Friday, August 12, 2016

Minnesota Vikings 2016: Let the fake games begin!

Your reward for being deprived of Vikings football for roughly eight months arrives tonight - 60 minutes of likely boring, penalty-filled football being played by a lot of guys who won't see the field much or ever, after the preseason is over.

However, that doesn't mean I won't be keenly interested in how the team, its units and individual players perform.

Ask any Vikes fan to list the key issues the team must resolve this season to go from surprise NFC North divisional champion to Super Bowl champion and it probably will look like this: 1) offensive line becomes competent 2) Teddy Bridgewater makes The Leap 3) Laquon Treadwell and the Vikings wide receivers in general become legit pass catching threats 4) Finding someone to start at strong safety who is better than Andrew Sendejo.

But because this is the first preseason game and the starters will play only a series or two, we're not going to get any answers to #1 and #2. I'm also less worried about the strong safety position than most, so I'm not going to be terribly focused on that tonight. That leaves the WR position.

The Vikings have a group of receivers with potential but not much production. All of them have a lot to prove. The four guys I'll be watching closely tonight are as follows:

Charles Johnson: CJ's 2015 did not go as planned. But he's listed as one of the starting WRs currently and from what I've read has looked pretty good in training camp. However, we heard this last year and even before he sustained a rib injury he's blamed for his disappearance from the Vikings offense, he was doing very little. I don't know how much he'll play tonight, but I hope it's a fair bit. I need to see Charles Johnson making catches and being targeted consistently in preseason (and that starts tonight) to convince me he's a better player than we saw last year.

Adam Thielen: When the Vikings passing game struggled last year I wondered aloud whether it was worth giving Thielen more snaps to see what he could do. In training camp he's been getting them and he's moved up the depth chart. Now he's got to solidify that move, and the best way to do it is to catch a shitload of passes against a good Cincinnati defense.

Cordarrelle Patterson: You've read the blog posts and stories. Patterson really worked on his craft this offseason, particularly his route running (you wait three years into your NFL career to do this?). He's looked good in OTAs and the coaching staff have gone out of its way to praise him. That's encouraging, but I'll believe it when I see it. If Patterson can make an impact as a traditional receiver this evening - even against Bengal backups and camp bodies, maybe I'll start believing.

Laquon Treadwell: I think we'll see Treadwell a lot against the Bengals, and I'm looking forward to it. A night where Treadwell is targeted often and makes several catches will be extremely encouraging. We know he dropped to the Vikings because several teams were worried he is too slow and wouldn't be able to get away from NFL corners. Tonight we'll get a sense of whether this is B.S. and what kind of catches and routes Treadwell does well and not-so-well. The Bengals defense is usually talented and pretty deep. Even if you are playing against their backups, those are better backups than three quarters of NFL's defenses have on their rosters. If Treadwell is productive against them, just like Stefon Diggs was productive when he played last preseason, I think we can feel reasonably good about how his rookie year will turn out. If he doesn't, well ....    

Friday, July 22, 2016

Memories of Dennis Green

We've taken an unplanned offseason hiatus at Kick Ass Blog. But sometimes events just have to be addressed.

The death of Dennis Green is one of those events.

For most Vikings fans, Bud Grant is the head coach they lionize. I do that, too. But I do it in much the same way I'd praise someone like Plato - I know both men did great things. But I didn't really witness any of it. All I know about their accomplishments I know from reading about them. Grant's salad days were in the late 60s and early-to-mid 70s. I was too young to appreciate much of what Grant and the Vikings accomplished during his time as head coach, and as Canadian television wasn't showing much NFL football until the mid-80s, I also got to see very little of it. Bud Grant is very much a historical figure to me.

Dennis Green isn't that like that. When he became head coach of the Vikings in 1992, U.S. cable TV was a mainstay even in my rural corner of Eastern Canada. I was able to watch the Vikings at least three of four times a year live, and the media coverage of the NFL had started to creep towards the 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year universe we know and love today. Green and the Vikings were the first Vikes coach and team I knew intimately and followed closely.

That's why Green feels more like "my coach" than Grant, and it's why I'm saddened to hear of his passing. For some reason, I rarely hear Viking fans talk much about Green and what he did while he was in Minnesota. I don't live, nor have I ever lived in the state, but it seems like he was almost generally disliked by the time he was fired/resigned with a game left to go in the 2001 season.

That seems like a shame.

No, Green never won a Super Bowl or even got to one. But he did have a .610 winning percentage (97-62 record) in 10 seasons with the team. The Vikings only losing season under Green was his last in 2001, and the team made the playoffs in eight of those seasons - reaching the NFC Championship game twice.

In the 14 seasons since he left, the Vikings have had four coaches, made the playoffs four times, appeared in one NFC championship and posted a record of 110-113-1.

Green's team were always competitive and he made winning seem routine again. He also made the Vikings relevant nationally again. It should also be remembered Green made a point of keeping his coaching staff stocked with African American assistants at a time when they were still having a hard time getting into the NFL coaching ranks (Tony Dungy was a beneficiary of Green's philosophy.)

His team's didn't have great success in the playoffs (4-8 overall) and the missed opportunity of 1998 will always sting. However, Green's career in purple deserves to be remembered a little more fondly and more often by Viking fans than it has been.

I hope his death at least results in that happening.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Immediate impact of Vikings 2016 draftees will likely differ from that of the 2015 class

The first thing Vikings fans need to realize is the team is unlikely to get the same kind of immediate returns from its 2016 draft class that it got from the 2015 draftees.

The 2015 draft yielded a starting middle linebacker (Eric Kendricks), a starting right tackle (T.J. Clemmings), a starting wide receiver (Stefon Diggs), a defensive end who was playing 30-40 snaps by the end of the year (Danielle Hunter) and a tight end who saw significant playing time in the Vikes oft-used three-tight end sets (MyCole Pruitt).

By comparison, the 2016 draft has only one player - Laquon Treadwell - who at first glance appears to be set to play a significant role for the team. The Vikings traded away its third-round selection and even second rounder Mackensie Alexander will have a hard time playing much for a deep cornerback unit that includes Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, Trae Waynes and even Jabari Price and Marcus Sherels - if that unit remains relatively healthy this season (although expecting any unit in the NFL to remain relatively healthy is always an uncertain thing.)

It's been mentioned elsewhere, but Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer obviously feel pretty good about where the roster is at based on what was done during the draft. The team took a lot of guys who will need time and coaching to become productive NFL players. And the Vikings roster is now deep and talented enough to give them that time.

If you're coming off a 3-13 season - like the Vikings were in 2011 - you can't afford to draft a player in the second round like Alexander who is a great value at that draft slot but won't help you much right away because he's buried at the bottom of a positional depth chart. However, coming off an 11-5 season with pretty much every significant player on that team returning, you can. It's a sign that the Vikings coaches and management believe they have a strong foundation to compete for the playoffs again and have very few roster holes.

But just because Willie Beavers and Kentrell Brothers won't be factors in 2016, doesn't mean we shouldn't pay close attention to the players picked between rounds four and seven, and even the undrafted free agents the Vikings have signed. The first and second round picks often create the most buzz during the draft, but NFL rosters are made up of more than first and second rounders. In 2015, eight of the Vikings 22 starters (37 per cent) were drafted in the fourth round or later. Some of those eight players weren't drafted at all.

Moritz Boehringer might be an ex-soccer player who needs a lot of seasoning. But in three years time, he might be a key player for the Vikings.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Vikings 2016 draft - Laquon Treadwell!

So it is Laquon Treadwell, and as ESPN's Ben Goessling points out, the 'Ole Miss player fills a big need for the Vikings.

This scouting report sums up everything I've read about Treadwell. In short, Treadwell has the size, savvy, competitiveness and the kind of hands that everybody is looking for in a receiver. The issue with Treadwell is the 4:63 40-yard dash time he ran at his pro day. That's slow for an NFL wide receiver, and there are concerns that Treadwell will have trouble "separating" from NFL cornerbacks. It's why he was available at pick #23. If the separation thing is a big problem in the NFL, Treadwell could be a bust along the lines of general manager Rick Spielman's last first round WR selection - Cordarrelle Patterson.

But I've also seen Treadwell compared to Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, former Cowboy Michael Irvin and even New York's Brandon Marshall. If Treadwell turns out to be anything like those three, the Vikings just got themselves a hell of a player at a position where they need a hell of a player - although much like Hopkins, we might not see Treadwell blossom until his second or third year (wide receivers are often like that.) 

I also think Treadwell's skill set seems to match Teddy Bridgewater's skill set, and that's important. I've watched Teddy for two years now and I don't think throwing deep stuff is ever going to be a big part of his game. It's why Mike Wallace was completely useless in 2015. What Bridgewater needs are guys who can get open on shorter and medium routes, who can use their size and toughness to create throwing windows even when teams know what's coming and don't feel Bridgewater can hurt them on deep throws consistently. And they need a guy who can win 50-50 balls in the red zone. Treadwell has the skills to do that. So the pick makes complete sense even if there were some people hoping the Vikings would take UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. I think the microfracture surgery business made Jack too much of a risk in the first round for the Vikes.

So, the Vikings can cross one thing off their draft to-do list - they've added a promising player to a ho-hum group of wide receivers. He's the kind of player who could be a game-changer for the Vikings offense and passing game.

Now let's see if Spielman and the Vikings attack positions like safety, the offensive line and even middle linebacker and defensive tackle on day two of the draft.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vikings get their 2016 schedule. Can you say "16-0"?

I've got a couple of draft-themed posts I'm working on. But they require a fair bit of research, so it's taking some time to complete them.

So in the interest of keeping this blog somewhat filled with fresh content, I'll dive into the Vikings 2016 regular season schedule, which the NFL released this evening.

We've known who the Vikings opponents were going to be for months now. And the schedule doesn't seem quite as daunting as the 2015 version appeared to be this at time last year. That's mostly because the Vikes get to play the AFC South and the NFC East this year. Those divisions were weak in 2015 and it's expected they will be weak again in 2016.

Because of that, the schedule has no obvious murderous stretch of quality opponents like the final seven games of the 2015 season were supposed to be.

But you know, I've never been big on analyzing the Vikings schedule and trying to predict what the tough games will be and what ones won't be. So much can change in between now and when you play these teams, that what you think is reality now likely won't be reality then.

Remember last year's season opener on the road against San Francisco? (I know you don't want to.) The game seemed almost like a gimme considering all the player retirements, the Aldon Smith thing, and the turmoil over the loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh the 49ers had dealt with. Instead the Vikes got throttled by a team that went 5-11. On the flip side, a late season game against the New York Giants looked like a tough home contest to win in August. But by the time Minnesota faced the Giants in late December, the G-Men were free falling, without their best player Odell Beckham Jr., and the Vikes handed them a humiliating spanking on Sunday Night Football.

There are a few things in the NFL that are absolutes when it comes to regular season schedules: 1) Road games at Lambeau and Soldier Field will always be tough no matter what team the Packers and the Bears are running out there because the Vikings don't do easy at Lambeau and Soldier Field, and 2) There are no other absolutes.

When it comes to the Vikings opponents and predicting wins and losses in April, we don't know nuthin'.

So enjoy the draft chatter, and marvel at what a stupid trade the Los Angeles Rams made today. But as far as the Vikings 2016 schedule - don't sweat it. I certainly won't.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thoughts on Vikings first round draft pick strategies

OH MY GOD! IT'S ONLY 21 DAYS UNTIL THE NFL DRAFT AND I HAVEN'T EVEN DONE ONE "GET TO KNOW 'EM" POST!

(Exhale.)

OK, now that I've got that out of the way. It's time for my first post of April (I promise it won't be the last. What I won't promise is how many more of them there will be.)

Most Vikings fans have settled into full draft mode now that the initial frenzy of free agency is over. And I sense there are a few schools of thought on what general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikes brass should do with the #23 overall pick in the draft.

Here are those schools of thought as I can best interpret them:

1. The team should address it's most glaring weakness (a lack of a big-play wide receiver) and select whomever is still there at #23 among the top-rated WR prospects, which are Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Will Fuller and maybe Michael Thomas. This will give Teddy Bridgewater another weapon at his disposal to juice up a woeful passing game and allow the Vikings offense to be an asset in 2016 instead of the liability it often was in 2015.

2. The team should ignore it's most glaring weakness (a lack of a big-play wide receiver) because none of the aforementioned guys qualifies. Besides, the Vikings passing game will improve because a) Bridgewater is going to improve b) the offensive line will be much improved based on the moves management made this offseason, and c) the WRs on the Vikings roster aren't as bad as we think. Instead, the Vikings should take the best defensive player available at #23, whether it be a pass rushing demon at defensive end, a dynamic mauler at defensive tackle, a heat-seeking missile at safety who falls to them or some linebacker with mad pass rushing skills who can also tackle and cover pass catchers in space. The Vikings defense was pretty good in 2015. But give it another blue chip talent and it could be elite in 2016, which helps the Vikings get to the Super Bowl way more than some underperforming rookie wideout will.

3. Derrick Henry is still available at #23 ... oh shit, what do we do now?

Right now, I'm leaning towards the Vikings doing #2 - go get a defensive guy with the #23 pick even if one of the top WRs is still around - and I think a few of them will be. When I think about it, I see some similarities in where the Vikings are now defensively to where they were offensively in 1997. The 1997 Minnesota Vikings offense was pretty good already. It had Cris Carter and Jake Reed to catch passes, Robert Smith to run the ball. It had an in-his-prime Brad Johnson at quarterback, and a talented offensive line filled with veterans that had played together for a while. That offense would have still been pretty good in 1998. But when the Vikings gambled and drafted Randy Moss that spring - even with Carter and Reed already on the roster - it took that unit to a whole other level and really set the team on the path for a magical season.

The Vikings defense seems to be in a similar place to me heading into 2016. There is a lot of talent there, and a lot of young talent that is still growing and improving. But even though it finished fifth in points allowed (giving up just 18.9 points per game), it showed some weaknesses, mostly in run defense. If a player like Leonard Floyd or Reggie Ragland or Shaq Lawson or Robert Nkemdiche (and I could go on) is there at #23, picking the right defensive player could nudge the Vikings defense into Seattle Seahawks 2013-2015 territory. That kind of defense will terrorize quarterbacks, generate turnovers and force offenses into a lot of drives that don't result in points. And all of that will make life easier for the Vikings offense - giving it better field position and more opportunities to score points.

So, Rick Spielman, on that first draft night, perhaps resist the urge to follow the herd and pick a receiver. Instead go get another defensive weapon that head coach Mike Zimmer can deploy in a way only he can.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Vikings free agency 2016: Retaining your own

Once again, there's been a long pause in between posts at Kick Ass Blog.

And that's probably the way it's going to be until the exhibition season starts - long pauses with short bursts of activity (like during draft weekend).

But I have some time to pen a post today, and I will focus on the Vikings actions regarding their own free agents.

The Vikings had a number of in-house free agents when the signing period started, and I'm struck by how much the ones they re-signed, and didn't, match my own views.

If I had written out a wish list of in-house guys I would've wanted the Vikings to keep, it would have included Audie Cole (great depth at LB with starter potential), Mike Harris (depth guy for the O-line, who played quite well at right guard), Marcus Sherels (sure-handed punt returner who consistently generates positive return yardage), Terence Newman (coach on the field who is still playing at a high level) and Rhett Ellison (glue guy who blocks like a motherfucker.) I could take or leave keeping Matt Asiata and Justin Trattou, but I can see why the Vikings re-signed them on the cheap.

Letting Josh Robinson and Robert Blanton is exactly what I would have done. Robinson would have been the team's fifth (and depending on Jabari Price's development this season) or sixth cornerback. He wouldn't be a happy camper in that role, and he's never put it together in four years with the Vikes, so why invest any more in him? And Blanton is just a guy. He will be easy to replace.

The somewhat pricey extension safety Andrew Sendejo got still surprises me two weeks later. But the Vikings obviously weren't comfortable with their depth there even after signing Michael Griffin, and he's generally been a good special teams player.

Will the Vikes re-sign Chad Greenway? The 33-year-old still wants to come back, but it's taking some time. Do you even want Greenway back?  A lot of Viking fans (me included) didn't think he should be starting heading into 2015, his play had fallen off it seemed. But then the Vikings went 11-5, largely on the back of a strong defense, Greenway became a guy playing only in the base defense and getting minimal snaps some games, and suddenly he wasn't as big a problem. That doesn't mean he played well, however. Pro Football Focus had him ranked as below replacement value last year.

Before free agency started, I thought Greenway coming back for one more season was at about 75-80 per cent. But the longer he stays un-signed, I think it's 40-45 per cent now. I'm OK with that, too.