Thursday, May 9, 2013

National Friday League: Defensive Backs, Punters

Size in the Secondary
Last season, the Vikes had to play against 6' 5" Calvin Johnson and 6' 4" Brandon Marshall, two of the most physically imposing wide receivers in the league, twice each. Calvin Johnson's prowess is well-documented, but Brandon Marshall might be even better at using his large, long body to fight off defensive backs to catch balls high in the air. In those four games, those receivers netted an insane 39 catches for 513 yards (though the Vikes went 3-1).

Those two wide receivers again appear on the Vikes' schedule four times.

On the current Viking roster, there are 10 defensive backs listed at 6'1" or 6'2":

Brandon Bishop (6'2")
Robert Blanton (6'1")
Chris Cook (6'2")
Darius Eubanks (6'1")
Bobby Felder (6'1")
A.J. Jefferson (6'1")
Mistral Raymond (6'1")
Xavier Rhodes (6'1")
Andrew Sendejo (6'1")
Harrison Smith (6'2")

Of course, a player on the roster in May is not a player on the roster in September, and a player listed at 6'1" is not necessarily listed at "good" or even "competent." But that lineup of height in the secondary indicates a unified approach to building up the secondary. It's conceivable that sometime soon the Vikings could be starting an entire secondary comprised of tall defensive backs: Cook, Rhodes, Smith, and Raymond (or Blanton, or somebody else?).

Chris Kluwe, we hardly knew ye (actually, we knew you pretty well)
Chris Kluwe has become an average punter: he ranked 17th in net yards per punt last season (he ranked 22nd in '11, 10th in '10). There's nothing wrong with with a team having an average punter; it's also entirely reasonable for a team with an average punter to look for a cheaper punter to try be at least average. But let's hope this decision doesn't punt a ball right into the Vikings' ass next season.

The Vikes made the right call replacing Ryan Longwell with rookie Blair Walsh last season (I mean, they really made the right call). But let's remember the Vikes were at that point coming off a 3-13 season, when a reliable but pricier kicker could hardly have been considered a priority for a rebuilding team. Now the Vikings are coming off a 10-6 playoff season and have added to the roster Gregg Jennings and three (three!) first round picks. Expectations are high, and unreliability at a key special teams position--where a single botched play can turn a game--could be costly (I'm not saying that Eddie Johnson kept the 2003 Vikings out of the playoffs, but I always sort of thought Eddie Johnson kept the 2003 Vikings out of the playoffs. Well, that and going 0-4 against the league's four worst teams that season).

If the Vikes' new punter doesn't fumble, shank it, or make some crazy decision that sets an opponent up with easy field position in a close game, then we will think about Chris Kluwe the punter next season about as much as we think about most punters--very, very little. But if the new punter screws up or basically isn't very good, people are going to question everything that went into that decision.

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