Minnesota Vikings Look to Pop Embarrassing White Head
Perhaps the title connotes shock value or sensationalism, but it underscores the Vikings defense this year.
The Vikings defense is like that embarrassing white head that pops up at the most inopportune time. You can hide it all you want, but eventually that doggone thing rears its ugly head and everyone can see it.
At times the defense looks great, no blemishes so to speak, but how often we sit there, wait and watch as the white head makes its appearance and the lead is gone, or a game we should have won (see Denver, Tampa, Detroit) winds up as a loss.
Example in the Denver game: one play, touchdown; next drive two plays, touchdown. Are you kidding me? Ponderous, man, ponderous!
I guess in retrospect though Vikings fans should be glad things turned out the way they did.
If it weren't for the dismal start under Donovan McNabb's time at the helm, he might still be the starter of a team stuck at or below .500 with no playoff possibilities. Imagine if we would have had to wait until game six or seven of next year before Ponder sees the field?
So, Mr. Positive Spin here is slightly glad things wound up the way they did. We got rid of a guy who didn't need to be here to begin with, and we were able to get our "real" quarterback under center sooner rather than later.
I sort of digressed on the offense, but let's turn back to the defense and assess the organization's direction and look at each position for need and drafting of players.
Changes on the Way?
Okay, let's be objective here. Fred Pagac was promoted to defensive coordinator in light of Leslie Frazier's promotion to HC.
Pagac has 34 years of coaching experience—pretty impressive—with the previous five as a Vikings assistant. Question: for a guy coaching for 34 years, 11 in the NFL, who just now gets promoted to DC...doesn't that concern you? It concerns me; late bloomer or no, there are some very good young DCs out there.
Look, I am sure he is working his tail off to get it right and the defense has made some strides this year, but this is perhaps one of those situations where the man is just overwhelmed by the job. He may do a good job of game-planning, indicative of the team's strong defensive play in the first half, but the meltdowns have come in the second half.
I know he's not the only guy calling all the shots on defense, but the responsibility of adjustment ultimately falls on his shoulders. Scenario, fire Pagac and promote Mike Singletary to DC.
Singletary certainly gave credibility to a much-maligned 49er defense before he got there. He brings passion and fire, yet in his first year with the Vikings seems very reserved. Perhaps it's time to unleash the beast. Frazier should let him do his thing. Then let's see if Jack Del Rio can humble himself like Singletary and come in as linebackers coach.
Also, the Vikings should fire Mike Priefer, the special teams coach. Priefer came to the Vikings with an impressive resume, but seriously, three teams in six years? Hmm!
Lastly, Joe's got to go. Joe Woods has been a defensive backs coach for six years. Haven't the Vikes been pretty bad on the back end for about six years now? Look, every team has its weakest link and surely the defensive backs have been that for some time now, perhaps it's time to bring in a fresh face.
OK, let's look at each position...NEXT button please.
Defensive Line Grade: B
The D-line is not as bad as many think. If you watch closely, those guys are doing a solid job and are chasing opposing quarterbacks all over the field. Is it their fault if the quarterback finds a receiver because the defensive backs are like Linda Blair from The Exorcist—their heads spinning in endless wonder?
This group is solid enough to leave alone in the draft unless a phenom falls out of the sky.
Asher Allen and Brian Robison have been steady on the ends, although Robison is seeing the signs of a full season take its toll. The middle has been giving up significant run yardage, and the current rotation of Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Remi Ayodele and Kevin Williams is suspect. For the most part they are still young with the exception of Williams, who turns 32 in June.
There is a chance the Vikings could look at this position, but there are too many other priorities right now.
Linebackers Grade: C
This is a tough one. E.J. Henderson is expected to be a free agent, and the Vikings would do well to re-sign him. The Vikings generally have a strong history of keeping the guys in the middle from start to finish. If they lose him then they will have to fill two linebacker positions, MLB, and WLB.
As a group, they are pretty solid. Henderson is consistent, Chad Greenway is a tackling machine with a team-leading 110 tackles, and the other Henderson, Erin, has filled in at WLB for the departed Ben Leber.
There is no way the Vikings can feel confident that Erin Henderson is the long-term solution at WLB. He is a nice story in determination and perseverance, but at times seems overmatched and has not been a credible threat coming off the edge. Put this in perspective: after 12 games Henderson has 50 tackles, while Antoine Winfield, who has played in only seven games, has 40.
For next year the Vikings should get back Jasper Brinkley, who is a solid back up for E.J., but other than that the depth is weak. Xavier Adibi has not panned out the way I had hoped, Kenny Onatalu is young and Larry Dean is just a rookie, so I don't know what the plans are for these young men.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, this year's crop of outside linebackers in the draft is weak. Only the hybrid 3-4 types are ranked high. The Vikings may look to free agency or continue to believe in who they have. One thing about a poor coach is one who cannot see the forest for the trees and says this all the time, "I'm happy moving forward with who we have."
A couple of free agents to look at are Anthony Spencer of the Cowboys or Jarrett Johnson of the Ravens.
Some potential draft considerations: Jarvis Jones of Georgia or Ronnell Lewis of Oklahoma.
If I was the GM, WLB would be addressed via free agency or no later than the fourth round of the 2012 draft. But of course that would be tipping my hand, making for a bad GM.
Defensive Backs Grade: D
Oy! The back end for the Vikings has been a nightmarish road trip to Vegas and rolling of the dice. In this case, the rolling is players in and out of the lineup. There have been gambles, bad bets and, more than anything else, poor decisions.
Never have I seen more players out of position than this year's gang of Keystone Cops.
The problem for most of these corners is that while in college they never saw the likes of Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings or, dare I say, Jordy Nelson? They probably feel pretty good covering their own receivers in practice, but then come Sunday reality hits them. NFC North receivers aside, the Vikings continue to struggle in this area.
Right now the Vikings have a dilemma. They need an impact wide receiver or offensive lineman more than a cornerback, so can this be addressed via the draft or should it be dealt with in free agency?
With the presumptive third or fourth pick and then the 35th or 36th, do they draft a corner or safety? Doubtful. I like Morris Claiborne, the kid out of LSU, but I would take Justin Blackmon over him, and most likely, Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama, Alfonso Dennard of Nebraska and Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama will be gone in the first round.
That leaves you with your second-tier types of Chase Minnifield of UVA, Jayron Hosley of VA Tech or Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina to consider. Not bad choices, but at last look WR and OL were more of a priority.
Players to consider in the later rounds are Shaun Prater of Iowa, Josh Robinson of UCF and Donnie Fletcher of Boston College.
Two players to keep an eye on for next year are Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook.
Cook's bone-headed act might be enough to send him packing, and that is too bad because he was beginning to show flashes of solid play. For Winfield it's all about the numbers and what he is owed on his contract. Love ya Antoine, but the business end is most likely going to catch up to you. Appreciate the heart man. I hope they and you find a way to come back.
Safety Grade: D
I joke about the image of the Vikings safety position, but it is definitely not funny. I could have you go back one slide and just substitute safety for corners and be done with it. Wait, don't do that; let's talk about this revolving door of safeties.
The Vikings desperately need an impact SS. I would like a Troy Polamalu-type, but I would even settle for a Roman Harper-type. I want to say that Husain Abdullah, Jamarca Sanford or Tyrell Johnson can do the job, and maybe with a veteran free safety they could get that guidance. I am not sure.
At the free safety position, the Vikings absolutely need a veteran leader. There are a couple of veteran free-agent safeties that should be on the market, but they don't jump off the page at you.
Right now rookie Mistral Raymond is the starter, and the recently signed Jarrad Page, an Eagle castoff, and Andrew Sendejo are on the roster. I would say for these guys, this is a four-game audition.
If the Vikings address this area in the draft, it will be mid to late rounds, Markelle Martin, a FS out of Oklahoma State, or Antonio Allen, a SS of South Carolina, are two players to look at.
Last word: The Vikings seem to be suffering from an identity crisis right now.
Are they going to be an offensive-minded team the likes of Green Bay, New Orleans and New England? Or do they want to try and go the way of the Ravens, Steelers and Bears in terms of being seen as a defensive team first?
Time to get that figured out Coach Frazier.
As always, constructive comments welcome.