NFC North: Jaymar Johnson

Reviewing Saturday's action at LP Field:

Tennessee Titans 14, Minnesota Vikings 3

Preseason record: 0-1

Of interest: The Vikings' offense proved very much to be a work in progress, going scoreless until Ryan Longwell's 37-yard field goal in the third quarter. Quarterback Donovan McNabb's two series featured 11 mostly short-range passes and both ended in punts. Backup Joe Webb proved once again to be an effective open-field runner, scrambling five times for 33 yards, but at some point you would like to see him stay in the pocket. In his debut, rookie Christian Ponder completed eight of 13 passes for 84 yards. He made a nice play to escape the pocket and convert a third-and-16, but it was called back by penalty. It's likely Ponder will see work with the second team next week. ... Receiver Jaymar Johnson put in a stake at the punt returner job with a 40-yard return... Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, along with defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, did not play. ... Cornerback Chris Cook was beat on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Yamon Figurs, whom he lost sight of after quarterback Jake Locker dropped the snap.

Local coverage: Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, via Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune: "I thought their effort was good, and the execution was good up to a point. We always want points. We'll have to make bigger strides next time with that first unit." ... Cook on the touchdown, via Zulgad: "Definitely saw the ball on the ground and just came up thinking that we were going to get the ball, pursuing the ball and they got a lucky play on it." ... The Vikings don't appear to have done much to address their shaky depth at cornerback, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. ... Receiver Percy Harvin isn't worried about the Vikings' offense because it will rely on tailback Adrian Peterson, not the passing game. Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explains.

Next: Saturday at Seattle Seahawks

Despite a few grumblings of antipathy, I appreciate you gamely improving my initial nominees for the inaugural NFC North blog fantasy 4x100 relay race. The teams are now assembled and ready for your vote.

Your suggestions led me to:
I bowed out of the comments section when the debate descended into the merits of using 40 times to determine credibility for relay. Whatever the opposite of a trackhead is, that's me.

Go ahead and register your vote. I'll find a way to work in the results into a future post.
The Sidney Rice situation never passed the smell test. Guy has a breakout year in 2009, skips most of the offseason program amid low-level rumors he wants a contract extension and then fully participates in a required June minicamp. Then, a month before training camp, his agent reveals he has had a hip injury since January that should be healed in time for the start of the regular season.

Now, 16 days before the start of the Minnesota Vikings' regular season, Rice has undergone significant surgery that could keep him out until November.

Something smells rotten, but unfortunately we might never know the hows and whys and the true timetable of how this went down. What we do know is this: The Vikings will play perhaps half of their season -- a span that includes games against the New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots -- without their top receiver.

The Vikings, in fact, are suddenly down to one reliable and productive veteran receiver. Bernard Berrian has been injury-free this summer, but Rice never got on the practice field and No. 3 receiver Percy Harvin has been sidelined for most of the summer by migraines. As we discussed last week, Harvin's status will be game-to-game for the rest of his career until he can get the issue under control.

As it stands now, veteran Greg Lewis is the Vikings' No. 2 receiver. Check out the chart that accompanies this post and tell me who you think should be the No. 3. Jaymar Johnson was placed on injured reserve last week, and you wonder whether the Vikings would consider moving return man Darius Reynaud back to receiver after a summer experiment at running back.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who is back and healthy after catching 55 passes last season. But there is no way around it: The Vikings are dangerously thin at receiver in an offense that skewed heavily toward the passing game last season. And I'm sorry, that won't change when and if washed-up veteran Javon Walker is added to the mix.

It will be interesting to see if the Vikings pursue a trade over the next few weeks. San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson is available, but his looming three-game NFL suspension would make him unavailable for at least part of the time Rice is absent. I could be wrong, but I don't see that happening as an emergency measure.

I've considered the Packers to be the NFC North's top team since the spring, and this news does nothing but reinforce my thoughts on that matter.

video

BBAO: Mike Martz is Mr. Optimist

August, 19, 2010
8/19/10
8:10
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

What's gotten into Mike Martz? When he was hired as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator, Martz brought a well-deserved reputation for stubbornness and ornery reactions to the most minor of player mistakes. But as Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com points out, this summer Martz has been "the offensive coordinator from Pleasantville" while praising every aspect of what any realist would consider a work in progress.
Greenberg: "After all, it is the preseason; it's time to tinker and teach. And there's no need to harp on mistakes made by a group of professionals trying to digest a complicated new system. And while the public's hunger for Bears news never takes a vacation -- witness the reportorial scrum around newly signed camp arm Matt Gutierrez, which led center Olin Kreutz to howl with laughter as reporters surrounded him -- there's no need for Martz to open his players up to early scrutiny."

There's no way you could apply this kind of praise to any NFL offense during training camp, whether it's the New Orleans Saints or Indianapolis Colts or Buffalo Bills. Martz is simply using the power of positivity as he races against the clock to prepare for the season opener. More than anything, his players need to feel confident that they're on the right track.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Bears are considering Devin Aromashodu one of their three starting receivers, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Martz offered a vote of confidence for injured backup quarterback Caleb Hanie, according to Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
  • Check out this chart of the Detroit Lions' revolving door at left guard from the Detroit Free Press. A total of 15 players have started a game there since 2001.
  • The Lions' trade for defensive end Lawrence Jackson puts the status of veteran Jared DeVries in doubt, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
  • Lions running backs Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith were working in a version of the Wildcat offense Wednesday, according to Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
  • The Green Bay Packers might have plucked two Week 1 starters from their draft class, writes Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga can earn more than $5 million in incentives over the next four years if he is a starter, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre: "He is the George Lucas of interviews. He produces wildly entertaining shlock, none of which is believable."
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "What the Vikings should have done Wednesday was to place Brett Favre in one of those Popemobiles and drive him around the Twin Cities so he could smile and wave to his adoring fans from inside the clear, plastic bubble."
  • Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com: "There may be no tighter locker room bond between a team and its quarterback than the one between the Vikings and Favre."
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: "Favre is unlike any player in the history of the National Football League, so I will not doubt him. But if he's anything like the tens of thousands of players who went before him, his performance is going to start to deteriorate at some point."
  • If you were keeping track at home, the Vikings waived/injured receiver Jaymar Johnson to give them room to reinstate Favre on the roster, as Tom Pelissero of ESPN1500.com points out.

BBAO: Camps winding down

August, 16, 2010
8/16/10
7:35
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

One sign that we're getting closer to the start of the regular season: By the end of this week, half of our NFC North teams will have broken training camp.

The Minnesota Vikings, in fact, broke camp last week and will resume practicing Monday in Eden Prairie, Minn. The Chicago Bears' final day at Olivet Nazarene University is Friday.

The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers both hold training camp at their permanent training facilities and thus have more flexible schedules. Officially, the Lions break camp Aug. 25. The Packers' final day of two-a-day practices is Aug. 19, but they will continue holding public practices through Aug. 31.

It should be a busy week. If you haven't already caught up on Week 1 of the preseason, please see this handy one-stop review. Afterward, take a spin around the division:
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune reviews the film of the Bears' loss at San Diego. Among his conclusions: Safety Al Afalava had a rough night, while receiver Johnny Knox proved to be "the best route-runner" on the field.
  • Injuries to Bears safeties Craig Steltz and Major Wright have clouded the competition at that position, writes Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald.
  • Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said Devin Hester has made fewer mistakes in training camp than any Bears receiver, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • The Detroit Lions started undrafted rookie Randy Phillips at one of their safety positions Saturday night at Pittsburgh. But that left depth thin, and the secondary remains a concern, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions coaches were excited by quarterback Matthew Stafford's performance against the Steelers, writes Chris McCoskey of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions' starters played well against the Steelers, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com, but their backups struggled.
  • Two weeks into training camp, the Packers feel more at ease with cornerbacks Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.
  • Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sparkled Saturday night against Cleveland, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Browns blitzed on 84.6 percent of Rodgers' passes, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That's a high number even for a regular-season game, let alone the first week of the preseason.
  • Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com reviews the tape of the Vikings' victory at St. Louis. Receiver Jaymar Johnson was among those who helped his cause.
  • The Vikings' second-team defensive line had a strong showing against the Rams, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
Mike of Atlanta suggested an interesting exercise to kick off the week: Who do you think will be the biggest name to NOT make the 53-man roster for each of the NFC North teams?

We obviously can't foresee training camp surprises and disappointments, but I do think we can begin focusing on some relatively well-known players who -- at the very least -- have their work cut out to ensure another year on the roster. Let's take a look:

Afalava
Afalava
Chicago Bears
Look out:
Safety Al Afalava
Comment: After starting 13 games last season, Afalava seems to have fallen off the map. Last week, general manager Jerry Angelo mentioned five players while discussing the Bears' safety position. Afalava was not among them.
Not far behind: Tight end Kellen Davis
Comment: Earlier this offseason, it was fair to wonder whether the Bears would keep the younger Davis over veteran Desmond Clark. But based on spring practices, at least, Davis is the one who should be worried.

Ramirez
Ramirez
Detroit Lions
Look out:
Guard Manny Ramirez
Comment: He started 12 games last season, but the Lions acquired Rob Sims to take over at left guard. Stephen Peterman remains in place at right guard, leaving Ramirez to compete for a backup position.
Not far behind: Receiver Bryant Johnson
Comment: The Lions demoted Johnson by signing free agent Nate Burleson, and it's unlikely that Johnson and Dennis Northcutt will both make the team. Based on age and contract, you figure Johnson has the upper hand. But you never know, especially if Johnson's hands don't improve this summer.

Bigby
Bigby
Green Bay Packers
Look out:
Safety Atari Bigby
Comment: We've discussed his situation pretty thoroughly. If rookie Morgan Burnett is ready to start, the Packers aren't likely to hold him back.
Not far behind: Defensive lineman Justin Harrell
Comment: Johnny Jolly's trial notwithstanding, this might be Harrell's final chance with the Packers. Even if he's healthy, it's difficult to see a spot on the roster for him.

Johnson
Johnson
Minnesota Vikings
Look out:
Receiver Jaymar Johnson
Comment: Not many backup punt returners make a team.
Not far behind: Receiver Bobby Wade
Comment: Whoops. Wrong year.

Avril won't play for Detroit

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
11:40
AM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Detroit linebacker Larry Foote and Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian are both active and will play Sunday at the Metrodome, but the Lions offered one surprise among their list of eight deactivated players.

Defensive end Cliff Avril, arguably the Lions’ best pass rusher, will not play. Avril has only 2.5 sacks this season, but it’s still a surprise that he’s, in essence, a healthy scratch. We’ll keep you updated if there is more to the story.

One minor change for Minnesota: Receiver/punt returner Darius Reynaud is active for the first time in five games. As a result, receiver Jaymar Johnson is inactive.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Here’s something that NFL teams probably don’t want to hear: Minnesota might unleash rookie Percy Harvin as a punt returner later this season.

Vikings coach Brad Childress admitted as much during his Monday news conference. Harvin is a leading candidate for rookie of the year, in large part because of his 30.7-yard average as a kickoff returner. In his first eight NFL games, Harvin has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

“At some point you’ll have a chance to see him returning punts,” Childress said.

Harvin worked some as a punt returner during training camp but appeared much more comfortable on kickoffs. The Vikings are also using him heavily on offense as a slot receiver and occasionally as a running back. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Vikings at least give him a chance to return a punt or two in a key game situation.

Darius Reynaud and Jaymar Johnson have handled the punt returning duties this season. In 2008, the Vikings rotated starting receivers Bobby Wade and Bernard Berrian there during the playoff drive.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Third and one: Vikings

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
5:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


After Minnesota’s 30-23 victory over Green Bay, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
  1. We spent plenty of time last month discussing the Vikings’ (very) short passing game as quarterback Brett Favre grew into his new job. In Week 2 at Detroit, for example, Favre threw only one pass that traveled longer than 10 yards in the air. So it’s only fair to measure his progress in the downfield game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Favre threw 12 passes that traveled beyond the 10-yard barrier Monday night, completing seven for 169 yards. That included two touchdowns: 31 yards to Bernard Berrian and 14 yards to Sidney Rice.
  2. By the end of the year, I wonder if the Vikings will consider themselves fortunate (and a little more cash-flush) that free agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh spurned them in free agency in favor of Seattle. His decision helped spur the Vikings to draft Percy Harvin, who has emerged as a Rookie of the Year candidate. And more important, it left open the opportunity for Rice to grow into the type of possession/red-zone role the Vikings once imagined for Houshmandzadeh. Rice has caught a touchdown pass in each of the past two games, and his 14 receptions so far is one less than he caught all of last season.
  3. We’ve also criticized the Vikings special teams for its tendency to give up touchdowns. (It’s nine in the past 20 games, if you’re keeping track.) But Monday night, the Vikings were mostly brilliant. Punter Chris Kluwe landed four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line, and Benny Sapp made a diving play to keep one of them from bouncing into the end zone. Jaymar Johnson, meanwhile, filled in for punt returner Darius Reynaud and ripped off returns of 24 and 18 yards.

And here is one question I’m still asking:
Should Adrian Peterson get in touch with Tiki Barber? With the help of New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, the former Giants tailback solved a fumbling habit by changing they way he gripped and clutched the ball. Peterson has fumbled 15 times since the start of the 2007 season, most by any running back over the stretch. He has some of the strongest hands of anyone you’ll ever meet, so that’s not an issue. There has to be a technique or fundamental change that he could make to limit fumbles. Clay Matthews’ strip and subsequent 42-yard return for a touchdown seemed to impact Peterson’s game. He managed 11 yards on 13 carries thereafter.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


My morning-after take on the NFC North’s cutdown day: Green Bay had some shockers and Detroit engineered a few surprises. Chicago and Minnesota were entirely predictable.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has scheduled a mid-afternoon news conference to comment the organization’s decision to part ways with quarterback Brian Brohm, a second-round pick in 2008, and safety Anthony Smith, a free-agent pickup who seemed to be challenging for a starting job. I’ll get you details from that event as soon as I can. I'm also itching to compare how each team's draft class fared, but we might as well wait until the middle of the week when we know for sure who will be on the opening-week roster.

Remember, teams can start signing players to their practice squads Sunday at noon ET. Most NFL teams will continue to adjust their roster over the next few days through waiver claims, trades and signings of vested free agents who were released or otherwise available. So while the flurry of moves occurred Saturday, the trickle will continue for at least another 48 hours.

For now, let’s take a spin through Sunday coverage in the NFC North:

Three and out: Vikings

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
8:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Three quick hits on the Minnesota Vikings:


1. The biggest question among the Vikings’ final cuts is which -- if any -- quarterback will be released. There have been arguments made for all three of Brett Favre’s backups to go. Tarvaris Jackson probably needs a fresh start. Sage Rosenfels has been inconsistent during training camp and the preseason. John David Booty hasn’t outplayed either Jackson or Rosenfels this summer. But there are also reasons to argue that each should stay. Jackson is most familiar with the Vikings' scheme and had a good preseason. Rosenfels cost a fourth-round pick and signed a contract extension a few months ago. Booty is still very much in the development phase. But you wonder if the Vikings won’t ultimately try to sneak Booty onto the practice squad.

2. Amazingly, the Vikings are still waiting to find out if they’ll have the services of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams early this season. A federal appeals court has yet to rule on the latest twist in their legal challenge to their four-game suspensions. The court has indicated it will rule before the start of the regular season, but until then the Vikings know a suspension is still a possibility, depending upon the legal ruling. Fred Evans and Letroy Guion would be the likely starters in their absence.

3. The Vikings suddenly have the deepest group of receivers in the NFC North, so much so that their leading receiver from the past two years -- Bobby Wade -- accepted a demotion and pay cut to stay with the team. Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin figure to get most of the playing time this season, if everyone is healthy. Wade will provide insurance for three players who have been limited by injuries at various times in recent years. Youngsters Darius Reynaud and Jaymar Johnson also have playmaking ability.

Myth and reality at the Metrodome

August, 21, 2009
8/21/09
8:50
PM ET
 
  Kevin Seifert/ESPN.com
  It was standing room only for the media Friday night.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

MINNEAPOLIS -- Brett Favre jogged onto the field Friday night for pregame warm-ups at exactly 7:21 p.m. ET. At that moment, a media colleague elbowed me and said the scene in front of us -- Favre wearing a purple jersey, purple socks and horns on his helmet -- looked like a "real-life Photoshop."

I can't think of a better way to describe what unfolded in front of me and about 60,000 others over the past couple hours. The player wearing No. 4 looked like Brett Favre and carried himself like Brett Favre, but for a while it just didn't seem real. Even the most grizzled Metrodome veterans I know were blown away by how their worlds seemed to be colliding.

Maybe that's why darn near every person engaged in flash photography for the better part of an hour: To document one of the more historic days in Vikings history.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, that's about where the fun ended. Once the pomp and circumstance was over, Favre looked very much like a 39-year-old quarterback who just finished his first week of practice in almost nine months. He misfired on three of his four passes, his only completion a diving 4-yard catch by receiver Percy Harvin, and absorbed two heavy hits from an active Kansas City defense. The Vikings managed 9 yards over five plays in two series before Tarvaris Jackson replaced him.

(Those same fans booed Jackson as he jogged on the field. Classy.)

For those who are interested and don't have a live TV feed, here is what happened on Favre's four passes:

  1. Favre throws several yards wide of fullback Naufahu Tahi, who is about 4 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Tamba Hali slams Favre to the turf after beating left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
  2. Harvin makes a diving catch of a low throw at the Chiefs' 47-yard line, but the dive causes Harvin to lose first-down yardage.
  3. Favre steps up in the pocket and fires about 15 yards downfield to receiver Jaymar Johnson, but the ball sails about 3 yards wide of Johnson.
  4. Chiefs linebacker Corey Mays bursts through the middle of the Vikings' line untouched on a blitz, slamming into Favre just as he lets go of the ball. Favre's pass falls well short of Harvin down the left sideline.

I'll have postgame reaction in a few hours.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

INDIANAPOLIS -- We hit Minnesota's quarterback competition pretty thoroughly Friday night. But ESPN.com has learned that Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson weren't the only players on the field Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

So in honor of the other 78, let's consider five (non-quarterback) observations from the Vikings' 13-3 victory over Indianapolis:

  1. Minnesota's first-team defense played only one series, a six-play drive that ultimately netted the Colts zero yards. The Vikings sacked quarterback Peyton Manning three times, and afterwards Colts coach Jim Caldwell had seen enough. He called it a night and yanked Manning from the game. "It's hard for them to catch it with the ball in his hands," coach Brad Childress said. Consider it an efficient night for a defense that hasn't gotten much attention this summer.
  2. The Vikings' special teams played with the urgency to be expected from a group that needs to make serious improvement from last season. The Colts' average starting point in 10 possessions was their 21-yard line. They averaged 15.3 yards on four kickoff returns and 6.0 yards on two punt returns. And Vikings newcomer Glenn Holt made a spectacular tackle in the third quarter to stop Colts punt returner T.J. Rushing. The end result was a fumble for Rushing and a 52-yard net for punter Chris Kluwe. "I thought those guys were whipped up pretty good," Childress said.
  3. The Vikings were downplaying an apparent hamstring injury for receiver Bernard Berrian, but you wonder if it will shorten or possibly end his preseason. While there is some value to having Berrian work with the Vikings' quarterbacks in game situations, it's more important to have his legs fresh when the season begins. There's nothing worse than a receiver with a bad wheel. I'd be surprised if Berrian plays much more during the preseason.
  4. If the Vikings keep a third running back they'll have a tough choice between first-year player Albert Young (58 yards on 14 carries) and rookie Ian Johnson (50 yards on nine carries). Both are compact backs but run hard and move straight up the field.
  5. First-year receiver Jaymar Johnson returned punts and kickoffs in the absence of rookie Percy Harvin (shoulder). The good news: Johnson is smooth and appears to have excellent hands and confidence. But if Johnson has a burst to get past the first wave of coverage, he didn't show it Friday night.

Harvin: Shoulder injury

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
8:39
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

INDIANPOLIS -- For those of you wondering why rookie receiver Percy Harvin hasn't been on the field here at Lucas Oil Stadium: It's because of a reportedly minor shoulder injury suffered Wednesday in practice.

Harvin is in uniform and participated in pregame warmups prior to this preseason game against Indianapolis. But Vikings television analyst Mike Mayock announced the injury during this evening's live broadcast.

First-year receiver Jaymar Johnson took Harvin's place on kickoff returns.

Perusing the depth charts

August, 11, 2009
8/11/09
1:45
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

NFC North teams have been issuing their first depth charts this week as preseason games approach. Typically I pay little attention to these documents, which are disclaimed by an "unofficial" title and sometimes contain preposterous fudging that is plainly evident to anyone who has watched one practice.

This winter, however, the NFL clarified its media policy on the issue and now requires the depth chart to be "credible." (The league's word, not mine.) I guess we should see how it plays out. Below, I've listed some of the more interesting nuggets I saw this week. (Links provided where available.)*

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers (Link)

Minnesota Vikings

*Chicago's depth chart had not been released as of Tuesday morning.

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