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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Vikings' Training Camp: Week Two Recap

Week two of Vikings' training camp is in the books. Here's a recap: 
 
With the first preseason game of the year on Friday, much of the news coming out of training camp during week two pertained to it. As for camp itself, the biggest story was a couple of confrontations had between Vikings' mercurial wide receiver Percy Harvin and rookie safety Harrison Smith. As was reported by ESPN 1500's Tom Pelissero and Judd Zulgad, the commotion began on Tuesday when during drills "Harvin caught a touchdown pass against Smith and briefly stood over the rookie, prompting Smith to say something that brought an unfavorable response from Harvin...."  There were previous reports of Smith practicing aggressively and a minor exchange between he and backup tight end Mickey Shuler having transpired during drills last week after Smith put a hit on Shuler. There were no previous reports involving any issues between Harvin and Smith; and therefore, if indeed that is the case, Harvin appears to be the instigator here.

Training camp is a time in which a player is supposed to prepare himself physically, mentally and emotionally for the upcoming season. During an actual game, standing over someone following a play draws a fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting. Why Harvin would feel it necessary to resort to that sort of conduct against a teammate on a practice field is suspect no matter which way you wish to look at it.

And what is more, following the second incident in question, for someone within the organization to have deemed it necessary to have a member of its media relations department chaperone Harvin off the field ought to embarrass both he and the team. Can a time be recalled when Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, or Wes Welker needed an escort off the field so as to evade having to answer questions from the media?  Why wasn't such a courtesy extended to Harrison Smith?  Like a man, Smith faced the media and answered its questions about the incident:  "It's not a passive sport. It's an aggressive sport played by aggressive people, so that stuff happens."

You have to tip your hat to Smith for not taking any shit just because he's a rookie. There was an absence of physicality on the Vikings defense too many times last year, as they were often shoved around and about with little or no resistance or effort to reciprocate. And if the offense can't handle his aggressive style of play, how are they ever going to handle the physicality of Ndamukong Suh, Patrick Willis, Julius Peppers, The Claymaker, Adrian Wilson and J.J. Watt this season?  Time to take the pampers off, girls. Orange Julius kiosks all across America are currently hiring if the pigskin profession is too tough for you.

Some other news and notes: 
  • Adrian Peterson has been removed from the active/PUP list and resumed practicing in 11-on-11 team drills at Vikings camp. It means he cannot start the regular season on reserve/PUP. Peterson is already working with the first team at Vikings practice and figures to play in a game at some point this preseason. It's clear that Peterson has not suffered a setback since his ACL surgery in December and, although he could still miss a game or two, he's on track to return in time for Week 1 against Jacksonville.    
  • Vikings starting NT Letroy Guion will miss a "week or two" after spraining his right PCL in Friday's preseason opener. Guion is in danger of missing the Vikings' next two preseason games. Coach Leslie Frazier fully expects him to be ready for Week 1. Guion is backed up by veteran Fred Evans and seventh-round rookie Trevor Guyton. 
  • John Carlson was spotted lightly jogging Monday for the first time since sustaining his knee injury on July 31. It's a minor step in the right direction. Carlson was wearing a large brace on his knee and had a hitch in his stride. He's still not close to returning from that Grade 2 MCL sprain. 
  • OC Bill Musgrave explains that Christian Ponder has made improvement in checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage. Too often last season, Ponder locked in on his primary read and left the pocket quickly because he wasn't reading the defense before the snap

Friday's Game: 

Injuries aside, the Vikings didn't suit up Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield or Percy Harvin. It has been custom in recent years for the Vikings to sit 30+ year-old players in the first preseason game. But why Harvin? The starters only played a couple series, so it wouldn't have killed him to have gotten some reps. After all, if he had the "spunk" during the week to spar with rookie safety Harrison Smith, then he should have had the energy to play some snaps. If the coaching staff was concerned about the possibility of injury, then don't play him at all during the preseason since a threat of injury doesn't differentiate one week from the next. Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, were among the receivers who all played in this week's preseason games. On the surface, this just looks like more cuddling of Percy and it sends a mixed message to the rest of the players particularly after Harvin's offseason antics. 

Christian Ponder completed 4-of-9 passes for 80 yards and scrambled twice for seven yards. Ponder got no help from his teammates, as three of his incompletions were dropped by receivers. The other two were thrown away under pressure.

Matt Kalil was beaten badly on an outside speed-rush on third-and-nine during the Vikings' opening drive, causing Ponder to flee the pocket and get rid of the ball.  Welcome to the NFL!  The play resulted in Blair Walsh's first professional field goal to get the Vikings on the board.

WR Stephen Burton caught a 52-yard post pattern on the second play of the Vikings first possession, but later had an ugly drop on a timed curl route where he obviously felt the heat of an incoming defender and took his eyes off the ball.

There were two other Christian Ponder passes dropped in the first two possessions: one by Jerome "Cannabis" Simpson on the third play of the game, and another by veteran Michael Jenkins. The Cannabis drop was particularly slapstick considering the play was obviously designed specifically for him. It worked well considering he was wide open but he let the ball into his body, and while trying to collect the rebound, he looked like someone trying to defend himself against a wedgie attack.

Here are some noted Mutts and Beasts from the game:

Mutts

The Run Defense
Honestly, did you get the license plate of that armored Humvee that just ran roughshod over the Vikings' defense to the tune of 260 yards on 42 carries for an average of 6.8 per rush. Ouch!  The fact that Kevin Williams didn't play and Letroy Guion left the game with a knee injury is offset by the likes of Anthony Dixon and Rock Cartwright being responsible for doing the majority of the damage (save 49ers' back-up QB Colin Kaepernick's long TD run made on a read-option play which he was hardly even touched during). Yeah, that's right, a 32 year-old journeyman Rock Cartwright for one game in his career looked like Eric Dickerson!  Now, if we could only allure Elvis Peacock and Jarvis Redwine to come out of retirement and do the same, the Vikings will have the distinct pleasure of being the first team in NFL history to have been bulldozed by three different Hanna-Barbera characters. Which segues to...

Jasper Brinkley
Watching the game for a second-time, it is mind-numbing how utterly incompetent Brinkley looked. It was like he was always a good second-and-a-half behind everyone else on his reactions. Moreover, he seemingly wanted to negotiate with blockers rather than shed them and often was simply overwhelmed as the ball-carrier practically waved a "See ya" while running past him. On the 49ers touchdown drive in the first quarter, there's a play where Brinkley encroached the line of scrimmage off the snap before pirouetting thinking it was a pass—only in fact it was a run. The effect was reminiscent of the classic arcade game Frogger, with Brinkley heading in the direction of incoming traffic looking around like a deer in headlights. Upon realizing it was a run, he pirouetted yet again but was facing the opposite sideline from where the action was taking place. Eventually, J'Brink entered the camera shot once more—after the play had been over for four seconds and other players were already heading back to the huddle—clapping his hands together and shaking his head to himself as though he just missed making the play. It goes without saying that Jasper's going to have to pick-up his game a notch.

Jarius Wright
The rookie WR selected in the fourth-round of the draft has not had a very good camp if reports are accurate. If so, he only compounded it all the more with a performance in Friday's game that could be considered lacking in energy and awareness. Perhaps he doesn't know the playbook like he should, but there was one play which he obviously didn't know whether he ought to be going out on a pass route or staying home and blocking. Wright didn't catch a pass on three targets and didn't come back to the ball on a late fourth-quarter pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson resulting in an interception. The Vikings' look very shaky at the wide receiver position. 

Broadcaster Paul Allen
For those of you who have ever listened to a Vikings' radio broadcast, you're cognizant of play-by-play man Paul Allen's propensity for proffering the preposterously ill-informed aper├žu every now and again. The KFAN radio personality and his always uninsightful game-analyst—career bench-player and back-up linebacker Pete Bercich—were calling the game during Friday night's locally televised broadcast. While offering a compendium of rookie offensive tackle Matt Kalil, Allen demonstrated once more how very little he actually knows about college players and prospects by commenting that Kalil played right-tackle at Southern Cal and had only made the move to left-tackle after Tyron Smith left school early for the draft (he was taken by the Dallas Cowboys with the ninth overall pick in 2011). The truth of the matter is, Kalil had always played the left-tackle position at USC and, in fact, he beat out Tyron Smith for said honor. That was one of the reasons the pundits accredited Kalil for being a unique left-tackle prospect.  

The Beasts

Kerry Taylor
WR Taylor had a strong preseason last year for the Packers, catching seven passes for 56 yards and a score, but couldn't crack the Packers' loaded receiver corps. He spent time on the practice squad of four different teams during the course of the year including the Vikings, so he's considered a long shot to make the final roster. But, for this game anyways, Taylor caught both passes thrown his way for 35 yards, including an absolute laser from third/fourth-string QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson which he had to go to the ground in order to cradle and of which went for 28 yards on a 3rd-and-14. A second watching of the game showed a kid that was quick and decisive out of his cuts, and an absolute irritant while blocking. In fact, several 49er DB's were visibly perturbed at his manhandling of them. With the Vikings receiver corp a work-in-progress, there's a chance a no-namer like Kerry could sneak onto the final roster with an impressive preseason. 

Audie Cole
If you have the opportunity to watch the game again, keep your eyes on #57 in the second-half.  The rookie linebacker was advertised as a strongside prospect coming out of the draft, but manned the middle last night. The broadcast had Cole miked, resulting in possibly the most boring sound bites ever recorded during an NFL game with the rookie but uttering approximately six words. As it turns out, he was letting his play do the talking: exhibiting high intensity, a willingness to take on and shed blockers, covering tight ends on pass patterns, and looking indefatigable in pursuit. In fact, I counted only two plays total with Cole on the field in which he wasn't either involved in or around the ball at the conclusion of the play. He finished the night with three solo tackles and sacked the crap out of back-up 49ers' QB (and former Wisconsin Badger) Scott Tolzien, but his statline really doesn't due his play justice. If Jasper Brinkley continues to look like a new-born gazelle trying to get its footing for the first time, Cole might be an attractive alternative to man the middle of the Vikings' base-D. 

Blair Walsh
Eyes were on the rookie placekicker to see how well he could handle an actual game experience in the NFL and he didn't disappoint. He went two-for-two on field goal attempts to go along with two touchbacks on kickoffs. Despite his range not being all that tested—his FG's were from 39 and 26 yards—he demonstrated poise and seemed unfazed by the spotlight. There are those nitpicking that the wind was at his back for both his touchbacks, but since he was kicking into the endzone in Mankato as well he deserves some benefit of the doubt. Next week will be Walsh's first opportunity to kick on the homefield. Since division-rival Detroit plays on the same field-turf as the Vikings do, Walsh is guaranteed at least nine games in which he'll be kicking off the same surface. If he kicks well enough on it the Vikings might feel compelled to bring it along with them to their new stadium in a few years.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Within the harsh elements of wind and chill that are synonymous with the City by the Bay, McLBT's (sounds like a McDonald's sandwich, doesn't it?) arm strength and quick release were nonetheless on display. His performance wasn't as good as some are giving him credit for; but regardless, he demonstrated poise, a command of the huddle and did enough to generate some chatter about himself which is exactly what a bubble-player trying to beat out a veteran for the QB3 position needs more than anything.

Now for the tweets of the week:  

Trevor Guyton:  Did you try Sid's wardrobe?
Stephen Burton: A deep league?    
Geoff Schwartz: And did you see Jasper Brinkley during Friday's game?