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Article: Personnel Changes are Trending as the Roster is Set

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#1 Joe Oberle

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 05:11 AM

With the 2014 NFL regular season to start this week, excitement and anticipation for the return of football is building, but we’re not sure if the Minnesota Vikings are done re-building their roster. On Saturday, the team cut its roster to the required 53 players and on Sunday compiled a practice squad, but with one spot left to fill, they may not be finished.The Vikings take on the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday, Sept. 7th, but until that day, personnel is still the topic du jour plus a few performances from the last preseason game worth revisiting.

Trending

The Vikings cut running back Joe Banyard on Saturday and reports immediately surfaced that the team wanted to retain him on their practice squad. Those reports were verified as he made it though waivers on Sunday and was signed to the Vikings’ practice squad. And who could blame them. Banyard, fresh off an 18-carry, 111-yard performance against the Titans, led the team in rushing this summer. Those are preseason numbers, against second and third team defenses, but Banyard clearly made the roster cut day difficult for the Vikings coaching staff. His time in Purple is not done, as he fortifies the depth of the running backs.

Regarding roster moves, the Vikings weren’t done themselves after the initial cut down, as they claimed former Gopher quarterback and Cleveland Browns tight end MarQueis Gray and former San Diego Charger offensive tackle Mike Harris off waivers on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has coached both players--Gray last season in Cleveland and Harris as a Charger in 2012--so perhaps “dancing with the devil the you know rather than the one you don’t” may apply in this situation.

The Vikings had only two tight ends on the 53-man roster, and with Rhett Ellison known as more of a blocking tight end than pass-catching, it makes sense to add an athlete of Gray’s caliber for depth. For his part, Harris can play both tackle spots and that increases the offensive line depth.

In order to make room for them on the roster, the Vikings waived linebacker Larry Dean and offensive tackle Austin Wentworth. Wentworth would have to clear waivers before returning to the Vikings practice squad, but Dean, who has been a prized special teams player, is not eligible. Couple his loss with that of Jamarca Sanford (see below) and special teams coach Mike Priefer is likely scrambling to find players to outfit his kicking teams.

There was some hand wringing concerning the performance of Blair Walsh this preseason, who struggled just a bit in his first two preseason games at TCF Bank Stadium (making just four out of six field goal attempts and one missed extra point). Walsh appears to have put that to rest for the time being as he finished the preseason outdoors on the road and was perfect with his kicks (seven for seven in field goals and hit all four extra points). He did not make any attempts past 50 yards, which was giving him problems in the first two games (and was a strength for him in 2013), but he tweaked his mechanics and performed much better. He still has to figure out the winds at The Bank, and that will come in time, but next weekend he goes inside a dome in St. Louis, which should make him feel right at home.

Defending

The rebuilding Vikings are in the midst of a youth movement. It started with the team not re-signing aging defensive linemen Jared Allen (age 32) and Kevin Williams (age 34) and continued on Saturday when the Vikings cut defensive end Fred Evans (age 30) and Chris Crocker (age 34) and put Sanford on the short term IR. The new coaching staff, which includes 58-year-old head coach Mike Zimmer and 62-year-old offensive coordinator Norv Turner, clearly aren’t following the pattern of the previous Vikings coaches, who occasionally brought in experienced players (Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and even Randy Moss) to fill holes in their roster.

Does that say they don’t want to win this season? Does it say that, like the Twins, the future is always coming and never arrives? Hardly. The NFL is a young players’ league and these veteran coaches simply recognize that. It’s a matter of the right blend of veterans and young players that help a team win.

The Vikings might miss Sanford’s excellent special teams play, but he spent plenty of his time in Minnesota as a back up who was pressed into safety duty due to injuries. The team could miss Evans’ solid backup performances and leadership, but the coaches have made it known that it is time for others to step up as leaders. Zimmer has said their decisions are all about what’s best for the team, so the fans have to give him the benefit of the doubt and him the opportunity to prove that.

It’s on Robert Blanton now. The perennial backup safety now looks to become the starting strong safety next to his college teammate Harrison Smith. Blanton missed much of training camp with a pulled hamstring, and the coaches brought in Zimmer disciple Chris Crocker to fill the void. Crocker appears to have been hired like some Baggar Vance-like guru to come in and mentor the younger players and then disappear into the mist once the season begins. Blanton, who was given the position during OTAs and then spit the bit this summer, now must be ready to take on an everyday starting role. The coaches like his skill set for the position, but he has only three starts in the past two seasons. We now have to see if he is ready to take it on full time and can stay healthy long term. Here’s hoping he has a better “golf swing” (metaphorically speaking) than Matt Damon.

Perhaps the most talked about reserve in all of training camp was wide receiver Adam Thielen. The Detroit Lakes native and MSU Mankato alum made most of outstate Minnesota happy by making the final 53-man roster on Saturday. Though he might have benefitted from the suspension of wideout Jerome Simpson which opened a temporary roster spot, it says here Thielen made it on his own right with consistently good play, hustle in every facet of the game and the tough attitude of a Vince Papale-like long shot who made everything of his opportunity.

In the final preseason game, Thielen scored his first-ever touchdown on a pass from Teddy Bridgewater but left the game with what was called an aggravation of a hip injury. As a Mankato native, I whole-heartedly defend this roster decision. Myself and other out-staters are hoping Thielen’s injury is nothing (and he’s “invincible”) and gets a chance to score a touchdown (and much more) in the regular season games s he continues his football career in purple and gold.

Ending

As mentioned above, the new coaching staff isn’t content with the status quo. Since the time that Zimmer took the job, the careers of several Vikings past have come to an end. So far, the decisions looked solid, but it remains to be seen how well the special teams play, how well the defensive line performs and how much havoc Jared Allen wreaks in the Vikings backfield during two games this season.

We suspect the roster building is now complete at Winter Park with the announcement of the practice squad. Although the team has only nine players on the squad with one spot left to fill. So, with a new coaching staff trying to find the best players for their new system, look for continued waiver searches—perhaps on the defensive side of the ball.

We are also pleased to announce (for anyone who has been living under a rock) that the preseason has ended and the regular season starts on Thursday, Sept. 4. That means the end of vanilla offenses. That means the end of meaningless stats and outcomes. That also means the end of Vikings games without Adrian Peterson playing in them.

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#2 Jeff

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 06:42 AM

I was a little shocked to see as much turn over of the roster as we did. Perhaps that's exactly what this team needed to shake things up.

I saw somewhere yesterday that our roster was now the 5th youngest in the NFL, hopefully Mike Zimmer can instill his knowledge in these guys and fast!

#3 Joe Oberle

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 07:55 AM

I was wondering about this team's age relevant to the rest of the league and hadn't seen that. But I was thinking it had to be on the young side. The coaching staff said they are teachers, but you are right, the players will have to learn quickly to keep pace this season.


#4 mike wants wins

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 08:28 AM

Glad for the turnover, last year they were old and bad, like the Twins started this year. That is a bad combination.

What I just typed is probably an opinion, not a fact. I mean, I'm usually right, so you should maybe assume it is or will be a fact soon, but that's up to you.


#5 Fran Forever

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 10:30 AM

"The future is always coming but never arrives" -- descriptive of so many Minnesota sports teams (think Timberwolves as well).


#6 DocBauer

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 02:37 PM

First, I have to say I'm pretty pleased with all the moves and draft choices the Vikes have made, and feel this is, overall, a solid roster with some real intrigue and potential, even though there are some potential holes that remain. But then a again, to expect a rebuild to last only one off season is unrealistic. Second, I am VERY impressed with Zimmer this far and his entire coaching staff as a whole. A 4-0 preseason means squat in the big picture. But it's the WAY the Vikings played and won that is so impressive! We didn't see a lot of penalties, very few turnovers, and there was general efficiency from all three aspects of the team. Some will talk about backups beating backups, and what does it matter. Perhaps nothing. But then again, backups play as fill ins. Backups play on ST. And backups may not only be future starters, but rotation players. So tell me that my backups are better than the opposition, and I feel pretty good! Offensively speaking: Amazing to me how the RB position has changed over the past 5 years or so from a priority position to an almost secondary one, unless you land a stud like Peterson. And yet, even if your RB position is handled more by committee these days, teams that can run the ball effectively are still amongst the strongest winners, playoff and SB contenders. And without Peterson, possessing a 3rd round pick, and a collection of rookie FA's at the RB position, the Vikings have built almost too much depth at the position. Banyard was OK last preseason, and looked like a real NFL RB this year. I'm actually shocked he slipped through waivers. Really, everyone is so deep at the position, even in today's pass happy league, that they don't have room for a solid overall back like Baynard? To be honest, I was extremely impressed with D Williams and thought with a year on the PS he might be even better than Banyard. I think Asiata is a fine all around player, who has exceeded all original expectations, and is deserving of a spot. And with no demeaning words for Felton or Line, both of whom I actually like, it's still surprising the team kept both of them when Ellison and Asiata could help out at FB. I think this is clearly a stamp on the roster from Turner, who wants to maintain a top running game with depth, versatility, while also keeping ST in mind. I really like the Vikings WR position, and feel it's the deepest and most talented it has been in years. I have some concern as to Jennings contract next season, but feel he and the FO will work that out. Wright is still very young, has a lot of talent, and shown real flashes. Despite a so-so preseason, I don't doubt his place with this team in an offense run by Turner. Thielen is no longer a good story or just the fan's choice. He is flat out a quality "football player". It doesn't matter if he's a late blooming, small school athlete any longer. He can flat out play, get open, catch the ball, has running skills after the catch, can return kicks, and cover them as well. The debate comes down to the very talented, but enigmatic Simpson vs Smith. In 3 weeks, there could be injury or roster move to keep 6 WR's. But if not, there is a choice to be made. Simpson is seemingly in some kind of trouble every season. He runs poor routes, and drops way too many easy passes. But he also has outstanding deep speed, open field running ability, and seems to make as many difficult catches as the easy ones he drops. Smith has no kind of track record other than pre season. But his routes seem generally solid, his hands look solid, and his body control/ability to adjust to a ball is something as impossible to teach as pure speed. Were it me, I'd have to think really hard about keeping Smith over Simpson for this year. TE is a huge surprise and mystery too me. Rudolph is a stud, enough said. Ellison was a really nice choice, though I don't think he played as well last season as his rookie season. And when we went to camp with Ford, who impressed the hell out of me the second half of last season, often outplaying Carlson and Ellison both, plus signing Reisner, I thought we were deep enough to consider keeping 4 TE's this season. The Ford foot injury obviously complicated things. Very grateful he is available for the PS as I believe he is quality and will be with the regular roster at some point. Surprised and sorry to see Reisner go...again. I liked him the first time, and liked him again this time. Not a tremendous physical specimen, and maybe so-so blocker, but the kid can play. I know M Gray is a specimen, but he's also really rough around the edges. Are we better off with him vs Reisner while waiting for Ford? This bears watching to be sure. I really like our starting 5 in the line. I know Kalil had a down 2013, but he has the ability to be amongst the best LT's in the game. And despite a so-so pre season, not only is the ability still there, but his run blocking might have been better than ever, which is just the opposite of what we've seen and been told before. Johnson might be the weak link, but he's not awful, and continuity on the OL is something hard to always quantify. I like Yankey's potential, but his pass pro needs work. Berger has been solid, and remains solid. Ducasse? I don't know. He seemed to have a solid camp, has experience at T, and Davison is a quality OL coach. Perhaps we'll end up with a nice reserve player here. There is a glaring weakness at OT that I hoped Richardson might help settle. I know nothing about Mike Harris, but apparently Turner does. I hope he's right. Richardson might yet prove be a quality option next season. And maybe Wentworth will prove to be a steal as a developmental player who ultimately has 4 or maybe even 5 position flexibility. I know he was waived. And the PS seems full as I write this. But I believe he will be brought back at the expense of someone else in the next 24 hrs or so. But this is the one area, OL as a whole, where I think we're still at least one good player away from having a really quality and deep unit.

#7 DocBauer

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 02:40 PM

Sorry for the long thread. For whatever reason, here as well as the Twins Daily website, half of my posts are normal. The other half all get stuck together in one long run-on paragraph. It's frustrating as can be, and I don't have an answer. I can only guess it is some apple/IPad problem/glitch in the matrix.

#8 DocBauer

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 02:44 PM

DL: I love what we have. I'm still shocked as to the Evans release as I felt we'd keep 5 DT's for this season. Obviously the coaches are banking on youth Nd potential, and I can't fault them for that. I thought Stephen looked very good at times, but really thought Evans could help out for one year. Trattou also impressed me far more than I ever expected. It would be nice to keep him. But with the 4 DE's we have, along with Barr playing a little end, it makes sense to put him on the PS for now.

#9 DocBauer

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 03:14 PM

I think LB is probably right where it should be. Been a Dean fan since he signed, but he really is a ST player solely who doesn't snap, and just isn't cut out for LB at this level. Mauti had a disappointing pre season, but the coaches must see some kind of potential in him, and I think that's wise. He shows toughness and instinct, and that has to play somewhere. In this case, I think it makes him more valuable than Dean. Brinkley was a nice call to bring back. Tough between the tackles and an OK blitzer. But Cole, while not quite as physical between the tackles, offers more range, and length and versatility. There's room for both this season, but I believe becomes the eventual starter at MLB, if not the immediate one. Depending on how he plays/develops this season, MLB could still be a pretty major need next off season. At worst, he should provide a quality ST who has the overall ability and skill set to be a solid 3 position backup. Not ancient, and playing better than I've seen him do in a couple years, Greenway is showing value. Barr is a potential stud. Watts has surprised me. Loved his speed and athleticism despite smaller stature. But from what I saw this pre season, he has a nose for ball location. Hodges is an athletic player with big upside who looks like a completely different player than last season. If a couple things work out right, the Vikings will be going in to 2015 with a really solid core at LB with room for ONE quality addition.

#10 DocBauer

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 03:41 PM

CB: Man, if there was one area on the team where we really needed all hands on deck for camp and the preseason, this was it. Initially, I had a very good feeling about the signing of Cox. When that didn't work out, I think the 6 CB spots, for better or worse, were set weeks ago. Rhodes is a future stud, and the future may come soon. Captain, my Captain is a poor man's version of Winfield, who is young and talented enough to actually BE a Winfield clone. Watch Robinson. I never believed he'd be cut. The talent just runs too deep. He's a small school kid with a potential skill set that would 1st round material if he played in a major conference. Last year's staff made a huge mistake putting him in the slot. And even us fans knew that immediately. With his talent, and this staff, and this defense, I'll honestly be shocked if he isn't a really solid #3-4 corner by season' send. A big Scherel's supporter, I thought his KC game put him on the bubble. He rebounded well against the Titans. Prater is kind of a mystery man. He was a kid I saw in HS who should have been a Husker, but got lost in a coaching change. Coming out of Iowa, I really wanted the Vikes to draft him in the later rounds. When they got him on waivers last season I was thrilled. And his play late last season was very encouraging. This whole preseason, in various mock final roster predictions, he was always left out and I never understood why. Not the biggest, strongest or fastest CB ever, the kid can flat out play and has great instincts and did a quality job this preseason when he got a shot. Price is the one surprise to me. He's tough and physical and comes from a top program, in a top conference, with loads of experience. But all the measureables coming in to the draft said he might not have what it takes. Of course, at the end of the day, they play the games for a reason. And he, and others, might make believers of all of us before the season is done. I think this staff, and roster turnover, has given us the most potential at CB in several years. Today, I still think this will be right near the top of areas to address next year for at least one more top prospect/player.

#11 DocBauer

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 04:08 PM

S: MISTER Smith is the top man here. To be frank, he is probably the best S the Vikings have had since Joey Browner patrolled the back secondary. He's that good. And to be frank, if there is one position, even in today's NFL, where you can hide/scheme a deficit, it's probably at safety. I've been a huge Sanford fan, but completely recognize his replaceability. I saw Sendejo actually play OK last season. He was a bit late sometimes, but showed some instinct, was physical, and a good ST player. Still, I thought he made a much better reserve than starter. Blanton is a huge mystery to me! Except for ST action, he pretty much sat his butt on the bench the past two seasons with the previous staff. However, when injuries hit hard last season, he was thrust in to an almost full time role as a nickel CB. He was completely lost at times, and solid at other times. Zimmer and his staff saw something, and worked him at S through OTA's and early in camp before...like almost everyone at the S position...injuries hit. I really hope a healthy Blanton, with previous CB experience, will solve the position of second S. If not, I think/hope Exume will prove to be the answer. To me, he was one of the biggest steals of the draft. He has CB experience and ability, but with better S experience and ability against major competition, but just needs to be healthy and gain experience. I kept reading where he might get cut, but kept wondering why? Next to Harrison, who else on the team had close to the same kind of natural ability? Blanton maybe. But we're talking a close call. I think we're one quality, everyday S away from having a real quality and deep back half of a secondary. But at least we have a couple really interesting options to work with and develop over the next 17 weeks.

#12 mike wants wins

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 05:51 PM

Wow Doc that is a lot of thoughts.......

 

I am not enamored with this team, I think it is young and ready for a 6 win season. That said, if the youth can learn this year, I think they will be better for it in the future. Frankly I would have traded Peterson 2 years ago, but I just don't see it happening.

 

I think the DB and LB remain the Achilles's heel of this team for at least one more year. I just don't see much talent there. This team gives me more hope than the Twins did, but I'm not confident it is more than just hope.

What I just typed is probably an opinion, not a fact. I mean, I'm usually right, so you should maybe assume it is or will be a fact soon, but that's up to you.


#13 TheLeviathan

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 07:16 PM

t's frustrating as can be, and I don't have an answer.

 

Shorter, more direct points?


#14 twgerber

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 07:09 AM

Sadly I think the LB and CB groups are just too weak to make the playoffs this year.  We'd have to have some real surprises there for it to occur.


#15 cwzimmerman

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 05:06 AM

Sadly I think the LB and CB groups are just too weak to make the playoffs this year.  We'd have to have some real surprises there for it to occur.

I agree.  However, I would be a little surprised if we don't at least make some positive and noticeable moves in the direction of being a team capable of going on a deep playoff run.  Just don't see it happening this year, though.


#16 cdryks

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 08:02 AM

I'm a fan of the 'youth movement."  I'm a little sick of the "ALL IN" stuff of a few years ago where teams are signing older, almost washed-up vets that may only have a year left.  A lot of the older guys that are being cut are guys that play a role as a backup or an almost-starter.  I feel like a lot of the way that the season goes is going to depend on our defensive line and how much pressure we can put on the opposing qb's.  With the cb's no longer playing that sit back and give a cushion type game, it may knock a few qb's off of that stupid rhythm-type passing offense and make a few disruptions.  If the line doesn't create the pressure, then I'll be a lot more worried about the secondary.  We've been drafting the bigger, physical corners to play a cushion coverage, which hasn't made a lot of sense to me.  I feel like those guys will fit much better in this type of defense.  Maybe even Chris Cook may have been able to place in this D?  Still very glad he's gone!  

 

Also a lot of mentioning how deep our receiver group is now?  It's the same as it has been!  Just a different scheme and no Ponder shooting ducks at them.  It all looks better!