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.
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
Adrian Peterson’s quest for the NFL rushing record has taken center stage. But there is another pretty good running back to watch in this weekend’s Vikings game: Arian Foster.
Entering this week’s games Peterson has a league-best 1,812 rushing yards, and is within Eric Dickerson’s NFL-record 2,105. But Foster, who first came to the Texans as an undrafted free agent, has put up some strong numbers, too.
Foster is fourth in the league with 1,313 yards. Now, to show just how much Peterson has lapped the field this season, those 1,313 are precisely the same number Peterson has had since Week 7.
Still, Foster’s numbers are impressive. His 1,493 yards from scrimmage is fifth in the league – Peterson’s 2,023 is No. 1 – and if Foster scores a TD this week he will become the sixth player in NFL history to score 50 TDs in his first 50 NFL games.
“The scheme they run really fits what he does well,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said of Foster. "He’s really patient, good at finding cut-back lanes. They throw the ball well out of the play-action game and bootleg game, and that serves Foster well in the run game as well.”
The Vikings have seen their share of good running backs this season, going up against five of the top 10 NFL rushers this season in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (second), Washington’s Alfred Morris (third), Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (fifth), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (seventh) and Frank Gore of San Francisco (ninth). Lynch ran for 124 yards, Morris had 57, Martin 135, Johnson 24 and Gore 63.
And now they get Foster.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he saw some similarities between Foster and Peterson.
“The thing about Adrian is that he has the home run speed,” Kubiak said. “Arian is one of those guys where it seems, the more he carries it, the stronger he gets. These are two guys who, the more they touch it, the more difficult it is to tackle them. Just two great players.”
(Almost) no comment
Christian Ponder’s marriage was not something many Vikings players wanted to discuss in the locker room.
Some, like center John Sullivan and guard Brandon Fusco, simply changed the subject.
“My focus right now is just going and grabbing some lunch and relaxing before practice,” safety Mistral Raymond said. “That should be dealt with somewhere else.”
Fullback Raymond Felton said he heard about it in the media like everybody else. Reaction? “I congratulated him,” Felton said. “Several people have congratulated him. So, obviously, whatever makes him happy we want that for him. It was a big day for him, and we’re happy for him.”
Of course, if anyone was going to have a little fun about the situation, it was punter Chris Kluwe, who wondered openly where he might find a gift registry. As for the present he planned on buying?
“Maybe a tea cozy,” he said.
Wins, not records
After winning NFC special teams player of the week honors for the second time this season, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh talked about winning, not records.
Specifically when he was asked whether he thought about making the Pro Bowl in this, his rookie season. “Yeah, it would be awesome, but that’s not my main goal right now.”
Walsh hit all five of his field goals last week, three in the 50-yards-plus range. He is now 8-for-8 from that distance, which ties him with Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson for most field goals of 50 or more yards in a season. He is one away from holding that record alone.
“I’m just wishing we win,” Walsh said. “I don’t’ care about the records. My whole deal with the records is that they’re meant to be broken. It would be nice to have, but I’d rather win.”
Walsh is 29-for-32 on field goals this season and is fourth in the NFC in scoring among kickers. He said the snap and hold has been perfect for every attempt this season, and that his three misses were entirely his fault.
So the question is, in a dome, in ideal circumstances, what does he think his limit is? “I think 65 (yards) and in I can at least give it a realistic shot,” he said.
Doing his part
Felton said he, along with the linemen and the rest of the team, are pulling for Peterson to break Dickerson’s record. But will he feel he earned a part of that record should it happen?
“A little bit,” he said. “I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about it. So, obviously, I think it’s important for our whole team. And the most important thing is getting wins. But when Adrian is successful that helps our team. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Meanwhile, it appears the work Felton has done has probably put to rest the question of whether Peterson prefers a fullback or running out of one-back sets. Felton said he’d seen a stat that indicated the Vikings gain better than 7 yards per rush with a fullback and 3-plus yards out of one-back sets.
Since being drafted in April Jarius Wright has been described as a Percy Harvin-type receiver, primarily a slot receiver, for a lot of reasons. He is fast. He is not particularly tall. He has a rather thick, strong build.
Not that this is a bad thing, as Wright joked Monday. “Being compared to Percy Harvin doesn’t bother me at all,” he said.
But it wasn’t until Harvin was hurt that Wright was finally activated for a game. And Wright responded. He caught a 54-yard pass from Christian Ponder on the Vikings’ first series. Two plays later he made his first career TD catch. He finished with three catches for 65 yards.
With Harvin’s sprained ankle expected to be healthy coming out of the bye, the question is whether the Vikings can – or will – try to use both receivers at the same time. After all, Wright did show some field-stretching speed.
“We always felt he had a chance to help us,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “That was the reason we drafted him. To see him play as well as he did is great for our team, great for his confidence. (But) it will always be week-to-week with some guys. It probably won’t be any different with Jarius. We’ll take a look at him every week.”
Wright, meanwhile, sounded very confident that the team’s offense has room for both he and Harvin.
“There is definitely room for me and Percy on the field at the same time,” he said. “And I’m sure in the future you might get a chance to see some of that. Me and Percy go bring similar styles of game to the field. But, at the same time, who’s complaining about what me or Percy brings to the game?
A good question.
Wright said he has gotten the majority of his practice snaps in the slot, but said he could play outside if asked.
When asked if two smaller-sized receivers could work together on the field, Frazier said yes.
“If you believe a guy can really help you get it done, you’ll figure out a way to make that work numbers-wise,” he said. “It does mean you have to put someone else down if you dress five wide receivers. But there are ways we can get that done if we want both of them on the field.”
Wright, for one, was just happy to have been on the field Sunday.
“I’m very excited about my performance,” he said. “And I’m glad I was able to help the team. I’m glad the coaches gave me the chance to be able to help the team. And hopefully they continue to give me that opportunity.”
HEALTHY FOR THE STRETCH RUN
A knee injury kept him out of the preseason, and a concussion kept him out of two regular season games. But tight end John Carlson is healthy now and will be for the stretch run. But does that men a bigger role in the passing game? Carlson, an off-season free agent signing, caught one pass for 11 yards against Detroit Sunday and has just four receptions this season.
“Obviously I want to contribute,” he said. “I want to help the offense. Yes, I would like to be involved more. But there have been some things that have happened. I’ve had some setbacks to deal with over the course of the season. And the team goals always come first, whether I have 50 catches or four catches. The team goals always come first.”
And that, he said, means doing whatever he’s asked to do.
“Whether it’s playing more and blocking in the run game or protecting in the pass game or catching more balls, I want to contribute and help the team win,” he said. “but I need to continue to work and earn that right.”
LET THE COMPETITION BEGIN
Safety Mistral Raymond said he felt 100 percent healthy in his return to action after missing six games with an ankle injury. He was used in a rotation at the position along with Jamarca Sanford Sunday. Given that he was the starter when the season began, and the fact that Sanford played well in his absence, there figures to be some strong competition for playing time going forward.
“Always has been,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here there always has been. And that makes us all better.”
--Tight end Kyle Rudolph said his bye-week plans are to go to South Dakota with John Sullivan, Chad Greenway and Cullen Loeffler to do some pheasant hunting. It should be interesting, considering Rudolph said he’s never hunted before.
Harrison Smith said he is not the kind of guy to lose sleep over something he can’t control. So Sunday night, after he had been ejected from the Vikings’ game with the Titans for making contact with an official, Smith said he didn’t lose sleep wondering what his punishment would be. He just expected the worst.
“I anticipate the worst in most things,” the rookie safety joked Wednesday. “Because then you can’t be disappointed. … I’m just happy to get back on the field. That’s the main focus.”
Smith, of course, was neither fined nor suspended for the infraction, which occurred early in the second quarter of the Vikings’ victory.
And while he might not have sweated his potential punishment, being forced to watch the game rather than play in it taught a valuable lesson.
“It definitely makes you realize how much you love the game,” he said. “And how much you want to take advantage of every opportunity you get to get on the field. So it kind of puts it in perspective, just how lucky I am to be a part of the Vikings and even play in the NFL. It just makes you realize how great it really is.”
Not his call
At least two things came out of linebacker Erin Henderson’s return to the field Sunday after missing two games with a concussion. First, there were absolutely no concussion-related issues. Second, Henderson is not about to worry about how much time he gets on the field.
First, the concussion. Henderson admitted he was a little nervous during pre-game warm-ups. But those concerns went away quickly. “It’s your head, you don’t really know how it’s going to react or what’s going to happen, how it will play out,” he said. “But once you get your first couple contacts, then you know you’ll be all right.''
Now the playing time. Jasper Brinkley played so well in nickel situations that the coaches kept him in that role after Henderson returned. As a result Henderson played fewer than 20 snaps against a Titans team that played from behind most of the game. In a relatively short time, though, Henderson made three tackles – two for loss – and forced a fumble. It will be interesting how the Vikings move forward in regards to their nickel defense
“I just play football,” Henderson said. “I just do what they tell me to do when they tell me to do it. Every time I’m out there I play well, that’s all I can control. So you guys can dice it up and slice it up and make if what you will. But I just do what the coaches tell me to do.”
Vikings cornerback Chris Cook said that while he’s happy with the way he has played so far this season there is a lot of room for improvement.
In five games Cook has made 20 tackles, has one sack and has a team-high 10 passes defensed. He is in his third season, but was limited in playing time during the first two by injuries and legal issues. That’s why he sees a big upside for himself going forward.
“I had a lot of time off my first two years,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s an excuse or anything like that. But I definitely feel I can play better. And, with more reps, I feel I will.”
Cook said he is especially excited to play in this game having grown up and gone to school not far from Washington D.C.
“I’ll be a little more amped up this week,” he said.
A difficult memory
In conference calls with local reporters, both Washington receiver Santana Moss and head coach Mike Shanahan expressed their happiness at the return of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson injured his knee during the Vikings’ victory in Washington last season, and he will return to the scene of that injury – FedEx Field – Sunday. “I think everyone was hoping Adrian would come back,” Shanahan said. “Watching him on film, you can tell he has worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he’s in. … I think everyone was pulling for him. Our players were sick when it happened.”
Said Moss: “You can tell he’s a hard worker. That always pays off. He attacked it in the off-season. That’s why he’s back doing what he’s doing now.”
There are a lot of questions about the Vikings, and there were a lot of answers today on Dan Wiederer's noon Live Chat.
You can read the transcript here, and Dan will answer a lot of other questions later on the Access Vikings blog as well.
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