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.
In a 40-minute session with print reporters Wednesday morning, Vikings general manager delivered what amounted to a casual “state of the team” address. Spielman discussed everything from Adrian Peterson’s incredible recovery to the Vikings’ potential playoff push to the contract situations of receiver Percy Harvin and head coach Leslie Frazier. Here are more Spielman highlights from that session, in the second of three parts.
On why the past two drafts were so important for the direction of this franchise …
“I think you have to continually build. Because if you can build that foundation through the draft and continue to have successful drafts or guys that can come in and contribute and play, you're always going to have a competitive football team. It doesn't force you then to go out and spend tons of money out in free agency. If you can build through the draft and get your players through the draft and then, when their time comes up, you can extend those guys, [you are better off]. Because those are the guys you're going to know the best. Then you have a better chance of success doing it that way than always going out and trying to spend a lot of money in free agency”
On what the desired role for back-up quarterback Joe Webb is ...
“The coaches really focused and honed in on Joe Webb being a quarterback. I know they spent a lot of time this offseason developing Joe as a quarterback. And I know in this league, and you saw last week, you have to have a couple quarterbacks. Because if your guy, knock on wood, does go down, you have to have a replacement. We saw with the guys leaving out with concussions this week. So Joe has enough ability to be a quarterback in this league, whether it's in a back-up role or whether he had to come in and start. So we felt very strong about the depth of our quarterbacks here.”
On the job being done by coach Leslie Frazier this season
“Leslie's been doing an outstanding job. Knowing the situation where we were going to have a lot of new faces on this roster, I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job. Again, we can bring in guys that are talented, but it's our coaches who should get the credit for developing these guys. And our coaches should get the credit for playing these guys and letting them grow into the positions as they grow. Because you know you're going to have some ups and downs, especially when you have a young roster. But our coaches and Leslie do an extremely good job of working with these kids and [using] any chance they have to get these guys ready to play. And I think that has shown so far this year.”
On whether there’s patience with the coaching staff as the rebuilding process continues …
"I think it’s patience. But it’s also a sense of urgency too. Because you want to win and when we went into the season, we wanted to win. We want to win every game. That's why you're in this business. Patience is a fact [where] you know you have a lot of new faces, you have a lot of first- and second-year guys that are contributing. But also know that you have to go out there and win ballgames too."
On whether there will be talks to offer Frazier a contract extension soon …
"We keep everything internally. I won't discuss anything on contracts."
On the value of having a united and cooperative harmony between the GM and the head coach …
"The biggest thing is the open communication that we have with each other, and I'm by no means an ego guy. … Leslie is the same way where it's not about him or me, it's about us. It's about the Vikings, what's best for this team. And you can have very open and candid discussion. I think that was huge for us last year when I had some discussions with Leslie and then we got all the coaches and personnel people in one room. And [it was], 'Nothing personal, let's get this all aired out so we can move forward.' I think that did wonders for everybody. But everybody is on the same page. Everybody understands what our scheme is, what we're looking for in players. And it’s our job to go out there and identify those players and it works hand-in-hand with the coaches. To me, once the personnel side and coaching side gets divided, then you have no chance. To me, they have to work hand-in-hand and they have to work together every day."
On the impressive emergence of rookie kicker Blair Walsh, a sixth-round pick last April …
“You knew the talent Blair had. But that's the fun part of it. When Blair had his struggles as a senior, why did he have those struggles? And are those struggles correctable? That's the part of really honing in and digging in. [Special teams coordinator] Mike Priefer was a big part of that. He's going to be the expert in that area. I rely on people that are experts in their area. Can you get this corrected or is this something that you don't think is correctable? And he was very adamant. We can identify the struggles. We can talk to a scout who is an expert in that area, a coach who is an expert in that area. Can we get this fixed? And can he be successful? That's why it's such a big team effort to identify those guys. There's always going to be, no matter who you pick, you're going to poke holes like hell in them and identify those holes. Then you talk about can we get this fixed? Is this something he'll come out of? Is this something he'll improve in? That's all part of the decision process.”
Before this season began, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman says he sat down, performed a detailed statistical analysis of a handful of elite quarterbacks around the NFL, then used that data to project Christian Ponder’s 2012 statistics.
Through 10 games, Spielman insists, his Ponder projections have proven pretty darn accurate.
Spielman wouldn’t reveal the numbers he came up with for his young quarterback. So for now, we’ll have to take his word that they’re in the ballpark of what Ponder has done so far in aiding the Vikings’ 6-4 start: a .652 completion percentage, 2,027 yards, 12 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 24 sacks.
In a casual interview session Wednesday morning with print reporters, Spielman became the latest to voice his unwavering support for Ponder as the long-term answer at quarterback.
On the outside, Ponder’s worth may have come into question in recent weeks as he struggled mightily in games against Arizona, Tampa Bay and Seattle. The 24-year-old quarterback helped to quiet some of that agitation this past Sunday when he went 24-for-32 for 221 yards and two touchdowns in a much-needed win over Detroit.
Still, Spielman reiterated Wednesday that, under his philosophy, all young quarterbacks are entitled to be evaluated under a “three-year rule,” giving coaches and the front office a big enough sample size to evaluate hot streaks, disconcerting slumps and long-term viability.
Ponder, of course, is right in the middle of that timetable at present.
Said Spielman: “You've got to remember, our guy's only in his second year. You look at the history of development of quarterbacks and I've talked to you guys a lot about that and where they come. I know they're getting measured – regardless if they're a rookie or second-year [player] – they're going to get evaluated from the outside and from the media on their performance that week. But you have to be, from an internal standpoint, looking at the whole picture and looking at a length of time.”
With all the outside noise, there will always be an ongoing challenge for the team and the organization as a whole to retain patience with a young quarterback even as the outside world delivers hyper-reaction to every game. But the Vikings have done nothing but support Ponder in his second season.
“I know everybody in this organization believes Christian Ponder is our guy,” Spielman said. “And I have full, 100 percent belief that Christian Ponder's going to be our quarterback heading into the future. You also know that, as young guys develop, they're going to have hiccups. But you've got to be patient.”
Ponder’s encouraging effort against Detroit, Spielman said, delivered further proof that he is mentally tough enough to bounce back from some rough moments.
That Ponder took the postgame podium Sunday and made jokes about his recent slump and the theories that his girlfriend (ESPN’s Samantha Steele) had something to do with it proved refreshing.
“You have to have stuff roll off your back at that position,” Spielman said. “Just like a head coach or general manager. You know there's going to be the praises [that] come with that position. But the heavy criticisms come with that position, too. So you have to have the mental makeup to be able to handle all of that.”
If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers.
Question 1: Do you think any of the Vikings games against the Bears or Packers will be flexed into the late afternoon spot or onto “Football Night in America” on NBC?
Been getting this question more and more frequently as the Vikings’ win total has risen.
So here’s how we should proceed. First, take a second to digest the NFL’s flex scheduling parameters as noted below:
“The NFL will utilize ‘flexible scheduling’ on Sundays in Weeks 11-17. Flexible scheduling will ensure quality matchups in all NFL Sunday time slots in those weeks and give teams a chance to play their way onto prime time and into the late-afternoon 3:25 p.m. time slot on CBS and Fox. For each of the flexible scheduling weeks with the exception of Week 17, the NFL will announce the start times of games on Sundays no later than 12 days prior to that weekend. To ensure a Sunday night game and doubleheader games with playoff implications in Week 17, the flexible scheduling decision for that Sunday may be made on six days notice.”
So, given that we’re inside of 12 days and there’s been no change announced for the game in Chicago, that one comes off the table.
Now, here’s a look at the NBC showcase games for the Sunday nights on those weeks where the Vikings play the Packers (Weeks 13 and 17) and the Sunday they host the Bears (Week 14).
Before anything else, those Week 13 and 14 games have to be duds to warrant being moved. So it seems unlikely Eagles-Cowboys
or Texans-Patriots will be bumped.
[[[ CORRECTION UPDATE: The original post identified Texans at Patriots as the Sunday night game in Week 14. That's actually the Monday night game. The Week 14 NBC game is Lions at Packers. Which might not be firmly entrenched in that Sunday night slot after all. ]]]
As for the later afternoon Fox headline games …
Doubtful Fox will want to move their chance to showcase Peyton Manning. And Saints-Giants will probably still generate more interest that Vikings-Bears that week.
So that brings us to Week 17 where there’s an outside possibility that Vikings-Packers could bring Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to town if both teams are still fighting for playoff bids. That seems to be the only way, the Vikings would get the flex treatment.
So, after all that, what I’m telling you is be prepared for nooners the rest of the way for the Vikings.
Question 2: Heard charges against Adrian Peterson were being dropped from his summer arrest because a grand jury didn’t find probable cause. Why was a grand jury used for such a minor incident? Also, you think will A.P. sue the Houston police?
The grand jury proceeding is quite rare for a misdemeanor charge. But that was a setup that Peterson’s attorney Rusty Hardin and the prosecution had agreed to as a means to measure the case’s validity.
I asked Hardin specifically about that odd use of the grand jury and why the prosecution didn’t just drop the charges on their own accord.
He offered an interesting potential explanation.
“The advantage to that approach is it doesn’t require the prosecutor to dismiss the case, which would basically say the police officers were lying,” Hardin said. “And we don’t know what goes into a grand jury’s deliberation. But here, you’d think it produces the same result potentially that a trial would without the prosecutor having to reject what the police officers have said. Instead, you present both sides of the case to 12 citizens and let them decide.”
The grand jury decided the charge against Peterson was unwarranted. And that’s that.
As far as any recourse Peterson might have, Hardin said he’d have until July 7, 2014 to file a civil suit, an option he could take if he wanted to pursue damages for defamation from the Houston police. But Hardin said that next step isn’t something he and Peterson would even begin discussing until after the Vikings’ season is over.
Question 3: It's probably unconventional but I thought the Vikings had some notable success rotating Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford at safety against Detroit. You get different things with both guys and they both contribute. Will Sanford keep the starting role at this point with Mistral continuing to split time?
Maybe the best thing to come out of the six games that Raymond missed with his dislocated right ankle was the realization that Sanford has improved significantly since last year and doesn’t seem to be a major weakness anymore. So going forward the Vikings have increased confidence that they have a guy who can be dependable back there in a pinch. In this case, the pinch lasted six games.
But in the big picture, as soon as Raymond has his conditioning back to full strength, the plan is for him to start and take pretty much all the reps alongside Harrison Smith at safety with Sanford being a nice Plan B and a major contributor on special teams. Whether Raymond can get his conditioning up in the next 10 days and supplant Sanford as the starter at Chicago remains to be seen. But that switch is coming.
Question 4: What is the reason behind Ponder’s up-and-down year? Is it his fault? The coaching staff? Lack of quality WRs and o-line? You would think with Peterson in the backfield, the Vikings could have more success in the passing game.
Question 5: The Lions game last weekend was the first game in at least a month where it looked like Mr. Ponder was willing to throw to receivers who were open, but where the defender was close. He finally seemed to have confidence in his ability to throw the ball. Where did that confidence go and why did it come back? And more importantly, how can he hold onto it?
Man, that’s a lot of Ponder questions. First things first, the up-and-down year is easily explained. Ponder is 24 years old and he’s made 20 NFL starts. Find me another young quarterback with fewer than two dozen starts who isn’t still inconsistent and facing a steep learning curve.
As far as making throws with defenders nearby in coverage, that’s something Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson reminded Ponder he had to do to be successful.
First, Johnson told him not to worry so much about the consequences of every throw. Then, Frazier made it clear that successful NFL quarterbacks create their own success by occasionally throwing into tight windows. You’re right that Ponder seemed to do more of that against Detroit. And for the Vikings, it was encouraging that those throws were pretty successful overall.
One last thing on Ponder, as I had a very interesting discussion with Johnson before the Seahawks game. As sharp as he is as a student of the game, able to pick things up in the classroom and absorb all of the concepts and teachings thrown at him, he still needs to go through the experiences on this level of seeing things, feeling things and reacting.
As it relates to getting blitzed, Johnson noticed Ponder’s unease in the Tampa Bay game when the Bucs just kept coming and coming and threw every different pressure look they had at the Vikings. And here was a little bit of how he explained to me one of the next big steps in Ponder’s development:
“You have to get used to the pressure. How’s my protection? Am I in the right protection to be able to block the blitzes? If I am in the right protection, do I lose check-down options because the guys, for instance, my backs and my tight ends may be involved in protection? Well I may be protected, but now we’re getting fewer guys out. So where now are the holes in the defense? That’s the process he’s going through right now. He can figure out if they don’t blitz and we get everybody out. He can figure out if they blitz me and I have a chance to throw hot. That’s all beautiful. But now what happens if I lose backs and I lose tight ends and lose whoever in protection, now I don’t have those check-down options and they’re still blitzing me, where am I able to go with the football? That’s advanced chemistry for quarterback play. But that’s what Christian is going through right now.
“This is a no mercy league. And teams are going to keep dialing stuff up until they see you can solve it. That’s the way it is. He’s going to keep pushing. And we as coaches are going to continue to try and keep scratching to figure out a way. We get it. We understand that if teams think blitzing is going to cause us problems, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to continue to attack until you prove you can beat it. … For Christian, he needs to know where to go with the ball and see it live. Because in the classroom, he’s lights out. There’s nothing I can ask him in the classroom that he can’t answer immediately and correctly. He’s boom, boom, boom, boom. That’s never an issue. But now, he’s a young quarterback in the process. And so it’s now, if they bring a pressure and I lose my ability to stretch the width and depth of the field with my underneath options, where can I go with the ball? Now if I’m in the pocket, where do I go? If I’m on the edge, where do I go? How long do I run to see if I can continue a play? Do I throw the ball away? It’s a flurry of decisions.”
Question 6: In 2007: AP burns the Bears for 224 yards and three TDs in Chicago. The way he is running he could very well top this performance. Agree?
With Peterson, I’m willing to believe anything right now. Seriously. I thought a 1,200-yard rushing season was probably the ceiling for a guy coming off ACL surgery. Boy, did I underestimate Peterson’s drive and positive energy.
Now, I’m doing calculations on when he might possibly be able to chase down Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record.
Here are the calculations there. Peterson is currently averaging 94.9 rushing yards per game played in his career. He’s 10,475 yards short of Smith right now. At his current rate, if he stays healthy, he could be attacking Smith’s mark 109, 110, maybe 111 games from now. Which for the record would be sometime around November 2019. Mark your calendars.
I’m half-kidding with such projections, obviously. But part of me isn’t kidding either.
Still, if you want to come back down closer to earth and look more short-term, understand these milestones Peterson could chase in 2012. He needs to average 105.3 rushing yards over the final six games to break his career high of 1,760 set in 2008. He needs to average 145.3 rushing yards to top 2,000. He needs to average 162.8 rushing yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105.
Is it possible? Probably not. But I’m not about to tell Peterson that. Are you?
Question 7: Will there be an Adrian Peterson statue outside of the new Target Stadium in 2020?
With everything I just projected, I should hope so.
Question 8: What should Vikings fans really be hoping for most the rest of the season: a playoff game this year or continued steady progress from the young players? Are both realistic?
You should be hoping for both. But counting on a playoff game this year still seems a little too far-fetched for me. I’m still finding it hard to believe the Vikings will fare well in their remaining road games. And I think 8-8 might be the best-case scenario. Which is a terrific, terrific improvement with what everyone had expected from the outside in August.
I give them credit for staying alive in the playoff race to this point. But as you mention young players showing steady progress, that will be as important down the stretch as anything.
Postgame snapshot from CenturyLink Field in Seattle where the Seahawks beat the Vikings 30-20.
Good news: Adrian Peterson’s comeback story continues to pick up steam. Peterson busted off a 74-yard run on the second play of the game. It was the second longest run of his career and he scored the first of his two touchdowns two snaps after that. Against a Seattle rushing defense that came into the day ranked fifth overall, allowing 84.9 yards per game, Peterson had 144 yards on 122 carries in the first half alone. He finished with 182 yards and now has 957 rushing yards for the season to go along with 150 receiving yards.
Bad news: The Vikings defense continues to have difficulty stopping rookie quarterbacks and continued having struggles stopping the run. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson became the third rookie signal caller to beat the Vikings this season. Wilson completed 15 of 23 passes for 167 yards and had three touchdown passes. He didn’t turn the ball over, rushed for 29 yards and was sacked only once. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch meanwhile rushed for 124 yards on 26 carries, becoming the fourth player in as many weeks to top 100 yards rushing against the Vikings. Lynch scored a 3-yard TD in the third quarters as well. Oh, and the worries about the Vikings feeble passing attack just hit code red after Christian Ponder went 11-for-22 for just 63 yards with an interception.
Extra point: Percy Harvin came into the game dealing with soreness in his right hamstring and seemed to aggravate that injury on his first reception of the second half. He missed some time as he stretched the hamstring out, then returned to action and suffered what appeared to be a serious injury to his left ankle on his next carry. But again, Harvin fought through the injuries and stayed in the game. Harvin finished the day with two catches for 10 yards and four rushes for 24 yards.
Next up: The Vikings will host Detroit in Week 10 in their final game before the bye. The Lions delivered a 31-14 road blowout of Jacksonville on Sunday. In the first match-up with Detroit this season, the Vikings won 21-14 at Ford Field thanks to a pair of special teams touchdowns.
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