sending the dynamic 24-year-old receiver to Seattle in exchange for three draft picks: a first-rounder and a seventh-rounder this year and a third-rounder in 2014.
Still, even if General Manager Rick Spielman has a master plan to push the Vikings closer toward championship contention, a roster full of players is still awaiting a full explanation on why the Harvin trade was made.
League MVP Adrian Peterson took to Twitter to vent.
“The best all around player I ever seen or you'll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!” Peterson wrote. “I wish my boy Percy nothing but success! God bless you homie.”
Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams also took time out Monday to speak with the Star Tribune, sharing his candid thoughts on the deal.
On his initial reaction to the trade …
“I mean I wasn’t exactly celebrating when I heard about the deal. I wouldn’t say that I’m disappointed. But I mean, when you look at it on the surface, you say to yourself ‘Why in the world would we do this?’ It’s a situation where you never want to be going backwards or feel like you are. I guess we’ll see what we get in the draft or maybe even free agency. But that’s a crapshoot when you’re trying to make up for a guy as proven as Percy.”
On letting the news sink in …
“With losing a player like Percy, initially it’s always going to seem like a bad thing. But if we’re able to get somebody who’s really good in the draft, it can become a good thing. You wait and see. You have to. But that initial first look, makes you take a step back and go. ‘Man, why did we do this?’ At the same time, it’s a business and you have to understand that.”
On losing a top playmaker so late in his career …
“It’s tough. Because you look at our situation when we go 3-13 a couple years ago and 6-10 the year before that. Then we have such a good year last year and it seems like we’re in good shape. I still wish Percy could have finished the season. He could have helped us. But other things happened and we still ended up doing well when he was out. But he could have been another weapon down the stretch for us. And so you have to now look at a situation where you’re waiting to see what’s next. Like I say, it’s a crapshoot depending on what we get out of this draft. I’ll have to see what the compensation is that can help us try to make up for this.”
On the reaction amongst teammates when Harvin left the team after being placed on injured reserve in Week 14 …
“I wouldn’t say it bothered me. Because I don’t know what all what went on. And I couldn’t say for sure what the relationship was like between him and the coaching staff and management. We just don’t know what that situation was about. I don’t know what his reason was for taking off. I just know that he was gone. And that’s the way it was left. Nobody every just came out and explained it to us, like, ‘Hey, he left for A, B, C and D.’ So I don’t know what that relationship turned into. Was there something talked about? Was there a big problem? Or did he just leave? None of us really knew. I’m pretty sure it was addressed and we never got a clear answer on that. At all.”
On Harvin’s reputation as a hot-tempered problem child and whether that gets blown out of proportion …
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the defensive line.
Get excited: At this time last year, the Vikings were vowing to find ways to get Everson Griffen on the field more, hoping to take greater advantage of his rare blend of size, strength and quickness. A training camp experiment with Griffen at linebacker was quickly scrapped and defensive coordinator Alan Williams instead settled on a role that utilized Griffen as both an end and as an inside rusher in passing situations. Griffen finished the regular season with eight sacks, third on the team behind Jared Allen (12) and Brian Robison (8.5). Griffen also had an interception in Week 15 in St. Louis, returning that 29 yards for a touchdown. It was an eye-opening display of speed and athleticism for a guy who measures 6-foot-3, 273 pounds. He also had one of three Viking sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the Vikings’ playoff loss in Green Bay.
Coach Leslie Frazier continues to laud Griffen’s maturity and increased willingness to study the game. And Griffen’s emergence will allow the Vikings some flexibility on the d-line as they put together their future plans.
Griffen is entering the final season of his rookie contract. And if his production continues escalating, you can bet General Manager Rick Spielman will try to find the right timing to lock Griffen up for the long-term well before he’d be able to become a free agent in March 2014.
Keep an eye on: Defensive tackles in this spring’s draft. There’s a belief that this year’s draft class is stacked at that position, which may tempt Spielman to alter the 2012 interior rotation that featured Letroy Guion and Fred Evans at nose tackle and Kevin Williams and Christian Ballard at the under tackle spot.
On a draft analysis conference call Wednesday, ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. rattled off a handful of tackle prospects who might make sense for the Vikings. Say, for example, the team uses free agency to address its need for an outside receiver. Then it could possibly make sense to give Georgia’s John Jenkins a long hard look with the No. 23 pick. Jenkins is 6- 3, 358 pounds and can be a fantastic plug in the middle of the defense.
But even if the Vikings wanted to wait to address their defensive tackle needs, they’ll have decent options in later rounds. In the Round 3 range, for example, Kiper mentions Penn State’s Jordan Hill as an option. He also offers a couple of sleepers for the fourth or fifth round in Missouri Southern State’s Brandon Williams and Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell.
There’s also Bowling Green’s Chris Jones, who will be cast aside by many teams as undersized. But Jones is a smart player with a high motor whom Kiper said was “as productive as any defensive tackle in college football this year. At any school, at any program.”
Reason for worry: Age. Three of the Vikings’ four d-line starters in 2012 will be in their 30s by the time training camp opens.
So now comes time to ask that difficult but necessary question: Just how much do the older guys have left in the tank? And might the Vikings ask either Jared Allen or Kevin Williams to restructure their contracts this offseason?
Allen will head to his fifth Pro Bowl in the last six seasons next week. But his inclusion in this year’s game was based more on past reputation than this season’s production. Allen played most of the year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury he will need surgery to fix following his trip to Honolulu. How fast he bounces back remains to be seen. Contract-wise, he’s also entering the final year of his deal and will be owed in excess of $14 million in 2013. And it’s far from a given that Allen, now nearing his 31st birthday, will remain with the organization beyond that.
Williams, meanwhile, will turn 33 in August. And while he’s one of those ideal hard-working, low-maintenance leaders who fits Frazier’s blueprint for success, the mileage of 10 full NFL seasons is catching up. Taking loyalty and emotion out of the equation initially, it’ll be up to Spielman and his staff to deliver an honest assessment of just how much they think they can still squeeze out of Williams going forward. At present, Christian Ballard is in line to be Williams’ successor. But Ballard hasn’t yet established himself as a can’t-miss fallback plan.
It wasn’t long ago that Allen and Williams were dominant game changers whose presence was noticeable every Sunday. And to be clear, both are still very good players who can steady and energize the defense. But for how much longer? That’s the type of question that the NFL’s best teams have instinct for answering.
Postgame snapshot from the Edward Jones Dome, where the Vikings beat the Rams 36-22.
Good news: The Vikings defense came to play Sunday afternoon. And it started on the first series. A Brian Robison sack was the biggest play on the Rams’ opening possession, forcing a punt that allowed the Vikings to start their first TD drive in Rams territory. The offense responded with a 45-yard march and the Vikings took a quick 7-0 lead. In building a 30-7 halftime advantage, the Vikings defense got sacks from Robison, Christian Ballard and Erin Henderson and takeaways from Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen. Griffen returned his second quarter interception 29 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings finished plus-two in turnover margin. Quarterback Christian Ponder (17-for-24, 131 yards plus a 5-yard TD run) steered clear of costly mistakes. And, oh yeah, that Adrian Peterson kid busted off an 82-yard touchdown run as part of a ho-hum 24-carry, 212-yard day.
Bad news: On a day where so much went right, it’s hard to find much bad news. But the Vikings’ clock management again seemed suspect at the end of the first half. They took over for their final drive with 1:00 left at their own 47 and got four consecutive Ponder completions netting 29 yards. But the final pass of the half was a strange 2-yarder to Jerome Simpson. And with timeouts left, the Vikings probably could have run a few more plays. Instead, they let the clock run down to 0:04, called timeout and let Blair Walsh kick one of his five field goals on the day.
Extra point: With two games left in the regular season, Peterson has 1,812 rushing yards. He needs to average 147 per game in contests against the Texans and Packers to break Eric Dickerson's NFL single-season record of 2,105 yards.
Next up: The Vikings will travel to Houston next weekend. The Texans improved to 12-2 Sunday with a 29-17 home win over the Colts, clinching the AFC South title.
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