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.
How kind have the Detroit Lions been to Vikings head coaches over the years?
Well, let's put it this way:
Les Steckel was a .500 coach (1-1) against Detroit.
Or this way:
Mike Tice was a 1.000 coach (8-0) against Detroit.
Only Norm Van Brocklin, the team's first coach, struggled against Detroit. Of course, he coached from 1961-66, when the Vikings were struggling and the Lions were actually a feared opponent. Van Brocklin lost his first five games against the Lions and finished 3-8-1.
Then a guy from Canada came down and slapped Detroit around for a couple of decades. Bud Grant was 26-8-1 against Detroit.
The other head coaches and their records against Detroit: Jerry Burns (8-4), Dennis Green (12-8), Brad Childress (8-1) and current coach Leslie Frazier, who lost his only game against Detroit as an interim coach in last year's season finale.
Frazier not only was hamstrung by being an interim coach. Like Van Brocklin 51 years ago, Frazier is coaching the Vikings at a point when they're the ones in building mode and the Lions are the better team. Frazier's first home game against Detroit is Sunday.
The Vikings posted back-to-back 0-2 starts only once (2001 and 2002) in their first 50 seasons. Sunday, they'll try to avoid doing it a second time when they return to the Metrodome to face the Buccaneers in a game between two 0-1 teams.
Since 1990, only 12.5 percent of the teams to start 0-2 have reached the playoffs. The Vikings were one of them in 2008. And, of course, the best exception to the rule that 0-2 is a time to panic is the 2008 Giants, who not only made the playoffs but beat an undefeated Patriots team to win the Super Bowl.
The Vikings have started 0-2 just 10 times in their first 50 seasons, with half of them coming in the past 10 seasons: 1962, 1965, 1967, 1981, 1984, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2010. Brad Childress' 2008 team is the only one of those to go on and make the playoffs. He benched Tarvaris Jackson and went with Gus Frerotte after that 0-2 start.
Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant started 0-2 only twice in 18 seasons, scattering them 15 seasons apart. Bud lost his first four games as Vikings coach, but seemed to bounce back OK.
Prediction: Vikings 21-17. Although MLB E.J. Henderson's swollen left knee and questionable status makes me question this pick, I don't think the Bucs' offensive line will hold up well enough in the Metrodome for Tampa Bay to gain control of this game.
The Vikings have signed linebacker David Herron and released linebacker Mark Washington, who was out this week with a shoulder injury.
If Herron's name rings a bell, that's because he was a pawn in the early stages of the feud between former Vikings coach Brad Childress and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
In 2007, the Vikings signed Herron as an undrafted rookie. When teams began cutting players, the Vikings decided to put in a claim for Patriots tight end Garrett Mills. Childress not only claimed Mills, he then went public with details on how Belichick called and tried to get him not to claim Mills so that the Patriots could add Mills to their practice squad.
Childress said Belichick offered to not claim a released Vikings player if Childress agreed. Childress declined the offer, so Belichick claimed Herron.
"Belichick didn't really care for that," Childress said at the time. "He was trying to leverage, but you always find out who is honest and straightforward."
The Patriots ended up releasing Herron, who ended up back with the Vikings in 2007-08. Herron also was with the Chiefs in 2009, the Chargers in 2010 and the Jets earlier this offseason. Mills never made a significan contribution to the Vikings, but the relationship between Childress and Belichick remained frosty, at best.
Belichick, of course, got the last laugh. He traded Randy Moss to the Vikings for a third-round draft pick during the 2010 season. Moss ended up being released 26 days later in a move that played a major role in Childress' firing.
Herron gives the Vikings some depth at an injury-depleted postion. Heath Farwell (hamstring), rookie Ross Homan (concussion) and Jasper Brinkley (hip) all missed practices this week.
Raiders sign Sheppard: Former Viking Lito Sheppard was signed by the Raiders today. Sheppard, 30, played in 13 games with two starts for the Vikings a year ago.
Coach Leslie Frazier said Joe Webb will be the No. 2 quarterback in Saturday night's third preseason game against the Cowboys. With Donovan McNabb and the rest of the starters expected to play into the third quarter, Webb most likely will finish up the third and possibly begin the fourth quarter, while rookie Christian Ponder would finish up the game.
Frazier then said, "maybe we'll do something different in the last preseason game." Later in the press conference, I asked if that means the team is thinking of resting McNabb and starting either Webb or Ponder (after about 21 years of covering preseason football, you tend to notice trends).
Frazier smiled and said, "You been in our staff meetings? Something like that."
Webb was the No. 2 QB in the preseason opener. Ponder was No. 2 in the second preseason game. A winner for the regular season probably won't be determined until after the final preseason game a week from today.
The Vikings would like Ponder to win the No. 2 job so that Webb would be freed up to use his athleticism some at receiver and in Wild Cat formations. The Vikings ran a few Wild Cat plays in practice today.
Asked if it the team can use Webb in a Wild Cat if he's the No. 2 quarterback, Frazier said, "Sure can. It's not the most ideal. If he becomes our clear-cut No. 2, then you may not want to risk it as much. But we'll see."
Frazier also was asked about Webb showing up every now and then as a receiver in practice.
"It's more experimental at this point, just seeing what he looks like and whether it's something we want to do down the road," Frazier said.
Frazier's predecessor, Brad Childress, wasn't a fan of the Wild Cat. Frazier likes it. Asked if it was a perfect attack for a guy like Webb, Frazier said, "I agree. It's perfectly made for Joe. He's such an all-around athlete and multi-dimensional guy. That's set up for him, without question."
Other highlights from today:
Well, we've all pretty much kicked to death the areas the Vikings should be concerned about. So we'll shift out of doom 'n gloom mode long enough to take a look at three areas in which the Vikings can exhale, knowing what they got is among the best in the league. Here goes:
1, Loeffler to Kluwe to Longwell.
Not quite as well known as Tinker to Evers to Chance, but long snapper Cullen Loeffler to holder Chris Kluwe to kicker Ryan Longwell has to be the most rock-solid place-kicking trio in the league. And that's gold for any team, let alone one that's breaking in a new offense without the benefit of a typical offseason.
Former coach Brad Childress still gets beat up pretty good in these parts, but let's tip the cap to him in this case. One of the first decisions he made as head coach in 2006 was to put an end to the place-kicker nonsense that went on for way too long before he arrived. Longwell was one of the first free agents Childress signed.
Six seasons later, Loeffler, Kluwe and Longwell have been together for every step and snap of the way.
"That's unheard of in the NFL today," Longwell said during training camp.
It's also one of the main reasons Longwell re-signed with the Vikings before training camp started.
"Not only have the three of us been together for six years, but those two guys are also the absolute best at what they do," Longwell said.
Here's a stat for you: Longwell has swung his leg 132 times on place-kicks during the regular season the past two years. He's missed only five times (three of 46 field goal attempts and two of 86 PATs).
2, Running back.
They have the same trio -- Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker -- coming back this season, yet it already looks like an even better backfield. Peterson is a once-in-a-generation back that's still in his prime and getting better. If he can learn to catch the ball better, he'll take himself to an even higher level. And considering how he corrected his fumbling issue last season, I'd expect him to make himself a better pass catcher.
Gerhart, to me, looks a better so far in his second season. He's running with more balance, which gives him more power. He's not getting blasted off his feet as much as he was at this point last season.
Meanwhile, Booker is a very nice change-of-pace guy and an astute acquisition from the UFL last season. And rookie Caleb King, who will sign today after he takes his physical, is an interesting prospect who could end up on the practice squad. The 5-10, 220-pound King went undrafted in Monday's supplemental draft before agreeing to terms with the Vikings. He was declared academically ineligible and had to sit out last season at the University of Georgia.
UPDATE: The Vikings have announced the signing of King. Undrafted free agent Rodney Huntley was released to make room for King on the 90-man roster.
3, Tight end.
Those who were puzzled on draft day by the second-round selection of Kyle Rudolph are probably a little less puzzled after watching the big fella in this particular passing game. He's 6-6, 258 pounds and has soft hands and ball skills that allow him to catch balls that aren't perfectly thrown. In this offense, Rudolph will make an immediate impact in multiple tight end formations.
Then there's Visanthe Shiancoe. He's one of the more underrated tight ends in the league, and he's excited to be in Bill Musgrave's offense.
"It's a very tight end friendly offense," said Shiancoe, who had 11 touchdown catches two years ago.
From a blocking tight end standpoint, 34-year-old Jim Kleinsasser has never been more valuable than he is right now. He'll help left tackle Charlie Johnson with the pass rush, and can still surprise teams in the passing game.
That's three starting-quality tight ends. Meanwhile, veteran Jeff Dugan is one of the hidden values on the team. He's probably the hardest working guy on the roster. He plays on all the special teams and can line up at fullback as well as tight end.
And one of the rookie free agents to turn heads this summer is tight end Allen Reisner, a big kid from Iowa who has caught just about everything thrown his way.
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