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.
Note: We continue our series on the Vikings' third-day draft picks.
Rick Spielman was fielding questions shortly after the Vikings had finished picking in the NFL draft, when someone wondered if defensive coordinator Fred Pagac had petitioned for the team to take former Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan with its fourth and final pick in the sixth round.
Pagac was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes at tight end in the early ’70s and was an assistant coach at the school from 1978 to 2000. Homan referred to Pagac as “a legend” at Ohio State during a conference call with Twin Cities reporters.
Thus, it made perfect sense to think Pagac was the guy behind this pick. Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, quickly dimissed that theory.
“It wasn’t Pagac, it was my brother,” said Spielman, referring to former Ohio State star linebacker Chris Spielman. Chris Spielman remains close to the Buckeyes program and is the host of a radio show in Columbus.
“Ross is a very talented football player,” Rick Spielman said. “I know the knock on him a little bit is the size factor [6-feet, 238 pounds], but [he’s] maybe one of the most instinctive linebackers that was on the board. He was a lot higher on our board then where we were able to get him, not only because I think he can play three downs in the NFL, but because of his athletic skills and his instincts. I think he is going to help contribute on special teams as well. He’s just a solid, good football player.”
The 24-year-old Homan started 30 of 54 games at weak-side linebacker during parts of five seasons at Ohio State. He appeared in only four games in 2007 but ended up being granted a medical hardship after suffering a turf toe injury in what was to have been his sophomore season.
Homan agrees with Rick Spielman that instincts are the strength of his game. “I can read the play pass coverage-wise and help with the run,” he said. “Hopefully, I can utilize all my skills to help the team out.”
The cousin of former Buckeyes Tom and Bobby Hoying, Homan started all 24 games in which he played the past two seasons and was a first-team All-Big Ten choice as a senior in 2010 after starting 11 games. He was second on the team with 72 tackles, including one sack and two tackles for loss. He caused two fumbles and recovered one as the Buckeyes led the Big Ten and finished fourth nationally in total defense (262.2 yards).
Homan, a member of the watch list for the Nagurski, Lombardi and Butkus awards and a Lott trophy quarterfinalist in 2010, had five of his seven interceptions with the Buckeyes as a junior.
Homan finds himself stepping into a situation where there could be an opening for a starting job. Ben Leber, the Vikings’ weak-side linebacker the past five seasons, will be a free agent once the NFL’s labor situation is settled and there is no guarantee he will return.
The Vikings already put the franchise tag on strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway and if that holds up he will be due a salary of about $10 million for the 2011 season. Starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is due a base salary of $4.7 million in the final year of his deal.
Homan certainly will be expected to play a key role on special teams if he makes the 53-man roster. The Vikings selected former Gophers linebacker Nate Triplett in the fifth round last season but he did not end up making the final roster.
“I will do whatever they ask,” Homan said of his potential role. “They have two great linebackers in Henderson and Greenway to learn from so I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Homan figures to compete with Erin Henderson for the starting job, if Leber doesn’t return and another free agent isn’t brought in. Heath Farwell, Kenny Onatolu and Jasper Brinkley are among the other backup linebackers on the roster but Brinkley is projected to remain as E.J. Henderson’s primary backup in the middle.
Homan put on about 10 pounds after last season in an attempt to improve his draft stock.
“It was all good weight,” Homan said. “I ate healthy and just wasn’t eating fast food to try and gain the pounds. It was a gradual increase of weight and I ran good time at the combine and felt good about all my position drills. I’ve maintained that weight.”
The Vikings selected linebacker Ross Homan with the 200th pick overall in the sixth round.
School: Ohio State
Size: 6-0, 238 pounds Age: 24
The skinny: Homan was a three-year starter at Ohio State. The Vikings wanted to add depth at linebacker and possibly add a future replacement for Ben Leber, a free agent who might not return.
Inside information: Homan finished his college career with 287 tackles, five sacks and seven interceptions. He was named first-team all-Big Ten as a senior. He added 10 pounds in preparing for the draft because he was a little undersized. He likely will have to make his mark on special teams at first.
Pro Football Weekly summary: "An undersized, instinctive weakside 'backer who struggles to hold up at the point of attack. Plays over blocks, ranges to make tackles and drops effectively into coverage. Would be best in a one-gapping, speed scheme, though will have to prove he can stay healthy."
Up next: The Vikings have two picks in the seventh round (215 overall and 236).
Chip's take: Linebacker wasn't the Vikings most pressing need obviously but they needed to add some depth and competition there. It's unclear if Leber will return next season, but the team has other in-house candidates who will compete for that spot.
It was no secret that the Vikings made a big-time pitch to acquire then-holdout wide receiver Vincent Jackson from San Diego last season after Sidney Rice was sidelined following hip surgery.
Not surprisingly, both the Vikings and Chargers did their best to keep details quiet at the time. Well, some key details came out Monday when Federal District Judge Susan Nelson granted an injunction that at least temporarily blocks the lockout.
Nelson went so far as to reference the fact that Jackson's agents had come to an agreement on a two-year deal with the Vikings that would have paid him $8 million prorated in 2010 and $11 million in 2011, provided the Chargers traded him to Minnesota.
San Diego general manager A.J. Smith, however, was unwilling to let Jackson go and he made $280,824 when he returned to the Chargers.
According to Alex Marvez's story on the Fox Sports website, Nelson brought up what happened to Jackson and agreed that “irreparable harm” is being suffered by the players during the lockout. There is the possibility that the picks in this week's draft might be unable to play in 2011 if there is a lockout and also there are five potential unrestricted free agents in the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit who might not be able to find employment.
That includes Peyton Manning, Logan Mankins, Ben Leber, Mike Vrabel and Jackson.
"There can be no real dispute that all of the free-agent players have demonstrated a sufficient threat of irreparable harm warranting the issuance of injunctive relief,” Nelson wrote, per Marvez.
As much as Jackson might have been hurt financially by not coming to Minnesota, he probably didn't suffer as much as the Vikings did by Smith's decision to hold onto him. The Vikings, of course, quickly turned their attention to New England's Randy Moss and sent a third-round pick to the Patriots for a guy who lasted less than a month and cost Minnesota a third-round pick in this upcoming draft.
And we won't even get into the whole story of Brad Childress deciding to release Moss without telling ownership and being fired not long thereafter ...
Tuesday promises to be an interesting day in the NFL.
With the lockout on hold, at least temporarily, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted the NFL Management Council told teams to let players into their buildings Tuesday but also recommended keeping weight rooms closed. (So why bother showing up?)
Meanwhile, Vikings officials will have a meeting first thing in the morning to review how they will handle things, such as players deciding that they'd like to spend time at WInter Park.
Ben Leber, an assistant player rep for the Vikings, said in a text message to my colleague Chip Scoggins tonight that at least one teammate had asked him if he's allowed to visit Winter Park on Tuesday. Right now, the answer would be yes. Of course, if the decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson is stayed that will mean that those players will be asked to leave in short order.
"It's my understanding that we are able to workout at Winter Park tomorrow and players should feel free to do so," said Leber, whose understanding is that he's not allowed at the facility regardless of what happens because he doesn't have a contract for 2011.
It's going to be very interesting to see how teams handle this situation. Pro Football Talk reported that teams are telling coaches not to talk to its players as long as the current uncertainty remains.
There also are some differences in what players are telling their teammates. While Leber said Vikings players should feel free to go to work, the same stance taken by the Steelers' Ryan Clark, Lions player rep Kyle Vanden Bosch told his teammates not to show up at the team's practice facility yet, according to the Detroit Free Press.
In an e-mail, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: "If a player comes to the facility, he will be treated courteously and with respect."
As for what agents are telling their clients, local agent Blake Baratz said he is not advising his guys to rush to the team facilities on Tuesday.
"My message is just for the guys to hold tight," said Baratz, who represents Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Desmond Bishop and Detroit defensive tackle Corey Williams. "My guys are all working out, on a strict regimen and working their tails off where they are. A lot of them are not in their NFL city, so I'm not going to have them rush to get into the facility.
"Whenever the league comes back they are going to figure something out. If I had to look into the future, there are going to be discussions about what to do with workout bonuses and offseason workouts. I think it's a bit knee jerk to tell guys to show up at the facility [Tuesday]."
NFL players earned a victory Monday in their legal battle against the NFL when U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson granted an injunction blocking the lockout.
As expected, the NFL quickly announced it intends to file an appeal, which will cause the court case to drag on even longer. But several Vikings players -- including two plaintiffs in the lawsuit -- called the decision a victory and "step in the right direction."
"It is good news for us as a class of players and as a trade organization," said linebacker Ben Leber, who is part of the lawsuit. "It’s exactly what we interpret the law to be so it’s nice that a very fair judge in a legal system looked at the facts and agreed. It’s a step in the process. We understand there’s going to be an appeal and it’s going to be drawn out even further. We’ll have to see what happens with the appeals court."
Many players seem to be taking a realistic approach about what this will mean. "I really don't think it means much until the appeals court accepts or denies the ruling and keeps the lockout in place during the appeal," said kicker Ryan Longwell, who like Leber, will become a free agent when the labor situation is resolved.
The Vikings waited Monday evening to get direction from the NFL on the next step in this process. There is no sense in beginning to schedule offseason workouts if those plans are only going to be delayed again. The Vikings already are prepared for free agency, if and when it begins.
Monday's ruling prompted questions about whether players -- particularly ones with hefty workout bonuses -- would show up at their team's facilities since the lockout was over. The league is seeking relief from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis as it tries to get a stay on the lockout until the appeals process is complete. Many expect the appeals court will grant that motion.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he has been encouraging teammates to show up at the facility at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
But Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who has a $500,000 workout bonus, said he's not even in the Twin Cities so he won't show up at Winter Park. There have been other reports that players are taking a wait-and-see approach before showing up to their team's facilities.
Leber, the Vikings assistant players representative, said in a text message Monday night that at least one teammate has asked him if he's allowed to visit Winter Park on Tuesday.
"It's my understanding that we are able to workout at Winter Park tomorrow and players should feel free to do so," Leber wrote.
"I still feel like there’s a lot of things that need to be hashed out, but it’s definitely a big step in the direction we need to go," defensive end Brian Robison said. "It makes us a little bit more confident about the way things are now. They’ll search for a stay, they’ll ask for an appeal. Hopefully, they will just shut them down period and say, ‘Forget about it.’ But even if they take that on, it definitely gives us a little bit better timeline."
Like Leber, Robison is a plaintiff in the players lawsuit. He said he expected Judge Nelson to side with the players after attending the hearing three weeks ago.
"It’s a big win for us," Robison said. "I think walking out of the courtroom the first day I felt like that was kind of the ruling we were going to get. I was pretty confident she was going to rule in our favor after hearing the arguments and everything. But it’s a big step in the direction that we need to go in order to get the game back for us and but also to the fans."
The bottom line is that many issues remain and need to be resolved.
"We want to play football," Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said in a text message. "Too bad an agreement isn't solidfied. There is plenty of money to be fairly distributed."
CHIP SCOGGINS AND JUDD ZULGAD
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