Access Vikings

Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


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Bevell: Trading Harvin was a must-make decision for Seahawks

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 29th at 9:02am 290196381

You’re Darrell Bevell and you’re an offensive coordinator, a job that’s more X’s and O’s than managing personalities within the grand framework of your football team.

Your head coach in Seattle is Pete Carroll, and his job often is more about managing personalities within the grand framework of the team than it is X’s and O’s. Carroll comes to you when you’re 3-2 and being written off as a defending Super Bowl champion. He tells you the best way to get better is to unload one of the league’s most athletically gifted and versatile O’s.

Bevell, the former Vikings offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010, said he learned a lot from Carroll this year when he pulled the trigger that dumped Percy Harvin, the immensely talented, hard-working and oftentimes unmanageably volatile receiver/kick returner, for the Jets’ fourth-round draft pick this year. The Vikings, who drafted Harvin in the first round in 2009, ran into the same problem, although a disagreement on money was a factor as well when they unloaded Harvin to Seattle before the 2013 season.

“Pete has been in it a long time, done it a long time,” Bevell said Wednesday at the Seahawks Super Bowl hotel. “He’s made a lot of hard decisions along the way. That was one that ended up being a huge decision, but in the long run, you could tell it was good for the Seahawks.”

Seattle lost its first game without Harvin, dropping to 3-3, before going 11-1 to reach Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday.

“It’s a difficult deal because you have a player who is so talented on the field and can do so many things,” Bevell said. “Your mind is just going with all the positive things that he can do on the football field. Immediately, that’s where your mind goes. It’s like, ‘OK, if we’re going to miss that big chunk, now what are we going to do and how are we going to adjust?’”

Bevell will be a head coach at some point. He’ll remember the Harvin situation and how Carroll handled it.

“Hopefully, you don’t have to do decisions like that, but now and again they do come up,” Bevell said. “It was good to be here to watch the whys and what-fors of that decision and what it came down to. And then, ultimately, being able to pull the trigger on that.”

Vikings offseason snapshot: the linebackers

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 28th at 10:31am 290073081

Over the next two weeks, we will take a position-by-position look at where the Vikings stand heading into the offseason after their 7-9 season in 2014. Today, let’s take a glance at the linebackers.

We knew first-year head coach Mike Zimmer would be looking for a different style of linebacker than the Vikings had in their Cover Two days under former coach Leslie Frazier. That belief was confirmed on the first night of the draft when the Vikings selected Anthony Barr, a disruptive pass rusher from UCLA, with their first pick of the draft.

The selection of Barr surprised some because a number of draft analysts had pegged him as a better fit for a 3-4 defense. But it didn’t take long for Barr to make the Vikings look good for their selection. The rookie made a number of big plays in the first half of the season, none bigger than his walk-off touchdown in the overtime win over the Buccaneers.

The Vikings started a pair of veterans in Chad Greenway and Jasper Brinkley alongside Barr. Greenway, though, battled a few injuries — including painful broken ribs, which snapped his lengthy Ironman streak — and Father Time. Brinkley was serviceable in a run-stopping role.

Injuries to Barr and Greenway created opportunities for Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole. Both showed flashes of starting potential as reserves, but the team might again have to add talent at linebacker this offseason.

ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Barr was garnering NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year hype when a knee injury ended his season prematurely. While his tackling left more to be desired, Barr was a playmaker all over the field, including in coverage, which was a pleasant surprise to those outside the organization. Barr looked like a future star while filled the stat sheet with 70 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and three recoveries in 12 games. And while there are no guarantees, one can expect Barr to be better in 2015.

ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: The Vikings are entering another offseason with a need at middle linebacker. Brinkley was serviceable in 2014 while playing at the league minimum, but the Vikings, not trusting him to cover, had to remove him from the field when they used their nickel package. He ended up playing just 42.5 percent of the snaps despite being a starter. The Vikings would like to have a three-down middle linebacker, giving them the flexibility to stay in their base defense more if those chose. Those guys are tough to find.

GRADES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: Since the Vikings (understandably) won’t make their player grades public, we turn to Pro Football Focus, whom some players and coaches have been critical of. For context with these grades, a grade of 0.0 is considered average. Positive grades are good. Negative grades are not. Barr led the way with a plus-9.3 grade. Cole, thanks to strong performances in Week 16 and 17, was right behind him at plus-8.7. Hodges was a plus-8.4. And Brinkley was a plus-2.5 (he was a plus-7.7 against the run). On the flip side, Greenway was a negative-15.9, the worst grade among all Vikings defenders.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 33 — defensive stops for Barr, most on the team according to PFF.

POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: One of the toughest decisions the Vikings must make, at least from an emotional standpoint, is whether to keep Greenway. The 32-year-old is scheduled to have a cap hit of $8.8 million in 2015, which is simply too high for his production. Greenway, who took a $1 million pay cut to remain with the team in 2014, has said he wants to finish his career with the Vikings and is willing to take another pay cut to stick around, though he does have limits for how much salary he is willing to sacrifice. Brinkley is an unrestricted free agent who could also be gone, but at the very least he could bring value as a backup.

OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Moderate. Led by Barr, the Vikings have some talented youngsters at the position. It’s unclear if Hodges and Cole can be full-time starters, but they certainly have earned opportunities to compete for a starting job in the offseason. Rookie outside linebacker Brandon Watts is also an intriguing prospect. But, as I wrote above, the Vikings lack a true every-down middle linebacker (yes, Cole has played some middle linebacker, but that might not be his best position in the pros). The Vikings will look to find a middle linebacker who can both defend the run and cover. That would take care of two problems: upgrading over Brinkley and finding a way to keep Greenway out of the nickel package — should he return in 2015.

Former Vikings D-line coach Daly turns firing into instant Super Bowl

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 28th at 7:40am 290052451

Seahawks defensive tackle Kevin Williams wasn’t the only former member of the Vikings’ defensive line room to land face up looking at the sunshine of success after losing his job in Minnesota a year ago at this time.

Before talking to Williams during Seattle’s Super Bowl media day on Tuesday, we bumped into former Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly, who is a defensive assistant with the Patriots.

“You just want easier access than you’re getting over there with Tom [Brady],” Daly joked when he saw a familiar face approaching.

Indeed. The one-on-one did feel more comfortable than the one-on-1,000 over by Tom’s area inside the U.S. Airways Center.

Daly had two stints with the Vikings. His first one as assistant defensive line coach lasted from 2006-08. The second one as defensive line coach lasted from 2012 until Leslie Frazier and most of his staff was fired after last season.

So how did he get fired in Minnesota and end up with a model franchise making its sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2001.

“It just kind of happened, and I’m fortunate it did,” Daly said. “I knew a couple of people on staff who knew Bill, and they had an opening. It’s funny how things work in this league. One minute, you’re out of work wondering what’s going to happen to you. The next minute, you’re standing at the Super Bowl.”

One of those connections was Patriots assistant Chad O’Shea, who had worked with Daly during his first stint with the Vikings. Another was Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whom he worked with in St. Louis.

Daly said Tuesday that he met with Mike Zimmer before he was let go.

“I have tremendous respect for Mike and all that he has done in this league,” Daly said. “He went in a different direction, and that’s fine. That happens. It’s a business. I’m happy with where I am.”

Daly also said he had yet to connect with Williams at the Super Bowl. The two not only worked together in Minnesota, Daly, a 17-year coaching veteran, also coached Williams at Oklahoma State.

“I’m extremely happy for Kevin,” Daly said. “There’s no better guy in the league. Tremendous player, tremendous leader in the locker room. A quiet leader. I wish him the best of luck, except for on Sunday. I don’t want him to win on Sunday.”

Duron Carter reportedly chooses Colts over Vikings

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 28th at 6:46am 289995661

So much for the Vikings “probably” being the frontrunner to sign wide receiver Duron Carter.

Carter, the son of Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter who worked out for his dad’s old team three weeks ago, reportedly will sign a contract with the Colts.

After failing to make the Vikings roster after a tryout two years ago, Carter landed in the Canadian Football League and became one of that league’s most productive receivers, catching 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns for the Montreal Alouettes this past season. His production and potential helped him draw the interest of NFL teams after his season ended.

The 23-year-old had recently narrowed his choices down to the Vikings and the Colts after meeting with several NFL teams over the past month.

Carter’s meeting with the Vikings, which came after his initial visit with the Colts, was on Jan. 11. After dinner with wide receivers coach George Stewart the night before, the 6-foot-5, 205-pound receiver worked out for the team at Winter Park.

“The Vikings are No. 1, but I might as well go around and see what everybody is talking about,” Carter told my Star Tribune colleague, Mark Craig, after the workout.

But apparently Carter has decided to join the Colts, who have won back-to-back AFC South titles and have one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, over the Vikings.

ESPN, who employs Cris Carter, first reported that Duron Carter was finalizing a deal with the Colts.

Vikings offseason snapshot: the safeties

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 27th at 10:31am 289934091

Over the next two weeks, we will take a position-by-position look at where the Vikings stand heading into the offseason after their 7-9 season in 2014. Today, we will break down the safety position.

The final position battle to be won — arguably by default — at the end of training camp this past summer was the other safety spot next to Harrison Smith. The Vikings tried a few different players there, including veteran signees Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman, but head coach Mike Zimmer opted to go with Robert Blanton, despite Blanton missing a chunk of camp with an injury.

While one usually only noticed Blanton when he was getting trucked by a big running back like Eddie Lacy in the open field, Smith was impossible to miss. The third-year safety thrived in Zimmer’s scheme as a do-it-all weapon, blitzing, covering and dropping into zones. He was the only NFL defensive back with at least five interceptions and three sacks, and he added 93 tackles. Smith should have been playing in the Pro Bowl two days ago, but he did not get an invite.

Back to Blanton, the third-year safety suffered a leg injury in Week 14 and missed one game. When he returned to the lineup in Week 16, the Vikings instead started Andrew Sendejo next to Smith.

Heading into this offseason, that second starting safety spot is once again in flux for the Vikings.

ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: Smith thrived under Zimmer and is on the verge of becoming one of the league’s very best safeties, if he isn’t there already. Smith’s play was a major factor in the Vikings improving to seventh in the NFL in pass defense last season, and he should only get better in 2015 now that he and his teammates are more comfortable with Zimmer’s scheme. But first, the Vikings have decisions to make with Smith. Picking up his fifth-year option for 2016 is a no-brainer, and signing him to a contract extension before the 2015 season would seem to be a wise move.

ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: The Vikings were able to get by with Blanton and then Sendejo in the starting lineup, but this remains a position that they can upgrade. More on that in a minute.

GRADES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: Since the Vikings (understandably) won’t make their player grades public, we turn to Pro Football Focus, whom some players and coaches have been critical of. For context with these grades, a grade of 0.0 is considered average. Positive grades are good. Negative grades are not. Smith was one of the league’s highest graded safeties, per their grading, with a plus-17.9 grade. Blanton was surprisingly a plus-8.8, curious because the Vikings benched him and all. Sendejo was a plus-2.7 and rookie Antone Exum was a plus-0.2 in limited action.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT: seven — team-leading tackles for a loss (not including sacks) for Smith.

POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: The Vikings have a young group of safeties who are all 27 or under. Sendejo is the only one who is not on his rookie deal anymore, but he is still under contract for 2015. So all of these guys are safe — at least until final roster cuts at the end of the preseason.

OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Pretty high. I’m sure the Vikings can do worse than Blanton or Sendejo (or Exum, who remains an unknown at this point) next to Smith, but they can also do a lot better. Finding a rangy safety to pair with Smith would allow them to keep him closer to the line, where he can cause problems as a run defender and pass rusher when he isn’t dropping into coverage. There are some intriguing (and perhaps expensive) options scheduled to reach free agency, led by Devin McCourty and Rahim Moore. Drafting a safety is also an option, of course.

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
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Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
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Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
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Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
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UMBC 56
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
SMU 63 FINAL
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
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Bucknell 68
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Houston 59
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Illinois State 67
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Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
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Southern Ill 52
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Memphis 70
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Miami-Florida 50
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NC State 57
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Purdue 83
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TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
UMBC 71 FINAL
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
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Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
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Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
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Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
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Holy Cross 0
SMU 58 FINAL
Tulsa 74
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Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
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SIU-Edwardsville 87
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Iowa State 56
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Northern Ill 67
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Minnesota 75
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