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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Vikings offseason snapshot: the defensive line

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated January 29th at 10:25am 290202771

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 break down the defensive line.

One of the first acts of business of the Mike Zimmer era was overhauling the defensive line. The Vikings let defensive tackle Kevin Williams and defensive end Jared Allen walk in free agency, they added nose tackle Linval Joseph in free agency and they re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen to a big contract.

When the season started, the Vikings had three new starters on the defensive line and five of the eight players in their rotation were in their first season in Minnesota. The defensive line would turn out to be the deepest and arguably the most valuable position group on the roster.

In his first season as a starter, Griffen finished ninth in the NFL with a dozen sacks while also defending the run well. Second-year defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd took a giant leap forward under Zimmer with 4.5 sacks and five other tackles for a loss. Journeyman defensive tackle Tom Johnson surprised with 6.5 sacks as a reserve. And the Vikings finished ninth in the NFL with 41 total.

But it wasn’t all roses along the defensive line. Joseph was merely average, and veteran end Brian Robison had a down season. The pass rush disappeared at times when individuals freelanced and the Vikings as a team struggled to stop the run, finishing 2014 ranked 25th in run defense.

Still, the defensive line was a strength and with a little tweaking it should continue to be in 2015.

ONE REASON FOR OPTIMISM: While injuries limited Floyd to 14 games and 568 total defensive snaps, he made a major impact whenever he was on the field and unhampered by injury. Floyd finished with 30 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which tied for 13th in the NFL. And he often stormed into the backfield to blow up running plays. Floyd had big shoes to fill in replacing Williams, a six-time Pro Bowler with the Vikings, but Floyd came through, showing the kind of ability that made the team so excited he fell into their laps during the 2013 draft.

ONE REASON FOR CONCERN: Robison has been an underrated player for years (I remember that when I covered the Ravens in 2013, they were just as concerned about him as Allen). But his 4.5 sacks were his lowest in his four years as a starter and he wasn’t particularly stout against the run. Now, Zimmer was quick to point out after the season that Robison was asked to do some things differently this season, and his dirty work might not have shown up on the score sheet. But Robison turns 32 in April, and if his play doesn’t pick up in 2015, it could be his last season with the Vikings.

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. Floyd, the league’s fifth-best defensive tackle according to PFF, led the group with a plus-22.0 grade. Griffen was a plus-16.8. Johnson was a plus-5.2 for his work as a sub pass rusher. And Joseph was a plus-1.3. Corey Wootton, a reserve defensive end, had the lowest grade at negative-14.8. Robison was a negative-12.2. And rookie nose tackle Shamar Stephen graded out as a negative-8.0, though it’s worth noting that the coaching staff was pleased with how Stephen played while shuffling between both tackle spots.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT: 64 — total pressures for Griffen, tied for fifth among 4-3 defensive ends.

POTENTIAL DEPARTURES: Johnson and Wootton are both free agents. The Vikings will likely let Wootton, who disappointed with just one sack, walk. But bringing back Johnson would make a lot of sense for both parties if they can find financial common ground. Johnson has said he wants a two-year contract, and one would think the Vikings can make that happen for the valuable backup. And Johnson should remember that he had more sacks this season playing for Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson than he had in his entire career before coming to Minnesota. As for potential cuts, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Vikings approached Robison about reducing his $5.45 million cap number. But it would be a surprise if he did not return for 2015.

OFFSEASON LEVEL OF NEED: Low. The Vikings have much more pressing needs than their defensive line, which should remain mostly intact for the upcoming season. If they cannot re-sign Johnson, that would leave a void, though I’m sure Zimmer and the coaching staff feel they could coax that kind of production out of someone else. The team could look to improve the depth at defensive end. Scott Crichton, picked as a potential replacement for Robison down the road, hardly saw the field as a rookie, though it’s too early to count him out. And Crichton isn’t exactly a speed rusher, and the Vikings would like to have another one of those to back up Griffen.

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

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated January 29th at 11:49am 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.

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