NFC North: Benny Sapp

NFC North weekend mailbag

April, 14, 2012
4/14/12
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Even a quiet week by NFC North standards leaves us with some loose ends to tie up over the weekend. I see many of your blog comments and Facebook responses, all of your mailbag submissions and every one of your @replies on Twitter. Proceed accordingly.

Several readers think Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier had more to do with this "unfortunate timing" than I debited him for in Tuesday's post about his future. Randal of Cambridge wrote: He is mostly to blame for the 2011 lost year. They could have been one or two steps further into rebuilding. He pushed for the Donovan McNabb trade but even more damaging was when the season was lost in late October; Frazier did not see what he had in his young players. It was inexcusable to play Jared Allen and Brian Robison as much as they did. He should have given the following players more playing time: DE D'Aundre Reed, DE Everson Griffen, G Brandon Fusco and T DeMarcus Love. And signing Benny Sapp was a mistake. There must have been some practice squad CB from another team who could have been given a chance.

Kevin Seifert: I'm torn on how much blame Frazier should get in that regard. If given the choice, few if any coaches are going to take the long-term road. The Vikings made it to the NFC Championship Game in 2009 and were torn apart by internal strife in 2010. Frazier thought they could be competitive in 2011 with a decrease in tension, especially if he could find a veteran quarterback to replace Brett Favre.

In truth, the Vikings would have had a much better record in 2011 if McNabb fit the bill, but his shortcomings have been well-discussed. What Frazier really needed last season was a general manager to tell him that a quick fix lasts only as long as the next one. Frazier needed a general manager to reassure him that he would be evaluated based on what he did with the tools he was given, rather than allowing him to influence the choice of tools themselves.

Rick Spielman's promotion has created that type of structure, and we now see the Vikings taking the longer-term approach that Frazier understandably eschewed when given a choice in 2011.

As far as playing untested youngsters to evaluate them for future years, I've always considered that idea on a case-by-case basis. Only players that have demonstrated in practice that they're ready for such a chance should play. It's reasonable to wish Griffen would have gotten a few more snaps from Robison, but I'm not going to hold it against Frazier for limiting his rookie offensive linemen last season. The Vikings' top priority at the time was to develop quarterback Christian Ponder, and Frazier was obligated to use the best offensive linemen he had -- regardless of their futures -- to facilitate that.




Wil of Minneapolis wonders if Spielman and owner Zygi Wilf will evaluate Frazier on a curve as a result of the roster overhaul: Do you think that Rick, Zygi, and Frazier had a goal and expectations meeting about the 2012 season? Although no one wants to tell the public we expect a 6-10 or 4-12 record, this youth movement and historical records from other teams would probably indicate that. I think it's only fair to have reasonable expectations of Frazier and the football product. After all, the Vikings can easily go 0-6 in the NFC North alone!!!

Kevin Seifert: That's the unfortunate part of the timing, in my view. It's reasonable to have non-tangible expectations and goals in the first year of a coach's tenure, but generally teams want to see progress in the second year.

The Vikings finished 3-13 last season and are competing in a division that features two 2011 playoff teams along with a much-improved Chicago Bears team. Say the Vikings finish 4-12 or 5-11. That would give Frazier a 10-28 or 11-27 record in two-plus seasons. Most coaches deserve three years to make an impact, but at the very least, it wouldn't be an easy decision to bring back a coach with that kind of record.




Rick of Moorhead, Minn., notes the list of players invited to the NFL draft and writes: Shea McClellin invited to NYC for the draft? Doesn't that indicate he will go the first night? I thought he was more like mid second round. Green Bay might be the team to take a shot, but it seems like a reach at 28.

Kevin Seifert: McClellin is a Boise State defensive end who would probably project as a linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. He has been a so-called quick riser in the draft, but whether he is a first-round pick remains to be seen.

Regardless, the NFL invites a cross-section of players so they can have at least some live interviews on site during the first two nights of the draft, which includes the first three rounds. Don't forget that receiver Randall Cobb was in New York when the Packers made him the final pick of the second round last season.




Facebook friend Steve asked if the new deal Lance Briggs received from the Chicago Bears has a "no more whining about contracts" clause.

Kevin Seifert: Ouch. At the very least, it bought the Bears two more years of relative peace. At that point, Briggs will be approaching his 34th birthday and, like most players at that age and his position, will probably be thrilled to have a job.

As several reports have noted, Briggs will earn $6.25 million this season and $5.75 million in 2013. He'll also be in position to earn $5.275 million in 2014.

In the end, Briggs got less than $2 million in "new money" with this renegotiation. But it just shows that teams don't always have to break the bank to make a player happy. They just need to show a gesture of love, and in this case that's all it took for Briggs.




It's time for our semiannual reminder about "balance." Mitch of Green Bay writes: At the rate you are discussing the Packers, it'll take you all of next season to "even things out" after how much Bears talk is going on the past few days. Anonymously, another reader added: Five of the last six blog posts have Bear headlines. There are three other teams in the NFC North. You should be a little more balanced in your reporting.

Kevin Seifert: I realize that readers filter in and out of the blog network, so it bears repeating: News doesn't occur in neat and equal 25 percent increments between our four teams. I have no interest in manufacturing posts to maintain daily balance when experience shows that everyone will get their turn over time. If you're taking a three-day, three-week or even a three-month snapshot, you'll almost certainly find an unequal proportion of posts relative to our four teams.

There were interesting things to write about the Bears this week, including the Briggs extension, and that's where I focused my time. Where will we look next week? Only The Shadow knows what evil lurks in the heart of all men.

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Vikings bench Cedric Griffin

December, 18, 2011
12/18/11
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The Minnesota Vikings will attempt to slow down the New Orleans Saints' passing game with a cornerback duo of Asher Allen and Benny Sapp. Former starter Cedric Griffin has been benched, and it's not clear what role he'll play Sunday.

As we noted earlier in the week, the Vikings' pass defense hasn't been, uh, good this season. They haven't intercepted a pass in eight games, tying an NFL record.

Griffin has struggled to return from his second torn anterior cruciate ligament. Sapp re-joined the team last month.

We'll keep you posted.

Wrap-up: Falcons 24, Vikings 14

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
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A few thoughts on another loss for the NFC North's last-place team:

What it means: Down 17-0 at halftime, the Minnesota Vikings made it interesting but ultimately absorbed their ninth loss of the season. It's the franchise's first 2-9 start since 1962.

Harvin Watch: With tailback Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, receiver/running back Percy Harvin was the team's lone remaining offensive playmaker. And Harvin made two huge plays to give the Vikings a chance in this game, hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 in the fourth quarter and also returning a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta Falcons' 3-yard line with six minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Harvin caught eight passes for 95 yards and, including special teams, accounted for 200 all-purpose yards.

Late-game questions here: The final seven minutes in this game will be hotly debated among Vikings fans. Here are the primary questions: Even without Peterson, were the Vikings justified in using Harvin on two consecutive inside running plays on the goal line after his kickoff return? Should coach Leslie Frazier have challenged Harvin's second run, in which he appeared to have crossed the plane on second effort? Down by 10 points, should the Vikings have taken an easy field goal rather than go for a touchdown on fourth down? And should they have given the ball to tailback Toby Gerhart, who hasn't been much of an effective short-yardage runner in his career?

Opinion here: My quick reaction to those questions goes as following. I'm fine with using Harvin. He was the Vikings' best player Sunday. Frazier would have had nothing to lose by challenging the ruling on third down. I would have taken a field goal, but either way you need a field goal and a touchdown to force overtime. But handing the ball to Gerhart on fourth down, especially with a quarterback in Christian Ponder who excels at plays that give him a pass-run option on the outside, was the least defensible of the decisions we saw from Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Injury report: Already playing without safety Husain Abdullah and cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, the Vikings lost safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) during the game. I thought their defense played well considering they had Benny Sapp, on the street two weeks ago, playing at one cornerback spot and rookie Mistral Raymond at safety. The Vikings also lost long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a back injury. Defensive end Jared Allen did a flawless job as Loefller's replacement and even made a special teams tackle after his first snap.

What's next: The Vikings will host the Denver Broncos next Sunday at the Metrodome. Remember, the game has been moved from CBS to FOX. As of last week, the team had more than 5,000 tickets to sell to avoid a local television blackout.

BBAO: Race and Jordy Nelson's success

November, 17, 2011
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Why is Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson having a breakout season? He knows the Packers' offense backwards and forwards. He has a good relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's big enough to outmuscle many defensive backs. He's cut back on the drops and fumbles that plagued him in earlier years. He's fast.

Oh, and he's white.

That final attribute was one that Packers receiver Greg Jennings and others expounded on in this story from Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Here's how Jennings put it:
"They underestimate him. And honestly, he uses that to his advantage. Seriously … a lot of it has to do with the fact that guys look at him and say, 'OK, he's the white guy, he can't be that good.' Well, he is that good. He's proven to be that good and it's because of the work and the time that he’s put in -- not only on the field but in his preparation off the field."

Defenders have at times allowed Nelson's speed to catch them off guard. He has two of the five longest receptions in the NFL this season, touchdowns of 93 and 84 yards, and overall is averaging 18.6 yards per catch.

Were they simply beat by a good player? Or was their approach to defending Nelson somehow influenced by long-held stereotypes about speed and race? Whoa. That's too heavy of an issue to get into before 8 a.m. ET on a Thursday. But I can tell you this: Jennings is a thoughtful and relatively drama-free person. If he brought up the topic, it wasn't to make a splash. He truly believes it, and he's closer to it than us.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: "It has almost become rote for Rodgers to do what so many other quarterbacks can't, and it speaks directly to the success the Packers have had offensively this season."
  • The Packers are still hurting from a 2009 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, notes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Chicago Bears will find out how much progress offensive lineman Edwin Williams has made since last year, writes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times. Williams will replace injured starter Chris Williams (wrist) at left guard.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune reviews Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher's late-career renaissance.
  • Neither Bears quarterback Jay Cutler nor San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had much to say about their personal relationship Wednesday, writes a disappointed Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Carolina Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble could provide a challenge for Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson this weekend, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • The Lions were encouraged to have running back Jahvid Best (concussion) back on the sideline during practice, according to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill on Bears cornerback D.J. Moore's charge at Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford: "I think he got his feelings hurt more than anything. He got his feelings hurt that he got dish-ragged by a quarterback." John Niyo of the Detroit News has more.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune: "Vikings coach Leslie Frazer essentially issued a public challenge to all defensive players not named Jared Allen to start making some head-turning plays."
  • Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "It is hard to remain invisible when one stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 318 pounds, but it has been difficult to detect Vikings nose tackle Remi Ayodele on the field this season either through production or deployment."
  • The Vikings re-signed cornerback Benny Sapp, whom they traded to the Miami Dolphins last season. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com has more.

Update: The (internal) replacements

September, 1, 2010
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As the preseason draws to a close, it's time to start updating some of our offseason threads. Let's begin with a Feb. 22 post that suggested four players whose potential development could ease depth concerns at their respective positions. As it turned out, we did a better job of identifying need positions than we did in suggesting candidates to fill them. Better luck next year, I guess.

Chicago Bears defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert


What we said then: The road couldn't be paved any more clearly for Gilbert, the Bears' top pick of the 2009 draft. Left end Adewale Ogunleye is a pending free agent and is expected to move on. Ogunleye's likely replacement, Gaines Adams, died last month. That left Gilbert and Henry Melton as the remaining internal candidates to start at left end. Good outside pass-rushers almost never become available on the free-agent market, and without a pick in the first or second round this season, it will be difficult for the Bears to draft one capable of making an immediate impact. To this point, Gilbert's greatest claim to fame is being the draft prospect who jumped out of a pool. He spent most of 2009 in an unofficial redshirt year under defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, so it's hard to know if Gilbert is capable of holding down a starting job in 2010. It's not even clear if the Bears consider him an end or a tackle. But if it's the former, Gilbert will get every opportunity to help the Bears out of this jam.


What's happened since: This year, a good outside pass rusher actually did become available via free agency, and the Bears pounced on Julius Peppers. Gilbert, meanwhile, has been nearly invisible in preseason games and could be waived this weekend.

Detroit Lions running back Aaron Brown


What we said then: Starting tailback Kevin Smith is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while also trying to overcome two shoulder injuries that slowed him in 2009. Backup Maurice Morris is also under contract, but Morris doesn't have the kind of big-play abilities Brown displayed last season. The Lions were exasperated at times with Brown's mental errors, but perhaps an offseason of studying can help him move past those issues. He might not be an ideal every-down back, but Brown could add an explosive element to the Lions' offense if they trust him enough to put him on the field. His development could ease some of the urgency to add further depth behind Smith and Morris.


What's happened since: The Lions traded up to select Jahvid Best with the No. 30 overall pick in the draft. Best will fill the playmaker role we suggested for Brown. Can't argue with that one. But Brown has shown enough this summer to earn a spot on the Lions' roster.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Will Blackmon


What we said then: Because the Packers haven't revealed their tender offers for restricted free agents, we can't say with certainty that Blackmon will return to the Packers in 2010. But based on the typical timetable for ACL rehabilitation, Blackmon should be cleared for the start of training camp. And if he's healthy and ready, Blackmon would add experienced depth to a position ravaged by injuries at the end of last season. With Al Harris rehabilitating a similar injury on a later timetable, the Packers might have to open camp with nickelback Tramon Williams as a starter. It's always possible that a rookie could help at nickelback, but all things equal, the Packers would probably be more comfortable with veteran experience at the position. Jarrett Bush struggled in that role during some games last season, opening up an opportunity for Blackmon if he's up to it.

What's happened since: The Packers moved Blackmon to safety late in spring practice and instead gave Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee and rookie Sam Shields the opportunity we envisioned for Blackmon. It was probably a wise move; he continues to be bothered by knee soreness. It's not clear if he will make the team.

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Asher Allen


What we said then: The Vikings need Allen to become a full-time player, if not a starter, to avoid facing a sudden shortage at cornerback. Starter Cedric Griffin's status is uncertain after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the NFC Championship Game; it would be a surprise if Griffin is cleared for the beginning of training camp. The 2009 nickelback, Benny Sapp, is a pending unrestricted free agent and probably earned himself a decent contract after making seven starts in 2009. I'm guessing the Vikings don't want to overpay to bring back Sapp, especially considering Griffin will eventually return and that fellow starter, Antoine Winfield, is signed through 2013. As a rookie, Allen had a strong training camp but was buried on the depth chart when the season began. He's aggressive against the run, a decent tackler and displayed solid instincts when on the field. A natural progression would make him the nickelback in 2010, a role that would allow him to fill in for Griffin. Otherwise, the Vikings will have to shell out more money for Sapp or another free agent.

What's happened since: Injuries, attrition and solid play have put Allen in position to be the Week 1 nickel back. Griffin hasn't started practicing. Sapp was traded to Miami, and while the Vikings made cornerback Chris Cook their top draft pick, he will miss up to four weeks because of knee surgery.
More than a few of you sent nasty notes last week after we discussed the other side of the Minnesota Vikings' trade for receiver Greg Camarillo. Some of you thought I was searching too hard for a negative angle when I pointed out that defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier seemed concerned about his thinner depth at cornerback following the departure of veteran Benny Sapp.

Now, perhaps you understand where Frazier (and I) were coming from. The Vikings have now lost their second cornerback in the past six days. According to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, rookie Chris Cook -- the presumptive starter at right cornerback -- has suffered a torn meniscus and will miss at least two weeks of action and probably more. The team has not confirmed the injury, but Zulgad reports Cook has already had knee surgery.

Cook had been impressive during the preseason and started last Saturday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. The injury occurred at an unspecified point in that game.

Without Cook, the Vikings really don't have a cornerback who I would consider starting material. Barring another move, they will have no choice but to turn to veteran Lito Sheppard or second-year player Asher Allen as the starter. The other is likely to serve as the nickel back. Allen was the nickel back against the Seahawks, while Sheppard was playing with third-teamers in the fourth quarter of the game.

The job they are competing for was originally vacated by Cedric Griffin, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament eight months ago in the NFC Championship Game. He remains on the physically unable to perform list and has not started practicing. Stay tuned.
You have to give something to get something. Who coined that phrase? Albert Einstein? Adam Smith? Leonardo Da Vinci? Leonardo DiCaprio?

We know it didn't take a genius, that's for sure. Because everyone knew that if the Vikings wanted to address their personnel emergency at receiver, they would have to weaken another part of the team -- through the loss of a draft pick or a player. They chose the latter route by alleviating a logjam at cornerback, shipping nickel back Benny Sapp to the Miami Dolphins for receiver Greg Camarillo.

The move made sense on a relative scale, but now for the other side: The Vikings are one injury or performance slip away from a crisis at cornerback. I'm guessing that's what defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier had in mind when he spoke Wednesday about the trade, which left him with two experienced starters -- Antoine Winfield and Lito Sheppard -- and two backups with almost no NFL experience in Asher Allen and rookie Chris Cook. (See accompanying chart.)

Asked if the trade was a signal of his confidence in Allen and Cook, the normally optimistic Frazier said: "I wouldn't say that. The decision was made with different things going into it. But [Sapp] was a good player while he was here. He did a good job."

Nor was the trade an indication that injured starter Cedric Griffin is close to returning, Frazier said. Griffin remains on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"I wouldn't go that far," Frazier said. "He is still in the rehab stage and he hasn't done any drills with our football team. Everything is on the side, and it is hard to project what it is going to be like when he puts pads on and has to cover the wide receivers. I don't know how much that factored into the decision."

Few NFL teams have the luxury the Vikings enjoyed before the trade -- reliable depth at both cornerback positions -- but ultimately the Vikings decided they could live without it if it meant restocking their receiver position. I don't disagree with the move, even though you can make a reasonable argument about the importance of cornerbacks over receivers in roster composition.

As some other genius said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Cornerback depth is what the Vikings sacrificed to fill their more glaring hole at receiver.
I'm not sure how you reacted to the Minnesota Vikings' acquisition of receiver Greg Camarillo. But here's where I landed: He's better than what they had before. And when you're uncertain when -- or if -- two of your top receivers will resume playing, that's all you can hope for.

Camarillo joins free agent Javon Walker as the Vikings' emergency plan for the absence of Sidney Rice (hip) and Percy Harvin (migraines). Rice is expected to miss half of the season after undergoing surgery Monday, and while Harvin was on the practice field Wednesday, he was mostly standing to the side. His status remains uncertain at best.

Camarillo is a classic possession receiver who caught 105 passes during the past two seasons with the Dolphins. Vikings fans should consider him similar to the since-departed Bobby Wade, with better hands but slower feet. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, Camarillo didn't drop a pass in 73 opportunities last season.

Here's how Scouts Inc. evaluated him Insider before the season:
Camarillo is a good but not great athlete for the position. He plays with good balance and agility and plays the game under control. He does not have top-end speed and is more quick than he is fast. A possession receiver, Camarillo is an excellent route runner who can separate because he can plant and cut well at the top of his patterns. He is not a real threat after the catch. He is a good down field blocker. He is a tough and competitive receiver who wins by being precise in everything he does.

For now, I'm guessing Camarillo fits as a No. 3 receiver behind Bernard Berrian and, eventually, Harvin. He has a fascinating story as a player who has exceeded every limitation of his physical skills. My AFC East colleague Tim Graham wrote a wonderful piece on him two years ago. An excerpt:
Chances are, at least one person in your family is every bit the athlete Greg Camarillo is.

He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at his pro workout day before the draft. He wears size medium gloves.

Drive toward the illuminated light stanchions in your town on a Friday night and look through the chain-link fence. You'll see high school players who fit Camarillo's general description.

Those kids could play in the NFL, too. They almost certainly won't. If it was that easy, then Camarillo's story wouldn't be considered exceptional.

"I'm still amazed by it sometimes," Camarillo said while hunkered over a plastic plate of barbeque chicken, rice and beans at his stall in the Miami Dolphins locker room. "I wasn't supposed to be here.

"Pretty much every step of my journey I wasn't supposed to take the next step. Odds were against me. That's how my athletic career has been. I've always been the underdog, and I kind of like that."

Camarillo came at a modest cost; the Viking shipped out reserve cornerback Benny Sapp to get him. Sapp was the team's nickel back last year and started seven games, but he seemed buried on the depth chart this summer. No official announcement has been made, but Sapp wasn't on the Vikings' practice field this morning. I suppose it's always possible he was working out inside.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 3

MANKATO, Minn. -- The question typically follows The Question. After Minnesotans ask, "Is Favre going to play?" they almost always follow with this one: "How does the rest of the team look?"

In a sign of what has been a wild summer already, the former is much easier to answer than the latter. Quarterback Brett Favre still seems likely to re-join the team later this month, but his once-and-future teammates missed so many training camp practices that it was nearly impossible to gauge the state of the team. Pro Bowl receiver Sidney Rice missed all 24 practices because of a mysterious hip injury. Receiver Percy Harvin (funeral/migraines) missed 21, tailback Adrian Peterson (hamstring) sat out 16, center John Sullivan (leg) was significantly limited in 20 and right guard Anthony Herrera (back) missed seven.

In all, more than half of the Vikings' offensive starters missed a majority of training camp. It might prove a manageable total for a team that has returned nearly intact from the one that advanced to the NFC Championship Game, but the injuries and indecision conspired to make for some nervous days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Coach Brad Childress did his best to weather what he termed a minor storm, but his skill for finding the bright side has surely been tested.

"People ask me if this is the most number of players that I can remember sitting out," Childress said. "No, it's not. I read the [news] clips. Philadelphia, they had 14 guys sitting out at one point. I guess [the media] is the one that has to determine whether it's the key guys or not. As the mother hen, I would like them here taking every turn and taking everything. The downside is they're not getting those turns. But the upside, and I have to look at the upside, is you have other players who are getting elevated reps."

Indeed, the Vikings will have the most well-trained junior varsity team in the NFC North. The state of their varsity team, however, remains unknown.

THREE HOT ISSUES

Brett Favre
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesIt seems the Vikings are expecting Brett Favre to return this season.
1. To what extent did Favre's uncertainty impact the rest of the team's preparation? Most players experienced a similar drama last season, and it doesn't appear that many are fretting his ultimate decision or are distracted by the indecision. But that's largely because they all expect him to return, and it was telling when tight end Visanthe Shiancoe blurted that a surprise retirement "would be a blow to the team." Not coincidentally, a muzzled Shiancoe has hardly been heard from since.

Another respected veteran, cornerback Antoine Winfield, said: "We are all hopeful that he comes back. It would be nice to spend another season with him, but at this point we don't know. But either way, it's not going to make my job any easier or harder. I still have to go out there and perform and make as many plays as I can."

As far as on the field, history trumps intuition. It makes sense to suggest that an offense is behind for as long as its quarterback stays away. But Favre's remarkable mid-August adjustment last season makes it difficult to make that argument.

2. Have the Vikings done enough to fortify their secondary? Starting right cornerback Cedric Griffin is still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the Vikings have opened his job up to four players: Lito Sheppard, Asher Allen, Benny Sapp and rookie Chris Cook. Sheppard makes the most sense as a short-term starter, but Cook was impressive on every level in training camp.

Cook displayed sophisticated cover skills, enough speed to stay with most receivers and, at 6-foot-2, an imposing physical presence. Sheppard has held on to his first-team job, but it could be a matter of time before Cook displaces him.

Meanwhile, the Vikings have created a legitimate competition at strong safety between incumbent Tyrell Johnson and second-year player Jamarca Sanford. If all things are equal, I'm guessing the Vikings will favor Johnson, a high second-round draft pick in 2008. But Sanford is a live wire, a strong hitter and won't go quietly.

Coaches believe Johnson has responded well to the challenge, but they want to see it translate into more plays -- big tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles -- during preseason games.

[+] EnlargePeterson
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyAdrian Peterson has missed 16 training camp practices.
3. Is there a connection between Favre's indecision and the lengthy absences of Rice, Harvin and Peterson? I can't tell you how often I've heard that question in the past week or so. It comes down to whether players resent the double standard Favre has enjoyed since the end of last season, and if some of his most prominent teammates are passively protesting. All I can say is that no overt evidence exists to support that charge.

I agree that it seemed suspicious when the Vikings' three top skill players all came up with reasons to miss most of training camp. Conspiracy theories are great, but in the end that's all they are -- theories. The most important fact is there is every reason to believe all three players will be ready to play when the regular season begins.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

When middle linebacker E.J. Henderson first fractured his left femur last December, initial reports suggested he would need a year to recover. That timetable suggested that Henderson wouldn't return to the field, if at all, before the 2011 season. Given his age (30) and history of significant injuries, you wondered if his career was over. But Henderson has cut his recovery time in half and appears on his way to re-claiming the starting job in time for the Sept. 9 season opener at New Orleans. By the second week of camp, Henderson was taking all of the first-team repetitions while his understudy, Jasper Brinkley, was pushed back to the second team. Considering the titanium rod that holds Henderson's leg in place, such a quick return would be nothing short of a miracle.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Ever since the Vikings made him a second-round draft pick in April, Toby Gerhart has figured as the heir to Chester Taylor's vacated role as the No. 2 tailback. But when the Vikings broke camp Thursday, Albert Young was clearly ahead of Gerhart on the depth chart. There is plenty of time for that order to change, but however you look at it, Gerhart had a tough camp. He somehow incurred the wrath of a number of defensive veterans; nose tackle Pat Williams and defensive end Ray Edwards both took their shots at him during practice. Perhaps it was just a visible portion of the NFL toughening process, but there's no doubt Gerhart has some climbing to do before the season begins.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Tarvaris Jackson
    Icon SMITarvaris Jackson played only a handful of snaps in 2009 but would be the starter if Favre retires.
    There is no doubt that Tarvaris Jackson, and not Sage Rosenfels, is the No. 2 quarterback and will be the starter if Favre ultimately decides not to play. Jackson has developed a realistic mentality after living through various incarnations of FavreWatch the past three years, and as he does every summer, he threw some tantalizing passes during individual camp drills. But there is a big difference between unleashing 60-yard ropes in practice and playing quarterback at an NFL level during games, and Jackson remains somewhere in the middle.
  • Rosenfels reportedly struggled during the early stages of camp, but he looked decent during the three days I watched practice. I once thought Rosenfels would be traded or released if Favre returned, but now I'm not so sure. To this point, there is no way the Vikings could choose rookie Joe Webb over Rosenfels for the No. 3 job -- and keep a straight face. Frankly, Webb flashed some athletic skills but otherwise looked overwhelmed during camp. There is no way he is ready to be on an NFL roster. One option: Keep two quarterbacks on the active roster and put Webb on the practice squad.
  • Although the Vikings are splitting kicking duties between Ryan Longwell and Rhys Lloyd in the preseason opener at St. Louis, it's hard to believe Longwell won't be the team's place-kicker this year. Lloyd will be a high-priced kickoff specialist. But in explaining the initial split, special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said: "There is no preconceived notion about how this roster will develop. We want to see everyone compete at their highest level. We want to see them put in every position possible. If we get that at every position, we will be a better football team."
  • Of all the veterans who missed significant camp time, Sullivan's absence might have been the most significant. He struggled at times during his first year as a starter and needed every practice repetition he could get. It's especially important to see if Sullivan has improved his core strength to stand up to NFL nose tackles.
  • After noting the Vikings' long list of camp absences, it's only fair to note that two of their biggest -- and older -- players participated in every practice. Pat Williams, 37, and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, 30, were on the field every day.
  • It appears as though Winfield has made it all the way back from a foot injury that made him a part-time player in 2009. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier admitted the team wasn't certain that would be the case when camp began, but Winfield experienced no setbacks after an offseason of rest and rehabilitation.
  • Childress has used a John Wooden maxim as one of his primary messages of training camp. "It's in all of their manuals and I'm talking to them about it," Childress said. "It's this: 'The main ingredient to stardom is the rest of the team.' It's a great statement. We'll find out how much guys can put their stuff away for the greater good."
While national discussion has centered on the status of quarterback Brett Favre and his injured teammates, there appears to have been an interesting under-the-radar development in the Minnesota Vikings' camp.

According to those who have been covering daily practices, rookie cornerback Chris Cook has flashed far more often than veteran Lito Sheppard -- the presumed short-term replacement for injured starter Cedric Griffin. Cook's playmaking continued during Friday's morning practice, when he broke up a 50-yard pass from Tarvaris Jackson to receiver Bernard Berrian.

Cook, the Vikings' top pick in the April draft, was sidelined by a minor injury this spring and entered training camp buried deep on the depth chart. But veteran nickelback Benny Sapp hasn't participated in many practices because of an injury, and a healthy Cook apparently has taken advantage of the nickel repetitions he has received.

For now, Cook is working as the second-team left cornerback behind Antoine Winfield. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier told reporters there are no immediate plans to move Cook into a direct competition with Sheppard, but it will be interesting to see whether Cook can wiggle into that conversation as training camp continues.

"We've talked about that," Frazier said, "but I think it serves him best at this point to stay at left and get his footwork down, get comfortable there. There may come a time when we will take a look at him at right. For now, we'll let him get what he can at left and get comfortable there and we'll see as time goes on."
Anderson/Williams/SullivanUS PresswireMark Anderson, Tramon Williams and John Sullivan are among the NFC North players who must step up for their teams because there are few appealing options behind them.
Let's continue our march to training camp by considering a handful of NFC North players whose teams are counting on strong training camp showings to bridge personnel gaps. You could refer to this as the proverbial "Hot Seat," but I prefer "Pressure Cooker." These players aren't facing either-or scenarios. In most of these cases, the team hasn't left itself a safety net. They must either jump out of the pot or get boiled. (Or something like that.)

Anyhoo, I made sure to identify at least one player from all four teams, but pardon me in advance for the unequal distribution. No sense forcing anyone into a category for symmetry's sake.

Chicago Bears
Defensive end Mark Anderson
The task: Demonstrate the kind of 10-sack potential the Bears apparently saw when they handed him a starting job this offseason.
The skinny: The Bears are projecting a repeat performance of Anderson's rookie season, when he had 12 sacks as a part-time player. He managed 9.5 sacks over the next three seasons combined, illustrating the risk Chicago is taking. Israel Idonije is available for depth, but he is best suited as a backup.

Detroit Lions
Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy
The task: Resolve questions about his aptitude for moving inside after spending all of his college career, and most of his rookie NFL season, as an outside linebacker.
The skinny: Lions coaches have lauded Levy's versatility and hitting ability for a year, but his assumed competence at middle linebacker is based on projections rather than evidence. While demonstrating athletic ability as a rookie, Levy also tied for the NFC North lead in broken tackles against. In his favor will be a huge upgrade at defensive tackle; Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh should keep offensive linemen away from him.

[+] EnlargeFollett
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireZack Follett was a standout special-teamer in 2009, but he's unproven as a starter at weakside linebacker.
Outside linebacker Zack Follett
The task: Replace Ernie Sims as the starting weakside linebacker.
The skinny: A seventh-round draft pick last season, Follett impressed coaches and teammates with his aggressive attitude on special teams. But the Lions are asking him to take a big leap, and to this point they haven't signed a veteran to give them a safety net if Follett isn't ready.

Green Bay Packers
Cornerback Tramon Williams
The task: Take the leap from fill-in to full-time starter after sitting out most of the offseason program.
The skinny: Williams has displayed immense potential in starting stints the past two years, but the Packers might need him to take over on a permanent basis this season. Former starter Al Harris is recovering from a serious injury and isn't expected to be ready for the start of training camp. There's a big difference between fill-in work and long-term stability.

Minnesota Vikings
Cornerback Lito Sheppard
The task:
Recapture enough of his skills to provide short-term relief as a starter while Cedric Griffin recovers from knee surgery.
The skinny:
Sheppard lost his starting job with the New York Jets last season, a year after the Philadelphia Eagles gave up on him. He was a good get based on the availability of veteran cornerbacks, and the Vikings would do well if they can get a solid six weeks from him. That will allow them to save Benny Sapp for nickel situations and give rookie Chris Cook more seasoning.

Left guard Steve Hutchinson, center John Sullivan and right guard Anthony Herrera
The task: Demonstrate their health and rebound from a season that left something to be desired from each.
The skinny: Hutchinson and Herrera were slowed by injuries last season, and Sullivan recently revealed he had ankle surgery this offseason. As a whole, the interior of the Vikings' offensive line needs to spend this summer leveling itself out.

Earlier: NFC North teams ready to implement a counterpunch to the pass-happy 2009 season.
Harris/Smith/HendersonUS PresswireAl Harris (left), Kevin Smith and E.J. Henderson are all still recovering from injuries they suffered at the end of the season.
NFL offseasons are filled with breathless updates on players recovering from injuries and surgeries of various degrees. Here in the NFC North, however, we have five players whose injuries occurred so recently -- or were so severe -- that their availability is already in doubt for the start of the season.

Teams have been known to express intentional and excessive optimism about injured players -- shocker! -- so let's try to take an unvarnished look at the severity of each Black and Blue situation, the latest timetable and the likeliest contingency plan. Note: There aren't any Chicago Bears mentioned below. The Bears are lucky that their roster is relatively healthy.

Player: Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew
Injury: Torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee
Injury date: Nov. 26, 2009
Status update: Pettigrew has been participating in individual drills during organized team activities but isn't expected to be ready to practice when training camp begins next month. It's likely he'll start camp on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. If you subscribe to the 10-month timetable for typical ACL injuries, Pettigrew will be cleared at some point in September.
Contingency: The Lions traded for Denver tight end Tony Scheffler and re-signed backup Will Heller. The Scheffler trade was a smart move regardless, but it reinforced the point that Pettigrew isn't likely to be at full speed when the season begins. At some point, Pettigrew and Scheffler will form a potent one-two duo. But for the immediate future, Scheffler and Heller are the likeliest candidates to open the season.

Player: Lions tailback Kevin Smith
Injury:
Torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee
Injury date:
Dec. 13, 2009
Status update:
Like Pettigrew, Smith has been participating in some individual drills during OTAs. Coach Jim Schwartz recently said he "wouldn't be surprised at all" if Smith is ready to practice at the start of training camp, putting him back on the field less than nine months after the injury. It's been done before but would represent an accelerated timetable.
Contingency: Whether Smith was injured, it's likely the Lions still would have traded back into the first round to select speedy tailback Jahvid Best. Given Schwartz's well-known feelings about Best's game-breaking ability, it's hard to imagine a situation where Best isn't the Lions' top option in the backfield -- no matter when Smith returns. If Smith isn't ready to provide backup carries, the Lions still have 2009 backup Maurice Morris on their roster.

Player: Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris
Injury: Torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee
Injury date: Nov. 22, 2009
Status update: Harris' injury has been described as worse than a typical torn ACL. According to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, Harris required a second procedure to accelerate the healing process. Harris recently moved his rehabilitation work to Green Bay and is back around the team. But while Harris has expressed some optimism about being ready for training camp, it appears a trip to the PUP list is much more likely.
Contingency: The Packers protected themselves by issuing a high tender to Harris' presumed replacement, restricted free agent Tramon Williams -- a move that ensured Williams wouldn't be able to sign with another team. Whether it happens this season or further in the future, Williams seems destined to take over for Harris, who turns 36 in December.

Player: Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin
Injury: Torn anterior cruciate ligament in left knee
Injury date: Jan. 24, 2010
Status update: Griffin has been rehabilitating at the Vikings' facility but hasn't yet participated in organized team activities. It's likely he'll miss minicamp later this week and it's hard to imagine that he won't wind up on the PUP list for training camp. A 10-month rehab would put him back on the field at midseason.
Contingency:
The Vikings' public optimism must be viewed in the context of their rapid-fire offseason moves to add depth at cornerback. They re-signed 2009 nickel back Benny Sapp, brought in veteran free agent Lito Sheppard and made Chris Cook the No. 34 overall pick of the draft. Coaches also have praised second-year player Asher Allen during OTAs. That collection of cornerbacks suggests the Vikings aren't counting on Griffin returning anytime soon.

Player: Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson
Injury: Fractured left femur
Injury date: Dec. 6, 2009
Status update: Henderson said Friday he is beginning to run at full speed and that he would do everything he could to be cleared for the start of training camp. But it would be a shock if Henderson didn't open camp on the PUP. The same goes for the possibility of opening the season as the Vikings' middle linebacker. Henderson's original recovery timetable was one year. He has a permanent titanium rod in the leg, a rare predicament for an NFL player.
Contingency: It seems likely that second-year player Jasper Brinkley will open the season as the Vikings' middle linebacker. The real question will be whether Brinkley handles all of the duties associated with that job, or if the Vikings will have outside linebacker Ben Leber call the defensive signals until Henderson's presumed return.
Green Bay PackersScott Boehm/Getty ImagesA computer simulation system predicts Green Bay will win the NFC North this season -- assuming a certain Minnesota quarterback retires.
Preseason predictions are a lot like flying lessons. You can practice and study and anticipate as much as you want while sitting in a simulator. The reality, however, is no one knows if you can fly a plane until you get up in the (real) air.

That's a pretentious, Minnesota cake-eating way of acknowledging the limited value of predicting in May who will sit atop the NFC North on the night of Jan. 2, 2011. But to the extent that it matters, and following up on our "faulty assumptions" discussion from last week, I think we are erring in assuming that Minnesota should be the preseason favorite to repeat as division champions.

In fact, if I had to pick a winner right now -- and I don't, and it doesn't matter, but I'm doing it anyway -- I would go with Green Bay. (Audience: Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.)

I'll state my case in a bit. But first, let's consider the most quantitative way I'm aware of to make these predictions. We first introduced you to AccuScore last summer as Brett Favre was moving closer to joining the Vikings. The AccuScore people develop variables to create digital profiles for NFL coaches and players. Those profiles are used to create "teams" that are then run through a computer simulation to play out a "season" based on each team's actual NFL schedule.

Using 10,000 such simulated seasons last year, AccuScore correctly predicted the NFC North's final standings. This year, as you can see in the charts below, AccuScore is picking Minnesota to win the division if Favre returns and the Packers if he doesn't.

ESPN.com's Spring Power Rankings also pick Minnesota to finish ahead of Green Bay, presumably based on similar expectations for Favre. But I think we should at least question whether Favre's presence automatically will give the Vikings a division title. These are two teams, after all, that finished within a game of each other last season, primarily as a result of Minnesota's season sweep.

(Sorry, Chicago and Detroit. My head isn't big enough to consider more than two division contenders right now.)

Here's where I'm coming from:

  1. Favre made an undeniable impact on the Vikings last season, but let's not forget it came as a result of arguably the best season of his career. He threw seven interceptions in 2009 after throwing at least twice that many in 14 of his previous 17 full seasons. To be fair, we can't rule out a repeat performance. But what do you think is more likely: A 2010 season closer to his career averages or another precedent-setter? If a modest slip accounts for even one additional loss, it could be enough for the Packers to leapfrog them in the standings.
  2. If Favre is less effective in 2010, it stands to reason he'll be less dangerous to the Packers' biggest weakness of last season: Pass defense against elite quarterbacks. When you look at Green Bay's schedule, you see eight games in which they will face a quarterback who has played in a Pro Bowl. But I would only consider three of those games -- two against Favre and one against New England's Tom Brady -- to feature the kind of elite passers who ravaged the Packers last season. And this doesn't take into account the possibility that the Packers' pass defense will improve independently of Favre's potential slide. I have my doubts about the Packers' potential for improvement, but it's conceivable the Vikings will be less equipped to exploit it.
  3. Jermichael Finley
    AP Photo/Jim MoneTight end Jermichael Finley had a breakout season in 2009, catching 55 passes for 676 yards and 5 TDs.

  4. There are some areas in which Green Bay unquestionably has improved and Minnesota appears to have weakened since the start of last season. The Packers, for one, have a more balanced passing attack following the emergence of tight end Jermichael Finley. As long as 35-year-old receiver Donald Driver can provide another productive season, Green Bay has a yin-and-yang passing tree that will be much more difficult to defend than it was in the first half of 2009.
  5. The Packers also appear to have a better plan at offensive line than they had entering the 2009 season. They have a veteran starter locked in at both tackle positions with skilled younger players set to back up both of them. First-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga will play behind left tackle Chad Clifton and T.J. Lang likely will be behind right tackle Mark Tauscher. This scenario minimizes the chance of jailbreak pass "protection" that set back the Packers early last season.
  6. Minnesota's pass rush shouldn't miss a beat as long as defensive end Ray Edwards returns to complement Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. But the back seven is in an underdiscussed transition mode as spring practice begins. It's uncertain whether longtime middle linebacker E.J. Henderson will make a full return from a fractured leg, and the drop-off to second-year player Jasper Brinkley is notable. Starting cornerback Cedric Griffin will need several more months to rehabilitate a torn anterior cruciate ligament, leaving veterans Lito Sheppard and Benny Sapp to man his position. No NFL team seemed willing to give Sheppard or Sapp a starting job in free agency this year. And the Vikings only can hope that 33-year-old cornerback Antoine Winfield is fully recovered from a fractured foot that limited him last season.
  7. Green Bay's schedule gives the team a better chance to jump to an early division lead than the Vikings'. With games against Buffalo, Detroit, Washington and Miami, the Packers have a decent chance to be 5-1 or 6-0 heading into an Oct. 24 showdown against the Vikings at Lambeau Field. The Vikings, meanwhile, face difficult games at New Orleans and at the New York Jets. They'll have done well to be 4-2 at that point. But the bottom line is that there is a decent chance the Packers could establish a three-game lead in the division before November starts.

This is just one early-May take. I'm sure you have your own. Remember: We're still in the simulator. Nothing more. Let's take pleasure from a consequence-free environment.

Vikings polish edges with Gerhart

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
10:31
PM ET
Toby GerhartKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireThe Vikings will pair Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, above, with Adrian Peterson.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Here is a measure of Minnesota's confidence in its roster: The Vikings' top two picks of the 2010 draft both play positions with long-term starters firmly in place.

Virginia cornerback Chris Cook faces a season as a reserve/special teams player behind veterans Antoine Winfield, Lito Sheppard, Benny Sapp and eventually Cedric Griffin. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, meanwhile, will get the touches left over by workhorse starter Adrian Peterson.

So it goes for a team that is expected to bring back all 22 starters from the group that advanced to the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings didn't find their quarterback of the future on Friday, twice passing up Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Texas' Colt McCoy, but they still wound up with two players who figure -- at best -- to play secondary roles in 2010.

"We've helped our roster a lot today," said vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, referring to the all-important depth Cook and Gerhart will provide. The way Gerhart ended up with the Vikings illustrates the way Spielman is approaching this draft: As a tool to polish the edges of his roster.

I was totally on board with the Vikings' decision to let veteran tailback Chester Taylor depart via free agency. If the Vikings follow past practice and Peterson stays healthy, their backup running back will get no more than 150 touches in 2010. It would have been irrational to pay Taylor the $7 million in guarantees he got from Chicago for such a limited role.

The Vikings made one run at signing a veteran replacement, but when veteran LaDainian Tomlinson signed with the New York Jets, Spielman quickly pivoted toward the draft -- where it is a more than reasonable expectation to find a complementary running back.

"I knew what was coming out in the draft and I knew the potential runners that could be available to us," Spielman said. "So if something does not work out in free agency, I have a pretty extensive chart.... So you make a run at one. You don't have to panic because potentially you can get something down the road in the draft."

Spielman passed on an opportunity to draft Cal's Jahvid Best at No. 30 overall Thursday night. But he jumped for Gerhart -- giving up his third-round pick (No. 93 overall) to move up 11 spots in the second round. Although Gerhart's 231-pound frame is big enough to be a fullback, the Vikings project him as a traditional (and bruising) tailback in their scheme. Although he didn't fully confirm it, coach Brad Childress suggested Gerhart has the tools to replace Taylor as a third-down back as well.

"I think you see a very versatile athlete there," Childress said. "I know he carried the ball between the tackles [at Stanford], ... but he's exceptional in the pass game. It's not something that was highly emphasized there. I know the system that [Stanford] runs, and he'll come in here and be able to adapt very quickly. He gives you a bigger body, whether it's a backup running back or a special teamer."

Because he has that "bigger" frame and attended Stanford, Gerhart has drawn middling comparisons to former Cardinal fullback Tommy Vardell. But Gerhart runs the 40-yard dash in a legitimate 4.5 seconds, and I think anyone who watched him play in college knows he has a significant burst and tremendous competitive instincts. Even Gerhart said he believes he has "more wiggle" than Vardell and that he can be "more all-purpose."

You'll find no argument here. I might not draft Gerhart be a 20-carry per game back, but that's not what the Vikings need as long as Peterson is on the roster.

"I'm not sure what my role is going to be," Gerhart said, "but I think it's going to be to complement the best running back in football. ... I look forward to finding out more and contributing to the team."

In the scenario I believe the Vikings envision, Gerhart will follow in Taylor's footsteps: About three-to-six carries per game and two-to-three catches in third-down situations. I think that's a fair way to use him, and it's a rotation that Childress and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy established during three years of working with Peterson and Taylor.

Bieniemy, in fact, once recruited Gerhart to UCLA when he worked as the Bruins' running backs coach in 2006. Gerhart planned to commit until the Vikings hired Bieniemy away two weeks before NCAA signing day. Bieniemy had big plans for Gerhart as a feature back then. Now, he'll have him as a finishing touch.

"Kind of ironic," Gerhart said.

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