Wide Receiver Battle: Smith, Thielen, or Both?

Early in training camp, it looked as though there would be no debate as to who would occupy the 5th wide receiver position. Adam Thielen was the best player in camp for the first two weeks, and his routes were (and still are) a thing of beauty.

Rodney Smith, who was considered in the mix at the beginning of the summer for the 5th spot, has reinserted himself into the race as of late.

The 2nd year receiver out of LSU went undrafted last year. He spent 5 weeks on the practice squad before moving to the active roster, but was only active for 4 games last year. Smith made noise last week when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater against Arizona. In total, he caught 4 passes for 55 yards.

Thielen had a perfect chance to catch a touchdown himself on a beautiful pass from Bridgewater Saturday night, but dropped the ball. He caught 4 passes for 54 yards. So, apart from the bad drop in the end zone by Thielen, the two wide receivers had almost identical games in preseason week #2.

These two are fighting for roster spots, and both seem to have impressed coaches. At first, Thielen had an edge, but Smith has been on a surge, highlighted by his performance against Arizona.

There’s also a distinct possibility that both Smith and Thielen could make the roster. The 6th wide receiver spot is not always a thing in the NFL, though. Norv Turner’s 2013 Browns kept only 5 receivers. It is important to note, however, that the Browns carried 4 tight ends, which is unusual in the NFL. The possibility of a 6th spot is aided by the fact that Jerome Simpson will almost surely be facing a 3-game suspension to begin the season. It would be dicey to go into Week 1 with only 4 receivers. Also, the Vikings only have two tight ends who can make plays with the ball, and one of them, Chase Ford, is injured.

Right now, I believe Thielen has the upper hand on Rodney Smith. Thielen, an undrafted free agent out of Mankato State, has defied expectations this year. Beat writers and others in the twitterverse have been saying he has looked good since OTA’s and minicamp. He might be the best route runner on the Vikings other than Greg Jennings. Thielen’s hands are sure, even if that didn’t show on Saturday evening.

Smith’s size could be the difference maker, though. The Vikings list him at 6’5″, 200 lbs., as opposed to Thielen, who is 6’2″, 195 lbs. As he showed in the preseason comeback, Smith has the ability to catch deep passes and catch passes over defensive backs.

In the end, the decision will come down to what the Vikings want in their 5th wide receiver; a shifty guy who runs crisp routes and catches the ball well, or an athletic specimen with the ability to make a big play. I think both are to valuable to let go, and that the Vikings will keep both.

Jerome Simpson Facing Suspension

Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson is facing a suspension at the beginning of the regular season, according to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press. The number of games in the possible suspension is rumored to be 3.

Simpson missed practice Monday to attend a hearing with the league in New York determining his punishment for a November drunk driving arrest.

On November 9th, 2013, Simpson was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence and refusing to submit to a chemical test. In a plea deal reached on January 2nd, the acrobatic receiver pleaded guilty to careless driving and refusing to submit to a chemical test in order for the DUI charge to be dropped. He was sentenced to two years on probation

This isn’t Simpson’s first go-around with the law. He was suspended for 3 games during the 2012 season for having marijuana mailed to his Kentucky residence. Simpson was sentenced to 15 days in jail, ordered to pay $7,500 and placed on probation for three years.

It was unclear why his November 2013 arrest was not a probation violation. I assume that was part of the plea deal Simpson and his lawyers brokered with prosecutors.

Simpson is expected to be Minnesota’s 3rd wide receiver behind Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings. There has been some talk of Rodney Smith taking Simpson’s roster spot and cutting Simpson. The possibility of that happening is very small; Jerome is key skill guy in this offense and undoubtedly a better receiver than the 2nd-year Smith.

Vikings Claim Justin Jackson Off Waivers

The Minnesota Vikings announced Monday that they have claimed linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from Detroit.

Jackson’s roster spot is cleared by the waiving of linebacker Dom DeCicco, who recently underwent hip surgery. DeCicco was in his first season with the Vikings, and was not expected to make the team.

Jackson, who played college football at Wake Forest, went undrafted in May. The 6’1″, 230 lbs. linebacker had 196 tackles in three years with the Demon Deacons as well as 7 sacks.

It would be awful surprising to see an undrafted free agent who attended training camp and played in the first two weeks of the preseason with another team make the Vikings’ roster.

Vikings Preseason Game #2: What Went Wrong

After Teddy Bridgewater’s magical comeback last night, it’s hard to find anything wrong with the Vikings’ performance. Both Bridgewater and Matt Cassel were lights out, and many others played well. There were some causes for concern though, including a couple from Vikings’ starters.

Not Exactly Rhode Island

Xavier Rhodes didn’t have the best of games last night. In the first quarter, A Jaron Brown screen that should have gone for a couple yards turned into a 51-yard scamper after a Rhodes missed tackle. Brown burned Rhodes again for a long pass later in the first half, which put Arizona on the Minnesota 5. Both plays were Rhodes mistakes, and that is definitely concerning. However, Rhodes got some redemption with the hit of the night on tight end Daniel Fells. He’s still the most talented cornerback on the roster, and with some increased ball skills, Rhodes could become Pro Bowl material. We’ll see if he improves next week against the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Walsh Off His Game

The Blair Walsh Vikings fans saw last night was far from the one we have enjoyed watching the past two seasons.  Not only did he miss a 51-yard field goal, but Walsh also missed an extra point attempt after Bridgewater and Rodney Smith put the Vikings ahead. Walsh’s field goal miss is his second straight miss from 50-plus yards. This comes after an NFL record streak of 12 straight field goals made from 50 yards or longer. Even if Walsh isn’t who he was the first two years, he’s still an alright kicker who would start on a lot of teams. I think we can write this game off as a fluke. There were some good things Walsh did, booting 5 strong kickoffs, two of which set up tackles inside the 10-yard line. He apparently was also booting field goals from beyond 60 yards in warm-ups.

Dropping the Ball

The Vikings had some receivers drop passes that should have been caught, most notably Adam Thielen. Thielen let a beautiful ball from Teddy Bridgewater clank off his hands in the end zone. Kyle Rudolph, like Thielen, had a drop in the end zone. He eventually made up for it by hauling in a long reception from Matt Cassel for the Vikings’ first touchdown. Drops are to be expected in any NFL game, but two drops in the same game in the end zone definitely isn’t reassuring.

Tradebait the Vikings Can Afford to Part With

The end of training camp is typically a time when NFL trades occur at higher rate. Two years ago, the Vikings acquired AJ Jefferson for a draft pick in late August. It might be smart to make another move for a cornerback this year, as that unit isn’t a position of strength. Let’s take a look at who the Vikings could trade in order to acquire a player, or more likely, a draft pick. We’ll judge the player’s trade value based on what draft pick they’re worth.

Christian Ponder

Trade Value: 7th round pick

Possible Trading Partners: PIT, DEN, SD

Most Vikings fans would appreciate getting rid of Ponder. He’s seemed out of it during training camp, arguably his worst in all 4 years he’s been with Minnesota. The problem is, who would want a bad third string QB? It turns out, there is value for a player like this. Jacksonville traded their rookie bust Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth round draft pick in 2014 and a possible conditional pick in 2015. I don’t think he has the potential Gabbert has, but might Ponder still have something to offer? A change of scenery could prove helpful for him. Maybe he’ll become a Chad Henne, one of those backups that floats around the league.  He has the tools to be a backup quarterback, but apparently not the confidence. I think there are teams in this league willing to take a flier on Ponder, and the Vikings should jump on any opportunity to dump him for even a tiny bit of value. A team with an older, established starting QB may want Ponder as a project.

Jerome Felton

Trade Value: 5th round pick

Possible Trading Partners: HOU, PHI, KC

It’s never easy to trade a Pro Bowler. Felton, though, doesn’t have a place in Norv Turner’s offense. The offense calls for a fullback that is shifty, quick and has the ability to catch passes. Although Turner has said he wants a blocking back, the past two seasons Turner has cut his starting fullback from the year before Felton is more of a blocking back; in 85 career games, he has only 43 catches.  The 7th year veteran could be an important piece elsewhere, as he paved the way for Adrian Peterson’s record-breaking season in 2012. Fullback is sort of a fading position, but on some running-oriented teams, a good FB is pivotal. Felton might just be the best fullback in the league. If I’m the Vikings, I’d be shopping him right now. Not only do they get a draft pick or player in return, but it’s also an important salary dump. Felton is due $3.9 million over the next two seasons.

Fred Evans

Trade Value: 6th round pick

Possible Trading Partners: CHI, DAL, NE

Fred Evans is one of the most underrated Vikings. He should’ve been the starter over Letroy Guion in 2011 and 2012, but has played well in a backup role since 2007. Pro Football Focus ranks him well, and I think the veteran could be an average starting defensive tackle in the NFL. This would also help the Vikings’ constant battle against the salary cap, as Evans is signed to a one-year, $1 million contract. He’ll help a team like the Patriots who are looking for defensive line depth, or maybe even a starter. Minnesota can afford to part ways with him because they have capable young guys who can back up Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph. Isame Faciane, Kheeston Randall and Chase Baker have all had solid camps. Veteran Tom Johnson is also in the mix.

Vikings Training Camp: Everything You Missed in the Past 5 Days

I apologize for the lack of posts on Vikings Gab, I’ve been on vacation since Friday. It was pretty painful being unplugged from Vikings news and analysis for so long, but now that I’m back, I thought I’d recap what happened while I was gone.

Most importantly, the Vikes won their first preseason game, 10-6 over Oakland. Teddy Bridgewater had 6 completions out of 13 attempts, but the defense made up for his lackluster performance with a stellar one; the Raiders’ only score came in the last two minutes. Kurt Coleman had a pick, and several young guys impressed such as Isame Faciane and Derek Cox, who had the top two scores in Pro Football Focus’ scoring system.

Last week, I said the strong safety competition was a two-horse race between Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton, unless Antone Exum or Kurt Coleman caught fire. Well, it seems Coleman has. The veteran highlighted with a diving interception Friday against Oakland, along with several good tackles. He seems to have vaulted himself back into the thick of the competition, and although many are saying that he has the starting position locked up, I believe Blanton still has the upper hand. He should be back this week or next, and will probably pick up his strong play from where he left off before the injury. So far, Coleman is the only Vikings safety apart from Harrison Smith (and Antone Exum, who isn’t really in the competition anymore) who has stayed healthy. If that trend continues, he’ll be on the field Week 1.

Sunday, Mike Zimmer announced the team had hired Joe Marciano as interim special teams coach for the three weeks during which Mike Priefer will be suspended. Marciano spent the previous 12 seasons as Houston’s special teams coordinator before being fired this winter along with head coach Gary Kubiak. Having coached in the NFL for 28 years, Marciano is the veteran that current assistant special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken is not. Still, it seems like a pointless move to bring in some guy with limited knowledge of the system for just three weeks, when you have a perfectly capable in-house solution in Ficken.

Also on Sunday, Minnesota signed free agent tight end Kory Sperry. Sperry fills the roster spot left vacated by the release of A.C. Leonard. A 6-year veteran, he played on San Diego’s practice squad in 2009 and was on the roster in 2010 and 2011, all in Norv Turner’s offense. Sperry spent last year with Arizona, but became a free agent this offseason. He has 9 receptions for 152 yards and 1 TD in 40 career games. He should be released in the next couple weeks as cuts are announced.

Sperry’s release could be sped up by Chase Ford’s fast rehabilitation from his broken foot, suffered in the first week of training camp. He was spotted Wednesday running sprints with a trainer on a side field during practice by the Start Tribune’s Matt Vensel. Monday, Coach Zimmer told reporters Ford is “close” to returning, and said he should be back within the next 10 days. That’s a remarkably quick recovery for an injury that usually takes 6-8 weeks to heal.

In an scary incident, Linval Joseph was struck by a stray bullet in a shooting at a Minneapolis bar early Saturday. Thankfully, the bullet appears to have just grazed his calf, and he should be back within the next two weeks. I wish Joseph would have better judgement than to be out drinking at 1 AM following a game, but then again we have to remember that these are men in their twenties; that’s what they do.

 

Cornerback Stock Report

Since cornerback is one of, if not the biggest position competitions in Vikings training camp, I thought I’d do a mid-training camp stock report, to see who has the best chance of making the roster, who has the best chance to start, and who will play where.

Xavier Rhodes

Stock: Even

In my eyes, Xavier Rhodes is the best cornerback on this team. He’s also probably the second-best athlete on the team (AP’s #1, of course). His size, speed, strength and overall athleticism are top 3 in the division among cornerbacks. So far in camp, Mike Zimmer seems to have taken a liking to Rhodes, coaching him up a considerably large amount during practice. He also highlighted with the play of camp, laying out for a spectacular interception during the evening scrimmage. He hasn’t had an amazing camp and is still raw, but Rhodes has his outside position (and most receivers) locked down.

Robert Steeples

Stock: Down

I think everyone knows Steeples has zero chance of making the roster. He was on the practice squad for 13 games last season. He was activated for three games at the end of the season (two of which he played in) because the Vikings became paper thin at cornerback. He hasn’t had a good camp, highlighted by his listing as the fifth-string slot CB. Although they don’t list overall cornerback rankings, I would assume he is 10th among all cornerbacks on the team. All Steeples is is a camp body, and because of that he has gotten very limited reps this summer, which can make it hard to evaluate him. Still, stock can’t be up for a guy who will probably be spending this season on his sofa.

Kendall James

Stock: Even

James was the Vikings’ 6th round pick in the draft. He was basically drafted solely for his speed; he ran a 4.32 second 40-yard dash while still recovering from a hamstring injury. He was ranked 4th on the depth chart at outside corner, and hasn’t drawn great reports from folks at training camp. I still believe James will make the roster over Derek Cox, for two reasons. One, James is young and raw, and, judging from my personal experience watching him, can develop into a starting cornerback in the NFL. Two, James has blazing speed that would be uber-useful on special teams as a gunner and maybe even as a kick returner.

Jabari Price

Stock: Up

Jabari Price may turn out to be the biggest surprise of Vikings Training Camp 2014. Price isn’t a big guy, and his speed is above average but by no means punishing. Zimmer and other have raved about him throughout camp, and he is now practicing with the twos, as well as being listed on the depth chart as second string. His tackling ability has been a hit with the coaches, who seem to like scrappy, speedy hard-hitting guys (See Anthony Barr). He has also surprised with his improvement in man coverage, which wasn’t one of his strengths in college. Before camp, I thought Price was a long shot to make the team. Now, he seems to have carved out a roster spot for himself.

Julian Posey

Stock: Down 

Posey, like Steeples, is a camp body. Last summer, the Dolphins cut him in after training camp. The older brother of Texans’ WR DeVier Posey, Julian was then signed by the Browns and played in five games in 2013. He recorded six tackles and getting the start in the last game of the season. He hasn’t been getting a lot of reps as he’s 4th string, so media reports on him have been few and far between. Basically, if you’re 4th string during the third week of training camp, things are not looking up for you. Thanks for bringing our roster to 90, Julian, because that’s really all you were useful for.

Captain Munnerlyn

Stock: Even

Munnerlyn was arguably the biggest free agent Minnesota brought in this offseason. He was out with a leg injury the first week or so of training camp, and there was concern over whether he could lose the competition for the outside job to Josh Robinson (gasp). The release of the depth charts did little to quell the concerns that Captain might be relegated to a role in the nickel package, as he was tied with Robinson for the outside corner spot. But that still probably won’t happen, considering Munnerlyn’s talent and experience, as well as Robinson’s tendency to choke. Munnerlyn hasn’t amazed in practice, but has played well enough to warrant playing with the ones. I think he’ll turn it on in the coming weeks and run away with the starting outside corner spot.

Josh Robinson

Stock: Up

Oh no, this can’t be good. Josh Robinson is in contention for a starting job in the NFL. No, I am not lying to you. Apparently the speedy choke artist has learned a couple things since Jerry Gray and Mike Zimmer took over the reigns, and his move to the outside has helped as well, according to Robinson himself.  He was interestingly matched up evenly with Munnerlyn on the depth chart, so Robinson’s still very much in the thick of the race for that outside job. His speed and athleticism everyone was juiced up about when he was drafted in the third round in 2012 haven’t gone anywhere, and I’m hoping he can fulfill his enormous potential this season.

Shaun Prater

Stock: Down

Many folks in the twitterverse and beyond were extremely high on this young cornerback coming out of the 2013 season. He was thrown in at the end of the season and provided the injury-riddled secondary with a burst of energy. His play was promising to play the least, and I thought he would make the roster coming into camp. Surprisingly, though, he was ranked 5th at outside CB, behind two rookies. He may not be a good fit for Zimmer’s system, or maybe all the other cornerbacks are just simply better than him. Still, this is an unexpected fall for Prater.

Marcus Sherels

Stock: Up

Sherels must feel relieved, as this is his first training camp in which he doesn’t have to fret about getting cut. Last year, he solidified himself as a top 5 punt returner in the NFL, and undervalued but important position on any team. Like Prater, Sherels shined at the end of last season when he started a couple games. This year, he probably won’t see very much time at cornerback, but should be receiving every punt, and hopefully returning it. He has seen some reps with the twos and a couple with the ones, and is valuable depth in the secondary, as well as a star on special teams.

Derek Cox

Stock: Up

Cox is one of the guys who has been a noticeable standout this training camp. He continually breaks up several passes each practice, and several people at camp have tweeted about his emergence. He even had a pick-six against Teddy Bridgewater. Still, it could be difficult for the veteran entering his 6th year to make the team, both because of his age and his limited ability on special teams. Guys like Kendall James and Jabari Price could end up taking his roster spot because of their speed, vital on special teams.

 

3 Things to Watch for in Preseason Game #1

Hey everyone, this is my first post here on Vikings Gab, so I hope you enjoy.

I was thinking about want I wanted to start off with and the first game of the year seemed like a logical place to start. Most people see preseason as a waste of time and a chance for stars to get hurt, while the second is possible, the first is not true. With that being said here are the 3 things you should be watching for in the game versus the Raiders. Just remember anything that happens in the preseason is to be taken in context. For example Joe Webb is an amazing preseason QB, but not so much in the regular season, just as Audie Cole made some amazing plays, but still couldn’t break in the the starting lineup.

1.  How do the Quarterbacks handle the vanilla defenses they will see?

As most know,defensive coordinators do not get  complicated in the preseason. They most show their basic sets with a few blitz packages mixed in. Any starting NFL QB worth his weight should be able to complete a high number of his passes as well as not throw interceptions. Now interceptions will most likely happen, but it should not be the QB’s fault, if it is we as Vikings fans should be scared. We are counting on Cassel and/or Bridgewater to lead the Vikings this year, I know I am not expecting top 10 numbers but I would hope with the weapons and the mind of Norv Turner a top 20 QB is a reasonable expectation.

What we should be looking for from all 3 QB’s is their footwork in the pocket and how tall do they stand in the pocket. These quarterbacks will get sacked this year and will get blitzed a lot, but they will need to stand tall and take what is given. Until the Vikings show they can pass, teams will still stack the box, which should leave lanes open.

The last thing we should look for from them is ball placement, they will also be running easy routes, ball placement will be important all year, it is what makes a QB go from good to great, and the great QB’s go to HOF QB’s. It is the one thing Rodgers, Brady, and Manning all do so much better than the rest. If Cassel and Bridgewater can do these things we should be happy, and slightly optimistic for a good season.

2. Who will step up and claim Linebacker spots?

I personally think this is a bigger position battle than the QB battle. There are basically three spots up for grab here. Greenway will win one because he is the most talented one on the team, and from recently interviews with Zimmer it sounds as if he will play weak-side. That leaves open the middle and strong side. What we should be looking for during this game is how does each player command the spot, who is able to take over the whole field. You want to be watching for all around LB’s, players who get to the line and stop the run, but can also smoothly get back in to coverage.

I am personally interested to see how the units work together. See the different speed on the field and how they communicate. This will also be our first chance to see Barr on the field, we will get to see his speed, which from what I have seen is amazing, but I think the most important thing with him is, does he get it or does he look lost.

Finally watch who can command the middle better, Jasper Brinkley or Audi Cole, we have seen Brinkley play a season for us before, and we have seen Cole do great things when given the chance in preseason and a little in the regular season, but this is a whole new defense than any Vikings fan has seen in many years and its important for these players to play in the system, so watch for the players that look lost VS players who are doing what they are asked and not going rouge.

3. Who will step up next to Harrison Smith?

This position has more players rotate though it than a Shakespeare play. Everyone at this position seems to get hurt right as they take the lead to start there. Robert Blanton was and still is my first choice to play there, but since he might not be playing we will have to wait and see how he does next week. I think the issue with this spot is that the Vikings have good safety for Tampa 2 defense, but not many of the safety can cover, which is why the Vikings signed Chris Crocker, a veteran who has made a career covering and playing in Zimmers defense.  In this game, just as with the LB’s we are looking for players that can cover and play in the system. Not really looking for playmakers, but players who defend the pass well. I don’t think anyone will jump off the page, but someone has a chance to finally take the spot for good, will they? We will see.

 

There are other things to watch, but none as important as those 3 things. Enjoy the game for what it is, a place for players who love the game that most likely wont ever play in a regular season game. They give their all every play just for a shot to make the team.  We are 4 weeks away from meaningful games, and I couldnt be more excited, the future is bright in Minnesota, and so is the day.. SO go enjoy it!

 

Randy Stringer

Vikings Release AC Leonard

In a shocking turn of events Wednesday, the Vikings released rookie tight end AC Leonard. Leonard, an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee State, was expected by many (including myself) to make the roster as a backup to Kyle Rudolph.

Leonard was a highly recruited prospect out of high school and ended up choosing to attend the University of Florida. His stay in Gainesville did not last long, as he was charged with misdemeanor battery the February after his freshman year. He ended up pleading no contest in April. The details were quite disturbing, as Leonard’s live-in girlfriend alleged he had dragged her by her hair across a room, and investigators said chunks of her hair were missing.

In July 2012, Will Muschamp and Leonard came to a “mutual” agreement that it would be best for the tight end to leave the program. He transferred to the D1-AA Tennessee State, where he would finish out his college career.

In February 2014, Leonard surprised with a 4.50 second 40-yard dash, fastest of all tight ends at the NFL combine.

Minnesota signed him as an undrafted free agent hours after the draft ended, generating optimism from many in its fan base. Leonard is raw, but his athleticism is superb. He was garnering rave reviews early in camp for his acrobatic catches and blazing speed.

Leonard has been out of practice for the past week for what the Vikings called a series of headaches. They said it wasn’t a concussion, just Percy Harvin-esque headaches.

Maybe he has some sort of sickness, or a concussion they didn’t know about. If he clears waivers, the Vikings could put him on injured reserve like they did earlier in the year, with Lestar Jean (released yesterday).

My best guess for why Leonard is out is because he got into some trouble off the field. It’s really difficult for anyone to just give up that much talent, so something must have been wrong. Whether it was a drug addiction, another domestic violence incident or something else, I don’t know. I expect news of an arrest could trickle out in the coming days.

Could his attitude have been an issue? Quite possibly. Anyone who drags a woman by her hair is guaranteed to not be the nicest of people.

This means Allen Reisner will assuredly make the roster, and Mike Higgins (formerly of the Saints) will have a better chance as well. It also means that when Chase Ford is healthy, he will see the field as the #2 tight end.

Leonard’s release leaves the Vikings with an empty roster spot, that should be filled in the next couple days.

Vikings Waive WR Lestar Jean

It appears Lestar Jean’s time with the Minnesota Vikings has come to an end.

On Tuesday, Minnesota announced it had waived Jean, who was on Injured Reserve. The 6’3″, 215 lb. wide receiver was injured during minicamp in June. It was expected that Jean could come in and provide some solid competition in camp while vying for a spot on the roster. Jean, an undrafted free agent, played for the Texans last year.

Oddly, the news of his release broke a day late, with Adam Caplan of NFL.com having it first.