NFC North: Ryan Tannehill

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
AM ET

When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As difficult as they might be to recall, there have been fourth-quarter defensive stands by the Green Bay Packers. And they've even come this season, when Aaron Rodgers and his offensive mates have been lauded for leading this team into first place in the NFC North.

There was the defensive stop in Week 2 against the New York Jets. (Remember their timeout fiasco that wiped out a touchdown?)

There was the late-game stand in Week 6, when the Miami Dolphins couldn't convert a third down and gave the ball back to Rodgers, who directed the game-winning drive.

Nice moments to be sure, but they came against Geno Smith and Ryan Tannehill.

This time, it was Tom Brady.

Three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.

Two-time NFL MVP Tom Brady.

And stop him they did when it mattered most in Sunday's 26-21 victory over the New England Patriots (9-3) in front of a Lambeau Field record crowd of 78,431.

Without a sack for more than three-and-a-half quarters, the Packers finally brought Brady down. Mike Daniels and Mike Neal dumped him on third-and-9 from the Packers' 20-yard line with 2:40 remaining, and the Patriots never got the ball back.

"We finally seem to be carrying our own weight, in light of how well the offense has been playing," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It's great to see that we can string these together, and we're not riding the roller coaster that we've done maybe in the first half of the season.

"We're feeling good. We've got playmakers on defense. There's still room for improvement, but it's just about putting it together because we feel we can be just as good as anyone else out there."

Maybe now it's safe to say Matthews is on to something.

For perhaps the first time since their 15-1 season in 2011, the Packers might be the NFL's best team. They finally beat a great quarterback, and they did so when their own MVP quarterback and his offense came up empty in the touchdown department during four red zone possessions. With four games remaining, the Packers (9-3) find themselves tied with the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles for the best record in the NFC.

After Sunday, the Packers' defense needs to apologize for nothing. Sure, the Packers failed to take the ball away, which has been their M.O. this season. They let Brady throw for 245 yards and two touchdowns. They let tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman each catch seven passes. And they let running back LeGarrette Blount average 5.8 yards per carry.

No, they couldn't get to Brady, though they came close several times.

Then they did when it counted.

Out of a four-man rush, Neal beat left tackle Nate Solder to the outside and got the first hand on Brady. Daniels, who shed left guard Dan Connolly, helped Neal finish off Brady. Coach Bill Belchick opted for a field goal that Stephen Gostkowski pushed wide right from 47 yards, and Rodgers & Co. ran out the remaining time just as they did to preserve a three-point victory at the Minnesota Vikings a week earlier.

Against the Vikings, however, the Packers' defense surrendered a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that forced the offense to run out the final 3:23.

"If you had told me we were going to hold them to 21, I probably would have felt pretty good about the opportunity to win the game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "So, yeah, I thought our defense did a lot of good things there."

This wasn't the Jets or the Dolphins. This wasn't a quarterback who since was benched (Smith) or struggling to win consistently (Tannehill). This was Brady and the Patriots (9-3), who brought a seven-game win streak to Lambeau.

"You had the No. 1 [scoring] offense in the NFL coming into our house, under the lights, with a very, very dangerous lineup of men, with a coach who's going to make sure they get after it every single play," Daniels said. "So to get a victory against a team that is so well disciplined, so well coached, with as many weapons as they have, that's huge. That's huge. You've got to look at yourself and say, 'Man, we did a heck of a job. Let's make sure it's more definitive next time.'"
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions return from their bye to face the Miami Dolphins, kicking off the second half of their season. Here are four things to watch.

Fairley
1. Defensive tackle rotation: The Lions and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have been good about being able to mask season-ending injuries to Stephen Tulloch, Nevin Lawson and Bill Bentley using various packages with multiple players to amplify their strengths in his system. Trying to do this with Nick Fairley's injury will be a bigger challenge because Detroit gives up 4.29 yards a rush when Fairley isn’t in the game compared to 2.5 yards a rush when he is. That is a major difference, and the hole that will challenge Austin the most. Expect to see a combination of C.J. Mosley, Darryl Tapp, Caraun Reid and Jason Jones in the middle.

2. Calvin Johnson's return: Johnson has looked like his typical self in the portions of practice open to the media this week, but offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is still going to keep an eye on Johnson’s conditioning and how that right ankle is holding up throughout Sunday’s game. Detroit had already been playing Johnson fewer snaps than last season before the ankle injury to keep their star receiver fresh, but figure Lombardi is going to be watching it heavily again this week. That said, Johnson is quite motivated to make some plays in his return, and a focused Calvin Johnson is an even more dangerous Johnson than normal. He could be in line for a big day.

3. The running back split: Before injuries knocked Joique Bell and Reggie Bush out of various games in October, the running backs were going at close to a 50-50 split of snaps while very rarely ending up on the field together. Expect that to change Sunday. Between Bush, Bell and Theo Riddick, the Lions now have three capable backs who can make big plays and run routes out of the backfield, an offset tight end spot and in the slot. That gives Detroit more flexibility with its personnel, especially while the team’s tight ends continue to battle back from injuries. Expect to see more personnel groupings with two running backs on the field, but don’t be surprised if at least one is lined up as a receiver in those sets.

4. Containing Ryan Tannehill: This is somewhat related to the first thing to watch. Detroit’s defensive line has faced quarterbacks who can run this season in Cam Newton and Geno Smith, but none run the zone-read with the efficiency Tannehill has the past three weeks. Tannehill’s ability there means the Detroit front seven has to stay disciplined in its rush lanes and can’t freelance much because Tannehill can take a small crease and turn it into a big gain -- similar to what many college teams now run. If the Lions do a good job on the zone-read, they can force Tannehill to pass, and Though he has been very good passing, they turn him into a more traditional quarterback that way. Doing so helps Detroit immensely.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was like the Green Bay Packers were back in San Francisco, circa January 2013, last Sunday in South Florida.

Only this time it was Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill -- not Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers -- who fooled the Packers with the read-option play.

It was really only one option play -- OK, maybe two or three -- that fooled the Packers this time. But when Tannehill ran for 40 yards on a second-and-5 play in the third quarter, it left outside linebacker Clay Matthews looking just as fooled as Erik Walden was by Kaepernick in that playoff loss.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/AJ MastPanthers quarterback Cam Newton gained 107 yards on 17 carries against the Bengals.
"I know you guys are looking for someone to blame," Matthews said this week. "That's kind of how the zone-read works, is kind of forcing them into one way or another and having those players react off it. It's not, 'one guy is to blame.' It's having responsibilities to it. It's hard to explain.

"We're doing everything we need to this week to kind of make it as black and white as possible, as far as 'This is this and this is that.' That way there is no confusion throughout the game or in general."

That's a good idea considering what the Packers might face Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Carolina Panthers. Last Sunday, the Panthers ran the read-option 12 times in their 37-37 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals and averaged 5.75 yards per rush doing so, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only one team ran more read-option last week than the Panthers. It was the Dolphins, who did it 18 times.

Against the Bengals, Cam Newton ran for 107 yards on 17 carries -- not all read-option, of course -- after rushing for just 42 yards on 14 attempts in Carolina's first five games.

"It's a concept we spent a lot of time [on Wednesday] at practice," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Obviously Cam Newton runs it very well; he's been running it for quite some time. He's an excellent football player, he brings a dynamic to the read-option as far as his ability to run the football. That was clearly evident in the Cincinnati game.

"We're preparing and how we handle it, there's other elements involved and other factors involved, but it's definitely a primary concept in the NFL. So we're much better prepared today than we were probably a couple years ago, and I think that's like anything in this game, we've seen it more and we've spent more time on it."

In the big picture, the Packers actually handled Miami's read-option better than you might think. The Dolphins averaged just 4.78 yards per attempt in that formation, according to ESPN Stats & Info. They gained 86 yards on their 18 read-option plays, and 40 came on Tannehill's run. Tannehill kept the ball on one other read-option play and picked up 3 yards to convert a second-and-1 in the first quarter. Running back Lamar Miller's 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter also was a read-option play.

One theory for Matthews' inability to get much done against the Dolphins -- he failed to record a single tackle -- was their liberal use of the read-option, which in theory slows down Matthews from playing his usual aggressive style, because he first has to assess where the ball goes.

Don't think the Panthers failed to notice that.

"Yes, you do game-plan accordingly," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field this week. "You also look at some of the other things they've had problems with and some of the other teams that had success against them and you try to figure out the best way to attack them."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At one point during a lively news conference Tuesday, a nonagenarian Twin Cities reporter offered some veteran advice for Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman:

If you don't take that tackle, you're crazy.

"Well, maybe I am," Spielman said in a way that wasn't entirely unconvincing.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kalil
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIWould the Vikings risk losing out on a potential franchise left tackle in Matt Kalil to collect more picks in the draft?
If Spielman has demonstrated any particular draft approach in his first year as general manager, it's to create the public impression that he's just crazy enough to do anything. That includes making something other than the obvious pick at the No. 3 overall spot in the draft, a decision he claims to be considering by insisting that USC left tackle Matt Kalil has "exactly the same grade" as LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. It includes the kind of unsolicited information he passed along Tuesday, notably his unprompted claim that trade discussions for the No. 3 pick have "really heated up" in the past 24 hours and that there is already "potential for a trade."

And it includes the kind of non-traditional thought Spielman espoused when wondering "how important a left tackle" is "compared to having another playmaker on offense."

The only rule of NFL draft season is that no one tells the truth, so I certainly won't judge Spielman if he has joined the fun. That's how it works. But it leaves us with a few options in reading his exotic tea leaves:

  1. Spielman is covering for a decision he long ago made to draft Kalil at No. 3, hoping to convince a team to trade up for either Claiborne, Blackmon, Trent Richardson or Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and then grab Kalil a few spots below.
  2. He's pulling a double Jedi-mind trick, telling the complete truth -- that he has given strong consideration to not drafting Kalil -- because he assumes everyone will believe he's lying.
  3. With the No. 1 and No. 2 selections all but made, Spielman figures he has nothing to lose by floating every scenario, operating from a position of strength and seeing where it takes him.

Kalil, Claiborne, Blackmon, Richardson and even Tannehill are all excellent prospects. But the two players most likely to spur movement at the top of the draft are going to go No. 1 (Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck) and No. 2 (Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III). Do we think a team behind the Vikings will give up a second choice to draft Kalil, Claiborne, Richardson, Blackmon or Tannehill? With three days remaining before the draft, that question is at best debatable.

So the question returns to whom Spielman would select at No. 3. Many of us have wondered why he would draft Claiborne, an elite press corner, for a defense that has long employed the Cover 2 scheme. So Spielman went out of his way Tuesday to note those objections, noting the Vikings play "some" Cover 3 and could move to more Cover 1 with new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. (Anything would be better than last season's cover-no-one defense.)

In the end, I'm going to continue to guess that Kalil is the pick. After the quarterback, is there a more important position on offense -- or on an entire team? I'm not sure. The Vikings have a chance to lock down that position. They're not crazy enough to ignore that opportunity -- I don't think.
The 2012 ESPN.com blog network mock draft is in the books. It was actually a lot of fun, and I hope you got a chance to jump into the fray for at least a few moments. If not, here is the chat transcript.

I learned a few things. First, I'm much more conservative than I thought I was. I tried to drum up trade interest in the Minnesota Vikings' No. 3 overall pick, but for the most part I was content to let everyone else wheel and deal and then sit tight for targeted players to drop in a way that I thought would only happen in my dreams.

Second, every draft has some unexpected trades and some unconventional picks. Having eight people participate helped lend a sense of that dynamic, even if the trades we made and the picks that resulted don't happen this week. You got a more realistic sense of how it could go, I think, than in a conventional mock draft.

We faced decisions at each stop, which I'll detail below for those interested:

3. Minnesota Vikings
My pick:
USC left tackle Matt Kalil
Final decision: Kalil or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne
Process and reasoning: I felt obligated to solicit trade offers for anyone who might be interested in Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. I pressured AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley, who is convinced the Cleveland Browns do not want to trade up from No. 4. I leaned on AFC West blogger Bill Williamson, suggesting Tannehill would be a nice target for the Kansas City Chiefs. "I'm good," Williamson said. And I tried to entice AFC East blogger James Walker, letting him and the Miami Dolphins know I was talking to the Hensley/Browns and Williamson/Chiefs.

Walker sat tight. With my time (almost up), I was left to the decision we've been discussing in recent days. I can't see the Vikings taking Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, so it was down to Kalil or Claiborne.

In the end, I took Kalil because my top goal in this exercise was to avoid overthinking. Left tackle is one of the most difficult jobs to fill in the NFL. The Vikings don't have a left tackle, not since they released Bryant McKinnie last summer, and their quarterbacks were pummeled in 2011. Kalil is one of the draft's best prospects and certainly the top left tackle available.

It's true that the Vikings are short on cornerbacks as well, but I would feel more comfortable finding a cornerback at the top of the second or third round than a left tackle. Claiborne and Kalil are both excellent prospects. So Kalil it was. We'll soon see if the Vikings agree.

19. Chicago Bears
My pick:
Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus
Final decision: Mercilus or Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones
Process and reasoning: If the real thing goes anything like our mock draft, it appears the Bears will have their pick of defensive ends to fill an important but untouched roster hole. I was holding out hope for North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, who slipped as far as No. 17 before Hensley grabbed him for the Cincinnati Bengals. But ultimately I was left to choose between Mercilus, Jones, USC's Nick Perry and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw.

Why Mercilus? The Bears have spent a good bit of time visiting and researching Mercilus during the past few months, and while there are questions about the best positions for some of the other defensive end prospects, Mercilus is a clear and obvious 4-3 defensive end. I liked him more than any of the receivers on the board at the time, and I didn't think the Bears would chose an offensive tackle -- even Stanford's Jonathan Martin -- in this spot.

Ultimately, Martin went at No. 22 to the Browns, where he will presumably play right tackle.

23. Detroit Lions
My pick:
Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick
Final decision: Kirkpatrick or trade down
Process and reasoning: Frankly, I was surprised that Kirkpatrick fell that far. I can see a team jumping first for South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, as Paul Kuharsky did for the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 15. But having Kirkpatrick available at No. 23 for a team whose secondary collapsed in 2011 was a pretty good situation.

I had previously discussed a trade with Hensley and the Baltimore Ravens at No. 29, something that could arise Thursday night. But I was more than happy to sit with Kirkpatrick at that point.

Why Kirkpatrick over North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins? Frankly, for the obvious and previously-stated conservative reasons. The Lions had three members of their 2011 draft class run into marijuana-related issues. Jenkins has a long history dating back to his removal from the University of Florida team two years ago.

I realize Kirkpatrick was cited in January for marijuana possession, but ultimately he was not prosecuted.

28. Green Bay Packers
My pick:
Boise state outside linebacker Shea McClellin
Final decision:
McClellin or Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw
Process and reasoning: I had targeted McClellin as someone I would hope to draft for the Packers and was caught off guard when Upshaw was still available. I got some tweets and live suggestions for both players, but chose McClellin because I think he's a better fit for the Packers' 3-4 and that he'll be ready to start in Week 1 for a team that is a Super Bowl contender in 2012.

There is enough concern about Upshaw's fit as a 3-4 linebacker, as opposed to a 4-3 defensive end, that I felt more comfortable with McClellin here.

I would be willing to discuss this further in the blog, probably Tuesday. Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Gruden Camp: Brandon Weeden

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
10:30
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We continue our review of Jon Gruden's QB Camp with Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, who spent five years playing minor league baseball and thus enters the draft at age 28. In this clip of his session with Gruden, Weeden sold himself as someone who finds a way to get the job done. Last season, his team won in matchups against Stanford's Andrew Luck, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill.

"I'm a winner, man," Weeden said. "I can win some football games. That's one thing you can't take away from me. I can be 28 and all that other jazz, but I tell you what: I win football games. There's no doubt about it."

Again, we're posting these video clips under the assumption that one if not more of our NFC North teams will seek a developmental quarterback in the draft. Carry on.

Gruden Camp: Ryan Tannehill

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
11:30
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Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill has gotten an awful lot of discussion on the NFC North blog for a player who presumably has no chance to join one of our teams next week. His status as arguably the third-best quarterback in the draft has made the Minnesota Vikings' No. 3 overall pick a possible trade target for any team that wants to secure him.

ESPN analyst Bill Polian has suggested the Miami Dolphins swap picks with the Vikings to ensure they can draft Tannehill, whose college head coach (Mike Sherman) is now the Dolphins' offensive coordinator.

In the clip, Gruden praises Tannehill's understanding of NFL concepts and we get a glimpse of him in his former role as a receiver.
When we last checked in with USC left tackle Matt Kalil, he had shown up at the NFL scouting combine at a svelte 306 pounds spread out over his 6-foot-7 frame. He discussed plans to "bulk up" to around 310 pounds but made clear he was never going to be one of the hulking 330-pound monsters many of us associate with elite left tackles.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kalil
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIMatt Kalil is working on his build by overhauling his daily caloric intake to up to 6,500 calories.
I caught up with Kalil over the weekend as part of his work with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, where he spent some time setting future conditioning goals and overhauling his nutrition plan. He said he weighed in at 310 or 311 pounds at all four pre-draft visits he made over the past few months, including one with the Minnesota Vikings, and said he might approach 315 pounds by the time the 2012 NFL regular season begins.

But to give you an idea of the type of metabolism Kalil has, nutritionists have designed a daily 6,500-calorie diet to maintain whatever weight he lands on throughout the season. For context, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends 2,000 calories per day for many age groups, but athletes typically need more and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has consumed 12,000 during some training activities.

"I probably don't look like I weigh 310 pounds because I'm so tall," Kalil said. "But how much you weigh is overrated sometimes. Obviously you can't be 268 pounds and block a 300-pound defensive end, but I don't think [the difference between 310 and 330] is going to mean as much in my situation. I believe it's more about how you work on your trade and improving as a player, which I'm trying to do every day.

"You look at Joe Thomas [of the Cleveland Browns] and he's 311, 312 pounds. Jordan Gross [of the Carolina Panthers] is 303 or 305 pounds. In this line of work, it's about how strong you are and how good your technique is as much as how much you weigh."

Indeed, at 306 pounds during the combine, Kalil put together arguably the most impressive workouts of any offensive lineman. As we noted in February, most of his speed work qualified as the second-best scores at the combine.

Why are we spending so much time discussing Kalil's seemingly thin frame? Because there really isn't much else to pick at him about, a reflection of how universally he's considered the best non-quarterback prospect in the draft. It's also why almost no one has bought assertions from Vikings general manager Rick Spielman that a left tackle might be a lower priority than offensive playmakers or even cornerbacks at the top of the draft.

Based on what I can tell, it would stun the NFL from top to bottom if the Vikings draft someone other than Kalil at No. 3, regardless of the skills of Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

A trade market could materialize for those who want assurance they can draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Kalil could be off the board if they Vikings move down far enough. Otherwise, Kalil and the Vikings appear to be in the final stages of engagement before the big ceremony April 26. Kalil has visited the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills as well, and he is taking what amounts to a forced neutrality on his landing spot.

"Crazier things have happened I guess," he said. "You can never really expect where you're going to go, and it's probably the wrong mindset to be set on a certain team. So I'm open-minded and working on staying in my routine until the draft starts."

Kalil has one more week of routine before leaving for New York City and draft festivities. And that gives us 11 more days of noise before what sure seems inevitable finally happens.
We've been following with interest the increasing chatter on the apparently rising draft status of Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. In the most dramatic scenario imaginable, an interested team would trade up to the Minnesota Vikings' No. 3 overall pick to ensure it could draft him.

Longtime NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian strongly advocated that path Tuesday for the Miami Dolphins, predicting the Vikings could net the Dolphins' No. 8 pick along with their second- and third-round picks in return. Wednesday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay veered from the usual bizarre nature of his Twitter feed to suggest a similar tack:
Tannehill is a hidden gem in this draft, a quiet secret who was always sneaking up to #3..you want him, you better talk to Zigi The Biggie!

"Zigi The Biggie" presumably is Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, whom I'm guessing would be thrilled to pick up the phone and find a team desperately hoping to move up to No. 3.

So what do we make of this chatter? For the most part, quarterbacks and top-of-the-draft trades are the hottest topics in the final weeks before the actual event. So it's no surprise that so many people are discussing Tannehill's final destination. But what started out as a theory has at least advanced into public discussion among a wide swath of people who know more about it than you or I. Take that for what it's worth.
We've discussed on several occasions the possibility of the Miami Dolphins, the Cleveland Browns or perhaps another team trading up in the draft to select Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The safest way to secure him, of course, would be to swap positions with the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3.

We've debated the pros and cons of that scenario, but it's worth nothing that longtime NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian strongly advocated for it in his latest Insider column Insider. You'll need a subscription to read the entire analysis, but Polian thinks the Dolphins need to make the trade and suggests the Vikings would receive the Dolphins' pick at No. 8, along with their second- and third-round selections as well.

Here's a portion of what Polian wrote:
The most likely competition for Tannehill is the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 overall. That means, in order to assure themselves of selecting Tannehill, the Dolphins would need to move up to the No. 3 pick in a trade with the Vikings. In my mind, this is a trade you must make if you're the Dolphins. There is no reason to gamble and hope that he falls to No. 8. With the new CBA, Tannehill's position as a QB and his contract wouldn't be an impediment to moving up to No. 3 to select him. And even if the Browns do pass on Tannehill at No. 4, there's no guarantee a team like Kansas City won't trade up to take him.

With the Dolphins owning a plethora of reasons to trade up, does their potential trade partner -- the Vikings -- have an incentive to make a deal? In short, yes they do. Minnesota has a clear-cut need at left tackle and at the top of the draft, there are two such prospects that could fill that void: Matt Kalil of USC and Riley Reiff of Iowa. Given the current draft order, it's likely that the Vikings will be able to get at least one of them with the Dolphins' No. 8 pick.

However, it may not be Kalil, the prospect many grade as the draft's top tackle. If the Vikings believe the trade package from the Dolphins to be worth the drop off in grade from Kalil to Reiff, I think they'd move the pick.

It seems clear the Vikings would like to make a deal. How would you feel if it went the way Polian describes? Additional second- and third-round picks, in exchange for moving down five spots, seems like a nice outcome to me.
We've mentioned on a few occasions that the only NFC North quarterback intrigue in this draft will come in whether the stock of Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill rises enough to put the Minnesota Vikings' No. 3 overall pick back into play as a trade commodity.

Phil of Circle Pines, Minn., wants to know if we've reached the point where the Miami Dolphins at No. 8 would seriously consider a swap with the Vikings to ensure they could draft Tannehill ahead of the Cleveland Browns at No. 4. Or would the Browns swap with the Vikings as a defensive move against the Dolphins? I don't think we're there yet, but we're getting closer and more discussions like the one ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay engaged in after Tannehill's recent pro pay is what could push him to that level.

McShay said that Tannehill has a "special skill set" and said he charted 64 drops from Tannehill's receivers last season. Both men agreed he is a top-10 pick and acknowledged that some teams have no choice but to overpay when it comes to quarterbacks in the draft.

I'm not saying that the Dolphins and/or Browns will feel pressure from media analysis. But I do think the media analysis is a reflection of the best guess on what teams are thinking right now. Check out the video.

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Greetings from the Breakers Hotel, where one smells freshly cut grass at the front door and sea air in the back. I've been circulating through the common(er) areas for the past few hours, and while there is no hard news to report from an NFC North perspective, I can tell you that, based on some background discussions, I've grown increasingly convinced that the Minnesota Vikings' No. 3 overall pick in the draft will legitimately be in play over the next few weeks.

We walked through a scenario earlier this month where the Miami Dolphins, if stymied in their efforts to acquire a new starting quarterback, might feel compelled to move up in the draft to select Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. But now that the Cleveland Browns have also failed to upgrade their situation, you have two teams that could conceivably be in competition for the third-rated quarterback in the draft.

If the Dolphins want to secure their chances of drafting Tannehill, they might need to leapfrog the Browns at No. 4, which would require swapping positions with the Vikings at No. 3. And if the Browns want Tannehill, they might need to trade with the Vikings to prevent the Dolphins from jumping ahead.

What we don't know is whether the Dolphins and/or Browns value Tannehill enough to make a move to draft him. You would have a hard time finding someone to tell you he is the third-best player available, but the value of quarterbacks has never been higher. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if one or both teams have already discussed a trade with the Vikings in general terms.

I'm not saying the Vikings will end up making a trade, although it would seem to be a no-brainer for them to swap picks with the Browns in this scenario because they would still be able to select the best non-quarterback available. But I do think there's enough here to make it a recurring theme of our pre-draft discussions. Stay tuned.
We've downplayed the Minnesota Vikings' realistic chances for trading down in the draft, especially after the St. Louis Rams shipped the No. 2 pick to the Washington Redskins and ensured that the draft's top two quarterbacks would be off the board when the Vikings turn arrived at No. 3 overall.

Did we speak too soon? Peter King of Sports Illustrated tweeted an interesting scenario that merits further inspection. Here's how the dominoes would fall:
  1. Free agent quarterback Matt Flynn signs with the Seattle Seahawks. Flynn is visiting Seattle on Thursday.
  2. The Miami Dolphins, thought to be in search of a new starter, lose out on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.
  3. The Dolphins turn their sights to the draft, where they would have no chance to select Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
  4. Their next-highest rated quarterback is Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, who just so happened to be coached there by new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
  5. Given the NFL's annual shortage of quarterbacks, the Dolphins grow concerned about Tannehill still being available when they draft at No. 8 overall.
  6. The Dolphins believe their chief competition for Tannehill is the Cleveland Browns at No. 4.
  7. As a result, the Dolphins offer the Vikings a deal to move up to No. 3. The Vikings move back to No. 8 and pick up multiple additional picks as a result.

Is Tannehill the third-best player in this draft? I don't think many people would tell you that. But now more than ever, quarterbacks come at a premium. I have no insight into how the Dolphins view Tannehill, but given how crazy teams get about quarterbacks this time of year, I couldn't rule out this scenario. Could you?

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