What We Learned from the Minnesota Vikings' First Three Days of OTAs
Last week the Minnesota Vikings conducted their first three OTAs. There are 10 more practices and a mandatory minicamp between now and June 20 to give us a peek at what should be a very competitive training camp for a very young team.
NFL rosters are not determined in May or June, and for the Vikings, there's still a lot of work to be done before the current roster of 90 players is trimmed to down to 53. This past week the Vikings had their first three OTAs from May 28 to 30, and while there's not a whole lot to be gleaned from these non-contact, helmet-only practices, there's still plenty to be learned about this team.
This Is a Big Year for Head Coach Leslie Frazier
This will be a pivotal year for head coach Leslie Frazier, who was not offered a contract extension following the team's 10-6 record and a return to the playoffs. At a minimum, he needs to lead the Vikings to a winning record. A playoff win will most assuredly keep him in Minnesota beyond 2014.
In his address to the media following the first two days of the Vikings' OTAs as recorded by vikings.com, he immediately set the expectations for the Minnesota Vikings very high.
Referring to having 99 percent of the team at the voluntary team workouts:
I think this gives us a very good chance of not only being a playoff team next season, but being a team that can have a chance of going even farther in the playoffs.
No doubt Frazier realizes he is coaching for his future this season. In his quiet, calm demeanor he is making sure his team understands the expectations for this season.
89 of 90 Is Almost 99 Percent—actually It's 98.8 Percent
The theme for the Minnesota Vikings first three OTAs seemed to be 99 percent. Head coach Leslie Frazier made mention of it during his press conference following the second day of workouts.
Third-year quarterback Christian Ponder also referred to 99 percent of the team being present, and how this is the start of the 2013 season. A season he is looking forward to getting underway.
The only player missing last week at the opening of the Vikings' OTAs was Jared Allen. According to a report in the St. Paul Pioneer press on Sunday, Allen's absence has nothing to do with a lack of a contract extension. Instead it's all about commitments—commitments to a higher level—his wife.
Allen was out of town celebrating his wedding anniversary and is expected to be with the team this week when OTAs resume on Tuesday.
Not only is this a contract year for Allen, but he is coming off surgeries to his knee and shoulder. Once he returns to the Twin Cities and is with the team, the Vikings will have 100 percent participation—and hopefully a 100-percent-healthy Allen.
Jerome Simpson Is Ready to Compete
After a year that started with a three-game suspension, and was marred by injuries, wide receiver Jerome Simpson is eager to show that he is a better receiver than last season.
In a video posted on vikings.com, following the second day of workouts, Simpson was asked if it was good to be back on the field.
Oh, yes it is, just to show these coaches that I'm healed up and I'm ready to go, and I'm just willing to do anything it takes to help this team to win a Super Bowl.
Due to inclement weather, the first day of OTAs was moved inside. In a report from Mike Wobschall from vikings.com, Christian Ponder connected on a long pass to Simpson who was streaking down the middle of the field. Ponder was able to put enough air on the ball to get it over the defense, and Simpson demonstrated the speed to run under and catch the ball.
This a good sign on two fronts—one, Ponder's arm appears to be 100 percent after missing the playoff game against the Packers with a bruised triceps—and two, Simpson is healthy and ready to be a downfield threat the Vikings desperately need.
This is a crucial season for Simpson, who signed his second consecutive, one-year contract with the Vikings. Currently listed as the starting split end, he needs to deliver quickly this season and take advantage of rookie Cordarrelle Patterson's learning curve.
Matt Cassel Looks Good as QB2
The Matt Cassel era in Minnesota is officially underway. After repeatedly being told that Cassel is here to back up Christian Ponder, he was on the field and throwing to Vikings receivers.
During the first day of OTAs he connected on a long pass to Lamark Brown, a wide receiver who played three seasons with Kansas State before transferring to Minnesota State, Mankato in 2010. Last year Brown was signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted rookie and spent time on the Buffalo Bills practice squad. Last December the Vikings signed him to their practice squad.
According to Mike Wobschall on vikings.com, both Ponder and Cassel looked good during passing drills. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, who is entering his ninth NFL season, there is virtually no chance of him passing Ponder on the depth chart.
With a career 80.4 passer rating, and 82 touchdowns to his credit, head coach Leslie Frazier should be a lot less hesitant to pull Ponder this season than he was last season when Ponder struggled.
While There, Michael Mauti Is Limited to the Sidelines
While not quite as celebrated as Adrian Peterson's workouts last year at this time, Minnesota Vikings' seventh-round draft pick, linebacker Michael Mauti was present at the OTAs.
Like Peterson last season, Mauti is rehabilitating from major knee surgery. Unlike Peterson, this is his third major knee injury—and the second to his left knee.
Mauti's goal is to be ready when training camp opens on July 25. It will be interesting to see how cautious the Vikings are with their rookie middle linebacker compared to how slowly they took it with their MVP running back a year ago.
Mauti will most likely be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, just as Peterson was last season, and will need to work his way onto the active roster.
For those who drink the purple Kool-Aid, and believe Mauti will be the starting middle linebacker this year, it's not going to happen. The best shot he has of making the team will be on special teams.
Cordarrelle Patterson Has a Role Model
Minnesota Vikings' rookie wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson admired the ability of Randy Moss. After being drafted by the Vikings with the 29th pick in the draft he took little time to determine what number he wanted—of course, it just also happens to be the same number he wore at Tennessee last season.
From Ben Goessling's blog from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Patterson worked out as split end, behind Jerome Simpson. Head coach Leslie Frazier has also indicated that, although Patterson returned punts in college, the Vikings are interested in him returning kickoffs.
While he will most likely open the season behind Simpson on the depth chart, as he progresses and improves his route running, his time on the field will increase. By the end of the season there will be a pretty good battle going to become the starter.
The Vikings desperately need someone to step up and produce a 1,000-yard season at wide receiver—something that has not happened since 2009 when Sidney Rice led the team with 1,312 yards. Before that the last Viking to surpass 1,000 yards was Nate Burleson in 2004.
Here's hoping Patterson's admiration of Moss is limited to (most) of his work on the field, and that he doesn't find himself with a Minneapolis police officer standing in front of his vehicle.
Is Greg Jennings Durable?
The biggest offseason acquisition for the Minnesota Vikings, Greg Jennings, suffered a minor ankle injury on the second day of OTAs and was standing on the sidelines when the team practiced outside Wednesday afternoon.
After missing eight games last season in Green Bay there could be some concerns about Jennings' durability, after all he will turn 30 this season.
Head coach Leslie Frazier indicated that the injury was not serious and that it would be fine. That was somewhat obvious Wednesday evening when Jennings threw out the first pitch in the Minnesota Twins' game as they hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jennings, a seven-year veteran with three 1,000-yard receiving seasons, is exactly what the Vikings need to bolster their receiving corps. He brings a wealth of talent and a winning experience from Green Bay where he played the first seven seasons after being drafted in the second round in 2006.
The Vikings need Jennings to step up on the field, as well as off. He can make more impact by being a mentor to the Vikings' young receivers, including Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs.
Vikings' Most Experienced Cornerback Looks Good—Sort Of...
Even with the release of Antoine Winfield, the Minnesota Vikings' most experienced cornerback will still be wearing no. 26. That's because Jacob Lacey, who the Vikings signed as a free agent in April, will be wearing Winfield's old number. Lacey comes to the Vikings entering his fifth year in the NFL. He played three seasons with the Colts and last season in Detroit.
The Vikings' roster currently lists 10 cornerbacks, and Lacey is one of four who entered the NFL as an undrafted player. The other three are Bobby Felder, who made the Vikings' practice squad last season, A.J. Jefferson, who played two years with Arizona before the Vikings acquired him in a trade, and Marcus Sherels who played in one game in 2010 and has been the primary punt returner the last two seasons.
In a report from Mike Wobschall on Vikings.com, Lacey broke up a couple of pass plays. Don't get too excited—the first came on a pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson to Erik Highsmith, and the second on a pass from James Vandenberg to Rodney Smith. Of those four names, only one may actually still be around when the season opens.
In Ben Goessling's blog from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he reported that in the Vikings' base defense during passing drills, Josh Robinson was starting on the outside along with Chris Cook. When the defense went into the nickel, Xavier Rhodes came on the field and pushed Robinson to the slot position. However long it takes Rhodes to learn the defense, may be as long as Robinson is starting.
If Lacey is to make the roster as one of five or six cornerbacks, it might be at the expense of Brandon Burton or Jefferson.
Joe Webb Makes the Transition
Joe Webb is a great athlete—he's just not that good of a quarterback, at least when it comes to passing the ball.
Last season, head coach Leslie Frazier had so little confidence in Webb that he stuck with a struggling Christian Ponder during the season. It wasn't until Ponder could not even throw the ball that Frazier finally relented and put Webb in a game. Unfortunately, it was the Vikings' most important game of the season—the playoff game against the Packers, in Green Bay.
Webb is best when he has the ball in his hands, and uses his legs instead of his arm.
In a report from Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk, after the Vikings' second day of OTAs, Frazier made it clear that they want to take advantage of Webb's athleticism.
There are some things that Joe does very well, we’ve seen him put on a highlight show in some ball games.
At the same time, Frazier knows that Webb has a tough job ahead of him. Webb has been using his experience at quarterback to help position younger receivers during the OTA workouts. Still, his own route running needs work. Frazier was also quoted:
One of the toughest parts of the transition is just the route running part. He has very good hands, he knows the offense very well. He’s actually helping some of the young guys in where to line up. Just that he’ll be able to grasp the route running part of it fast enough to give himself the best chance to go out and really have a chance to make the transition smoothly when we get to training camp.
When asked by Mike Wobschall of vikings.com how the transition was going, Webb had this to say.
It's a lot different, but I'm getting the hang of it. It's coming along good. Coach Stew's doing a great job with me.
In his three seasons with the Vikings, Webb has lined up at quarterback, wide receiver and kick returner. He's only got one reception, that came in 2011 when he caught a ball against the Packers in Week 10 for nine yards.
Some of his most impressive plays have come when he has tucked the ball and then took off running. In 2011 he had the Vikings' second longest run of the season when he scored a touchdown on a 65-yard run.