Friday, August 15, 2014

Vikings Preseason Week 1: The Take Aways

Last Friday, the Vikings played their first preseason game under a new coaching staff at a different stadium. Usually, I would say that the preseason is just a teaser. It has always seemed to me that the preseason is only good for getting a brief look at the rookies, and an excitement building venture for the regular season. For Vikings fans, this season is quite different. Whether it is a new staff, new stadium or an unusually deep draft class... I am pumped.

In their first preseason game, the Vikings beat the Raiders 10-6. It was a fun game; admittedly there was not a ton of big excitement, but there are some takeaways for Vikings fans. I would like to point out five things that the Vikings showed in their first game.

Takeaway #1: Matt Cassel Looked Sharp

This is the most obvious observation of the game. Cassel was only in for one drive, but he completed five of six passes that got the Vikings to the one-yard line. Matt Asiata pounded through the line for a Touchdown, and Cassel came out. It seems as though Cassel is looking to be the guy in Minnesota for this season. His passes looked crisp. He had pocket presence. He looked like a seasoned veteran, and a good option for the Vikings this year.

Takeaway #2: Cordarrelle Patterson Making Strides

When we drafted Patterson, we were thinking about his big play and Special Teams capabilities. During Friday's game, Patterson showed a vast improvement in his route running and catching mechanics. These strides did not go unnoticed to new Head Coach Mike Zimmer, and he even stepped on to the field to give Patterson a congratulatory slap on the butt. Now that I have seen this, I am starting to think that maybe the Vikings aren't getting just a vastly athletic player. I think the Vikings may be getting an every down, polished receiver with big play potential. I know everybody is expecting a breakout season, and Patterson isn't giving us any reason to doubt.

Takeaway #3: The Defense Appears to be Improving

The Raiders used three QB's and threw for 180 yards and no Touchdowns, and recently signed Safety Kurt Coleman managed to pick off rookie Quarterback Derek Carr. The Vikings defense managed to get two sacks, two tackles for loss, an interception and an impressive five passes defended. Rookie Anthony Barr managed to get half of a sack, but he didn't do much else. Second year Outside Linebacker Gerald Hodges led the way with five tackles and one tackle for loss. It is hard to get a good read on the defense, due to the lack of time against starters, but it appears that there is a new energy out there. Last year was a horrible year for the Vikings defense, and they appeared defeated most of the time. It doesn't appear that will be the case this year.

Takeaway #4: Teddy Bridgewater Looked Like a Rookie

Bridgewater went 6-13 for 48 yards. He displayed some raw ability such as arm strength, and a good spiral, but he also fumbled the ball and couldn't manage to have a higher completion percentage. He didn't throw any interceptions or TD's, so I assess his game as a standard rookie Quarterback performance. I know I am testing the patience of Vikings fans when I say this, but... Teddy Bridgewater may not be ready to start at all this year. I am not saying he is a bust. I am saying that he, like many other QB's, needs time to get acclimated to the game. We all need to remember that Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, so it is far more important to see how Bridgewater responds to his mistakes, rather than dwell on the fact that he makes them.

Takeaway #5: Adam Theilen is Going to Make the Team

Theilen not only had had a nice little fifteen yard reception, but he also showcased his speed as a punt returner. He returned three punts and one for over 20 yards. He got to showcase his versatility and speed. On a side note, I listened to his "Mic'd Up" recording on Vikings Network and he is a passionate player who is looking to make the players around him better. Though he would never say, I think that Theilen is a shoe-in to make the 53 man roster.

Those are the things that caught my attention about Friday's game. The Vikings play the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday. I am looking to see how Jerrick McKinnon responds to an even tougher defense. He was not overly impressive in his first game and needs to gain experience running between the tackles. I am looking for more use of Adam Theilen (in Special Teams and receiving). Lastly, I am looking for Bridgewater to make some more throws and get more game time experience.

Those are my thoughts. Until next time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tony Dungy vs. Michael Sam... Not At All

In the nation we live in, the media thrives on drama. Whether good or bad, we build up stories to make them as sad, inspirational, happy or controversial as possible. Why? The answer is simple... most humans have some modicum of empathy. I used to love watching the stories of American Idol contestants, so I could see what horrible situation they came from. It was inspirational to see that someone who has had so many lumps in their road could put them aside and succeed.
Every four years, I am also enthralled with the presidential debates. Everyone loves the opposing viewpoints, the ribbing and the promise of change. As each election roles around, we have to ask ourselves... Do I want change or for more of the same? We have to rationalize the risk and assess how we are handling the current situation. Do I morally agree with what is happening? Does the candidates social/economic values encourage the kind of situation I believe to be right? The change could be good or bad, but no matter what happens...

We can't stop watching.

In my opinion, these are the two situation are similar to the views of the Michael Sam story. For some, it is incredibly inspirational that Sam was brave enough to fight the media and preconceived notions to stand up for what he believes in. Yet for others, Sam is going against God and tradition and his influence will be negative for the NFL and those watching.

The latest log on the fire of this controversy is a recently recognized interview with the Tampa Tribune, a local newspaper. In this interview, Tony Dungy made a statement that revealed that he would not have drafted Michael Sam. It is well known that Tony Dungy is not a proponent of gay marriage, and has even won an award for how he purported his stance in 2007. His comments, however, did not have anything to do with his religious beliefs. Dungy further clarified that he wouldn't want to deal with the whole "thing". When he said "thing", he was referring to the Tebowesque media circus. Tony Dungy, as a former coach, knows the effect that a distraction of this size could have on the team, the fans and Sam himself.

Tony Dungy also insisted that he believes that Sam should have a chance in the NFL, and that a position in the NFL should not be based on anything aside from merit. He knows that if Sam succeeds he will be embraced, but if he fails he will not be... that is how it has always been.

In essence, Dungy is saying that he believes that Sam should have every chance to play in the NFL, but, because of the media circus that follows him, he personally would not want to deal with that as a coach. That's it...

Now the media is going crazy because Tony Dungy supported Michael Vick's return after he spent time in prison for dog fighting. Dungy took a personal interest in the rehabilitation of Michael Vick, and wanted to see him succeed. He would spend time with Vick, and personally attest to his rehabilitation. Dungy was an accountability partner and a great influence, and as a side note: Vick has stayed out of trouble.
Some ESPN(analysts) and news stations across the country are saying that Dungy is a hypocrite because he supported Vick and not Sam. Now some Dungy supporters would say that Vick is a different scenario(he is), because the positive effects of his talent outweighs the negative effects of the media circus. I don't think that is what Dungy meant. Tony Dungy was not Michael Vick's coach. He was not ever in a position to be responsible for the media circus surrounding Vick. The man was just interested in Vick's personal and professional development, and he helped.

In relation to Sam, Dungy, I believe, made it clear that Sam should have a chance in the NFL. Dungy did not say that no one should draft Sam. He, once again, said that he would not personally want to deal with the distraction. It is not the same situation as Vick, and should not be compared.

I realize that we all love drama and that the situation will be what it will be, but I encourage you to not take Tony Dungy's statement out of context to purport either side of this controversy. In doing so, you could potentially sully the image of a great man and great NFL mind. He simply offered his opinion. That's it.

Going forward, either enjoy or despise the fact that a gay man is now an NFL player, but don't jump on the media bandwagons that have destroyed so many images and careers. After all, Tebow has a winning record... but not a job. This kind of stuff destroys. Don't be a part of it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NFC North Landscape

The NFL season, for the Minnesota Vikings, begins in 52 days. The players report to training camp in Mankato on Thursday, and all the fans wait in agony to see how their team will fare. Since I am one of those agonized fans with way too much time on his hands... here goes my attempt to, as logically as possible, figure the Vikings chances within their division.

First we need to address the reality of the situation. Coming into this season, the Vikings are ranked last in their division. I would even venture to say that the general impression of the NFC North ranking hasn't changed. Most followers would have the Packers or the Bears winning the division, with the Lions or the Vikings coming in last place. Though the outcome may not be that cut-and-dried, the odds are in favor of a result in that neighborhood. Before I go into my thoughts on the subject, Let's take an individual look at the teams of the NFC North.

Green Bay Packers: Probable Division Winners

History: Last year, the Packers won the division with a record of 8-7-1. The Packers have won the division 6 times in the last 10 years(13 total since 1967). In the last 4 years, they have had one of the most productive offenses in the NFL. The Packers have also had an NFL MVP(Aaron Rodgers-2011), and a NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year(Eddie Lacy-2013) in the last 5 years. These award winners still play for the team.

Strengths: The Packers offense appears as though it is primed for a huge season. Aaron Rodgers will be healthy, and thus far appears as though he has made a full recovery. Rodgers is returning to a healthy and stacked receiving core. Jordy Nelson put up a career high in yards last year(1,314). Nelson is a big, strong receiver who somehow manages to catch everything. I imagine he will own the sidelines and red zone. I imagine that there will be a receiver competition between Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davonte Adams for the other sideline position. Returning staple slot and special teams star Randall Cobb will fill the slot role. At Tight End, Jermichael Finley is no longer with the Packers after sustaining a potentially career ending neck injury. However, the Packers drafted Richard Rogers, resigned Andrew Quarless and picked up undrafted rookie bad boy Colt Lyerla. There is nothing guaranteed with the TE position, but there is too much potential for me to project it as a weakness. With Aaron Rodgers back to his old self with a strong receiving core, it will open things up for new RB sensation Eddie Lacy. Lacy has proven that he is a strong running back who can be a real bear to tackle. I expect that he will be a staple with the packers for some time. Though fellow would-be second-year RB Jonathan Franklin sustained a career ending injury, the Packers still have options in the backfield. Dujuan Harris and James Starks have held the starting position previously with varying degrees of success. Last season, Starks showed that he a very useful change of pace back.

Weaknesses: The Offensive Line of the Green Bay Packers is looking a little thin. Bryan Bulaga will be back from his ACL injury, but Marshall Newhouse(Bengals) and Evan Deitrick-Smtih(Buccaneers) were lost to Free Agency. Bulaga will fill Newhouse's spot at RT, but the starting center will either be second year JC Tretter, or rookie Corey Linsley. If all the OL stays healthy, the Packers should have a decent OL. Losing a center and starting tackle leaves a little too much unknown for the OL to be considered a strength.
The Packers have not had a strong defense in some time. They have had aggressive and talented players who are pretty good at creating turnovers, but the defense allows a lot of yards. I have heard Dom Capers defense described as "High risk, high reward", but lately there has been less reward. The Packers, admittedly, do not need a strong defense. They can have success by simply overpowering teams with yards and points. They still drafted Haha Clinton-Dix to help improve the backfield, and signed free agent Julius Peppers to go opposite Clay Matthews. I believe there will be improvement, but unless defensive coordinator Dom Capers finds a way to cut opponents yards down... They won't go to the next level.

Chicago Bears: If the Packer's don't win it, the Bears are next in line.

History: The Bears have not won the division since 2006. When the Bears signed Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler to accompany Matt Forte, they expected big things. They later drafted Alshon Jeffery to compliment Brandon Marshall in the receiving core. Jeffery was injured for most of his first year in the NFL, but his sophomore season yielded huge results. Together, Alshon and Marshall have comprised one of the best air attacks in the league today. Last year, the Bears finished at 8-8 and once again the division title slipped away from them.

Strengths: As stated previously, the Bears have, arguably, the best receiving core in the league. Marshall and Jeffery accounted for 2,716 yards and 19 TD's. To put these numbers in perspective, Denver Broncos duo Demariyus Thomas and Eric Decker combined for 2,718 yards and 25 TD's. That is with Peyton Manning having a record setting year. Last year, the Broncos set scoring and yardage records on offense. Safe to say, the Bears would have led the league in receiving if Peyton Manning had not gone nuts. Both Bears receivers are tall, fast, good hands and excellent jumping abilities. The Bears receiving core is primed for another year, and another crucial part of that piece of the offense is TE Martellus Bennett. Last year, Bennett caught 65 passes for 759 yards and 5 TD's. A very good year for a TE. Standing 6'6", Bennett is a big athletic target for Cutler to find on the field. Next on the list of strengths, is Running Back Matt Forte. Last season, Forte managed to pick up 1,339 yards and 9 TD's on the ground. Also, Forte was active in the passing game. He gained 594 yards and 3 TD's in the air. Forte is obviously a strength. He gained almost 2,000 yards of total offense last season. I am also going to add to the Bears strengths; the offensive line. The Bears added Kyle Long, and their QB's were only sacked 30 times last year. With a big running game and passing game, the O-line speaks for itself.

Weaknesses: The first and most obvious weakness of the Bears is the defense. Last year, the running defense allowed 161.4 running yards per game; finishing last in the NFL. Their pass defense is not in as bad of a spot. The Bears defense finished 15th last year, allowing 233 yards per game in their pass defense. Though the Bears drafted Safety Kyle Fuller, and DT's Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton; they still have a lot to prove. I believe their defense could be better this year, but its a long way from where it was.
The second and last weakness I would like to point out is the Quarterback. Jay Cutler has a strong arm and good accuracy, but has failed to yield consistent winning results. I do believe that Jay Cutler does not make the best decisions, which leads him to throw plenty of interceptions. I also believe his attitude is not that of a leader. Conjecture aside, in Cutler's career, he has thrown 155 TD's and 112 INT's. His career passer rating is 84.6... He is simply not elite. He is not a horrible QB, but he is not par to his main competition Aaron Rodgers.
The Bears have a new head coach in Marc Trestman. This is not a weakness. Trestman is known for being an offensive mind, and specifically a solid QB coach. I think he will do well for the Bears and Jay Cutler, but the defensive portion remains to be seen.

Minnesota Vikings: At best, a Wild Card contender

History: Have won the most NFC North Division Titles(18). Last time the Vikings won the NFC North was in 2009. The Vikings last made the playoffs in 2012, when Adrian Peterson went berserk on opposing defenses and had a 2,000 yard rushing season. Last year, the Vikings finished with a record of 5-10-1.

Strengths: The obvious strength of the Minnesota Vikings is future Hall-Of-Fame running back, Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson is the youngest player to ever reach 10,000 yards, and he currently stands at 10,115 yards. Peterson has scored double-digit TD's every season in his career. This being said, AP does turn 30 this season. The clock is not in his favor, but he there has not been much, if any, slow in his production. He is still the best back in the league, regardless of what Lesean McCoy thinks.
Aside from a few bright spots in the individual talent of the team, the Vikings main potential strength is in their potential. The Vikings hired Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner to help both offense and defense. They drafted Teddy Bridgewater, and resigned Matt Cassel to secure the QB situation. The Vikings have a new team, and an unfamiliar stadium(TCF Bank Stadium). Nobody really knows what is in store for the Vikings. I hate to list this as a strength, but the Vikings are just hopeful that the new coaching staff can find a way to utilize the vast amounts of talent they already have.

Weaknesses: The Vikings Offensive Line had a mediocre year last year, especially Matt Kalil. Our leading receiver was Greg Jennings with 804 yards and 4 TD's. Their defense was close to last in the league, and their offense was horribly unproductive. Before Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner showed up, the Vikings were in shambles with quite a few bright spots. The hope is that the new coaching staff and Teddy Bridgewater will be able to turn all of this around.
The Vikings section is very succinct, but I believe that no one really has a good idea on what the Vikings will do. In short... The Vikings were bad last year. This year, people think they will be much better, but no one knows.

Detroit Lions: Also at best a Wild Card contender

History: The Lions are the least successful team in the NFC North. They have not won a division title in about 20 years. Last year, the Lions finished at 7-9. The Lions have been up-and-down for the past 5 years, but never finished better than 10-6. They have won one Wild Card, and lost in the first round.

Strengths: The Lions have a high powered offense, with the best receiver in the league(Calvin Johnson). They showed a lot of depth in the RB position, and in the off-season they signed Golden Tate(Seahawks) and drafted tight end Eric Ebron(North Carolina). The Lions recognized their need to compete with the high powered offenses of the Packers and Bears. On the other side of the ball, the Lions had a top-notch run defense. They allowed less than 100 yards per game on the ground, and DT Ndamukong Suh plans to keep it that way. The Lions brought in head coach Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz. This will bring on an heir of professionalism, and hopefully reduce their penalties, but I am uncertain of how good of a coach Caldwell is. Either way, it appears that the Lions intend for their strengths to get even stronger by adding another weapon on offense, and strengthening the middle of the field on defense.

Weaknesses: The Lions have a mediocre running game. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell helped the running game, but it is still not to a point where it could damage strong defenses. That being said, the Lions pass defense was not in good shape last season and not much has been done to fix the situation. They lost Louis Delmas to free agency(Dolphins), and did not draft a promising safety or CB to assist their pass defense. It appears that the weaknesses of the Lions will continue to plague them.
Matthew Stafford is a strong armed QB who throws for a lot of yards and a lot of TD's, but also a lot of interceptions. Former Rams, Giants and Cardinals QB Kurt Warner believes that Stafford has some of the worst judgment of any QB in the league. I believe that Stafford has a strong arm and Calvin Johnson. If I had that, I would have some level of success as a professional QB.
The Lions have a lot of potential, but have done little to address their weaknesses from last season. They have made some good changes with the coaching staff, but I believe they will struggle again this year.

That is my brief overview of the landscape in the NFC North. As you can see, there is a lot of unknown in this division. Three out of the four teams that make up the division have a new coaching staff. The Packers have made some small, but good moves in the offseason that I think will secure their spot at the top of the division yet again.

I think the Vikings and Bears will fight it out for number two in their division. The Bears are obviously the favorite, but I think if the Vikings can create turnovers(as they seem primed to do) the Bears could fall to the Vikings. I think these matchups will be strong offense versus strong defense... and forgive me for saying this... but I think the strong defense will be the Vikings. This is, admittedly, an optimistic view for the Vikings, but I believe that the Vikings have had too much talent to have been as bad as they were. In short, I believe in the coaching staff. I think they will tap into the teams potential.

I think that the Lions will probably finish around 7-9 again. I think that Jim Caldwell is going to try to create a high powered offense like he had in Indianapolis, but he is missing one thing... Peyton Manning. I don't think this kind of game will succeed in the NFC North, and the Lions don't have the personnel.

I don't think that three teams will come out of the NFC North this year, but I do think they will jump to being the second strongest division in the NFC, behind the NFC West. There you have it. I put the Vikings, the worst team in the division last year, as second or third this year. I don't have much factual evidence to back this up... just conjecture based on the young talent the Vikings have, and the resumes of the new coaching staff. I am an optimist, but I don't think it is that crazy.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Female Officials: Havoc or Harmony?

Sarah Thomas aims to be the first permanent female official in the NFL. Though she may not have beaten out Shannon Eastin to be the first woman referee to officiate an NFL game, Thomas would be the first legitimate female official in the NFL.

Thomas may be involved in a sport in which she did not play, but this does not mean that she is new to a competitive and athletic environment. After being a two-sport athlete in high school, Thomas attended University of Mobile(Alabama) on a basketball scholarship. Upon graduating, and still wanting to be involved in athletics, Thomas joined her church's men's league. It wasn't until 1996 that she finally got her first taste of officiating. For such an illustrious career, her beginnings were really quite random. Thomas just happened to have accompanied her brother to a Gulf Coast Football Officials meeting in 1996. The meeting sparked her interest, and she soon began refereeing. By 1999, Sarah Thomas began officiating for high school games. At one point, Thomas almost gave up officiating to focus on family/career, but was noticed by scouts and contacted by Gerald Austin. Austin, a coordinator for Conference USA(college athletic conference), has always been impressed by Thomas. Since Austin invited her to an officiating camp, Thomas has continued to work her way up the ladder. She is the first female official to officiate in a college bowl game, has refereed in the United Football League(including a championship game) and is part of the NFL Officials Development Program.

Becoming part of the NFL's development program, automatically put's Thomas's name on the shortlist of NFL ready referees to be called up to the National Football League's officiating crew. She has already worked with the Saints' and Browns' training camps, and Browns' coach Mike Pettine was very impressed with her and said:

"If she's efficient and good at what she does, I have no issues with it," Pettine said. "I think the best compliment somebody paid to her was when someone said, 'What did you think of the female official?' And they said, 'There's a female official out here?' I thought she was on point."

So now that you have the facts on Sarah Thomas... will she create havoc or harmony?

The answer is, of course, unkown, but I think there are a few things to consider when talking about a female officiating in the NFL.

Physical Durability:
This subject is posed more as a question. Can a woman take the physical punishment that a man can? Women may not be as naturally muscular as men, but does that mean that women can't take what the NFL can dish out? Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit officiated until he was 63 years old. If an old man can officiate, why wouldn't a 41 year old, physically fit woman be able too? Though this subject is shrouded in mystery to me, I believe that a fit woman could officiate a NFL game.

The second question in this subject line: does it even matter? I would suggest that physical durability is not as big of an issue as some may suggest. It is not extremely common for referees to be touched in an NFL play, let alone take an injury due to a hit. Last season, including playoffs, there was not a single listed injury to a NFL official. Though it may seem like being around a bunch of 180-330 pound men hitting each other is dangerous, for a professional referee, it is not that dangerous. NFL officials are trained to move around on the field, so they can stay out of harms way. The potential for danger is always there, but I would think that Sarah Thomas knows how to position herself on the field, especially by this point in her career. I don't consider physical durability to be an issue for Thomas.

Gender differences:
Women have a greater ability to multitask than men do, and also have a greater tendency to be more observant than men. I have noticed this to be true. Whenever I give my fiance directions, I have to use landmarks. I tell her there is a shopping mall to the right, or a fire hydrant next to a rope swing. This makes so much more sense in her brain than highway 43. Women have a stronger ability to notice the little things while still focusing on the main objective. Corner back Joe Haden definitely took notice of this powerful observance in the Brown's mini-camp, he said, "She was calling everything!" How do the players react to this?

This brings me to the final point to consider.

Acceptance in the NFL:
Will professional players respect a female referee? I think they will. In an article in the Star Tribune, Tom Withers comments on how well Thomas manages to keep her gender under the radar. It seems that the comments of most players on the field, are more-so directed to figuring out if Thomas is a woman, rather than questioning her officiating skills. Players do notice that she is a woman, but you could never tell by how she carries herself. Bottom line... Sarah Thomas is a professional referee. She is trained in her profession, and has had a great amount of success. Let's not forget that this is a league that allowed the "replacement referees" to officiate almost half of an NFL season. I think any football fan would attest, that this was a tough time for the National Football League. If the players and fans of the NFL can put up with the replacements, than we should be welcoming of professional. Regardless if she is a woman or a man.

So, the big question is, will Thomas create harmony or havoc?

My opinion: havoc. With a heightened ability to observe, we might actually have a fair game called! The Desean Jackson's and James Harrison's of the league will finally have their dirty play called consistently. The NFL as we know it will collapse under a referee who has the power to call a fair game!

Granted, there is a "let them play" aspect to being a ref, as well as calling a fair game aspect. We all know that it is a fine line to walk, and that our current refs do a very good job. I would wager that Thomas won't shake up the situation too much. The players just need to get used to respecting a female official in a male dominated profession. I would say there is too much fuss over a woman official. That's just my opinion.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vikings Position Focus: Quarterback

The quarterback... the position that has plagued the Vikings ever since Daunte Culpepper decided to have a rapid decline after the 2004 NFL season. As we all know, the Vikings had one brief flash of greatness in Brett Favre's first season with the team(2009), but the Vikings have not had a legitimate prospect for a franchise QB since Culpepper quit producing.

The Vikings have flirted with other QB prospects like John David Booty, Tyler Thigpen and Tavaris Jackson. Tavaris Jackson was the only serious candidate for a franchise quarterback out of the three mentioned. The Vikings spent a 2nd round pick on Jackson in the 2006 NFL draft, and the Vikes tried to ease him into the starting role. He was given a lot of time and a lot of chances to prove himself, but it was to no avail. Even though the Vikings Brought in veterans like Brad Johnson, Gus Ferotte and Brett Favre to buy Jackson some time, Minnesota had given up on Jackson. After the 2010 season, the Vikes decided to not resign Jackson and he is now a career back-up QB. This is the role to which he has always belonged.

Then in 2011, entering the draft everyone knew the Vikings needed to draft a legitimate quarterback prospect. Quarterbacks were flying off the board in the first round of the draft... Cam Newton... Jake Locker... Blaine Gabbert. Then, finally, pick 12 came. The Vikings drafted Florida State University's Christian Ponder. There were two different classes of reactions: The Masses and the Analysts.

The Masses: Huh? Who is Christian Ponder?

The Analysts(Anyone who seriously follows the draft): Good Pick! He was drafted a little early, but he has all the skills to run the west coast offense and he is a smart QB with all the intangibles.

Mike Mayoc was very excited about the Ponder pick. He loved what he saw on tape, and his only concern was Ponder's injuries to his throwing arm.

John Gruden loved the pick. He thought that Ponder was a QB who was a perfect fit for the Vikings.

Christian Ponder is a player whose draft stock shot up during the off-season. He had a very average college career, but he played well in the senior bowl(winning the MVP), had an excellent combine and drove the ball with accuracy at his pro-day. Ponder showed his physical ability to move and create time with his feet while looking down field, and a lot of scouts thought that he could be the real deal. This launched Ponder from being considered a mid to late 2nd round pick, to being a late 1st round or maybe an early 2nd round pick. Everyone thought that Ponder was drafted a little high, but ultimately most people didn't think that the Vikings made a mistake taking a QB early. However, it turned out to be a big mistake taking Ponder that early. The next QB on the Vikings list was the former TCU, and now Cincinnati Bengals quarterback: Andy Dalton. The Vikings visited with Andy Dalton and were very impressed with him, but Frazier and company decided early on that Ponder was their guy(Click on Andy's name for some more info on that whole process). Dalton is on his way to a successful career, and Ponder is on his way to a career back-up role or out of the league.

Ponder has, at times, showed a lot of potential, and, at times, was replaced by Joe Webb, Matt Cassel and briefly Josh Freeman. What was Ponder's Problem?

As Rick Spielman would attest, the problem with QB Christian Ponder has never really been physical. Ponder seems to lack confidence in himself, as well as the leadership ability to go out and play well no matter what happened on the previous drive. He get's in his own head. The NFL has seen this happen to a lot of NFL players, especially Quarterbacks and Kickers. I automatically think of Ryan Leaf. Leaf and Peyton Manning competed heavily to be the number one pick in the 1998 NFL draft. Manning was taken first, and will be a HOF'er... whereas Leaf was taken second, and is in prison on drug charges. Leaf had the stronger arm and, supposedly, greater potential. So what went wrong? To be a quarterback in the NFL, you have to have the "It Factor". You need to be able to forget the mistakes you made on the previous drive, and go out knowing you won't make them again. There needs to be a clutch factor that keeps you cool in the 4th quarter. Playing the quarterback position is not just physical. It is also not just being a smart football player. It oozes confidence. The kind of confidence that your teammates recognize and adhere to.

Though Ponder is still on the roster, I just don't think he has the "It Factor".

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Vikings selected Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is kind of the opposite case of Christian Ponder. Teddy has had an amazing college career, but his stock plummeted in the pre-draft exercises due to poor accuracy and arm strength at his pro-day. This scared off many potential suitors, but the Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, Head Coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman have met with the QB multiple times. They have worked out Bridgewater multiple times, and they were extremely impressed with him. After the draft, Mike Zimmer and Spielman claimed that Bridgewater was their guy all along. Bridgewater has, thus far, had an up-and-down off-Season through OTA's, but mostly up. There is no pressure for Bridgewater to start in his first year, so he has plenty of time to learn the professional game. Teddy is the most polished quarterback drafted this year. He has great footwork, a quick drop, a very quick release and he is very accurate. Bridgewater needs to do all he can to continue to build his arm-strength and deep accuracy, but the Vikings are very confident that he will come along nicely.

Matt Cassel, the reason Teddy has no pressure to start right away, was resigned this Off-Season to a 2 year, 10 million dollar deal. Cassel, who started his career as a 7th round draft pick to back up the future Hall of Famer: Tom Brady. Lucky for Cassel, Brady went down in the 2008 season with a torn ACL. This paved the way for Cassel to play the whole season, and walk his way into a very nice contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. His best year with the Chiefs came in 2010, when he threw for 3116 yards, 27 TD's and only 7 Interceptions. He led the Chiefs to the playoffs, and then... he had an injury filled decline. The Chiefs elected to not resign Cassel and he would go on to be picked up by the Vikings last year. Cassel eventually took the starting spot, and played decently. The Vikes decided to resign him in the off-season. Cassel his a placeholder... a safety net while the Vikings see what they have in Bridgewater.

According to the OTA reports: Bridgewater has been solid yet obviously learning, Cassel has been pretty good but pretty much what we saw last year, and Ponder has been inconsistent(surprise surprise...).

Though the Vikings are playing it cool, everyone know that Ponder is not going to be the Vikings starter. I imagine that Cassel will start for the majority of the season, but Bridgewater will take over later.

This is the last "Vikings Position Focus" blog for the season. Overall, the Vikings are just a better team than last year. They are young and have a lot to prove, but the coaching and players have more potential and talent than last year. Mike Zimmer has incorporated a new diet and workout system(number 7), that has already shed the fat and has added muscle. This team will be younger, leaner and better coached. Keep your ideas for vast improvement realistic, but there is no reason to think that they won't improve.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vikings Position Focus: Running Back

For the last 8 years, the Vikings have not had any question at the running back position. Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league, and I don't think much will change in that regard. Though Lesean McCoy touts himself as the best RB in the league, I think everyone else would agree that AP is still the reigning king.

There has been a lot of talk this past off-season, about Peterson's durability. This last season, he rushed for the second lowest amount of yards in his career and he tied his low number for touchdowns. Last season was also the second lowest average in yards per carry, in his career. I don't think people are considering all the facts...

Facts like.... Adrian Peterson still managed to run for 1266 yards in 14 games. This past season was tied for Peterson's low number for touchdowns, but his low number is 10. AP did have a low year in the yards per carry statistic, but the number was 4.5 YPC. Peterson was injured for the last two games of the season last year. Averaging 90.4 YPG(2nd in the league), add on 180.8 yards for the two games that AP missed, and he finishes with 1446 yards and probably 11 or 12 TD's. I realize that the last bit was speculation, but there has been serious talk of AP "slowing down", when in reality... he just didn't rush for 2,000 yards again.

When looking at Peterson's stats last year, you also have to consider the poor play of the left side of the offensive line and also the stacked boxes. Defensive coordinators take notice when an RB runs for 2,000 yards and they adjust appropriately to remedy the situation(which is made easier by a weak passing game). Aaron Rodgers threw for 45 TD's and only 6 interceptions in 2011, the next year he threw for 39 TD's and 8 interceptions. Though the following season was still very impressive, it was not the best in the league. I wouldn't consider Aaron Rodgers to be slowing down... neither would I consider Adrian Peterson to be slowing down. I recognize that the positions are different, but I just want there to be some legitimate evidence of AP slowing down before everyone starts saying he is "Over-the-hill".

I may have been on a soap box, but back the Vikings RB situation.

The Vikings don't have to worry about who is starting, but with Toby Gerhart going to the Jaguars(best wishes!) the number two RB spot is now open.

Most poised to take the position is 3rd year RB, Matt Asiata. Asiata got the nod last year when Peterson and Gerhart were down with injuries, and he took advantage! In his first game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he got 30 attempts and only rushed for 51 yards... however he showed to be effective in the red zone, scoring 3 touchdowns. The next game, against the Detroit Lions, Asiata ran for 115 yards on only 14 attempts, but no TD's. Asiata is young and still has a lot too prove, but he enters the season as the favorite for the back-up role.

Next in line, is rookie Jerrick McKinnon. The young RB from Georgia Southern was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 NFL draft. This is a versatile young RB, that has played QB, RB and even lined up in the slot as a receiver. Norv Turner must be excited to get his hands on this kind of change of pace back, and in OTA's the great Adrian Peterson praised young McKinnon's elusiveness. There is a lot of unknown about McKinnon, but the potential is there.

Lastly I will look at the previously undrafted Zach Line. Line filled in for Felton quite nicely last year at the full-back position. Line is listed as a FB on the roster, but he does bare a lot of similarities to the predecessor to the position, Toby Gerhart. Line has good hands, and showed some elusiveness and ability to break tackles. He could be a good option to fill the role, but the odds aren't greatly in his favor. The Vikings wouldn't have taken a RB so high in the draft if they thought that they already had the answer in their existing roster.

Other RB's that get consideration are: Joe Banyard and Bradley Randle. These two are long-shots for sure, but they are on the roster and therefore... in the mix. Who knows what Turner and Zimmer will see during training camp.

The Vikings are known for their running game, and it will change a little this year. Turner has already commented on getting the Vikings RB's more involved in the passing game, so much of who get's the number 2 role will depend on their hands and ability to make plays in space. I am excited for more usage from our backfield!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vikings Position Focus: Wide Receiver

One of my main complaints about the Vikings last year was, "They have too much talent to be playing so poorly." On defense, I would blame the coaching, and on offense I would blame the QB. I realize that there is more to a whole team under achieving than the fault of a coaching staff and a single player, but I would still venture to say that these two issues were at the root of the problem.

Luckily... we have addressed them both.

This is the 5th blog of the "Vikings Position Focus" series, and right now we are focusing on Vikings Wide Receivers. The Vikings come into this season having only lost one receiver in the off-season(Joe Webb). Though there are no guarantees in this game, the almost certain receivers to make the roster are Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. Last year the Vikings only took 5 wide receivers on their roster, so this leaves one spot available.

The Vikings didn't draft any receivers, they did sign a couple of undrafted free agents, so I would say the front-runner to make this team is WR Adam Theilen. Theilen was an undrafted free agent last year, who came out of Minnesota State University Mankato. Though he spent all of last year on the practice squad, Theilen was in the final discussions to make the 53-man roster. I would say it was between Webb, Theilen and fellow Mankato teammate Rodney Smith. Theilen is off to a hot start in the team organized activities(OTA's), and has showed, thus far, to be Teddy Bridgewater's favorite target. Bridgewater may not be set to be the starter just yet, but it doesn't hurt Theilen's chances to be in good rhythm with him. Theilen is a 6'2" 195lb WR with sneaky fast speed. He is not the most physical wide receiver, but he has good hands and is a good "go-to" guy for a QB.

Next on the list of 53-man roster hopefuls is Theilen's college counter-part, Rodney Smith. This WR is more of the typical Sideline receiver. Standing 6'4" 219lbs, Smith is more of the big-bodied, "Go up and get it" receiver. Smith is not the fastest receiver in the world, but has decent hands and a good physical style of play. Smith did manage to get into 4 games last year, namely on special teams, but never-the-less he was called up to the Vikings roster. I see Smith as a secondary fit for a Norv Turner offense. Norv Turner likes fast receivers who can stretch the field, not only for the big play capability, but also to open up the middle of the field. Though Smith is definitely a contender for the spot, I think Theilen has the edge.

The next likely receiver to give the two above a run for their money is undrafted Northwestern rookie, Kain Colter. Colter shows a versatility that the other receivers lack. In college, Kain played quarterback, running back and receiver. He is a quick receiver, who is a good option for QB's, but we have not seen much from Colter yet. The Vikings did give him the biggest signing bonus of all of the undrafted rookies this year, so there is a small display of confidence. Whether he makes the final roster or not, I would expect him to be on the practice squad.

Earlier, I made the statement that the Vikings were too talented to play as poorly as they did last year. I believe this whole-heartedly. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson; Peterson takes a ton of pressure off of the receivers because 8-10 players are stacked in the box to slow AP down. The Vikings have also made some good moves in the past two years to help their passing game...

The Vikings brought in Packers veteran WR Greg Jennings. Jennings is the second all-time leading touchdown receiver in Packers franchise history. He is an elusive possession receiver who plays with intensity. He has had health issues in the past, but last year he was the Vikings leading receiver with 804 yards and 4 TD's. With a revamped passing game, I would hope Jennings will get closer to the 1,000 yard mark this year.

Breakout Season Coming Up! Second year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson caught fire at the end of last season. He went from purely a special teams expert, to an explosive offensive weapon that catapulted his name into the Rookie of the Year consideration. This is an offensive area where the coaching staff can take the blame. Patterson was horribly underused last year. This is not a mistake the Vikings will make twice. Cordarrelle will be a fun toy for Norv Turner. With Josh Gordon like speed and even better acceleration and elusiveness.... Patterson could have a huge year! Needless to say... I am excited to see how this year unfolds for the flash.

I don't know why the Vikings resigned Jerome Simpson... This is a receiver who has had multiple off-field issues, and his production doesn't warrant keeping him around. I would even venture to say that 3rd year player Jarius Wright would do better than Simpson if given the opportunity. Simpson attained his recognition from the famous flip into the end zone when he played with the Bengals. Jarius Wright, however, claimed some recognition of his own by burning cocky Seattle CB Richard Sherman for a touchdown. I may be on a soap box, but I think Wright has more potential and Simpson isn't worth the headache.

I am very excited about our wide receiving core this year because I think the Vikings might actually tap into all the potential on their squad. Ultimately, because we didn't draft a WR, I am glad we have Simpson on the team(after his suspension). He is a good receiver to have as a safety net in case of injury. Let's hear it for a potential better year in the passing game!

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