NFC North: Jon Gruden

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Calvin Johnson, like almost every other college prospect in the NFL, had no control over where he was headed in the 2007 NFL draft. He did, though, have an idea of where he thought he might end up.

And it wasn’t with the Detroit Lions, who selected him with the second pick in that draft.

“I thought I would either be in Tampa or Atlanta, honestly,” Johnson said. “Both of them were not too far from the top in the draft, and I figured one of them might be able to move up. I really thought I was going to go to Tampa because I liked [Jon] Gruden, had a really good workout with those guys.”

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsCalvin Johnson has his eyes on helping the Lions make a run in the postseason.
Johnson said that Gruden brought some of his quarterbacks and receivers in for Johnson’s workout and that he felt it went well. The Buccaneers had the fourth pick in the draft and appeared enamored with Johnson -- for obvious reasons. With Atlanta, the Falcons picked eighth and Johnson is a native of suburban Atlanta.

Those seemed like solid options. Looking back now, Oakland passing on Johnson in favor of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who is out of the NFL, seems preposterous. That is the inexact nature of the draft, though, from talent evaluation to trying to figure out where you’ll go as a prospect.

In retrospect, Johnson said “it didn’t bother me” that he wasn't taken with the first pick because the Raiders are far from Georgia and he wanted to be closer to home. Detroit then selected Johnson with the No. 2 pick, and he turned into a franchise centerpiece for the Lions.

It is a franchise, though, that has struggled to win despite having the best receiver in the game, a receiver who has three straight 1,400-yard seasons and is the most difficult offensive matchup in the NFL.

Yet Johnson’s career feels incomplete because of the lack of team success for the Lions.

“It’s been, I can’t say it’s been exactly what I wanted,” Johnson said. “When I first came into the league, my first three, four years, I had a teammate from college win a Super Bowl.”

Johnson said he doesn’t want to see the rings his former teammates have because his team, the Lions, continues to try to reach the final game of the season for the first time. Although he obviously would like to reach that point, he said he can’t really be frustrated by it because there’s only so much he can do on his own.

And it’s why he looks at Detroit’s talent now and looks at his career, as he enters his eighth season, and is focused even more intently on team success.

“That’s all I’m focused on,” Johnson said. “I had great stats in my career, you know, but really you want to win. You want to get to the playoffs again. That’s a great feeling when we did a couple years ago.

“We want to get that feeling back. We have a lot of guys that have been there, that have won Super Bowls, and a coaching staff that has won Super Bowls, and it’s great to have that experience.”

Some of those players, such as Reggie Bush and Golden Tate, along with a coaching staff that has extensive playoff and Super Bowl experience as assistants, are where Johnson gets his confidence that finally he'll be able to have some of that postseason experience, as well.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At this moment, now that the Detroit Lions have hired Jim Caldwell as their next head coach, the Minnesota Vikings are one of two teams still searching for a head coach. The other is the Cleveland Browns, who just fired Rob Chudzinski after one season and have to explain to candidates why they should trust the team.

There's a strong case to be made that the Vikings' job is the better of the two, and at this point only one of the team's known candidates (former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) has accepted a job elsewhere.

The Vikings are conducting a second interview with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer inside their facility as we speak, and if they chose to do so, they could make the 57-year-old Zimmer their next coach today. But is there a reason to hire Zimmer before the Vikings can talk to candidates like Seattle's Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn and San Francisco's Greg Roman a second time?

There might not be, and if the Denver Broncos lose Sunday, their top assistants (offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio) would also be in play. The Browns reportedly want to wait on Gase before making their decision, so there might not be anything pushing the Vikings until Denver's season is over.

When the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier, general manager Rick Spielman outlined a process in which the team would likely whittle its search down to two or three finalists after an initial round of interviews. Zimmer appears to be the first of those finalists, is believed to be the front-runner for the job and could grab it if he impresses ownership Tuesday.

But the Vikings' last two coaching searches happened in relative haste, and Spielman has turned to a deliberate decision-making process for the moves he badly needs to get right. Now, the Vikings can somehow thank a confluence of events for putting them in a situation where they're facing little outside pressure, other than Spielman's stated preference to have a coach in place by the Senior Bowl.

Zimmer might be the man for the job, but it would also appear as if the Vikings have the luxury of being able to wait a little longer to make sure that's the case.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings suddenly found themselves with an opening in their schedule today, after Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden -- whom the Vikings were scheduled to interview in Cincinnati -- accepted the Washington Redskins' head coaching job. Gruden is believed to be the first candidate to come off the market that the Vikings had planned to interview, and now, it will be interesting to see how they react.

To this point, we know they've talked to five people: Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. They've requested interviews with San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. At this point, the Vikings could talk to the 49ers candidates this week, and then not again until their season is over. They'd have to wait until after the Broncos' season is over to talk to either Gase or Del Rio, and can't go back to Bevell or Quinn until the Seahawks are done.

So the Vikings, in other words, have a few options at this point: They could talk to one of the 49ers' candidates between now and Sunday, conduct interviews with candidates they haven't talked with yet, or double back to some of their previous candidates. Considering they're believed to be high on both Zimmer and Bowles, they might well pursue the third option.

John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said general manager Rick Spielman was very impressed with Bowles, but added that the Vikings would want to talk again with Bevell and Quinn. Spielman said last week that he planned to bring two or three finalists to Vikings ownership after an initial round of interviews, and that the Wilfs would make the final call at that point.

Here's where things get interesting, though: Zimmer, whom ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter said has emerged as a favorite for the Vikings, was interviewing with the Tennessee Titans on Thursday, and Bowles has also talked with the Cleveland Browns. Do the Vikings risk waiting on the Seahawks to be eliminated from the playoffs, or do they move forward with the candidates who are available now in hopes of securing one of their top guys before he goes somewhere else? Spielman had said he wanted to have a coach in place by the Senior Bowl, and while he would still have time to make that happen, it's possible the Seahawks could wind up in the Super Bowl, keeping Bevell and Quinn off-limits until February.

The Vikings aren't at a point where they have to rush their process, and they could well be talking to other candidates we don't know about. But the candidate pool does appear to have split into two groups -- those who are available now, and those who might not be available until much later. It will be interesting to see if Spielman has to alter his process because of competing teams, and what will happen if the 49ers, Seahawks or Broncos should happen to lose this weekend. The results of those games could help steer the Vikings firmly in one direction or another.

Game day with Gruden: Packers thoughts

November, 4, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jon Gruden has spent the better part of the past week studying the Green Bay Packers in advance of Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

A few hours before the ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst would head over to Lambeau Field to call the game, he spent some time with me discussing the Packers’ 5-2 start to the season.

The former Packers assistant coach (1992-94) offered his thoughts on the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the new-found success in the running game with Eddie Lacy, the revamped offensive line including rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, the defense’s performance without injured outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, his memories of the Packers-Bears rivalry and more.

Here’s Gruden on:
  • Rodgers’ play since losing receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley to injuries: “It’s similar, and it’s amazing. It’s always been the quickest release, pinpoint accuracy but it’s the scrambling ability, the decision-making, the mastery of this offense that separates him. But his ability to adjust with a new supporting cast not only at wide receiver but at running back and on the offensive line is quite amazing to me.”
  • Whether the running game is for real: “It is for real and as a matter of fact, it’s formidable. Nobody talks about the line here. Where they’ve made the biggest strides is in their offensive line. They switched both guards [flip-flopping T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton]. They’ve got a new starter at center [Evan Dietrich-Smith], who’s better than the center they had last year [Jeff Saturday], and this left tackle is a pretty good player.”
  • Bakhtiari’s play: "He’s getting better and better. He’s got to eliminate some penalties and some rough edges in his play, but he can move his feet, he can run block. And [right tackle Don] Barclay’s a guy that in the running game is a pretty good player. Without Finley, they put [Andrew] Quarless in there and some of these other tight ends that are blocking tight ends, John Kuhn is a good blocking back and the lead dog is a helluva runner, No. 27."
  • Maintaining the pass rush without Matthews: “The last couple of weeks, no disrespect, but they’ve sacked Brandon Weeden, a young quarterback, and they’ve sacked Christian Ponder, who I don’t know what they’re doing at quarterback. They’ll get a chance to see a really good offensive line tonight, but [defensive coordinator] Dom Capers has leaned on an inside pass rush that’s different. Mike Daniels is a good inside rusher, and some of the inside blitzes that he’s called – A.J. Hawk’s got three sacks in one game – but what’s good about him is they’ve got an inside pass rush with Datone Jones, even though his numbers aren’t there, he does a great job of creating for these linebackers, and Mike Daniels is a bear to block. So when they get the outside guys back, Perry and Matthews, the outside rush with the inside rush will be very good.”
  • The Packers’ weaknesses: “Well, we’re still early in the season. Defensively, let’s see them go up against a top-flight quarterback with these injuries that they’ve had. But I don’t see a lot of weaknesses, man. Can they pass protect when they have to? If they fall behind and get into predictable passing situations, can the right tackle handle it? I don’t know that.”
  • The Packers’ chances if they had to play a road playoff game at San Francisco, Seattle or New Orleans: “If they can run it. What happens to them is they’ve always seen a split-safety look in coverage, and it forces Rodgers to hold the ball a long time to attack those coverages, and the pass rush has eaten him up. They’ve give up a lot of sacks. Now, they’re running the ball against those looks, so now they’re seeing an eight-man front or a seven-man box, and they’ve got one-on-one with these healthy receivers. That’s when they’re going to be at their best.”
  • His favorite Packers-Bears memory when was an assistant coach: “It was perfectly clear to us, we have to win this game. In 1992, Mike Holmgren made that perfectly clear. I remember I got my first game ball in this series. He gave me a game ball. I came up with one play that actually worked. Halloween night, 1994. It was Brett Favre’s 36-yard touchdown run. He called it on third-and-2 in a monsoon, and Favre ran around the right side and picked up a block from Edgar Bennett, and I got a game ball. And I stuck it right in Andy Reid’s face.”

Gruden's scouting report on Mike Glennon

September, 25, 2013
With Wednesday's news that the Buccaneers are benching quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of Mike Glennon, it’s time for a scouting report on the rookie.

Let’s turn back to this Insider item I did with ESPN’s Jon Gruden during Gruden’s QB Camp in the spring. Gruden spent more than four hours with Glennon and, prior to that, spent a lot of time preparing for the session by watching college tape.

Let’s see some of Gruden’s thoughts on Glennon:

“When I worked with Glennon, I told him there are some things he did better than anyone else in college football last year,’’ Gruden said. “Specifically, he can flat-out drive the football. The guy can absolutely hum it. Glennon can throw the ball to the wide side of the field effortlessly. In college, with the wider hashmarks, when you throw the ball to the wide side of the field, it's a big-time throw. In fact, there are some programs that don't even attempt it -- they don't even bother asking a QB to attempt a wide-side throw down the field. That's not the case with Glennon.

“This guy can make some really difficult down-the-field throws. If you watch the camp session with Glennon, you'll see we went through a "Fox Two XY Hook." I coached that pattern for 18 years. I'm not sure I've ever seen a QB at any level throw it with the ease Glennon can. Brett Favre threw a certain second-reaction post, by my count, about four times in his career. I saw Glennon throw it four times last season.

Gruden also gave a flattering answer when asked to compare Glennon to a current NFL quarterback.

“If you want a recent comparison, I don't think the similarities to Joe Flacco are unfair,’’ Gruden said. “They're both 6-foot-6, they both have really nice throwing motions and they both have a nice, compact stroke that just looks effortless. If you watch end-zone film of Flacco, there are times when you go, 'Wow!' when he snaps one off. I found myself saying the same with Glennon a few times."
Almost a full year has gone by since our last FavreWatch post. As it turns out, there is a little-known codicil in the NFC North blog constitution which gives the blogger unlimited power to preserve order in times of emergency. And 365 days without a FavreWatch post most definitely qualifies.

Those of you who are hoping for an imminent reconciliation between former quarterback Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers would be disappointed to learn what former team president Bob Harlan told ESPN 540 on Tuesday morning. According to Harlan, it appears Favre has declined an invitation to attend and/or participate in former coach Mike Holmgren's induction into the Packers Hall of Fame this summer.

Harlan envisioned the appearance as a first step toward a reconciliation and still holds out hope that Favre himself will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame before his presumptive 2016 enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The full podcast of Harlan's appearance is available, but here is a portion of what Harlan said:
"We had a meeting about two months ago and talked about who should be invited back [for Holmgen's ceremony] -- Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, people like that. And, we talked about players. And I said to the group, 'What about No. 4? This would be the perfect time for him to come back, come into Green Bay.'

"The crowd at the Hall of Fame banquet is an adoring crowd, they're as loyal to the Green Bay Packers as anybody. And unfortunately, I don't think he’s going to do it. We did approach his agent, and I don't think Brett's going to do it. I feel badly about that."

It's reasonable to think Favre and the Packers will come together sometime in the next five years. But it doesn't appear that will happen in the summer of 2012.
I chuckled a bit Friday night when the Chicago Bears drafted a safety for the eighth consecutive year, this time one in Brandon Hardin who missed his final college season because of injury. But the Bears' ongoing safety obsession wasn't enough to steer me away from what is easily the most intriguing decision they made over the draft's first two days.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffrey
Grant Halverson/US PresswireThe Chicago Bears considered Alshon Jeffrey to be one of their top three receiver prospects in the 2012 NFL draft.
South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery has generated polar debates among NFL types, some of whom think he will flop in a manner similar to former Detroit Lions receiver Mike Williams. Others, Bears general manager Phil Emery included, viewed him as one of the draft's top three receivers and one whose question marks could all be attributed to outside influences.

If you were watching the ESPN broadcast of the draft, you saw analyst Jon Gruden torch Jeffery for his roller-coaster weight and poor reaction to South Carolina's quarterback issues last year. Indeed, Jeffery played his final season at close to 235 pounds while is production dropped to 49 catches after pulling in 88 in 2010. He was 216 pounds at the scouting combine in February, but at the time ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, referred to it as a "Jenny Craig 216 pounds" because he had dropped the weight quickly and drawn concern about whether he could keep it off.

If he returned to 235-240 pounds, scouts wondered if he would have enough speed and quickness to separate from NFL defenders. Here's a portion of the Scouts Inc. report on that topic Insider: "Is stiff and upright, which gives DBs a big target to press. Below average initial burst off the line and takes a bit too long to reach full speed. Gets away with some sloppy routes."

Here, on the other hand, is what Emery said he saw: "We feel Alshon has the best hands in the draft," Emery said. "We feel he is the best at adjusting to the ball. We feel he is the best sideline and end-zone catcher in the draft."

Indeed, Emery attended Jeffery's pro day and said he personally timed his 40-yard dashes at 4.42 and 4.47 seconds. Jeffery also has a number of other intriguing measurables, from his 6-foot-3 frame to his large hands (10 1/4 inches) to his long arms (33 inches!). Add up those numbers on paper, at least, and Jeffery would seem to have all the ingredients necessary to be a top-flight red-zone/sideline receiver, one who can compensate for any lack of separation from defenders by reaching over and/or around them for the ball.

Coaches, however, don't always think the same way as scouts. Gruden, for example, was alarmed by the fall in Jeffery's production and a number of instances where his frustration with losing quarterback Stephen Garcia diminished his effort. If it happens once, could it happen again?

The Bears brought Jeffery in for a private visit earlier this month to address the issues from his weight to his performance last season. Emery acknowledged that "I do think he got frustrated" and that "I saw the frustration on tape" but that it was caused by the quarterback transition and not a dark place Jeffery's personality.

"When you challenge him and push him a little bit, which I did in our meeting about his weight and where he was at in his production, his answers come back strong," Emery said. "This guy does not lack athletic confidence. He knows he’s good, which is a good thing. He knows he has to work to continue to get better. The more and more you watch of his tape, the more you see the competitiveness. This is not a lazy guy. When he gets the ball in his hands, he's working to score. He doesn't give up. I don't see give up in this guy in any area."

Emery liked him enough not only to use a second-round pick, but also to sacrifice a fifth-rounder to move up in the round to grab him. It's the kind of move that draws attention to and gives us important insight into Emery's values. This is a player he really, really liked and has committed to. That makes Alshon Jeffery the first boom or bust player in Emery's tenure as the Bears' general manager. We'll see how it goes.
Blaine Gabbert/Jake LockerAP Photo/Icon SMIBlaine Gabbert and Jake Locker are expected to be high picks in next week's draft despite concerns about accuracy during their collegiate careers.
Enough, wrote Scott of Harrisonburg, Va. Apparently I had referenced one too many times that accuracy rates among college quarterbacks typically translate when they reach the NFL. Prove it, Scott said. Here's what he dropped in the mailbag:
My first born if you compile a list of *all* the quarterbacks that rolled through the NFC North (as starters since 2000?) and rank them by their college completion rate.

I've got my hands full already, so I won't be collecting that bounty or any other reward for this post. But Scott's question intrigued me. Accuracy is the single-most important characteristic of any quarterback, especially when you expand the definition to include decision-making. After all, throwing to the right person should increase the chances of a completion.

If a college quarterback finishes his career with a relatively low completion percentage, is it reasonable to expect he can elevate it at the professional level? Research performed by actual football statisticians, most notably the David Lewin, has suggested college quarterbacks who complete less than 60 percent of their passes at least warrant closer inspection by NFL teams considering drafting them.

There are obvious 2011 angles to this theory as the Minnesota Vikings plan to draft a quarterback next week. Washington's Jake Locker finished his career with a 53.9 completion percentage, having never completed better than 58 percent of his passes in any season. Meanwhile, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert has raised questions among those who have pulled apart his college career to find he completed only 44.3 percent of his third-down throws. Last season, he completed only 38 percent of his throws that traveled at least 15 yards.

So here's what I decided to do from an NFC North angle. Using Scott's suggestion as a guide, I looked up the college completion percentages of the 31 quarterbacks who were either drafted by one of our teams since 1999 or were the primary quarterback for at least one season in this division over that stretch. (Hat tip to for the information and to blog editor Brett Longdin for helping me compile it.)

I'm not a statistician, and I don't think we should consider the information below a representative trend for the entire game. I just think it's an enlightening illustration from a pool of players most of us are familiar with. First, here is a ranking of NFC North quarterbacks based on their NFL accuracy, organized to show how the division's most accurate quarterbacks fared in college.

Again, we should be careful about drawing any firm conclusions from this data. But here are some points worth noting:

  • Five quarterbacks brought their completion percentage from below 60 percent to above 60 percent, with Brett Favre forging the most dramatic path. Jay Cutler was another notable climber. I didn't include the Minnesota Vikings' Joe Webb in that count because of his small sample size. The other 11 sub-60 percent quarterbacks remained there when they reached the NFL.
  • Context is critical for evaluating college completion percentages. In his original paper, in fact, Lewin noted that Cutler's 57.2 college completion percentage was misleading given the long history of much lower rates on Vanderbilt's perennially undermanned teams in the decade before Cutler arrived.
  • The most accurate college quarterback on this list is Brian Brohm, who completed 65.8 percent at Louisville. We all know how that worked out for Brohm, who was stunningly inaccurate during his practice time with the Packers and hasn't been much better in several stints with the Buffalo Bills. Another example of college completion rates not translating is Drew Stanton, who hit 64.1 percent of his throws at Michigan State but hasn't come anywhere close to that with the Detroit Lions.
  • Overall, 12 of the quarterbacks currently have higher completion percentages in the NFL than they did in college. A total of 16 dropped and three have not yet thrown an NFL pass. I realize there are huge discrepancies between the number of throws made by, say, Brad Johnson and Matt Flynn, but those are the raw numbers.
  • It's worth nothing that the NFC North's most accurate quarterback over this stretch, Aaron Rodgers, finished his college career at 63.8 percent.

If our small sample leads us in so many directions, I think it's fair to assume that NFL teams will look well beyond the percentages. Ultimately, teams must decide what factored in to both high and low percentages. Did Locker play on an overmatched team, as Cutler did? Were Gabbert's downfield receivers substandard?

On the other side of the spectrum, TCU's Andy Dalton completed 66.7 percent of his passes last season. Was that performance the result of pinpoint throwing and smart decisions? Or is he the next Brian Brohm or even a Tim Couch, quarterbacks who benefited from a college scheme that facilitated a high completion rate?

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesBrett Favre, who had a 52.4 completion percentage in his college career, is proof quarterbacks can become more accurate in the NFL.
Once NFL teams establish that context, then they can begin examining the prospect's raw throwing skills. This is where concerns have arisen about Locker, especially. Why did he have so many passes that simply failed to hit their mark during his career?

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden made clear that "accuracy can be improved" but that Locker needs to "work hard" at re-establishing his fundamentals.

"Sometimes it's because of your fundamentals," Gruden said. "Sometimes you're out of rhythm, you're in the shotgun, you're underneath the center. Sometimes you're under duress and out of rhythm. Sometimes you're hurrying, you're playing too fast. You're anticipating congestion around you when maybe there isn't."

But Gruden warned: "Accuracy sometimes can be terminal. Sometimes you can't cure that. I think that's a big concern with Jake Locker, because he does miss some throws."

We can't conclude that Locker or Gabbert are destined for NFL failure because they sometimes struggled to complete throws in college. The necessary improvement has been made over the past decade in this division, be it from a Hall of Fame quarterback like Favre or a journeyman like Brian Griese.

But it's also a reason for pause. Based on our sample size, at least, it's more likely that a relatively inaccurate college quarterback will be inaccurate at the NFL level. Scott of Harrisonburg probably didn't need me to tell him that.

A dramatic example of NFL verbiage

April, 18, 2011
How many times have you heard an NFL coach or player talk about adjusting to the "verbiage" of a pro-style offense? And how many times have you really known what they're talking about.

We got an excellent illustration in the second part of Jon Gruden's QB camp interview with Auburn's Cam Newton. Here's how it went:

Gruden: "You know some of the verbiage in the NFL, I don't know how it was at Auburn, but it gets long. You've got the shifts, the plays, the protections, the snap count, the alerts, the check-with-me's. I mean, 'flip right double-X jet 36 counter naked wagglet seven X quarter.' Call something at Auburn that's a little verbal. What would be a little verbal? Any recollection on that? Give me something. What does an Auburn play sound like?"

Newton: "Oh man, you put me on the spot."

Gruden: "You guys don't get in the huddle much though, right?"

Indeed, Newton went on to explain that most plays he called during his one season at Auburn were signaled with a card from the sideline. The card might only say "36."

I don't think Gruden was trying to embarrass Newton as much as he was trying to demonstrate the difference between college systems and the NFL. The play Gruden called no doubt is from the West Coast offense, which typically uses more verbiage than other schemes, but it seems clear Newton will have to make a significant adjustment no matter what type of offense he ultimately lands in.

Here's how Gruden put it: "You're going to move to France, and you're going to have to speak French pretty quick."

I'll re-post the video below for your convenience. I still don't think there's much chance that Newton will land in the NFC North, but I think this lesson would be of interest to any NFC North fan.

Video: Gruden QB camp - Newton sequel

April, 17, 2011

Jon Gruden discusses NFL verbiage with the NFL prospect and puts the former Auburn star through some passing drills.

Gruden QB camp: Ryan Mallett

April, 14, 2011
Fact: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has been hounded by character questions during the run-up to the 2011 draft.

Unknown: The extent to which those questions have merit.

Unfortunate: The cameo of another former Arkansas athlete, the notorious golfer John Daly, during Mallett's turn on Jon Gruden's QB camp.

Whether they have a longstanding friendship or just met, the image of Mallett seated next to Daly won't help reverse any negative assumptions that have been made to this point. To mangle a business term, it was poor product placement.

That said, the clip below gives you a good sense of Mallett's personality. I couldn't help but notice Gruden's skeptical facial expression in the beginning, but it appeared Mallett availed himself well in drawing up the routes for a play on video.

Of the quarterbacks likely to be taken in the first two rounds of this draft, Mallett seems the least likely to end up with the Minnesota Vikings. But stranger things have happened.

Earlier: We have posted video clips of QB camp visits of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. You can find Newton here and Dalton here.


Gruden QB camp: Andy Dalton

April, 13, 2011
As Tom reminded me in Tuesday's SportsNation chat, I've speculated that the Minnesota Vikings' search for a quarterback could end in the second round of this month's draft, where TCU's Andy Dalton seemed likely to be available when they choose at No. 43 overall.

That speculation might now be outdated. ESPN drafts analysts Mel Kiper Insider and Todd McShay Insider envision Dalton coming off the board no later than No. 35 overall, where the Cincinnati Bengals are slotted. Why is Dalton's stock rising? Take a look at the video below, an excerpt of Dalton's QB camp with ESPN analyst Jon Gruden.

"You're going to get a winner, something I've done basically my whole football career," Dalton said.

Gruden's only piece of criticism is noting an instance in the Rose Bowl when Dalton, hoping to extend a 14-0 lead over Wisconsin, missed a wide-open receiver in the flat while forcing a pass downfield.

"Make a note young man," Gruden said. "You're going to have a checkdown in this offense."

Otherwise, Gruden calls Dalton "one of the great decision-makers in college football history."

Earlier: Gruden puts Auburn quarterback Cam Newton through his

Video: Gruden's QB camp - Cam Newton

April, 9, 2011
Jon Gruden discusses life in the NFL with one of the draft's top quarterback prospects.

Odds and ends as we await Frazier

November, 22, 2010
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've reviewed the presumed thought process of Zygi Wilf and the tenure of former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress. We're going to shift gears to interim coach Leslie Frazier after his 4 p.m. ET news conference. In the meantime, here are some random thoughts pinging through my brain:
  • I'm stunned at how many people are hoping/believing that quarterback Brett Favre will follow Childress out the door. (Favre said Sunday that he would re-evaluate his future after a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers). Many of you are clamoring for Frazier to bench Favre and give backup Tarvaris Jackson a chance. Come on. The only coach in the NFL who considered Jackson a viable long-term starter got fired Monday. Do you really think Frazier's first decision as a head coach will be to put his career in Jackson's hands?
  • As's John Clayton noted last week, the buyout on Childress' contract is relatively reasonable considering he signed an extension just over a year ago. The Vikings will owe Childress the remainder of his 2010 salary, plus $6.6 million to cover the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
  • Clayton is working on a speculative list of candidates to replace Childress on a permanent basis, of which Frazier is one. I'll say this off the top: Wilf will have to make substantive changes to his leadership structure if he wants to hire a veteran, accomplished coach. As of now, the Vikings' coach shares responsibility with vice president of player personnel (Rick Spielman) and vice president of football operations (Rob Brzezinski). It's doubtful that a Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher would agree to work under that structure.
  • While we’re on that topic, here’s another thing to consider about the attractiveness of the Vikings’ head-coaching job: They have no long-term answer at quarterback. Quarterback issues are the No. 1 coach-killer in the NFL.
  • Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith might want to start looking for real estate agents. Surely he knows that his next opponent, the Packers, have now gotten two consecutive head coaches fired. First it was the Dallas Cowboys' Wade Phillips, then it was Childress. Now Smith is on the Packers' hot seat. After that, we'll have Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions. Not saying anything. Just sayin.'

More in a bit.

Inside the head of Zygi Wilf

November, 16, 2010
WilfJohn David Mercer/US PresswireVikings owner Zygi Wilf values organizational continuity and isn't one to make rash personnel moves.
It's time for the spotlight to shift in Minnesota. During the highly scrutinized past few weeks, we've confirmed all we need to know about Vikings coach Brad Childress -- for better and for worse. (And yes, there are factors on both sides.) Further examination would only repeat the previous points.

So as Childress' tenure continues, it's fair to ask what owner Zygi Wilf is thinking and what it says about his stewardship of the franchise. After all, the window seems shut on firing Childress with an eye toward salvaging the 2010 season. It's not happening this week, and if it's prompted by a loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers, the next coach would be saddled with a near-hopeless 3-7 record.

To be sure, the Vikings' disappointing season doesn't necessarily mandate the dismissal of a coach who has won consecutive NFC North titles. But Wilf's resistance to change, even amid a nationally watched soap opera, reinforces what I would call his aggressive approach to continuity since purchasing the team in June 2005.

Those hoping or believing Wilf would fire Childress after the bungled acquisition of receiver Randy Moss are ignoring history. For the most part, Wilf has worked hard to retain his organizational leaders and seems determined to avoid quick-trigger decisions that often define professional sports. (His 2006 dismissal of former personnel chief Fran Foley after three months of work has proved an aberration and was prompted by other members of the organization.)

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Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireUntil this season, Brad Childress had improved the Vikings' record every year since he was hired.
Vice presidents Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski have received at least two new contracts apiece in the past five years, and Childress re-signed through 2013 during last season's 12-4 campaign. The Vikings' current vice presidents of finance, marketing, public affairs and operations all date to Wilf's first days of ownership or before.

Wilf doesn't often speak publicly and rarely offers deep insight into his operation. But as Childress begins another week of game preparation, let's take some guesses at what Wilf is thinking and where he might be going with the football side of his franchise.

Wilf has a unique business background, having assumed control of a real estate company founded by his father and uncle. His principal partners are his brother, Mark Wilf, and cousin, Leonard Wilf. The loyalty and management style derived from a family business are instructive when analyzing the Vikings' coaching situation.

When disagreement arises between family members with relatively equal stake in a company, dismissal or departure aren't options. Issues are worked through, and I believe that is what Wilf thinks he is doing now. Childress was Wilf's hand-picked coach in 2006, and he is hoping the coach can navigate the franchise through a rough patch.

In the big picture, Wilf views Childress as a coach who accomplished one of his biggest goals: Cleaning up off-field player behavior that culminated in the 2005 Love Boat cruise. On the field, Childress improved his record in every season from 2006-09, earning the extension. I don't think Wilf is willing to abandon the results of those first four years based solely on a stumble in the fifth.

Many people have noted the $12-plus million Wilf would owe Childress if he fired him. Based on how he has thrown around money during his ownership, I don't think that figure is anywhere near the top of the list of why Childress remains employed. Much more important, at least to Wilf, is the symbolic commitment Wilf made in executing the deal.

Wilf grew up and remains a huge football fan, and he proudly applies those sensibilities to his management of the Vikings. But there are different categories of fans, and Wilf clearly resides under the eternally hopeful category much more often than the knee-jerk reaction group. The most recent example was Wilf's ecstatic response to the Vikings' 27-24 comeback victory Nov. 7 over the Arizona Cardinals.

Afterward, his face flush, Wilf stood at the door of the Vikings' locker room and greeted each player and coach with a version of the phrase "great heart!" His conviction of the Vikings' potential that day was obvious, overshadowing all of the well-chronicled issues Childress has encountered with players, game management and his offensive scheme.

That's my read on Wilf's mentality over the past few weeks. If you want to be more cynical -- and I'm always up for a good conspiracy theory -- you could suggest that Wilf already knows he will replace Childress after the season and that he doesn't want presumptive interim coach Leslie Frazier to succeed him. For all we know, Wilf could already be studying the available candidates -- Super Bowl winners Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Brian Billick are all in hibernation -- with an intention to pounce after the season.

If he fires Childress now and Frazier executes a miracle turnaround, Wilf might feel compelled to hire him permanently even while casting his gaze elsewhere. I have no idea if that's actually the case, but we shouldn't rule out the possibility that Wilf has a larger plan already in place.

Why? Because in November 2005, about two months before he fired coach Mike Tice, Wilf dispatched several team officials to a clandestine meeting with agent Bob LaMonte. At the time, LaMonte represented Childress and then-Philadelphia Eagles personnel executive Tom Heckert.

The day after they fired Tice, the Vikings flew Childress to Minnesota for an interview and worked feverishly to do the same with Heckert, who ultimately re-signed with the Eagles and is now the Cleveland Browns' general manager.

Again, I have no evidence that a similar contingency plan is under way now. But if you want to know why Childress remains employed, you should know it fits with Wilf's larger management style. Wilf is patient, but he is far from passive. I don't think he'll stand for long-term underperformance, but to this point it's clear he doesn't classify Childress in that way.