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

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 28th at 7:36am 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.

Tarkenton 'guarantees' Brady knew all about deflated footballs

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 27th at 11:35am 289922141

So you’re Tom Brady or  Bill Belichick. Would you rather …

A, Go to U.S. Airways Center and sit for an hour as reporters and freak shows — sometimes one in the same, mind you — badger you with even more questions about deflated footballs and your suspected roles in said deflation during the annual Super Bowl Media Day lunacy.

Or …

B,  Move kickoff up five days, drive out to Glendale and face what could go down in history as one of the best, if not the best, defenses the league has ever seen.

Option B isn’t available, so the Patriots quarterback and coach — barring last-minute advice from Marshawn Lynch — will face the media. Again.

Before the Access Vikings blog heads down the street, probably wearing shorts, although it could be a tad chilly at 60 or so, we thought we’d share the thoughts of a fairly prominent ex-Viking who was known to throw a few passes in his day.

And, yes, add Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton to the list of people who don’t believe pretty much anything Brady or Belichick has been saying as they’ve categorically denied any involvement or knowledge of the Patriots using deflated footballs in the first half of their AFC Championship game win over the Colts.

Q: What are your thoughts on `Deflate-gate,’ Fran?

A: “This has been going on for a lot of years. We always rubbed the balls down and got them ready when I played. But we didn’t, in my era, deflate the balls. When you deflate the balls, it’s easier to throw it and easier to catch it. And you don’t fumble as much.

“It is wrong. And the NFL has said nothing. Nothing.”

Q: Do you think Brady ordered the code red! had anything to do with it?

A: “The thing that I know is that when we would get the slickness off the footballs, I touched every ball before the game. I was in charge of that. They didn’t rub the footballs more than I wanted or less than I wanted. I took charge of that. Today, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, all those guys, I guarantee they make sure those footballs are exactly how they want them.

“Nobody put a needle in that ball to reduce the air out of it without Tom Brady telling them what he wants. Without him instructing it. Impossible to do. Not going to happen.”

Q: What did you think of his press conference last week then?

A: “I think it was a typical NFL press conference. They had coached him and coached him what to say. And I would say the league office was involved with that press conference. They haven’t addressed the issue. Nobody has identified who was responsible.  This is a typical NFL coverup. And they aren’t going to say anything about it until after the Super Bowl because how will the Super Bowl be with Belichick and Brady being suspended. I don’t think it would be too good.”

Q: Are you surprised?

A: No. Not when you see what goes on in the league. Here’s the thing that is the most massive coverup of all time. One that nobody talks about in the NFL. Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) gives guys an edge and they are rampant in the National Football League. And who do you know that talks about it? Nobody.”

Vikings offseason snapshot: the cornerbacks

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 26th at 12:13pm 289788751

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 take a gander at the cornerbacks.

After head coach Mike Zimmer took the job in January, no position group was more scrutinized by the respected former defensive coordinator during spring workouts than the cornerbacks. Zimmer, who got his start in the NFL coaching defensive backs for the Cowboys two decades ago, was all over those guys from the start, particularly Xavier Rhodes, who was entering his second season.

The extra attention paid off, particularly for Rhodes, as improved cornerback play helped the Vikings improve from 31st in the NFL in pass defense in 2013 to seventh this past season.

Rhodes blossomed under Zimmer’s tutelage and in the second half of the season was one of the league’s stingiest cornerbacks. But he wasn’t the only one to show improvement. Josh Robinson had some rocky moments (ahem, the first Bears game), but he bounced back from a tough 2013.

Still, despite the emergence of Rhodes, the signing of Captain Munnerlyn and the rebounding of Robinson, the Vikings have plenty of room for improvement at cornerback this offseason.

ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The Vikings may have a lockdown cornerback in Rhodes. How good was he in the second half? From Week 9 on, only three players — Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Chris Culliver — allowed passes to be completed less frequently than Rhodes, according to Pro Football Focus. His rapid development emboldened Zimmer to tweak his scheme so that Rhodes could match up 1-on-1 with the opponent’s top wide-out. Rhodes fared well against Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace and Alshon Jeffery down the stretch, so look for it to continue in 2015.

ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: When they Vikings signed Munnerlyn to a reasonable three-year, $15 million contract last offseason, they did so knowing the value he could potentially bring as a slot defender. They also knew that he could start in the base defense if needed. It turned out that he was indeed the best option, but he had trouble adapting to Zimmer’s schemes and the result was an uneven season as a starter. Munnerlyn must play better in 2015, especially if he’s still starting.

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. The team’s top three corners all finished with positive grades. Rhodes led the group with a plus-3.3 grade (he was a plus-7.3 in pass coverage). Robinson was a plus-2.6. And Munnerlyn was slightly above average at plus-0.3. Marcus Sherels and rookie Jabari Price both received negative grades in limited snaps as reserves.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 18 — pass break-ups for Rhodes, which tied for fourth in the league.

POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: The Vikings have no pending free agents at the position. And while there has been a little speculation that Munnerlyn could be released, he’s expected to stick around.

OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Between moderate and high. The Vikings were a top-10 pass defense with the guys they have, and while they might not desperately need another starting corner, it certainly would be a smart investment. If they can find in free agency or the draft another cornerback with some size to line up on the opposite side of the formation from Rhodes, they could keep Munnerlyn strictly on the inside as a nickel cornerback (it’s worth noting that Zimmer remarked last week at the Senior Bowl “that’s probably what he is”) and could have Robinson on the bench in the event of an injury. So it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings ignored greater needs and used a high pick on a corner, especially because it typically takes them a couple of years to develop.

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