Sunday, October 9, 2011
The only reason to bench Bernard Berrian
By Kevin Seifert
As you have probably heard, receiver Bernard Berrian will join cornerback Antoine Winfield on the inactive list for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon. But unlike Winfield, who has a neck injury and didn't practice all week, Berrian was not listed on the injury report and is not known to have any ailment that would have impacted his availability for this game.
So that brings the obvious two-part question: Was Berrian benched for performance reasons? Or is he being disciplined for exchanging charged tweets with a fan who turned out to be a Minnesota state legislator and stadium supporter?
I'm sure coach Leslie Frazier will address the matter after the game. But for the franchise's sake, I really hope Frazier's motivations leaned toward the former. The latter would be a disproportionate and arbitrary punishment that in essence would mean the Vikings allowed their stadium politics to supersede their on-field priorities.
Berrian has two receptions this season despite playing 182 snaps, the highest total among Vikings receivers. That ratio alone gives Frazier a reasonable argument for pushing Berrian down the depth chart.
And as we discussed during the week, Berrian's assertion that he has been open for most of the past four years brought more attention to what he does, and what he doesn't do, when the ball is thrown his way. Getting open is the start of a receiver's job, not the end of it.
So at this point, I wouldn't have any problem if Frazier wanted to see what Devin Aromashodu might do with more repetitions, and if he wanted to get Greg Camarillo more of an opportunity. That decision would send an appropriate message: That Vikings players will be held accountable for their production.
But I think it would be a seething overreaction if Frazier essentially suspended Berrian for his actions on Twitter last Sunday night. Berrian's thoughts were debatable, but they were no different than what any number of frustrated players might say in a post-game interview. In fact, they were pretty mild compared to many other instances we've seen. Will we now start deactivating players whose postgame emotions get the best of them? I can't imagine the Vikings' social media policy is that strict.
I'm sure you'll note that the fan was not just any fan. It was John Kriesel, a Minnesota state representative and war hero who has co-authored the Vikings' stadium initiative. If it had been John Doe instead of John Kriesel, of course, this story never would have surfaced.
But Kriesel was using his personal account and wasn't tweeting as anything other than a Vikings fan. I'm more than ready to excuse Berrian for not recognizing who he was speaking to. Berrian has already apologized, something that would not have been required if it had been John Doe, and Kriesel has said he was not offended by the exchange.
Frazier has consistently expressed the importance of keeping Berrian on the field as a deep threat this season, and nothing he said this week suggested otherwise. If he privately made a football decision to the contrary, I'm fine with that. But if he would have played Berrian were it not for a mild exchange with a stadium supporter, than I hate the precedent.
A coach is expected to put his team in the best position to win, absent of any on-field factors. If Frazier thinks his team has a better chance to win with Berrian on the field, then Berrian should be playing Sunday. The Vikings' stadium drive shouldn't matter in that instance -- unless, of course, it's more important to the franchise than winning games. I hope that's not the case.