NFC North: Marcus McCauley
So this morning, we're kicking off a day-by-day review of the Vikings' 2007-13 drafts. We'll review how each one turned out for the Vikings, look back at a pivotal pick, and attempt to take a rough measurement of how the team stacked up against the rest of the league, with the help of Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic. The metric gives a general idea of how productive a player has been, based on his years as a regular starter, Pro Bowl selections and statistics. In this case, we'll be using the Draft AV, which measures what a player did for the team that originally drafted him. It's far from a perfect assessment of the situation, but it will give us some sense of how the Vikings have done.
Without further ado, we'll begin our series with a look at the 2007 draft:
Vikings' first-round pick: No. 7 (Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma)
Number of picks: 8
Total Draft AV: 131 (5th in NFL; San Francisco was best with a 232 AV)
Highest player AV: Peterson, 77 (2nd; San Francisco's Patrick Willis was best with an 89 AV)
Worst pick: In need of a cornerback after allowing the second-most passing yards in the league the previous season, the Vikings used their third-rounder on Fresno State's Marcus McCauley, who was gone after two seasons and out of the league after three. McCauley stepped in for an injured Antoine Winfield late in his rookie year, and got burned in a pivotal Sunday night game against the Washington Redskins in December. He is currently playing in the United Football League.
Cook is 6-foot-2 and has the size and speed to match up against big receivers, which is why the 49ers are spending a low-risk deal on the chance they can turn him around. But he exits Minnesota as the latest cornerback not to make it after being taken early in the draft. Xavier Rhodes, one of the Vikings' three 2013 first-rounders, looks as though he can play, but 2012 third-rounder Josh Robinson still has much to prove. Cook was a second-rounder in 2010, and 2009 third-rounder Asher Allen was gone after starting 21 games in three seasons. Marcus McCauley, a third-round pick in 2007, washed out of Minnesota after two seasons, and while 2006 second-rounder Cedric Griffin looked as though he'd turn into a solid cornerback, two torn ACLs ended his career. Griffen and 2002 fourth-rounder Brian Williams are the only two Vikings draft picks to start more than three years at cornerback in the last 12 years.
Rhodes has a chance to reverse that trend, and while the Vikings have had plenty of trouble pinning down safeties, Harrison Smith looks like a star on the rise heading into his third season. But the Vikings' inability to stock one of the league's most important positions stands out as a major black mark on their recent draft history. Cook's ignominious exit from Minnesota is only the latest example of it.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
OK, let’s clean up the rest of Detroit’s busy day on the waiver wire. (See this post for earlier details.)
In all, the Lions claimed four players off waivers Sunday: defensive end Copeland Bryan (Buffalo), receiver/returner Yamon Figurs (Baltimore), defensive back Kevin Hobbs (Seattle) and defensive back Marcus McCauley (Minnesota). That group brings the Lions back to the NFL limit of 53 players.
I would expect the Lions to claim players on a weekly basis during the first few weeks of the season. Detroit has top priority at least through the end of September, according to NFL rules, and the state of their roster suggests they need to use every advantage they can to find talent.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Detroit apparently isn’t planning to announce any of its roster moves Sunday, but here are a few thoughts on some of what’s been reported and confirmed to this point:
- As waiver claims go, cornerback Marcus McCauley isn’t a bad pickup. He opened the 2007 season as Minnesota’s nickelback and has some coverage skills. But he isn’t much of a hitter, and if he ever helped the Vikings on special teams, I never saw it. So while he might upgrade the back end of the Lions’ depth chart, I don’t think he fits their dream scenario: stepping into the starting lineup so that cornerback Anthony Henry can move to safety.
- If the New York Jets gave up anything more than a conditional seventh-round draft pick for quarterback Kevin O’Connell, then Lions general manager Martin Mayhew should be nominated for executive of the year. Claimed on waivers last week, O’Connell wasn’t going to be anything more than a No. 3 quarterback for the Lions -- and that’s if he somehow supplanted Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton on the roster. Mayhew brought O’Connell in for an extended tryout and wound up gaining an asset in return.
- We don’t know yet whether Culpepper or Matthew Stafford will start the Sept. 13 season opener at New Orleans. But unless something changes over the next few days, Culpepper will receive a $2.25 million bonus for making the Lions’ opening-game roster. Culpepper was originally due the bonus in March but agreed to postpone it pending his performance during the offseason program and training camp.
Finally, here are seven members of the Lions’ practice squad, which includes three of their 2009 draft choices:
How does the NFL's top running back improve? By working on his receiving game, of course. That's what Minnesota's Adrian Peterson did over the offseason, hoping to smooth out the rough edges in his pass blocking and route running in hopes the Vikings would incorporate him more into the passing game.
We noted earlier this month that Peterson was dropping an inordinate number of passes in practice, but he said this week that he has taken a "giant step forward," according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
Peterson: "I'm really just focusing on the little things -- getting my proper depth and recognizing the coverage that the defense presents better. I'm definitely moving forward and continuing to improve each day."
It's unlikely Peterson will get much of a chance to test his progress in Friday's preseason opener at Indianapolis. Coach Brad Childress limited his preseason snaps in 2008 and is likely to do the same this year.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Benny Sapp, Asher Allen and Marcus McCauley are all vying for the Vikings' nickel job, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Vikings rookie Percy Harvin is growing more comfortable as a kick returner, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- There's no telling how long Green Bay's standoff with defensive lineman B.J. Raji will continue after Raji left town Tuesday night, writes Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Packers kicker Mason Crosby altered his pre-kick alignment after having some struggles early in training camp, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Detroit is trying to figure out who will replace the injured Jared DeVries at left end, write Nicholas J. Cotsonika and Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- A strong possibility for that role is former Packers end Jason Hunter, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Chicago cornerback Nate Vasher has done little in training camp to allay fears that his best days are behind him, according to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
- The Bears are encouraged by the progress of defensive end Mark Anderson, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
|AP Photo/Jim Mone|
|With Brett Favre out of the picture, the Vikings' quarterback competition comes down to Tarvaris Jackson (7) and Sage Rosenfels (2).|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
MANKATO, Minn. -- The scene was set for a rock concert. Now, temporary bleachers sit empty at one end of the practice fields at Minnesota State University, Mankato. A super-sized interview tent now seems out of place. One lowly blogger sits in the overflow media room.
Vikings training camp opened to a quiet and anticlimactic scene, one that once seemed destined to be dominated by the arrival of quarterback Brett Favre. Instead, the Vikings have been left with Plan B and C at quarterback as they prepare to defend their NFC North title. And a largely veteran roster has been left to pick up the pieces and steer clear of the letdown that surrounds it.
"That's our job as adults," defensive end Jared Allen said. "We're not in high school. You don't need to carry little grudges with you. It's professional football. [We're] professionals. Let's go do our job. Our job is to win games, defend our division championship and hopefully win the Super Bowl."
It's a fair question. After all, in a combined 11 NFL seasons, neither player has proved worthy of a full-time starting job. For what it's worth, camp hardly started in ideal fashion. Rosenfels appeared still to be growing comfortable with the offense while a sprained knee felled Jackson in the third practice.
Jackson's injury is not serious, but his long injury history illustrates the perils of counting on him to be a full-time starter. Rosenfels, meanwhile, is a career backup who now realizes the Vikings' offense isn't as familiar as he previously believed. His transition from Houston's version of the West Coast scheme will take some time.
|Tom Dahlin/Getty Images|
|Rookie Phil Loadholt is the early favorite to win the starting right tackle spot.|
But at this point, the Vikings have given themselves no choice but to count on one of them to step up after Favre turned down their overtures last month. In the competitive NFC North, that gambit could mean the difference between the division title and missing the playoffs.
2. Can the offensive line withstand the addition of two new starters?
Rookie Phil Loadholt appears set to take over the right tackle position, and his sheer girth -- 6-foot-8, 343 pounds -- will make it difficult for most defensive ends to get around him. Loadholt also looked relatively smooth as a run-blocker early in camp, and it's hard to imagine him losing a competition for the starting job.
The prognosis for new center John Sullivan, however, is not as certain. He is universally recognized as a smart player, but his ability to match up with the NFL's top defensive tackles has not been measured yet. From a physical standpoint, Sullivan might be at a disadvantage. The Vikings list Sullivan at 6-foot-4, but he has an odd build -- short legs and a long torso -- that make him look and play much shorter.
I asked Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams if he thought Sullivan was ready.
"He doesn't have a choice," Williams said. "That's all we've got. He's still learning, but I think he'll be a good center for us."
Williams, however, also noted the long list of big defensive tackles Sullivan will have to match up against this year -- starting with Cleveland's Shaun Rogers in the Sept. 13 season opener.
"He's got to be strong," Williams said. "The guys he is going to be playing are some big dudes."
3. Are the Vikings prepared for the possibility of losing the Williams Wall?
The team is developing a contingency plan in the event that defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are forced to serve their four-game suspensions. (A Minnesota judge will decide by Aug. 7 whether the players' legal case can proceed in state court.) Few teams have starting-caliber defensive tackles in reserve, but the Vikings are hoping to patch together a decent lineup if they have to.
Fred Evans, Jimmy Kennedy and Letroy Guion have been working as the second-team defensive tackles during practice. Guion also has been working with the first-team nickel defense when Pat Williams takes a breather.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier acknowledged it will be "a bit of a drop-off" if Evans, Kennedy and/or Guion is forced into the starting lineup. But Frazier added: "We feel confident we will still be able to play good defense with those other guys in the lineup."
I think that's a fair way of looking at it. The question will be whether the replacements can hold their own, not whether they can maintain the NFL's top-rated run defense. That's an unrealistic expectation.
You have to wonder where veteran receiver Bobby Wade will fit in after the Vikings drafted receiver Percy Harvin and welcomed back a healthy Sidney Rice. Even with Harvin unsigned at the beginning of training camp, it seemed clear that Wade will lose some playing time after leading the team in receptions the past two seasons.
If everyone stays healthy, early indications are that Bernard Berrian, Rice and Harvin are first in line for snaps this season. Wade could share some slot responsibilities with Harvin, but the Vikings want the exciting rookie on the field as often as possible.
It's hard to imagine Wade not making the team after catching 107 passes since 2007. But he does appear to be in a fight for playing time that also includes youngsters Jaymar Johnson and Darius Reynaud. Depending on how many receivers they carry on the roster, the Vikings might have to decide whether to keep a reliable veteran or an intriguing up-and-comer.
Newcomer to watch
Harvin missed the first three days of training camp, but it wasn't difficult to see the multi-faceted role the team has mapped out for him.
Reynaud played Harvin's role during practice, roving all over the field -- much like Harvin did while playing at the University of Florida. It's also possible the Vikings will use Harvin as a punt and kickoff returner if he gets into camp soon enough.
Harvin is the kind of open-field runner who can change the dynamic of a game on one play. He'll give the Vikings the best weapon they've ever had in taking defensive attention away from tailback Adrian Peterson. If he and Peterson stay healthy, Harvin is an early candidate for rookie of the year.
Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is back after a pair of dislocated toes caused him to miss the final 12 games last season. In his first practice this summer, Henderson brought the entire defense together to discuss his goals for this season. "You could hear a pin drop in our huddle," Frazier said. Henderson is normally a quiet leader. "For him to do that," Frazier said, "it makes everyone feel as if this is for real. No more playing around." ... The Vikings signed free agent Karl Paymah ostensibly as their nickelback, but early in camp he was playing with the third team. Benny Sapp, Marcus McCauley and rookie Asher Allen were rotating at nickel. ... Coaches would like to get Peterson more involved in the passing game, but so far tailback Chester Taylor has gotten most of the third-down snaps. "We have a Chester Taylor and we might as well use him," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. ... Peterson on rushing for 2,000 yards in a season: "It is something I think about and dream about." ... With Loadholt the likely starter at right tackle, Ryan Cook is getting a chance to win a backup center/tackle job.
We had a little action last week in the NFC North, but as expected, the news certainly slowed as all four teams enjoyed some time away from their practice facilities. We got an update on the Williams Wall story, debated the pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and argued over the identity of the NFC North's breakout player in 2009. (I say Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin, you say Chicago tight end Greg Olsen.)
But there's always material for the mailbag, thanks to your intrepid participation. Remember, you can contact me through said mailbag, our lightning-fast Facebook page or Twitter. Phones? They're, like, sooooo 2008. I don't even know why I have one.
OK, let's get on with it:
Kevin Seifert: Thanks for the assignment, Brad. Seriously, it's a good idea. As it turns out, the Lions rank last among the four NFC North teams in this category. The Packers lead with 33 players. Of course, these numbers can be skewed based on the total number of draft choices. But over time, it's at least a decent gauge of overall draft success.
Here's the team-by-team breakdown:
2001: 2 (Tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola)
2004: 1 (Smith)
2006: 2 (Linebacker Ernie Sims, safety Daniel Bullocks)
2007: 5 (Receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Drew Stanton, defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis, guard Manny Ramirez, cornerback Ramzee Robinson)
2008: 7 (Tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Jordon Dizon, tailback Kevin Smith, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, defensive end Cliff Avril, fullback Jerome Felton, defensive tackle Landon Cohen)
2000: 1 (Linebacker Brian Urlacher)
2002: 2 (Defensive end Alex Brown, tailback Adrian Peterson)
2003: 2 (Cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs)
2004: 2 (Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, cornerback Nate Vasher)
2006: 5 (Safety Danieal Manning, receiver Devin Hester, defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, linebacker Jamar Williams, defensive end Mark Anderson)
2007: 6 (Tight end Greg Olsen, running back Garrett Wolfe, guard Josh Beekman, safety Kevin Payne, defensive back Corey Graham, cornerback Trumaine McBride)
2008: 9 (Tackle Chris Williams, tailback Matt Forte, receiver Earl Bennett, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, safety Craig Steltz, cornerback Zackary Bowman, tight end Kellen Davis, defensive end Ervin Baldwin, linebacker Joey LaRocque)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
2000: 1 (Offensive tackle Chad Clifton)
2002: 1 (Linebacker Aaron Kampman)
2003: 1 (Linebacker Nick Barnett)
2004: 1 (Center Scott Wells)
2005: 4 (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, linebacker Brady Poppinga, defensive end Michael Montgomery)
2006: 7 (Linebacker A.J. Hawk, guard Daryn Colledge, receiver Greg Jennings, center Jason Spitz, cornerback Will Blackmon, offensive tackle Tony Moll, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly)
2007: 9 (Defensive end Justin Harrell, running back Brandon Jackson, receiver James Jones, safety Aaron Rouse, offensive tackle Allen Barbre, fullback Korey Hall, linebacker Desmond Bishop, placekicker Mason Crosby, running back DeShawn Wynn)
2008: 9 (Receiver Jordy Nelson, quarterback Brian Brohm, cornerback Pat Lee, tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Jeremy Thompson, guard Josh Sitton, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, quarterback Matt Flynn, receiver Brett Swain)
2002: 1 (Left tackle Bryant McKinnie)
2003: 2 (Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson)
2004: 2 (Defensive end Kenechi Udeze, tight end Jeff Dugan)
2006: 5 (Linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Cedric Griffin, offensive lineman Ryan Cook, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, defensive end Ray Edwards)
2007: 5 (Running back Adrian Peterson, receiver Sidney Rice, cornerback Marcus McCauley, defensive end Brian Robison, receiver Aundrae Allison)
2008: 5 (Safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback John David Booty, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, center John Sullivan, receiver Jaymar Johnson)
Dictionary Guy objects to our use of "apocryphal" in a post about Brett Favre's appearance in the iconic "There's Something About Mary." Writes DG: Think about your demographic for about 5 seconds, then think about whether they know what apocryphal means. If you're not sure about the intelligence of your readers, try reading the comments sections. I have a college degree and I had to look it up. might want to dumb it down at least a LITTLE.
Kevin Seifert: What "college" did you go to, DG? Seriously, I get this type of note more often than you might care to believe -- and I hardly consider myself a wordsmith. My reading of the comments section reveals pretty much what we already know: The world is made up of geniuses, yokels and a lot of people in between. On this blog, we'll cater to everyone. And if you occasionally have to consult a dictionary, by gosh, consider making it a habit. It won't bite you.
VikingJ of Wausau, Wis., writes: Saw an ESPN story yesterday about certain teams allowing seasoned vets to go home during camp and not force them to stay in a college dorm room. You then hear coaches say that training camp is a period to build team unity (whatever that means). What are your thoughts on this subject, and what direction are the NFC north teams taking?
Kevin Seifert: You probably were reading about Washington coach Jim Zorn following in the footsteps of what ex-Baltimore coach Brian Billick once did with the Ravens.
I have often heard veterans complaining about off-site training camps. Some players don't like being away from their families. Many are uncomfortable in tiny dorm rooms and old mattresses, a legitimate concern when you consider how much energy they must expend during practice. For those reasons, I can see how it might help to sleep in your own home and bed. And to me, relationships can be formed during training camp whether you're sleeping at home or in the dorms.
Because let's be clear: Regardless of where you sleep, camp is a daily 18-hour affair. Typically, players are scheduled from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. If you're not practicing, you're either eating or in meetings or napping. For that reason, some players would prefer staying and sleeping in dorms because they're the closest thing to them. The long hours wouldn't really give them much chance to see their families anyway.
I'm not aware of a sleep-on-your-own policy in the NFC North. Everyone sleeps in dorms (Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay) or in a hotel (Detroit).
Jimbo of Chicago writes: Kevin, what's the inside scoop on the other Adrian Peterson? With Matt Forte and Kevin Jones getting the bulk of the carries, and the Bears talking about how they need to get Garrett Wolfe on the field more this year, where does that leave a veteran like AP? Does he even have a spot on this team? Do they really hold a spot for him just to play special teams?
Kevin Seifert writes: Jimbo, there are a couple of interesting factors in play here. First, you wonder if the Bears really would keep four tailbacks on the 53-man roster. If they only keep three, the competition conceivably would be down to Wolfe and Peterson. To me, we'll find out once and for all if the Bears are serious about using Wolfe on offense. That would be the primary reason to keep him over Peterson.
Second, Wolfe showed proficiency as a special teams player last season, leading the team with 21 tackles. The Bears put a strong emphasis on coverage and wouldn't part easily with Peterson. But at least they would know that Wolfe can handle coverage assignments.
Randall of Monoma, Wis., writes: If the Williams Wall wins, why couldn't the Wisconsin legislature pass legislation forbidding the calling of penalties against the Packers in home games at Lambeau Field, as a violation of their employee rights?
Kevin Seifert: Haha. (I think. I'm presuming you're joking.) Randall, of course, is referring to the lawsuit filed by Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Essentially, the players are arguing that the NFL's steroid testing policy violates Minnesota state law. (The NFL contends the policy, which is part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, should be subject only to federal laws.)
But I cordially invite the Wisconsin legislature to take a break from its busy schedule to pursue such a law. Just to see what happens. And I'm guessing there would be more than a few legislators willing to take up the issue. Revolution!
Joseph of Fort Meade, Md., writes: As a Bears fan I'm glad to see the "Williams Wall" case delayed. At the end of the day, the NFL doesn't care about the state of Minnesota's stance on drug testing. The wall will lose. So hopefully they can be suspended at a more critical time in the season.
Kevin Seifert: Joseph, you actually bring up a good point. We have no way of predicting how long the legal process will take here. One month? Three months? Six months? Who knows with these things. But if you strictly go by the regular season schedule, the Vikings' first four games might represent the best stretch for them to miss if it comes to that.
None of their first four opponents -- Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and Green Bay -- had winning records last season. And from a preseason perspective, at least, the only running game I would fear in that group is the Packers'. If the players' legal case ultimately results in them missing games later in the season, it could play a more important role in the Vikings' playoff aspirations. No doubt.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield will miss the team's mandatory minicamp while attending the funeral of a friend's mother, Vikings coach Brad Childress said Friday.
Winfield's absence initially sparked speculation that it was related to stalled negotiations over a contract extension. But if there is any connection, Childress wouldn't make it Friday. Childress said he had lunch with Winfield on Wednesday and also spoke with agent Ashanti Webb this week.
"I wouldn't read anything into it," Childress said.
But when asked whether Winfield's absence was excused, Childress said: "We kind of deal with that internally." The funeral is scheduled for Saturday, Childress said. The Vikings practiced once Friday, have two practices scheduled for Saturday and a final workout on Sunday morning. Cornerback Marcus McCauley worked with the Vikings' first team in Winfield's absence Friday.
Winfield is entering the final season of a six-year contract he signed prior to the 2004 season and is scheduled to earn $6 million in base salary this season. Negotiations for an extension came to a standstill earlier this month.
I'll be back shortly with some observations from minicamp as well as some thoughts on Chicago's agreement with linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
The Minnesota Vikings' starting lineup is virtually locked up, but there will be some competition for playing time in a few areas during training camp. Here are two:
Tight end: Visanthe Shiancoe vs. Jim Kleinsasser
Shiancoe is trying to rebound from a tough debut season with the Vikings in which he dropped three touchdown passes and never seemed comfortable in the offense. Coaches have lauded his progress and demeanor, not to mention weight loss, during the offseason. But Shiancoe will have to prove he can catch the ball consistently this summer in order to retain his role as the primary tight end.
Kleinsasser is a strong veteran blocker who has rarely been asked to participate much in the passing game. But his playing time increased last season as Shiancoe struggled, and the Vikings won't be afraid to use him -- or veterans Jeff Dugan and Garrett Mills -- in place of Shiancoe if necessary.
With tailback Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the tight end should be a powerful weapon in this offense, especially in play-action.
Intensity index: Mild
Nickel back: Marcus McCauley vs. Charles Gordon vs. Tyrell Johnson
Ah, the all-important nickel battle. If this ranks in a team's top two personnel questions, you know you're in decent shape.
That said, the Vikings spent plenty of time in their nickel pass defense last season as teams abandoned the run against them. There's no reason to expect anything different this season, meaning that, in reality, their nickel back will have the prominence of a starting corner.
In the end, the team could create several different personnel packages and use Johnson in "big nickel" situations against opposing tight ends and slot receivers. Gordon has the best one-on-one cover ability of the three and is the favorite for the traditional nickel role.
Intensity index: Hot