NFC North: Brian Murphy
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that Musgrave, who spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, has agreed to terms on a contract. He was also pursued by the Cleveland Browns, but he'll almost certainly have more latitude over the Vikings than he would have had under offensive-minded team president Mike Holmgren and coach Pat Shurmur.
Musgrave has had two stints as an NFL coordinator and one in college. During stops with the Carolina Panthers (2000), the University of Virginia (2001-02) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2003-04), Musgrave used elements of the West Coast scheme. (He resigned from the Panthers position after four games.) But he has since worked in other philosophies while in Atlanta, and I'm guessing that breadth of experience appealed to Frazier -- who has said he wants his offensive scheme melded around personnel rather than the other way around.
As of this moment, the Vikings haven't acknowledged any movement on their coaching staff. But Musgrave will replace Darrell Bevell, who on Tuesday was interviewing for the Seattle Seahawks' offensive coordinator job. Special teams coordinator Brian Murphy has been hired by the Carolina Panthers and is expected to be replaced by Mike Priefer.
Defensively, Frazier is expected to promoted linebackers coach Fred Pagac to defensive coordinator. One reason for that belief is that Mike Singletary has already announced on ESPN 1000 in Chicago that he will be the Vikings' linebackers coach in 2011.
(Update: The Vikings have posted a press release on their web site announcing the Pagac, Priefer and Singletary moves.)
If you're interested, here are some numbers on the three NFL teams Musgrave has been the offensive coordinator for:
- 2000 Carolina Panthers: No. 20 in yards, No. 21 in points*
- 2003 Jacksonville Jaguars: No. 12 in yards, No. 25 in points
- 2004 Jacksonville Jaguars: No. 21 in yards, No. 29 in points
*Resigned after four games
That process began Monday, when special teams coordinator Brian Murphy departed for a similar job with the Carolina Panthers. Frazier had interviewed former Denver Broncos assistant Mike Priefer for Murphy's job, and Priefer remains the likeliest candidate to fill it.
Frazier also interviewed former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels to replace Bevell. McDaniels is currently negotiating with the St. Louis Rams, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, but the Rams also want to speak with Bevell. McDaniels is said to favor the Rams over the Vikings because of Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. In the event they don't land McDaniels, the Vikings are also scheduled to interview Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, according to Mortensen.
Meanwhile, Frazier seems on track to hire former teammate and longtime friend Mike Singletary as his linebackers coach. Former linebackers coach Fred Pagac is expected to be named defensive coordinator. *Update: Singletary told ESPN 1000 that he has accepted the job of linebackers/assistant head coach.
As we discussed earlier this month, the next step in Brett Favre's retirement plan is to reconcile with the Green Bay Packers following a nasty divorce in the summer of 2008. That process began Monday when Favre told ESPN's Ed Werder that he was rooting for the Packers to win the Super Bowl, that quarterback Aaron Rodgers "is the best QB" in the playoffs and that he's happy for the Packers' success.
Favre added in an e-mail: "I think they will win it all! I hope they do, if you are wondering."
To be fair, Favre always has maintained that he never felt bitterness toward the organization or Rodgers. But if you're of the belief that Favre's public statements are more calculated than they appear, then you can see where this is headed. Coincidence or otherwise, Favre's website sent out an e-mail flash Monday night with this subject line: "Packers could go all the way."
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Including the playoffs, the Packers are 5-5 on the road this year, notes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers cornerback Tramon Williams has become a student of the game, writes Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers receiver Greg Jennings on the Soldier Field turf, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "Probably the worst in the league."
- Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com wonders if the Bears can handle Rodgers with their four-man rush. Rodgers has completed 33 of 38 passes in the playoffs against that set.
- The Bears were pretty vanilla in the teams' Week 17 matchup at Lambeau Field, writes Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Tickets for Sunday's game are the hottest in Chicago sports history, according to the Chicago Tribune.
- David Haugh of the Tribune: "Despite the odds, the Bears actually match up better against the Packers than they would against either potential Super Bowl opponent."
- Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com: "Both teams are cocky, led by their quarterbacks -- each of whom is new to NFL playoff success, each of whom displays his self-confidence in different ways."
- Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Brian Murphy left the team to take a similar role with the Carolina Panthers, notes NFC South colleague Pat Yasinskas.
- Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press goes behind the scenes of the Vikings' reaction to the Metrodome roof collapse.
- Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News profiles Ngum Suh, the older sister of Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Miami Dolphins were nationally lambasted for interviewing at least one candidate for their head-coaching position while incumbent Tony Sparano remained on staff. So even on a lesser scale, it's interesting that no one seems upset as the Minnesota Vikings interview possible replacements for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, both of whom remain employed by the team.
Over the weekend, coach Leslie Frazier indicated he would not stand in the way of either Bevell or Murphy leaving for another job. But if either man has been fired, the team hasn't announced it and it hasn't been confirmed elsewhere. Nevertheless, Frazier has interviewed Josh McDaniels for Bevell's job and Mike Priefer for Murphy's role.
Frazier has managed to keep a lid on most of what is going on behind the scenes, so for all we know he has already dismissed the incumbent coordinators. Or he is giving them time to find another job without the public stigma of being fired. But if neither of those scenarios is accurate, then the Vikings have followed bad form.
Frazier has coached with Bevell and Murphy for three years. He should know by now if he wants them to run his offense and special teams, respectively. Are we to believe that he only wants them only if he can't get anyone better? I hope that's not the case.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pursuing Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, notes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Frazier has committed to building his offense around tailback Adrian Peterson, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
- The Green Bay Packers game-planned almost purely to throw the ball in their first meeting with the Atlanta Falcons, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Packers coach Mike McCarthy on rookie tailback James Starks, via Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Well, he definitely deserves opportunity. He'll run the ball against Atlanta, if that's what you're asking me. Yeah, he's going to carry the ball in Atlanta. He earned that."
- McCarthy said Monday the Packers are a "championship-caliber" team," writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- The Chicago Bears' offense is vulnerable to secondary blitzes, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
- Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't play in the team's regular-season matchup with the Seattle Seahawks, notes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune examines the improvement of the Bears' offensive line.
- Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz reached out to the family of a man who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 39, writes Tony Paul of the Detroit News.
PHILADELPHIA -- I'll spend Monday morning working my way back to NFC North headquarters. Together, we'll spend the rest of the week prepping for an epic weekend that could lead to an epic matchup.
The Green Bay Packers have advanced to Saturday night's NFC divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. About 17 hours later, the Chicago Bears will kick off at Soldier Field against the Seattle Seahawks. (No, I don't know yet if I'll be at both games.) Victories by both teams would set up the first modern-day NFC Championship Game between the Packers and Bears. As David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune points out, the Packers and Bears played for the Western Division title in 1941.
I'm counting on this week being one of the most exciting in the long and exhausting three-year history of the NFC North blog. Before ramping it up, however, let's catch up on news and links from around the division -- including an odd scenario developing on the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff.
- Although they have not fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell nor special team coordinator Brian Murphy, the Vikings are setting up interviews with outside candidates for both jobs. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune has more.
- Vikings coach Leslie Frazier told Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com that Bevell and Murphy are free to seek other jobs. Hmmm.
- The Packers' defense was key to victory Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton had a few "4th-and-26" flashbacks during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
- Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "James Starks never heard of the player whose record he broke Sunday. That's not surprising, because Travis 'The Roadrunner' Williams set the record for most rushing yards by a Green Bay Packers rookie in the postseason on Dec. 23, 1967. That was more than 18 years before Starks was born."
- ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski spoke with Turner Gill, Starks' college coach.
- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his first playoff victory, via Alex Marvez of Foxsports.com: "In all my time being a football fan, I've never seen one player win a game all by himself. "It's a good team win for us. I'll let you guys write what you want on that."
- Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports: "Lose this game, and Rodgers would’ve been subjected to at least another year’s worth of rebuke from the Favre-o-philes who’ve never considered him worthy of his legendary predecessor’s legacy." My sense is there are very few people left who are unhappy with the transition from Brett Favre to Rodgers.
- It was amazing how many people in Chicago were rooting for the Packers to win, writes Haugh in the Tribune.
- Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com: "But it is true that the Bears, touched by providence all season, have the easiest draw of the divisional round with the sub-.500 Seahawks coming to Soldier Field next Sunday afternoon."
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com evaluates the Detroit Lions' roster.
Day is done
Gone the sun
From the lakes
From the hills
From the sky
All is well,
God is nigh.
Remember, I'm available for your comments, praise and savagery via the mailbag portal, our booming Facebook page and Twitter.
On with it....
After a migraine episode left Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin unresponsive at practice Thursday, Natalie of Denver, Col., wrote: Don't you think there might be a reason Percy tested positive at the combine for marijuana? To help with the migraines. It's long been proven to help. ... I bet if someone asked him point blank, he would admit that it helped. Bet you MONEY. Ask him, Kevin. Then thank me later for giving you the scoop of the year.
Kevin Seifert: Natalie, I can't tell you how many people have sent along their ideas, theories and recommendations for how Harvin can beat his migraines. Marijuana is at the top of the list. I don't really want to get into the legalization issue on a football blog, but I chose your question because I had a similar thought last year.
I figured Harvin might have chosen the stigma of a positive marijuana test over not being able to participate at all in the combine. Who knows how far his draft stock would have fallen if migraines had forced him to miss the combine altogether.
But Harvin actually has been asked that question, point-blank. ESPN.com's Elizabeth Merrill included it in this profile. Here's what Merrill wrote on that topic:
He didn't do it for medicinal purposes. Harvin will confirm that he does suffer from severe migraines, with pain so intense at times that it makes him vomit and impairs his vision, but says he didn't smoke pot to alleviate any headache. He didn't do it to escape financial stresses, either. In a few months, Harvin was projected to be a top-10 draft pick.
"I didn't look at it and think of all the stuff or all the people that I might've let down at the time," Harvin says. "Of course, I thought about it afterwards. I was disappointed with myself. I had let myself down, my family down, the University of Florida down. So it was probably one of the worst days of my life."
Has Harvin ever taken marijuana to help his migraines? I don't know the answer to that question. But based on their frequency of late, nothing he is trying has worked.
Doug of Falls Church, Va., writes: How come out of all of the articles I have read on the Chicago Bears' first preseason game, no one has highlighted how terrible the O-line played? I believe this is the #1 Achilles heel (secondary is #2) to why the Bears' season won't exceed mediocrity ... and the Bears have done NOTHING to address this talent shortfall beyond bringing in a strong coach.
Kevin Seifert: "Terrible" might be a bit extreme, and in all honesty I think we have to view the offensive line as a work in progress. A few days before that game, line coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz established the five players they want to start: tackles Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale; guards Roberto Garza and Lance Louis; and center Olin Kreutz. A fair way to judge them is to compare last Saturday's performance with how they play in the fourth preseason game (assuming they do play).
You might view this as an excuse, but nothing substitutes for time when it comes to cohesion on an offensive line. I happen to think the Bears did the right thing by establishing their starters before the preseason to give them the maximum opportunity to develop chemistry before the regular season begins.
If they're still playing the same way by mid-September, the Bears could have problems. But we're not at that point yet.
Jason of Albany, N.Y., writes: I know I could probably figure this out myself, but I don't feel like doing all the work. In the past, did the teams that had a dominating defense during the regular season also have an amazing defense in that same year's pre-season (at least for the starters)? This is directly related to Green Bay's defense playing pretty bad during week 1 of preseason.
Kevin Seifert: I'll save us both the work. Never, ever, ever try to apply the statistics of a preseason game -- wins, losses, yards, points, first downs or anything else -- to the regular season. I've been tricked by every possibility out there. I've seen offenses that look smooth and then stumble when the season begins. I've written off field goal kickers who appear to be a mess but get it together when the games start counting. I've watched defenses that can't stop the run suddenly become a stone wall when the season starts.
You'll hit on a lasting trend maybe on one out of every 10 "observations." Look no further than the Packers' offense last preseason. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't sacked, and we all thought their offensive line reconfiguration would be a resounding success. Then we were all "shocked" when the Packers gave up 36 sacks in the first eight games of the regular season. The bottom line is that the Packers' offensive line simply wasn't tested in those preseason games.
As for the Packers' defense this summer, keep in mind that they're not blitzing nearly as often as they did in the 2009 preseason -- when defensive coordinator Dom Capers was trying to establish a tempo for his scheme. If I'm watching the Packers' defense, I'm looking for micro-signs of problems: Poor tackling, cornerbacks unable to run with receivers, defensive linemen failing to defeat 1-on-1 matchups. Final numbers are of secondary importance.
Scott of Chicago writes: I have read multiple times that Jahvid Best is not an every-down running back, mainly because of his 5'10, 201 lbs. size. Can you please explain the logic behind this theory, especially given the fact that Chris Johnson is listed at 5'11, 190 lbs. and seems to do ok. Does it have something to do with Best's running style or what?
Kevin Seifert: From the top, I'll say I don't buy it. But the people who think Best is a "specialty back" envision him as a player who can use speed and open-field running ability to surprise defenses for big plays in certain situations. They don't see him as a tough-enough runner to grind out a consistent four or five yards every time he touches the ball.
I do agree that size, speed and open-field running ability don't make you a complete every-down running back. There is something to be said for instincts -- knowing where to run, when to cut back and when to accelerate -- that helps explain Johnson's success.
Does Best have elite instincts? We'll find out soon enough. But even if he doesn't, I know a lot of coaches who would be happy with 15 runs of three yards if the 16th goes for 60 and a touchdown.
Terry of Rapid City, S.D., writes: I like your reporting but I'm always amazed that sports reporters including yourself seemed miffed that players and coaches don't confide in you guys more than they do. The Favre situation is a prime example. You guys will know of his decision after he informs his coach and his teammates, ironically the same time we regular joe public finds out. Nothing to have hurt feelings about, but the days of getting a scoop are a thing of the past. Just my take!
Kevin Seifert: Thanks Terry. I assume you're referring to this post about the pair of news conferences the Vikings held amid reports that three players had visited Brett Favre at his Mississippi home and were bringing him back to the Vikings. I know what you're saying, but I can tell you my consternation that day didn't center around the Vikings' refusal to confirm Favre's return.
It was the decision to have offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy misrepresent where the trio of players were; Bevell and Murphy claimed that defensive end Jared Allen, guard Steve Hutchinson and place-kicker Ryan Longwellwere working out indoors. It was a weak attempt to cover up the desperate and unusual measures they were taking to secure Favre's services.
Coach Brad Childress later apologized for the stunt.
It would be great if we could trust sports teams to tell us what is happening in a timely fashion. Reporters would have a lot less gray hair if they didn't have to chase the news. But this incident explains that you can't trust teams to tell you what is going on.
- Favre claimed this will be his last season, and coach Brad Childress said he believes it. I'm only rolling one eye at this point. Favre noted the pending 2011 lockout, and the possibility that the Vikings' aging roster could be "dismantled." Both reasons actually make sense. If it means no FavreWatch 2011, well....
- Favre kept returning to the word "favor" to his teammates. "One more try," he said of winning the Super Bowl with this group. It was a brilliant tack and one I will explore more on the blog in a bit. It puts him in a no-lose situation this season. If it works, great. If not, all he was trying to do was a favor, anyway.
- In all, Favre talked for a little more than 33 minutes but answered only eight questions. What a filibuster!
- The three players who traveled to Hattiesburg, Miss., on Monday and Tuesday said their primary mission was to "get an answer." Quotes from guard Steve Hutchinson, defensive end Jared Allen and place-kicker Ryan Longwell were all pretty similar.
- Childress apologized for putting offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy in front of reporters Tuesday to misrepresent that trio's trip. "I shouldn't have done that," Childress said.
More to come.
First, in case you hadn't heard, it appears Favre has agreed -- as we all expected he would eventually -- to play for the Vikings this season. His plane is scheduled to land in Minnesota at mid-afternoon, and I imagine he could practice as early as Wednesday. His arrival comes nearly a year to the day after he originally signed with the team last summer.
But before he restores order, the Vikings made sure to project one final image of insanity. Coach Brad Childress was not scheduled to speak with reporters Tuesday and refused to change the schedule. Instead, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coordinator Brian Murphy both responded the same way when asked about Longwell, Hutchinson and Allen. Murphy said that kickers spent the morning working on "gimmick kicks" indoors and said Longwell had been "around."
Bevell, meanwhile, said Childress told him the players were "inside" when practice began. Linebacker Ben Leber, choosing his words carefully, said: "I honestly don't know anything about it to tell you the truth."
I felt terrible for Bevell and Murphy, who were put in situations they didn't deserve. Nevertheless, the Vikings' effort to orchestrate Favre's arrival failed and their attempts to hide their desperation were only magnified by the scene.
Let's face it. The Vikings were down to their last straw. Excusing three prominent players from practice for a recruiting mission was a bold and ultimately successful move, but it left no other options. If Favre turned down three of his best friends on the team to their face, who else could the Vikings turn to? (I checked, and I'm pretty sure God is busy.)
The Vikings apparently got their man, but not before one more day of nervous sweat and embarrassment. More to come.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.Icon SMITarvaris Jackson played only a handful of snaps in 2009 but would be the starter if Favre retires.
- 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."
- Coach Brad Childress said he was in contact Wednesday morning with receiver Percy Harvin, but it appears Harvin won't re-join the team until next Monday at the earliest. The Vikings' final training camp practice is Thursday morning and they depart Friday for their preseason opener at St. Louis. Harvin has missed all but two practices of camp because of his grandmother's death and migraine headaches. "It doesn't make any sense [to return this week] because I don't have a magic beamer or anything like that for the migraines," Childress said. "So I think that the path that he's taking right now is the path that he needs to be taking."Harvin
- Tailback Adrian Peterson (hamstring) participated in the morning session but sat out the afternoon practice, and it's unclear if he'll play Saturday against the Rams. It's also hard to imagine that center John Sullivan, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe or receiver Sidney Rice will play, either.
- Wednesday brought a somewhat surprising admission from special teams coordinator Brian Murphy: The team has decided to rotate preseason halves between place-kicker Ryan Longwell and kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd. Saturday, Longwell will handle all placekicks and kickoffs in the first half; Lloyd will handle all of the duties in the second half. I still don't think there is a true competition here, but Murphy said: "This is the time when you find out who has got what in their bag. That's not a reflection of anybody. That's just this time of year. You want to see where everyone is at. You want to see everyone at their best. We'll figure it out from there."
- Wednesday was the first day of reserve safety Husain Abdullah's annual observance of Ramadan, during which he neither eats nor drinks between dawn and dusk. Working with a nutritionist, Abdullah has a plan to eat a big breakfast at 5 a.m., a big dinner and then a protein shake at 2 a.m. "Everything is going fine," Abdullah said Wednesday. "I've been doing this since I was seven years old."
- Left guard Anthony Herrera returned after sitting out four practices, leaving Sullivan as the only member of the starting offensive line on the sidelines. Sullivan has missed most of training camp because of a calf injury.
- In the morning session, rookie cornerback Chris Cook made another play on a deep ball, catching up to receiver Bernard Berrian on the right sideline and helping knock away a pass from Tarvaris Jackson.
- And that's a wrap from Mankato. Our formal Vikings Camp Confidential will post Saturday. Today also marks the end of our 2010 training camp tour. We spent three days in each NFC North camp over the past two weeks, and I'll have a handy-dandy review at some point Thursday. Until then....
The lowest moment in Kluwe’s career as the Vikings’ punter came last season at the Superdome, when Bush returned two of his punts for touchdowns. Afterwards, coach Brad Childress publicly lambasted him for failing to get the punts out of bounds as assigned.
“I was needling Kluwe on Saturday already,” placekicker Ryan Longwell said. “I saw him return it and it brought back memories, some not so good.”
The Vikings consider Bush one of the primary threats New Orleans will pose Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. But there are two truths we should acknowledge as the game approaches:
When you take a look at the numbers, Bush has been an average punt returner for most of his career.
Both Kluwe and the Vikings’ coverage units have made substantial progress since last year’s debacle.
On the first point, take a look at the chart that accompanies this post. As much of an every-play threat Bush might be, the vast majority of his career punt returns have been harmless. This fact doesn’t minimize the threat, but it perhaps it should reduce the hysteria surrounding this aspect of the matchup.
On the second: Bush appeared to have regained his speed and form in the Saints’ 45-14 romp over Arizona last weekend. Less obvious, however, was the scintillating performance that Kluwe and the Vikings’ punt coverage team produced in a 34-3 victory over Dallas.
Kluwe averaged 41.7 net yards and the Cowboys did not gain a single return yard on five punts, a big reason why their average drive started on the Vikings’ 25-yard line.
Kluwe has spent most of the season working to reduce his distance while improving hang time and direction, and Longwell said: “He’s actually a much better punter than he’s ever been and he’s a better weapon for us going into this game than he was last year.”
Longwell added: “He has a home run leg, just as strong as anybody in the league. And [special teams coordinator Brian Murphy] has asked him to dial it back and hit more hang time, and he’s done that this year. [It’s] a lot tougher to return on that.”
Kluwe, for his part, said he has worked hard to have a short memory.
“That was just one of those things where you have to just put it behind you,” he said. “It’s the NFL. You’re going to have ups. You’re going to have downs. … I mean, he’s a dynamic returner. Obviously, he always has that possibility to make something happen. But we’re just going to go out and cover like we did last week against Dallas, and hopefully try to keep him from breaking anything big.”
|AP Photo/Michael Conroy|
|Quarterback Brett Favre and running back Adrian Peterson are leading one of the best Vikings teams in recent memory.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
A few minutes before Brett Favre declared Minnesota the best team he’s ever played for, I posed a similar question to someone with a little more Vikings perspective.
Antoine Winfield’s career has spanned two owners, two head coaches, three defensive coordinators and a roster turnover that makes him the fourth most-tenured Vikings player. Only two years ago, Winfield seemed doubtful of the team’s direction and skipped offseason workouts. Sunday, he didn’t hesitate.
“This is the No. 1 team that I’ve been around,” Winfield said. “We have so many good players on offense and defense, and a lot of experience. These are guys that have had a lot of success. And you can see it. Guys are going out and making big plays. This is what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Before we gain too much speed, we should tap the brakes right here. The Vikings’ 5-0 record includes victories over Cleveland (1-4), Detroit (1-4) and St. Louis (0-5). They needed Favre’s last-second heroics to beat San Francisco at home. They’re about to hit the meat of their AFC North schedule, with successive games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
But anyone who has played for, coached or watched this team in recent years would conclude that this is the most talented and well-balanced Vikings roster in years. I would suggest it has a chance to be the franchise’s most successful team since it appeared in Super Bowl XI, a mere 33 years ago. That title is currently held by the Vikings’ 1998 team, which finished the regular season 15-1. We’ll get to that debate in a moment.
“This team has the potential to win every game it plays,” Favre said. “But we’re not the only ones in this league that can say that. You can lose on any given Sunday to anyone. Everyone is aware of that, but if we’re able to handle adversity and have some luck along the way, this team can be pretty good.”
Many of us have been saying for some time the only thing standing between the Vikings and elite status was competent quarterback play, a posit I think proved accurate last season when they went 8-3 last in games Gus Frerotte started. Favre’s play has been more than competent, but I don’t think he’s the only reason the Vikings’ prospects have never seemed rosier. A few others:
Offensive balance. Minnesota has one of the league’s best power running games, but it also has acquired enough skill players to make it one of the NFL’s most explosive offensive teams. Tailback Adrian Peterson, receiver Bernard Berrian and receiver/runner Percy Harvin are all threats to score every time they touch the ball. The Vikings have five touchdowns of 20 or more yards this season, the fifth-best mark in the league, according to STATS Inc. The twin abilities to grind out yardage amid big plays makes it difficult to scheme against the Vikings.
An elite defensive lineup. Conservatively speaking, I think more than half of the Vikings’ defensive starters are legitimate Pro Bowl candidates: Defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, defensive end Jared Allen, linebackers E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway, and cornerback Antoine Winfield. (Linebacker Ben Leber might also pull himself into that mix.) Three of those players -- Kevin Williams, Allen and Winfield -- could be All-Pros. All success starts with the quality of personnel, and this Vikings are covered in this area. Scheme is important, but you credit individual play when a team creates 12 turnovers in five games.
Special-teams improvement. As we noted earlier Tuesday, the Vikings are giving themselves excellent field position and limiting the opportunities of their opponents under new special teams coordinator Brian Murphy. Better blocking schemes are allowing the Vikings to start their average drive at their 31.8-yard line. That’s almost 8 yards better than where their opponents are starting. Harvin, meanwhile, already has three returns of 30 or more yards and is the Vikings’ best return man since David Palmer.
That Palmer comparison brings us to the question of whether the Vikings have built a better team than the 1998 version that rolled through the regular season and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
Below you’ll see each team’s regular starting lineups. (I used three receivers on offense because that was the base set for the 1998 team. The 2009 team uses three receivers a fair amount as well.)
Next you’ll see a select statistical comparison that I hope gives a fair snapshot of each team. I avoided total yards because I’m starting to agree with those who consider points per game a far better gauge of an offense and defense.
These numbers paint the same picture you probably already have in your mind: The 1998 offense was more explosive, but the 2009 defense (to this point) is probably a bit stingier.
Neither one of those conclusions should be a surprise if you remember how the 1998 team surprised everyone with its unstoppable downfield passes to then-rookie Randy Moss. Then-defensive coordinator Foge Fazio could let loose with his pass rush as teams opponents fell behind early and became one-dimensional.
From a more subjective standpoint, I think you can make the argument that this year’s team has a chance to have more balanced success. That makes you less vulnerable if an opponent figures out a way to slow down one strength, as Atlanta did in the 1998 NFC Championship Game.
I’m sure you’ll let me know what you think below.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Part of being the big-time division that we’re becoming is having our games moved into better time slots for national broadcast ratings. We had one instance of that Thursday, when FOX moved Chicago’s Oct. 25 game at Cincinnati to 4:15 p.m. ET
The next question is whether FOX will move the Nov. 1 matchup between Minnesota and Green Bay from a 1 p.m. ET kickoff to 4 p.m or 4:15 p.m. ET. Most of us have assumed it was a no-brainer, but Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes it is not a sure thing.
As it stands now, FOX is scheduled to show the New York Giants at Philadelphia in the late slot that day. Because the world is biased toward the U.S. East Coast, FOX has a difficult decision. Wolfley also writes that the NFL typically prefers not to have the Giants and New York Jets play at the same time, which is what would happen if Giants-Eagles is moved back to noon to accommodate Packers-Vikings.
Another option would be to keep Packers-Vikings at noon and move several other games to 3:15 p.m. to open up a wide national market at noon. We should find out sometime next week, giving you enough time to adjust travel and tailgating plans accordingly.
For now, let’s take a spin around the division:
- Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette examines why the production of Packers receiver Greg Jennings has been cut in half during the first quarter of this season.
- Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said he was pleased with the way quarterback Daunte Culpepper played during the preseason, even though Matthew Stafford won the starting job. Culpepper is likely to start Sunday against Pittsburgh. Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press has details.
- Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson has been limited by a thigh injury but appears likely to play against Pittsburgh, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
- Minnesota’s special teams have improved under new coordinator Brian Murphy, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is confident in his pass protection, write Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
- Bears coach Lovie Smith practices during the bye week because “I just don't think you can go that long without hitting,” he said. Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago looks at Smith’s approach.
- Chicago special teams coach Dave Toub has an intricate system for grading players’ performance in coverage, according to Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald.
MANKATO, Minn. -- Monday is the last full day I'll be spending here at Minnesota's camp, a development I'm sure will be a relief to some of you who are have been feeling a bit Purple-dosed during this extended weekend. As I've mentioned, I'll be hitting all four NFC North camps and everyone will get their turn.
With that, here are some observations and thoughts about the Vikings after seven practices:
- Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (knee) stepped up his rehabilitation a bit Monday afternoon, throwing and jogging on the field during practice. The next step will be jumping into stretching and individual drills. Coach Brad Childress continues to be vague on the severity of the injury and Jackson's timetable for return. Jackson didn't speak to the media Monday. My suspicion level always rises to the level of secrecy, and confirmed details have been scarce in this case. But if I had to guess, I would say Jackson is several days away from returning at full speed.
- In his absence, Sage Rosenfels has improved with every practice. Monday was by far his best day, highlighted by two long completions to Bernard Berrian and Jaymar Johnson. Rosenfels is also looking much more confident and sure of himself as he feels his way through the offense. If nothing else, he has used this opportunity to pull himself dead even with Jackson in their competition. The more time Jackson misses, the better for Rosenfels. And for all of you rooting for John David Booty: I've seen nothing to suggest he is contender for the starting job. He's smoother than last year but still significantly behind Rosenfels in terms of accuracy and knowledge.
- Rookie cornerback Asher Allen, a third-round pick from Georgia, has flashed a number of times during practice and drew strong praise Monday from Childress. Allen is aggressive, fluid and not afraid to stick his nose into a pile. At this point, he appears to have a legitimate chance to win the job at nickel back. Even if he doesn't, it looks like he has a future in that role. On the flip side, I've not noticed free agent Karl Paymah once in defensive drills. Paymah ostensibly was signed to play in the nickel defense.
- The team appears to have better depth at linebacker after getting Heath Farwell back from a knee injury and adding fifth-round pick Jasper Brinkley. Farwell made an athletic interception Sunday while chasing tight end Visanthe Shiancoe downfield. Brinkley plays with anger and is going to be a good hitter, perhaps right away on special teams. The Vikings had to go out and sign Napoleon Harris last year when E.J. Henderson was injured, but this year they should be able to absorb an injury internally.
- First-round pick Percy Harvin doesn't look comfortable as a punt returner but seems relatively natural as a kickoff returner. Special teams coordinator Brian Murphy agreed with that analysis. Harvin also has a habit of catching the ball with his hands over his shoulder or near his face mask. Murphy termed it an "oddity" and said it will have to be adjusted.
- The Vikings are throwing a lot at Harvin right away. In addition to kickoff and punt return duties, they're lining him up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield. He's also involved in plenty of pre-snap motion and was used in Wildcat formations during minicamp. Coaches believe Harvin can handle the big load. "He has good football IQ," Childress said. "He likes football and has done a few different things. A lot of things we aren't doing for the first time with him."
- Tailback Adrian Peterson has never been considered a top-flight pass receiver, but I saw him drop more passes over the past four days than in quite some time. Peterson seemed to be looking upfield too early on some of them, but others simply slipped off his hands. I've seen nothing to suggest that Chester Taylor won't be the third-down back this season.
- I'll post a more in-depth look Tuesday at new right tackle Phil Loadholt and how his presence will impact the entire offense. For now, I'll just say he is one big dude who has without question upgraded the position. He still has a lot to learn, but his 6-foot-8 frame allows him to cover for some of his inexperience.
Thursday, we tossed eight NFC North players into the "Pressure Cooker." Now, let's shift the focus to coaches as we continue establishing our season-long storylines.
Let me say in advance that I couldn't bring myself to include anyone from Detroit's coaching staff. Jim Schwartz and his assistants have taken over the worst team, based on record, in the history of the NFL. Historically speaking, at least, it's highly likely the Lions will improve on last year's 0-16 mark. Schwartz and his staff have a difficult job, but I don't see any of them on the traditional hot seat. There's no pressure the year after 0-16.
Chicago head coach Lovie Smith
Pressure source: Smith took over the defensive play calling and is the de facto coordinator after overhauling his defensive staff. Loosely translated, that approach said: "Last year's problems were coaching related and can be fixed by better coaching." If the defense doesn't improve in this new arrangement, there will be no one left to blame.
Ramifications: It's hard to imagine Smith losing his job over this gambit, but his reputation as a defensive guru would certainly take a hit if it doesn't work.
Chicago defensive line coach Rod Marinelli
Pressure source: The Bears have hailed Marinelli as nothing less than a miracle worker. Soon after hiring him, Smith referred to Marinelli as the best free agent on the market. He is an excellent defensive coach, but it's a tall task to manufacture a four-man pass rush with players who couldn't get it done the year before.
Ramifications: The Bears won't improve their defense if Marinelli can't cajole a better performance from the line.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy
Pressure source: The Packers are coming off their second losing season in 17 years. McCarthy's response was to scrap his defensive scheme and change to a 3-4, a move that could result in some short-term growing pains.
Ramifications: McCarthy might have bought himself a grace period with the scheme change, but he'll need patient bosses.
Green Bay outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene
Pressure source: Greene has been asked to transition two former defensive ends -- Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson -- into outside linebackers. He also has rookie Clay Matthews to develop. It's a tall task for a coach in his first full-time NFL job.
Ramifications: Greene has been given a huge responsibility. If Kampman doesn't produce this season, it's going to be hard for the Packers to improve their defense.
Minnesota coach Brad Childress
Pressure source: Childress works for an owner who complies with nearly every request and rarely, if ever, pulls the purse strings. As a result, the Vikings have a talented and well-paid roster that carries high expectations again this season. Childress, however, struck out in his attempt to rectify one of the few question marks on his team. The need to pursue Brett Favre reflects the Vikings' longstanding inability to develop a quarterback for themselves.
Ramifications: Childress is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract. At the very least, a regression in 2009 would leave him with an expiring contract in 2010.
Minnesota special teams coordinator Brian Murphy
Pressure source: The Vikings gave up more touchdowns on special teams last season than any team in NFL history, and Murphy was a part of it. He was promoted from assistant special teams coach to replace the departed Paul Ferraro.
Ramifications: The Vikings can't be a championship-caliber team if their special teams remain subpar.