StarTribune.com

May 2009


Minicamp recap

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

The Vikings concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp with an hour practice this morning. For those who maybe were out of town or might have missed it, Judd and I were able to tweet (is that the correct phrase for it?) from all four practices. You can find our updates here and here.

The Vikings have more OTAs starting Tuesday. They are not mandatory, but Brad Childress said everyone is invited. We’ll have more this week, but here is a recap from the weekend.

  • The competition between Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson heated up as Childress said both quarterbacks had bright moments this weekend. It’s hard to tell if one moved ahead of the other, but I will say I thought Rosenfels had a very good practice today. He looked sharp throwing the ball, particularly in team drills. He threw a perfect ball to Bernard Berrian over two defenders for a touchdown and he connected with Percy Harvin on a superb touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone. Both Jackson and Rosenfels seemed to get equal reps with the first team.
  • The story of the weekend was Harvin. It doesn’t take a football genius to see that he is a special talent. His speed and athletic ability stand out whether it’s individual drills, 7-on-7 or full team drills. He definitely created a buzz amongst players, team personnel and media members with his versatility and playmaking. The Vikings now have two dynamic playmakers in Adrian Peterson and Harvin.
  • Childress didn’t seem too inclined to add the Wildcat formation to his playbook last season, but Harvin’s arrival has sparked new ideas. Chester Taylor looked pretty comfortable taking the direct snap too, but Harvin seems to be a natural at it. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the coaches have put in roughly 15 new plays just for Harvin, which tells you what they think of his talent.
  • Antoine Winfield’s absence was the big story Friday because of his contract situation. Childress said Winfield missed all three days to attend the funeral of his close friend’s mother. Childress declined to say whether it was an excused absence. We’ll see how this situation plays out this week and whether Winfield shows up for the voluntary OTAs.
  • It was great to see Kenechi Udeze back on the field after missing last season while battling leukemia. Udeze said he still has some physical hurdles to clear, but he looked extremely happy to be back with his teammates. It’s too early to even guess how much he can contribute this season, but he seems very determined to make it all the way back.
  • The Vikings did a solid job filling in after E.J. Henderson suffered a season-ending foot injury, but the defense looks so much stronger with Henderson at middle linebacker. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Henderson’s return “does my heart some good.” Henderson appeared to be 100 percent and was moving around well.
  • I talked to Sidney Rice after practice today and he said his right knee gave him no problems this weekend. Rice made a difficult touchdown catch on the final play of the minicamp. I still think he can be a key part of the offense if he can stay healthy.
  • Childress said center John Sullivan showed that “he can handle his own in there.” Sullivan is going to be the starting center and Childress said he’s comfortable with that position. Veteran Matt Birk made all the calls at the line when he was here and Sullivan seems to be handling that responsibility well. Rosenfels said he hasn’t detected any problems or any hesitancy from Sullivan in that regard.
  • Rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt had a false start penalty in team period Saturday and will have more growing pains, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t win that job. Loadholt is just enormous with long arms, plays physical and seems to move well. Loadholt and Bryant McKinnie would give the Vikings a massive tackle tandem.
  • Both Childress and Frazier said second-year safety Tyrell Johnson is vastly improved and benefitted greatly from starting in place of an injured Madieu Williams last season. Judd will have more on that tomorrow.
  • It should be a good competition between Albert Young and rookie Ian Johnson for the No. 3 running back job.
  • Judd pointed this out today but tight end Visanthe Shiancoe just looks completely confident catching the ball. It’s amazing how much he improved last season, especially his confidence.
  • I think it’s safe to say Peterson is not going to show up at training camp weighing 230 pounds. Peterson said he lowered his body fat, added six pounds of muscle and now weighs 216.

That’s a quick recap. Also wanted to remind everyone that Judd and I are hosting a live chat on Monday at noon Central. Hope you can join us.

Childress sports a different look (check out the video!)

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Until this morning I had only heard rumors of the visor and wig combination that Vikings coach Brad Childress sported at the Senior Bowl practices in January. But the Twin Cities media got its first look at one of Childress’ most interesting purchases during today’s final day of minicamp practice at Winter Park.

Childress, who as most everyone knows is bald on top, wore the visor/wig for the entire practice and even during his interview with the media. Thus, Childress suddenly had spiked brown hair. He also had some players who had no idea who he was. “There’s a bunch of those guys who walked up and had no idea who [I was],” he said. “My wife tells me all the time, ‘It’s the bald head that gives you away. Put a hat on.’” 

Childress said his wife, Dru-Ann, purchased the item for him in Florida. Childress first saw the visor when he struck up a conversation with a bald man who was wearing one that had platinum blonde spikes.

Suddenly, Childress saw a way to go incognito, not to mention have some fun. (Childress might seem no-nonsense but he’s actually got a very dry sense of humor that comes off much better through the electronic media than it does in print.) “I wore it to the Senior Bowl with a little bit of a beard and some sun glasses,” he said. “I looked probably 15 people that I know pretty well in the face and was able to fool them. They didn’t know who it was. Including members of my staff.”

Childress went with the look Sunday in honor of a website dedicated to that great haircut known as the mullet. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has long embraced the mullet, which I believe used to be known in these parts as hockey hair. ”It’s kind of in honor of Jared’s mullet,” Childress said. “He told me there’s a website specifically dedicated to mullet’s and this is about as good as I can do.”

However, don’t expect to see Childress’ visor/wig on Sundays during the season. “Only if it had a Reebok across the top of it,” he said, referencing the fact the look might violate what NFL coaches can wear on the sideline. “I think I’d be treading on real bad ground if I wore this during the year.”

Thanks to our friend Seth Kaplan at FOX9 you can check out the video of Childress with his wig on by clicking here.

Harvin makes highlight catch

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

The Vikings wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp today with perhaps the catch of the weekend being made by first-round wide receiver Percy Harvin during 11-on-11 drills in the red zone. Sage Rosenfels threw a high pass into the corner of the end zone that Harvin extended himself high into the air to catch. And this came with cornerback Marcus Walker (I goofed earlier and said Benny Sapp) having good coverage.

It was one of those passes that coaches love to see because the only guy who was going to make that catch was Harvin and that appeared to be a long shot until he used his athletic ability to go into the air and grab it. I know what you’re saying – it’s May and it’s only minicamp – and you’re right. However, Harvin showed enough potential at a variety of spots this weekend that it’s going to cause defenses big-time headaches when they have to plan for him and Adrian Peterson.

The next key for the Vikings is going to be getting Harvin signed to a contract.

Meanwhile, coach Brad Childress said he has not talked to cornerback Antoine Winfield since the minicamp began on Friday. Winfield missed the entire camp because he was attending the funeral for a mother of a close friend, according to Childress. Winfield is entering the final year of his contract and negotiations on a new deal broke down this month, causing speculation at one point Friday that Winfield’s absence was contract related.

Childress declined to say if Winfield was fined for missing the camp.

The Vikings will hold another round of non-mandatory organization team activities this week, starting on Tuesday. Unlike the first four days of OTAs two weeks ago, this will be not just for rookies, newcomers and select veterans. As Childress put it, “this is an open arms, all invites here,” round of OTAs. That means almost everyone is going to show up and it will be interesting to see if Winfield decides to attend.

A bit of housekeeping here. Safety Colt Anderson was back on the field today after missing Saturday because he was sick. Running back Kahlil Bell did not attend the minicamp because UCLA has not completed its school year yet, making Bell ineligible for this camp.

 

A final practice

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

The Vikings will wrapup their minicamp with a practice from 10:30 to 11:30 this morning. As we’ve been doing all weekend, check Twitter for updates. I’m at http://twitter.com/zulgad and Chip is at http://twitter.com/chipscoggins1.

 

 

Rosenfels feeling more comfortable

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

We had a chance to talk to quarterback Sage Rosenfels after the second practice on Saturday. Rosenfels talked about his comfort level with the offense and his receivers, the Wildcat formation, and how he’s getting to know his teammates off the field.

Here is part of his interview:

(Do you notice a difference in timing with receivers this week versus last week?) “Yeah, not just in timing, but how certain guys come out of routes. There are some guys that are faster than others on, say, go routes or comebacks. Every throw I make, something registers in my mind for the next time I’m out there.”

(How is John Sullivan coming along at center?) “I think Sully’s doing a great job. He was here all offseason, he’s done a great job, really taken the bull by the horns at center. He and I are constantly talking. He’s one of those guys who loves to talk the game. I think he learned a lot from Matt Birk. I think he’s going to do a great job this year.”

(Any hesitancy making calls for Sullivan?) “Not that I can tell. Of course I wasn’t here before with him. But to me he’s playing center like a guy who’s been playing for six or seven years at center, in my opinion, as far as the calls and stuff. He’s a very very smart guy. He grew up silver-spoon in Greenwich, Conn., so they have a pretty good public education system there [laughing].

(Are you having fun with the Wildcat stuff?) “What Wildcat stuff are you talking about [Smiling]? We don’t call it Wildcat, but, yeah, we’re doing some stuff out there. I’m sure that’s one of those wrinkles we’re seeing how it works. If we like it, I’m sure we’ll run it. If we don’t like it, we won’t run it. This is the time of year. It’s not Week 1 of the season or Week 5. It’s these summer OTAs and these summer minicamps to try some new stuff.”

(What do you call it?) “I call it the play where I don’t touch the football [laughing]. We basically have three or four running back guys that can do some special things. We just try to take advantage of those guys’ strengths.”

(Bevell said you’ve taken about 15 guys out to dinner. Is that right?) “I think there’s a lot of things that go into playing the quarterback position. Leadership is multi-faceted, and before you can tell a guy what to do or have him believe in what you’re maybe trying to teach to him, you’ve got to have a good relationship with him and the quickest way to have a good relationship with guys is to fill their stomach with a steak. Especially these guys. [Laughing]. So I try to do things, and it’s all part of the position of playing quarterback.”

(Thoughts on Tarvaris and criticism he’s endured) “He’s a very mentally tough guy. He’s done a great job of handling it, I think, and for a young guy to handle it like he has, I think is tremendous and speaks a lot about him. He and I are competing hard out here. He’s helping me out with some things and I’m trying to help him a little bit, because at the end of the day it’s about trying to make the Minnesota Vikings the best football team possible and bring this team as far as possible in the playoffs and whatever happens there at the end of the season.”

(What does he help you with?) “Maybe little things, like how guys run certain routes or how things are read. We go over so many pass plays so fast, you don’t always always get how we’re reading this as a quarterback. You’re talking about the receivers and the tight end. There’s certain little intricacies that I may not know that he can help with.” 

Adjusting to life without the wedge

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Every special teams coach in the NFL was impacted in March when the league outlawed the presence of a wedge of more than two players on kickoff returns. The wedge was the blocking triangle of mammoth men that a returner followed up the field.

The Vikings, for instance, used a three-man wedge.

The NFL’s Competition Committee had come to feel that the presence of three- or four-man wedges was resulting in too many injuries. Thus, starting this season no more than two players on the receiving end of a kickoff may intentionally form a wedge for the return man to follow. If a team uses a wedge of three or more players, it will receive a 15-yard penalty that will be enforced from the spot of the wedge.

“It was player safety,” said Vikings special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, who was promoted to that position following last season when Paul Ferraro left to join the Rams. “To my understanding, they felt that if you had a two-man wedge, there was a better chance of a guy running around a wedge and not having to go in between two giants. That’s what it was. It was three offensive linemen running right into a safety or a corner. They felt like if they removed one of those guys it gives the safety or corner a chance to run around a block and make it, rather than have to put himself in harm’s way and go into the wedge.”

Murphy doesn’t seem especially concerned about the change, pointing out the adjustment might be greater for a team like the Cowboys or Giants, who both used four-man wedges. “It’s more of a tweak of your system versus an overhaul to your system,” he said.

While teams no longer will have the ability to take three of their biggest players and latch them together on returns, that doesn’t mean special teams coaches are going to be able to make huge changes in how they use the personnel they are given on game day.

“Because of the active roster, I don’t know that you can have that many changes,” Murphy said. “There are only so many guys in a pool that you can draw from. With our system, you’re going to have three linebackers, you’re going to have a couple safeties, you’re going to have backup corners. You are landlocked in terms of the guys that you have to cover down.”

If you’re coming on board late and want some of the highlights from today’s two minicamp practices, check out our Twitter accounts. I’m at http://twitter.com/zulgad and Chip is at http://twitter.com/chipscoggins1. Also, Chip and I will be doing a live chat at noon Monday at www.startribune.com as a minicamp recap so start getting your questions ready.

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