Minnesota Vikings: Breaking Down the 8-Man Practice Squad
After the much-too-hyped 2012 waiver period, the Vikings have made one waiver claim, versatile lineman Mark Asper. With the passing of the waiver deadline, however, comes the possibility of signing another Jake Delhomme, Jason Peters or James Harrison to the practice squad.
While practice squad players rarely become All-Pro stars, the development of players on the practice squad can end up providing excellent depth.
In recent history, the players who have evolved into solid backups include Matt Asiata, Allen Reisner, Marcus Sherels, Chris DeGeare and potential Week 1 starter Stephen Burton.
The practice squad consists largely of developmental players, and no player on the practice squad can have more than one "vested" season—a season where they were on an active roster for more than six games—and no player can be on a practice squad for three years.
This young group of players can be signed at any time by any team, although they will typically be prospects for their own team instead of others.
What follows is a small breakdown of every practice squad player that the Vikings have on their roster entering the 2012 season.
WR Tori Gurley
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The undrafted free agent earned a practice squad spot, and was offered a roster spot by the Vikings in 2011. Gurley turned down the roster spot in order to earn money while the Packers were on their playoff run and also in hopes to make the Packers squad proper.
That didn't pan out, and he was let go during the final wave of cuts last Friday.
The Vikings didn't choose to claim him through waivers, and signed him to the practice squad after the waiver deadline had passed.
Gurley is best known for his height—a tall 6'4"—and his reliable hands. He didn't miss a single ball targeted to him in the preseason or drop any passes in his final year in college.
Unfortunately for him, high expectations and a strong early training camp didn't make up for what was perceived to be inconsistent play later on in the offseason. He did, however, have several excellent catches on poorly thrown passes during practices.
During the preseason games, he largely ran the same deep routes Jordy Nelson had run in 2011, but was rarely targeted by the weak-armed and oft-hurried Graham Harrell. He only had three catches in the preseason, but nearly led the Packers in yards per catch at 25.
His height and hands make him a reliable red-zone target and an intriguing option at split end, but his speed is nearly average. While he outruns his combine time of 4.56 with his functional speed on the field, he still doesn't consistently speed past faster cornerbacks.
He's physical and aggressive; he throws his 230 pounds around effectively, although he could use technique work with his hands on the release and with blocking.
Gurley is generally a very solid route-runner now, but scouts noticed that in South Carolina he took a few routes off when he wasn't targeted, and generally rounded off at the breaks.
He still has a lot to learn before he's fully capable at the next level, but he could prove to be a solid addition for the Vikings.
RB Jordan Todman
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Jordan Todman is a little better known to Vikings fans than Tori Gurley, and his potential is very intriguing.
While splitting carries with Andre Dixon at UConn, he still managed 616 carries for 3,179 yards in the Big East. His game-breaking speed allowed him to excel at the college level, but his lack of versatility has created questions about his value as an NFL running back and he dropped to the sixth round of the 2011 draft.
Todman's 5'9", 209-pound frame isn't suited for running between the tackles or as an effective pass blocker. He still doesn't have the instincts for effective protection, either, which limits his upside as an every down back.
He doesn't quite have the leg strength or the drive to effectively break tackles or gain extra yards after contact, and he might never gain that sort of muscle.
But that doesn't mean he doesn't have utility. He's run faster than his official combine time of 4.40 and shows it on the field.
An excellent edge rusher, Todman has fantastic vision—better than most NFL running backs—and can use his agility to create space when need be. He has a fantastic jump cut, and his burst gives him the ability to maintain movement when avoiding pressure.
He is great at eluding defenders and his 76-yard run in the preseason is an excellent example. He is well known for his ability to generate yards before contact.
His speed might have made him an excellent receiving option, but he only has pass-catching experience on screen plays and swing routes—he doesn't have experience running a receiver route proper. His small hands also give coaches hesitation about expanding any duties he has as a pass-catcher.
When Todman lines up in the backfield, defenses know what they'll get from him. And while he's explosive, he's a very boom-bust runner. He averaged four yards per carry when excluding his 76-yard burst against the Texans. The feast-or-famine nature of his carries has limited his potential in the NFL, but he is also a recognizable game-changer.
DT Chase Baker
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Chase Baker is an undrafted free agent from Boise State and played on the same line as first round pick Shea McClellin.
The Vikings liked him more than most UDFAs and gave Baker the largest bonus of any of their incoming rookie free agents—$10,000. Given that there's a limited pool that teams can use to sign free agents ($76,000), this shows quite a commitment to Baker. Not many teams offered higher bonuses to individual players.
The Boise State prospect sits low to the ground, and has a thick lower body. He uses this to drive forward and can generate leverage from his vantage point.
Unfortunately, he is a little undersized at 6'1", 290 pounds, and he could stand to gain 20 pounds to really play the nose tackle position he's best suited for.
He plays with good technique, and keeps his hands moving, but didn't often get penetration because he doesn't display high functional field strength.
Baker does tend to drive well, and keeps his feet moving throughout the play. Despite his youth and relatively low level of competition at BSU, he also has a variety of moves that he uses to grab penetration or shed blockers.
His footwork might be a bit of a weakness, but this may not be what he focuses on as the league year progresses—he needs to find ways to prevent from getting swallowed up; something that occurred both in camps and in games.
Baker's greatest asset to that end is his extremely quick first step (even for NFL linemen) and good lateral movement. If he can find ways to reduce his pad level while preserving that initial burst, Baker will find himself in a much more enviable position, especially given his above-average instincts against the run.
There's a good chance he simply doesn't have the strength to play the position, and his 22 bench reps might lead you to that conclusion. While they don't test some of the more important muscle groups—namely, his strength from below the hips—his score is still too low for defensive linemen nevertheless, and he was beaten by several cornerbacks at the combine.
The Vikings see a lot in the young man, and perhaps consistent strength work, along with adding weight, will make him an effective depth option for years to come. Baker certainly has more skill than many other defensive linemen on practice squads in the NFL.
WR Chris Summers
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It seems the Vikings have met their yearly quota of ex-Chicago Bears receivers, although this time he didn't last through camp.
Chris Summers should remind fans of another Big South conference product, Jerome Simpson. In fact, Summers broke a number of the conference records that Jerome set, using much the same skill set as him.
At Liberty, Summers produced 92.2 yards per game his senior year and even more his junior year—108.1. Over those two years, he grabbed 22 touchdowns and his last game was a 10-catch, 240-yard spectacle.
Summers (4.52) isn't as fast as Simpson, but he is taller by about two inches at 6'4½". This height, in addition to his ability to catch in traffic, allowed him to break some of Simpson's records in the Big South, including season receiving yards (1,081), receiving yards per game, number of 200-yard receiving games (two), number of three-touchdown games (three) and number of 1,000-yard receiving seasons (two).
Beyond that, he set a few of his own, including the 100-yard receiving games mark (six), most receiving yards in a game (240), single-game receptions (15) and places second to Simpson in single-season touchdown receptions (15) and receiving yards per catch (15.8).
It's not just his prolific college production that stands out, either. What he lacks in initial burst and overall agility, he makes up for in deep speed and effort. He has refined his technique every year he's been in the game, despite already being a top receiver in his conference.
Like Simpson, Summers has fantastic body control and good reflexes in reaction to a ball in the air, and exhibits great focus. He can land fluidly, and his control extends to his ability to land in-bounds—critical for a red-zone target.
The young Liberty alum is a very physical player, as well. He can make tough catches in traffic and plays opposing defensive backs aggressively. He'll want to build on his frame a little bit to do this more effectively against NFL-level corners, but he knows how to be assertive.
He can block well, too, which is rare for a prototypical deep threat. He'll finish the play on his block in order to break open a runner, even downfield.
He does have some of Simpson's foibles, too. He's a rough route runner who needs to show more exploding out of breaks and performing the full route tree. They share an affinity for the deep slant, but NFL-ready receivers need to do more. Simpson makes up for this in part with good intuition against soft coverage, but it remains to be seen if Summers can do the same.
He also needs to do some work high-pointing the ball when it is in the air, but it is one of his only areas of improvement in the catch department. Further, he's not fantastic for yards after the catch, what with relatively limited agility and acceleration, as well as a dearth of moves with the ball in his hands.
OL Tyler Holmes
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Tyler Holmes was a standout lineman at Tulsa, and did very well both as a pass protector and run blocker.
While it may not seem like much of an accomplishment to make the practice squad, Holmes' inclusion is a bit of a surprise, as he was added to the UDFA class a little later than some. The Vikings waived wide receiver Kris Adams and added Tyler Holmes in mid-May.
Holmes is a sound run-blocker, who pushed out quickly from the snap in his days in college. He had a good first step and could get around defenders to get to the next level. His burst off the snap is his best asset, and he extends his arms well to gain leverage.
In the passing game, he's not as adept, but was still a good protector in college. He could keep his head on a swivel and blocked well in space. He can create proper leverage and maintains good balance on the block.
At 6'4", 301 pounds, he may want to gain some weight to add strength, as he was overwhelmed by strong bull-rushers at times.
Unfortunately his play at camp didn't match his college play, although he was a significantly better run blocker than as a pass blocker.
It's good he's with the Vikings because his skill set is much better suited to zone schemes; he can pick up the assignment in his zone very well with good instincts, but does not possess the ability to change direction quickly, and doesn't always push through defenders.
At training camp, he didn't crack the second team, but did outperform them in pass protection in the preseason (against worse competition).
Holmes has had the unique problem of being extremely good in drills against dummies and coaches but poor in one-on-ones, team drills and preseason games. He sits low to the ground, has quick feet, consistently drives and has strong hands.
Unfortunately, he found himself beat one-on-one drills fairly often (not as often as second-string linemen Austin Pasztor or Kevin Murphy), but his fundamental skills are there.
What was most worrisome is that his college skills haven't seemed to translate into play with professionals. In games, he's seemed a bit slow off the snap and his communication with the line (which is admittedly a different set of people) is not up to speed. He hasn't displayed the strengths he had in college, and that has been an issue.
Nevertheless, the potential is here, he just has to develop it.
CB Bobby Felder
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Bobby Felder has had an up and down time with the Vikings at training camp and in the preseason, but has an intriguing pedigree: he is only three years removed from Lardarius Webb's time at Nicholls State, and they still contact each other fairly often.
Felder made a strong showing early in camp, but appeared to fade away as the offseason wore on, with an impact play here or there.
His time was still productive, however, and he grabbed several interceptions in team drills, seven-on-seven drills and one-on-one drills. He's done a decent job staying with receivers and tackled well in drills. While he's had no particular deficiency in a particular part of his game, his overall skill hasn't given him the ability to crack regular third team practices.
He will make mistakes every so often, but nothing too glaring; he's just technically behind in a lot of areas than other cornerbacks. He had one of the most mistake-free performances in camp, actually.
Felder is a very physical cornerback who uses his 5'11", 195-pound body to reroute receivers and jam them at the line. He plays press coverage well, but perhaps gambles a bit too often.
At Nicholls State this wasn't much of a problem, as he was able to use his soft hands and excellent body control to make sure he could come down with the interception—he had five his senior year. He tracks the ball well in the air, and showcased his focus in camp with a couple of circus catches.
He lacks some agility, but his top line speed is OK—he is projected to have around a 4.5 40-yard dash. He may not be able to rely on the physical advantage he had in the FCS to generate those turnovers (his vertical leap is an average 34.5 inches), so he will need to play as a cover receiver to close windows more than anything else in order to succeed in the NFL.
While not necessarily raw, he is a little behind in a lot of aspects of the game. If he can grow in those areas, he might have a big impact on the game, but for now will have to spend time off the active roster.
OT Kevin Murphy
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Kevin Murphy had one of the worst training camps and offseasons for Vikings rookies, but still possesses intriguing potential.
Relatively athletic for a lineman, Murphy has above-average agility and decent footwork. His 7.71 3-Cone time exceeds most of his peers in the 2012 rookie offensive linemen class, as does his 4.76 20-yard shuttle.
This has translated to quick feet on the field and he was a great pass protector for Harvard, although did not face an elite level of competition. He moved well laterally and displayed good field awareness while also doing a good job picking up assignments.
His height (6'7") and weight (303 pounds) have attracted the interest of several NFL teams, and he spent time with the 49ers while also entertaining interest from the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons.
After being signed and cut several times from different teams (including the Vikings, who, including this most recent round of cuts, have waived him twice), Murphy was able to practice with the Vikings squad throughout minicamps and training camp.
In the run blocking game, he did as well for the Vikings as he did for Harvard, getting to his assignment nearly every time, but not always completing the block. His strength is there, and adequate for a lineman, but he doesn't always sustain the block or will make a technical error.
Still, he's not much of a liability as a run blocker. His pass blocking worried many fans, however. In the preseason, Murphy was beaten consistently by speed rushers from the edge, and had this problem in one-on-one drills in camp.
He doesn't uncoil quickly or have a quick enough first step to allow himself the type of mental errors or misreads to allow edge rushers that opportunity and still recover in time. With good arm length, he should have some advantage over the rushers moving outside, but he doesn't lock down in enough time to use this advantage.
Murphy also has issues maintaining stiffness when necessary and bends his waist too often and his knees not enough. While he wasn't embarrassed as much by bull rushers in the preseason, but it's a distinct possibility that he's vulnerable to them as well.
His upside as a pass blocker is higher for speed rushers than bull rushers, largely because he has quicker feet and can develop better footwork, but as a developmental prospect who really only had significant time for his last two years in college, Murphy could still become a solid backup on depth charts in the future.
He has many of the fundamental skills and the physical frame to perform at the next level, but he's very clearly raw and needs time before he's ready.
DE Ernest Owusu
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Ernest Owusu played a little out of position at Cal as an outside linebacker, and projected more as a 4-3 defensive end, but also played across the line in single-gap 1-technique snaps, 0-technique nose tackle snaps and 3-4 defensive end snaps.
Owusu is strong, even for a defensive lineman. At an ideal size for a Vikings defensive end (6'4", 275 lbs), he has the speed (4.72 40, 7.2 3-Cone, 4.50 20-yard shuttle) to do well at an NFL level, although his strength is what stands out—he benched 39 reps at his pro day, which would have been the largest amount of reps for a pass rusher (four more than the next highest, Nick Perry), and the second highest of all defensive linemen. Only DT Dontarie Poe and C David Molk had more bench press reps.
At Cal, he registered 30 tackles, seven for loss, and 4.5 sacks and displayed the technical skills and raw talent to have good tape, particularly in his game against Oregon, who run a fast, run-oriented offense. His production is a lot lower than other prospects, but still solid. It's this production that discouraged a combine invite or draft consideration.
Despite being a good pass rusher, he's much better as a run-stopper who has displayed the ability to set the edge, maintain patience and read the direction and development of the run play.
In a classic Tampa-2 system, that would mean he generally play as a weakside defensive end. In the Vikings defensive system, this would actually generally place him as the right defensive end. Because Vikings ends play in a system that requires they be a bit more well-rounded, the Vikings may want to see him develop in both aspects of his game before promoting him to the roster.
His rotation along the line is an asset as well. The Vikings traditionally rotate their defensive ends inside for the first years of their development (Everson Griffen, D'Aundre Reed and Brian Robison have all spent time playing as nose tackles in nickel packages). The fact that he's a capable linebacker gives him an additional dynamic that should intrigue teams, although he will spend much more time developing as a defensive lineman.
With the Vikings, he's been impressive for an undrafted prospect and was picked up by the Browns on waivers, but was later released. He didn't have an extraordinary amount of production in his preseason games, but consistently provided pressure.
Owusu had a much better camp, though, and did particularly well in one-on-one drills. While he wasn't always able to maintain the rush outside, he could step in quickly to provide a change of direction. He was best as a bull-rusher and possess the ability to push around offensive linemen.
There aren't many reports of his play against the run, although he didn't really rack up any tackles in the preseason games. He did well enough at Cal shedding blocks, but really needs to work on this at the next level. Some of this is simply from having to transition from an outside linebacker to a defensive end, so he has the potential to develop quickly.
Right now he has more upside than most practice squad invitees, and the Vikings may want to consider his addition as a bit of a coup.