Minnesota Vikings OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
There was a time when most NFL players would spend their offseasons working insurance or real estate jobs. They were just regular Joes trying to make ends meet, who would happen to need time off come mid-July to head off to training camp and get themselves into shape for the coming season.
Not so anymore, as even the most highly paid and talented players in the league are reduced to taking no more than six to eight weeks off before getting back to some type of training regimen.
This last week of May has brought almost every Minnesota Viking player to Winter Park in Eden Prairie, as the Vikings conduct their first stretch of OTAs. Jared Allen, who trains on his own for most of the spring and summer, is the only name of any consequence not in town, and he'll apparently be there for next week's practices.
There are no lack of storylines for the Vikings as they reconvene as a full team once again—the biggest changes being the departures of Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield and Jasper Brinkley. It's out with the old and in with the new, as the Vikings bring in free-agent signees Greg Jennings and Matt Cassel, along with first-round draft picks Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson.
It doesn't just feel like football weather, the familiar sounds of football practice are back in Eden Prairie. Let's take a look at some of the early developments from the Vikings' OTAs.
Joe Webb Switching to Wide Receiver
There's never been any question about Joe Webb's athletic ability.
The Vikings actually drafted Webb in the sixth round of the 2010 draft as a wide receiver prospect. Webb played quarterback at Alabama-Birmingham, and most thought that his lack of competition at UAB would necessitate a position switch for him to have any chance of making it in the NFL.
The Vikings liked the way Webb looked at quarterback, though, and he's spent his first three seasons with the team in the backup role.
That changed after Webb had a disastrous showing in last year's playoff game against the Packers. What many had thought for awhile appeared to be true: Webb just can't throw the football at an NFL level.
What Webb has showed over the course of his three years with the club, though, is excellent athletic ability. At 6'4", 220 pounds and with good speed and hands, it would be dumb for Minnesota to just release Webb without seeing if he can make it as a receiver.
Webb is making the position switch with a positive attitude, and there's no doubt that his three years as an NFL quarterback will help him in his transition. He talked to Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall about his switch.
All of the obvious question marks are in play for Webb: Will he be able to learn how to run routes, how to get off the line of scrimmage, how to read defenses from the receiver position?
What's not in doubt is Webb's athletic ability, so the thought of him bringing his obvious football skills—which Vikings fans have seen in glimpses—is a tantalizing prospect.
Erin Henderson Switching to Middle Linebacker
E.J. Henderson manned the middle linebacker spot for the Minnesota Vikings for seven of the last nine seasons. Heading into the 2013 season, it looks like his little brother, Erin Henderson, will be taking over the role.
Signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2008, Henderson played special teams and served as a backup for his first three years in the league. Henderson moved into the staring lineup as the outside linebacker opposite of Chad Greenway.
The Vikings decided not to re-sign last year's middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley, and have basically handed the spot to Henderson.
Henderson's play has been decent over his two years as a starter on the outside, but the Vikings will be expecting more from him as they move him into the middle.
Henderson moved into the middle a lot last season, taking over the spot in nickel situations. He's athletic enough to be good in coverage, but the Vikings will be expecting him to be much more active as run-stopper in the middle.
Henderson will now be the vocal leader in the Vikings defensive huddles, and he'll have to prove that the position isn't too overwhelming for him. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has implied that second-year man Audie Cole and rookie Michael Mauti will be in the mix for the middle linebacker spot, but that it's Henderson's job to lose.
Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes
All any young NFL player can ask for is an opportunity.
For Vikings cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes, opportunity is rolling out the red carpet heading towards the 2013 season.
The Vikings took a calculated risk when they waived Antoine Winfield in April, hoping that perhaps they could re-sign him to a cheaper deal. Winfield is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
What that means at Winter Park is that beginning at Tuesday's OTAs, second-year man Josh Robinson is being given a crash course on how to play the slot corner position that has been vacated by Winfield.
Robinson didn't get any reps as a slot corner last year, but he certainly has the speed and physicality to figure it out. Robinson played well for most of his rookie season but began to get less snaps towards the end of the season.
The Vikings drafted cornerback Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State in the first round, and he's expected to start opposite Chris Cook, which would leave Robinson as the leading candidate to be next man up in the nickel—the guy to cover the slot.
Moving more into the middle of the field, Robinson will have to learn how to play the run a little bit better, and he'll have to become more aware of everything around him more. The slot corner is simply a more complicated position than a cover corner on the outside.
Rhodes will be given every opportunity to take one of the outside corner jobs and run with it. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Rhodes is a physical corner who can play press coverage and is a very physical tackler.
Rhodes excelled at jamming receivers off the line at Florida State, and although he might have to make a few adjustments for Minnesota's Tampa-2 defense, the Vikings felt very lucky to land Rhodes in the draft and fully expect him to earn a starting spot.
Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson
The big news out of the Vikings first day of OTAs on Tuesday was that newly signed wide receiver Greg Jennings had turned his ankle.
The injury isn't serious, and Jennings threw out the first pitch at the Twins/Brewers game on Wednesday night at Target Field.
The Vikings continue to be impressed with the athletic ability of their third first-round pick in April's draft, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Big and fast, Patterson moves with the fluidity that separates the best athletes from the pack.
He has a lot to learn at the NFL level, and Vikings receivers coach George Stewart will be spending a lot of extra time with Patterson, teaching him the nuances of getting open against the best defenders on earth.
Chris Summers, another young receiver the Vikings have high hopes for, suffered a slight hamstring injury on Tuesday and will take it easy for the rest of the week. At 6'5", 220 pounds, Summers and Joe Webb will probably end up in a battle for the fifth receiver spot along with a hopefully healthy Greg Childs.
The Minnesota Vikings have done a fantastic job of filling in roster holes over the past two offseasons. The 2012 draft class was phenomenal, as they picked up starters and depth players who will be on the roster for years to come.
The 2013 draft hopefully added a lot of top-end talent, including three first rounders and a couple of linebackers who will all challenge for starting spots right out of the gate.
That's two straight great drafts for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, but as we've said here before, it's his first-round pick in 2010 who matters the most to the success of the Minnesota Vikings. Most people screamed "reach" when the Vikings took Christian Ponder 12th overall that year, and he hasn't done much to quiet that assertion so far.
It's a new year for Ponder, and he begins year three with a new slate. Percy Harvin is gone, but the team went out and signed veteran Greg Jennings and then drafted an electric player in Cordarrelle Patterson. Ponder has suffered growing pains in his first two years in the league, and that's perfectly normal.
Things change in year three, however. The training wheels come off. It's time for Ponder to show that he's the guy who can lead this talented roster to bigger and better things.
Ponder completed 6 of 12 passes during the Vikings 11-on-11 drills on Wednesday. He sailed one pass way over the head of Kyle Rudolph for an easy interception for Harrison Smith, but he also completed nice deep balls to both Rudolph and Jarius Wright.
Yes, it's only May. It'll be September before you know it.