NFL Nation: Asher Allen

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our review of the Minnesota Vikings' recent draft history today, with a look at how the team did in 2009:

First-round pick: No. 22 (Percy Harvin, WR, Florida)

Number of picks: 5

Total Draft AV: 109 (T-3rd; Green Bay was the best with a 136 AV)

Highest player AV: Harvin, 39 (4th; Green Bay's Clay Matthews was the best with a 50 AV)

How they did: The 2009 draft, at this point, looks to be one of Rick Spielman's best with the Vikings. He gambled on Harvin when character concerns dropped the dynamic receiver to No. 22, and reaped the benefits both through an electrifying player and a trade package that delivered cornerback Xavier Rhodes (and a third-rounder in this year's draft) when the Vikings finally decided keeping Harvin was untenable. Second-rounder Loadholt has turned into a fixture at right tackle, fifth-rounder Jasper Brinkley is back for his second tour with the Vikings at linebacker, and seventh-rounder Jamarca Sanford has made contributions both as a special teams player and a starting safety.

Pivotal pick: Harvin's failed drug test at the NFL scouting combine had put his draft stock in jeopardy, but the Vikings spent enough time with him before the draft to become convinced they would be able to work with him if they selected him with the 22nd overall pick. He certainly presented some difficult situations for the team in his four seasons with the Vikings, but he proved himself to be a one-of-a-kind talent that could still fetch three draft picks in return when it became clear the Vikings were going to part with him last spring. Even after Harvin clashed with two head coaches, battled migraines and missed nearly half a season with a sprained ankle, it would be tough argue the Vikings weren't better off by rolling the dice on him.

Best pick: As dynamic as Harvin was, Loadholt is the one who could provide the most value in the long run. He's been an important part of the Vikings' offensive line, particularly as a run-blocker, has started all but two games since the team drafted him with the 57th overall pick, and signed a four-year contract with the Vikings just before the start of free agency last March. He's likely to remain on the team's offensive line for years to come.

Worst pick: Third-round pick Asher Allen is the only one who is not still in the league, and the only one the Vikings would probably say didn't work out. He'd started 21 games in three seasons for the Vikings, but had battled concussion issues and abruptly retired before the 2012 season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago this week, the Minnesota Vikings cut veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, making Chris Cook the senior member of a secondary the team was gambling could work without a proven veteran in the group. Cook was entering his fourth season and seemed to take the charge of extra responsibility seriously; he went back to school at the University of Virginia over the summer, working toward his degree and making sure to stay out of trouble, and came to training camp proclaiming he was ready to have the kind of breakout season that would lead to a long-term contract.

Cook is on his way out of Minnesota a year later, heading to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year contract, closing a disappointing chapter of the Vikings' struggles to stock their secondary through the draft. They spent a second-round pick on Cook in 2010, only to see him get suspended for the second half of the 2011 season as he battled a domestic assault charge, struggle with injuries throughout his career and fail to make plays on the ball. His 29 starts without an interception are the second most by a defensive back in NFL history, and his most memorable moments of the 2013 season came on plays he was in position to make but couldn't close out -- such as the touchdown Alshon Jeffery caught over the top of Cook's head on Dec. 1, running almost five yards holding the ball just above Cook's helmet. The cornerback stuck an arm back toward Jeffery, but never turned his head to locate the ball, and was subsequently ejected for making contact with an official, whom Cook argued should have called pass interference two plays before.

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.
When we last checked in on the Minnesota Vikings' defensive backfield, they had signed free agent cornerback Zack Bowman to a one-year contract and were continuing to fulfill the mantra of new general manager Rick Spielman: "Value" players from free agency and blue-chippers from the draft.

That's the way to view their latest move, a one-year deal with free agent Chris Carr that the Jason La Canfora of the NFL's web site first reported Wednesday. Carr was a full-time starter for the Baltimore Ravens in 2010 but appeared in only nine games, and 17.5 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps, in 2011 because of a hamstring injury. He'll turn 29 later this month and will join a crowded if underwhelming group of contenders for the Vikings' 2012 cornerback rotation.

Carr and Bowman will compete for time with holdovers Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and Asher Allen. If you were hoping for a more significant addition, then I would suggest looking toward the draft. That's where Spielman has said his best players will come from, and it's fair to hold him to that assertion.

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 23, 2011
Holiday and travel constraints have required us to shorten our weekly Friday injury report. I've got some important bits and pieces to share, but for those who need the entire rundown, please see the injury pages on both and
Have a great evening, everyone.

NFC North at night

December, 22, 2011
Checking in on Thursday's newsbits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Tight end Kellen Davis (back) and defensive end Julius Peppers (not injury related) returned to practice Thursday. Still missing were linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), running back Marion Barber (calf) and kick returner/receiver Devin Hester (ankle). None have been ruled out for Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback Don Carey (concussion), safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), defensive tackle Corey Williams (hip) and defensive end Willie Young (ankle) all missed practice. The Lions re-signed cornerback Brandon McDonald to bolster their depth as Carey's concussion lingers.

Green Bay Packers: Running backs James Starks (ankle) and Brandon Saine (concussion) participated fully in practice and should be ready to play Sunday night. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) and offensive lineman Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) made it through their second consecutive day of practice. Defensive lineman Howard Green (foot) was limited in practice. Defensive end Ryan Pickett (concussion) has still not been cleared.

Minnesota Vikings: The decision by USC quarterback Matt Barkley to return to school could have an indirect impact on the Vikings. If the Vikings ultimately want to trade down from their perch atop the first round, it would have helped to have another blue-chip quarterback to increase the value of their pick. Meanwhile, cornerback Asher Allen and guard Steve Hutchinson (concussion) missed practice for the second consecutive day.

Vikings bench Cedric Griffin

December, 18, 2011
The Minnesota Vikings will attempt to slow down the New Orleans Saints' passing game with a cornerback duo of Asher Allen and Benny Sapp. Former starter Cedric Griffin has been benched, and it's not clear what role he'll play Sunday.

As we noted earlier in the week, the Vikings' pass defense hasn't been, uh, good this season. They haven't intercepted a pass in eight games, tying an NFL record.

Griffin has struggled to return from his second torn anterior cruciate ligament. Sapp re-joined the team last month.

We'll keep you posted.

Wrap-up: Falcons 24, Vikings 14

November, 27, 2011

A few thoughts on another loss for the NFC North's last-place team:

What it means: Down 17-0 at halftime, the Minnesota Vikings made it interesting but ultimately absorbed their ninth loss of the season. It's the franchise's first 2-9 start since 1962.

HarvinWatch: With tailback Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, receiver/running back Percy Harvin was the team's lone remaining offensive playmaker. And Harvin made two huge plays to give the Vikings a chance in this game, hauling in a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-13 in the fourth quarter and also returning a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta Falcons' 3-yard line with six minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Harvin caught eight passes for 95 yards and, including special teams, accounted for 200 all-purpose yards.

Late-game questions here: The final seven minutes in this game will be hotly debated among Vikings fans. Here are the primary questions: Even without Peterson, were the Vikings justified in using Harvin on two consecutive inside running plays on the goal line after his kickoff return? Should coach Leslie Frazier have challenged Harvin's second run, in which he appeared to have crossed the plane on second effort? Down by 10 points, should the Vikings have taken an easy field goal rather than go for a touchdown on fourth down? And should they have given the ball to tailback Toby Gerhart, who hasn't been much of an effective short-yardage runner in his career?

Opinion here: My quick reaction to those questions goes as following. I'm fine with using Harvin. He was the Vikings' best player Sunday. Frazier would have had nothing to lose by challenging the ruling on third down. I would have taken a field goal, but either way you need a field goal and a touchdown to force overtime. But handing the ball to Gerhart on fourth down, especially with a quarterback in Christian Ponder who excels at plays that give him a pass-run option on the outside, was the least defensible of the decisions we saw from Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Injury report: Already playing without safety Husain Abdullah and cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook, the Vikings lost safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) and cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) during the game. I thought their defense played well considering they had Benny Sapp, on the street two weeks ago, playing at one cornerback spot and rookie Mistral Raymond at safety. The Vikings also lost long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a back injury. Defensive end Jared Allen did a flawless job as Loefller's replacement and even made a special teams tackle after his first snap.

What's next: The Vikings will host the Denver Broncos next Sunday at the Metrodome. Remember, the game has been moved from CBS to FOX. As of last week, the team had more than 5,000 tickets to sell to avoid a local television blackout.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from the Metrodome, where I've been keeping an eye on the two early games in the NFC North while also watching Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder start his pregame warm-ups about an hour ahead of most other players.

The Vikings have one surprise on their list of inactive players: Receiver Bernard Berrian won't play for the second time in three games. Berrian didn’t appear on the injury report this week; his previous deactivation was for disciplinary reasons, according to coach Leslie Frazier.

As expected the Vikings will be without four other key players: cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck), cornerback Chris Cook (arrest), center John Sullivan (concussion) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion). Asher Allen will start at cornerback alongside Cedric Griffin.

The Packers had no surprises among their list of inactives. It includes cornerback Sam Shields (concussion). Defensive end Ryan Pickett (concussion) is active, as expected. So is linebacker/fan favorite Vic So'oto.

Previewing preseason Week 3

August, 26, 2011
In which we look ahead to NFC North preseason football over the next two days.

Green Bay Packers
Indianapolis Colts
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Coach Mike McCarthy estimated that starters will play midway through the second quarter. Although they could see extra time, it's not expected that McCarthy will bring them out for the third quarter. ... Receiver/returner Randall Cobb (knees) and defensive end Mike Neal (knee) aren't expected to play. Receiver Greg Jennings (knee) could join them on the sideline. Running back James Starks (ankle) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) should return from a week off.
Focal point: I'm curious to track how the Packers' offense performs when it is not in the no-huddle. That alignment has given them most of their success in the preseason, but I'm assuming they won't be running it every play during the regular season. From a competition standpoint, it's worth keeping a close eye on how tailback Ryan Grant performs and if Starks picks up where he left off before the ankle injury. Could Starks lay claim to the starting job with a strong showing?

Chicago Bears
Tennessee Titans
Location: LP Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Most starters will play at least a half. ... Receiver Sam Hurd (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee) and defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) have been ruled out. Tight end Kellen Davis (back) could miss the game, while cornerback Zack Bowman (concussion) appears likely to resume playing.
Focal point: The Bears' current offensive line configuration could lock itself into a Week 1 assignment with a solid outing that builds off last week's performance against the New York Giants. On the other hand, receiver Roy Williams needs to make a few catches in order to assure the Bears he is worthy of the starting job they handed him in training camp. Like most NFL teams, the Bears would like to see their offense produce a few touchdown drives before the preseason is over. Finally, I would like to see the Bears' defensive line rotation start shaking itself out. It's not clear at this point if they have a legitimate backup defensive end or if any of their two reclamation projects, Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye, will provide any help.

Detroit Lions
New England Patriots
Location: Ford Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Starters will play around half of the game... Running back Jahvid Best (concussion) and Maurice Morris (hand) aren't expected to play, so the Lions are likely to start Jerome Harrison. Mike Bell, Aaron Brown and Stefan Logan will be available to rotate in. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) is a strong candidate to sit out as well.
Focal point: The Lions' uncertain depth at running back will be on full display. By the end of the night, we should have an idea if they have someone capable of carrying a significant load while sharing the job with Best. On the other hand, fans might get their first look at rookie receiver Titus Young. Meanwhile, the countdown continues for the first preseason hit on quarterback Matthew Stafford. He told reporters this week: "You guys can ask all you want. I don't think about it. I just play football and whatever happens, happens."

Minnesota Vikings
Dallas Cowboys
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Some starters are expected to play into the third quarter. ... The Vikings have a long injury list. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring), linebacker Heath Farwell (hamstring), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (hip), tailback Toby Gerhart (ankle), defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot) and cornerback Asher Allen (toe) are among those who won't play.
Focal point: The Vikings' first-team offense has produced three points this preseason and isn't likely to be on the field much in the preseason finale. So Saturday night is their best and last chance to build some momentum for the regular season. The offense hasn't appeared disorganized or confused. It just hasn't had much punch yet and its personality is far from defined. It would also be helpful if rookie Christian Ponder can establish himself as the No. 2 quarterback so the Vikings can free up Joe Webb to focus on the Wildcat and other unique packages.

Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

November, 23, 2010
WilfAP Photo/Andy KingOwner Zygi Wilf missed an opportunity Monday to lay out a vision of the Vikings' future.
After the Minnesota Vikings' 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and the subsequent firing of coach Brad Childress, here are three issues that merit further examination:

1. I'll be fascinated to see the extent to which the Vikings' offense changes with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell presumably in complete control. Bevell has been associated with Childress since his days as a college quarterback at Wisconsin, but I've always suspected he subordinated some of his own ideas to mesh with Childress' rigid version of the West Coast offense.

The scheme opened up a bit in 2007, when Bevell took over the play calling. But anyone who watched the sidelines carefully knew that Childress was still heavily involved in play selection.

Obviously, the next six games will be an opportunity for interim coach Leslie Frazier to prove he is a viable head-coaching candidate. But on a different level, Bevell now has an opportunity to separate himself from the pocks of Childress' scheme and establish his own voice as an NFL coordinator for the first time. Frazier figures to have some input, but his career-long devotion to defense suggests he'll give Bevell more latitude than ever.

I'm curious to see how, and if, Bevell uses it.

2. Frazier and new defensive coordinator Fred Pagac have their hands full with a secondary that played a significant role in Childress' firing. For reasons I can't explain, the Packers are really the only opponent this season to take full advantage of mismatches against cornerbacks Asher Allen and Chris Cook. The Packers completed four passes of more than 20 yards on sideline routes, leading to the sideline bickering that indicated Childress had lost control of the team. (The Dallas Cowboys, among other teams, should have done the same.)

There isn't much from a personnel standpoint the Vikings can do at this point. But schematically or otherwise, the Vikings need to do more to protect both players. "People are going to try to attack our young corners going forward and we know that," Frazier said. "We'll have to adjust some things based on that."

3. Lost in the coaching change is this nugget of news: Right guard Anthony Herrera will miss the rest of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Backup Ryan Cook struggled in Herrera's spot on Sunday, and you wonder if the team will turn to rookie Chris DeGeare this week against the Washington Redskins. Herrera is a hard-nosed bull who doesn't get much attention until he is replaced by an inferior player.

And here is one issue I don't get:

In a number of off-the-cuff conversations with owner Zygi Wilf over the years, I've found him to be articulate, passionate and smart. So I have no idea why he freezes up during press conferences. But after five years of owning the team, I think it's fair to expect a better articulation of his vision for the franchise -- and for him to provide at least a partial explanation for his actions and inactions.

Wilf's performance during Monday's announcement of Frazier's ascendance should be disappointing to anyone who wanted insight into the move or hoped to hear some accountability taken for the chaos of the past few months. Wilf spoke exclusively from prepared remarks, shuffling papers to find prewritten answers to anticipated questions. I think he literally skipped a line when addressing Childress' departure, because this is exactly what he said at one point: "It's often difficult to articulate one reason why change is needed. But obviously want to know is important to great a strong positive and successful rest of the season. We wish he and his family only the best."

Look, not everyone is a dynamic public speaker. We should remember that Wilf originally joined this ownership group intending to be a silent minority partner. He assumed the managing partner role only when lead investor Reggie Fowler encountered financial difficulty. And to be clear, I want no part of the snickering that went on during Monday's news conference. There will be no cheap shots here.

What I'll say is this: If I'm a Vikings employee, fan or sponsor on such a dramatic day, I want to hear more from the chief executive than a few minutes of clichés and garble. I want to hear something that tells me there is a plan for the near and long-term future, and for it to be articulated in a way that gives me confidence it can be executed.

I think Wilf and his partners have been the best owners this franchise has ever had. But I can't understand why he hasn't worked to get better at publicly representing it. Communicating a message is a learned skill, and this is a man with vast resources. If he wanted to, Wilf could hire presidential speechwriters and take private lessons from Tony Robbins.

I'm guessing Wilf doesn't consider it important enough to devote the time it would take to improve. If that's the case, he's mistaken. Whether he wants to or not, he ultimately sets the public perception of this franchise. If the owner doesn't communicate in public effectively, how can he expect a message to be heard?
MINNEAPOLIS -- I spent most of my time Sunday afternoon in the Green Bay Packers' locker room, gathering information for my game column. Sounds like it was a good decision. By all accounts, the Minnesota Vikings' locker room was a frosty place filled with finger-pointing, talk of quitting and the continuing specter of coach Brad Childress' job security.

[+] EnlargeVikings coach Brad Childress
AP Photo/Jim MoneCoach Brad Childress is under fire after another poor showing by his Minnesota Vikings.
We'll start with the final point. Owner Zygi Wilf emerged from the locker room red-faced but silent, once again refusing to discuss the state of the team or Childress' future. But I would imagine Wilf would be interested to know that several players suggested some of their teammates quit at one point or another during a 31-3 loss.

"The score would indicate that," Favre said. "Without watching the film, I don't know."

Asked if all players gave the necessary effort, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said: "Nope. Nope. Nope."

Of the team's overall performance, Shiancoe said: "That's atrocious. That's bad. That's bad football, and that's something that's embarrassing to me. It's embarrassing to the organization. I'm pretty sure it's embarrassing to everybody."

And I wonder what Wilf thought after watching what I counted as three heated sideline exchanges. One involved Favre and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after a second-quarter interception. Another was between defensive end Ray Edwards and cornerback Chris Cook, and a third was evident as Shiancoe yelled and gestured angrily toward tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson when he was removed from a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Edwards and defensive tackle Kevin Williams sharply criticized Cook and fellow cornerback Asher Allen for their play. The Packers beat Cook for passes of 47 and 39 yards in the first half, and Allen gave up touchdowns passes of 46 and 22 yards to Greg Jennings in the second half.

"At some point," Williams said, "we've got to make plays when we get a chance. They weren't running screens. They were just throwing the ball."

Edwards said he approached Cook and Allen to tell them to do their job.

"That's the bottom line," he said. "If everybody do their job, we're a great team."

Williams and Winfield criticized Edwards for his method, if not his message.

"You can’t do that with your teammates," Williams said. "No matter how the game is going, you have your discussion after the game. We told Ray that.

Winfield was a little less blunt but refused to defend Cook or Allen.

"Quarterbacks and offensive coordinators are very smart," Winfield said. "They're going to go after the young guy. ... Either you're going to crumble under the pressure or you're going to stand up and hold your own. We just didn't do that today."

Is that enough for Wilf to make a coaching change? On top of sideline bickering, finger-pointing and talk of quitting, Wilf also has a quarterback who is refusing to commit to playing for the rest of the season.

As we discussed last week, this story has shifted from Childress to Wilf. What is he thinking and what is his plan for fixing this mess? Sunday night, that was anybody's guess.

NFC West High Energy Player of the Week

November, 9, 2010
» NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 9.

I'd be OK renaming this award for the Arizona Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling if his name would fit in the headline.

Perhaps we could simply hyphenate the "High Energy" part in his honor.

[+] EnlargeLaRod Stephens-Howling
AP Photo/Andy BlenkushLaRod Stephens-Howling returned a kick 96 yards for a score in Sunday's loss at Minnesota.
Stephens-Howling would merit consideration even without the game-breaking kickoff returns he provides on occasion. The second-year running back has been a force on special-teams coverage units, putting his 5-foot-7 frame on the line against much larger men. He's also a threat on offense, having scored on a 30-yard run in Week 8.

A seventh-round draft choice from Pitt in 2009, Stephens-Howling broke a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Minnesota in Week 9, giving Arizona needed life right after the Vikings took a 7-0 lead. The Cardinals had lost the early momentum after Kerry Rhodes failed to protect the football during the final stages of an interception return, ultimately losing the ball as he approached the goal line for what should have been a Cardinals touchdown.

Stephens-Howling caught the kickoff just inside the Cardinals' left hash and cut to his right. He crossed the right hash at the 15, hit full stride inside the yard-line numbers near the 30 and then cut back toward the right hash as Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell flailed at him helplessly. There were key blocks -- safety Hamza Abdullah and linebacker O'Brien Schofield on Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, defensive end Alan Branch on Vikings cornerback Chris Cook, fullback Jason Wright on Vikings cornerback Asher Allen, tackle Jeremy Bridges on Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, tight end Jim Dray on Vikings safety Husain Abdullah, Hamza's brother -- but the little guy with the football made them all look good.

"He’s obviously a dynamic player," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Monday. "He does a lot of things very well for us. We all see the kickoff returns, but he does some other things for us in coverage and those aspects that are invaluable to us. We really have a good young player in LaRod."

Stephens-Howling has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season and three in his career. Only Ollie Matson has more in franchise history (six between 1952 and 1958). Only Stephens-Howling, Matson and Les Goble have scored more than once on kickoff returns in the same Cardinals season. League-wide, Stephens-Howling is one of three players this season with multiple kickoff returns for touchdowns, joining New England’s Brandon Tate and Seattle’s Leon Washington.
The Green Bay Packers' decision to release cornerback Al Harris was "not a physical decision," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. Instead, McCarthy said, "this is a big-picture roster decision."

Translation: The Packers didn't have much use for a reserve cornerback who wouldn't be a special-teams contributor and might hinder the development of a younger player.

Harris obviously wasn't going to reclaim his starting job from Tramon Williams, and the Packers like what they've seen from rookie nickel back Sam Shields. So at best, Harris would have been the Packers' dime back assuming everyone ahead of him remained healthy.

Every team has its own philosophy in roster building, and the Packers lie on one extreme of the spectrum. Whether you like it or not, the Packers almost always use young players to fill out the back end of the roster in hopes they will one day develop into starters. That pipeline produced Williams, Shields, linebacker Desmond Bishop and others.

Teams rarely turn loose good cornerbacks, however, so you have to wonder if McCarthy wasn't just being nice when he said he has "no doubts" that Harris can still play. Remember, Harris suffered a much worse knee injury a year ago than originally believed. But if the Packers truly do believe Harris can still play, then they are a rare team which has jettisoned a cornerback who is at least serviceable because he doesn't fit their roster profile. Moreover, they were willing to overlook last season's personnel disaster at the position in making this move.

If you recall, the Packers lost Harris, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee and Will Blackmon to season-ending injuries and entered the playoffs with a patchwork group. Even an aging Harris would have some value this season if they experienced another personnel shortage.

"We feel this is the best path for us," McCarthy said. "There is a lot of different variables involved, and those were all discussed. ... The course we've taken, particularly at corner and the whole secondary, all the players involved, the other responsibilities that the players also have, this is the decision we made."

Like all veteran players released after the trading deadline, Harris is now subject to waivers. He told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believes he could land with an NFC North team.

The Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings all have varying needs for a cornerback. The Lions might be the most needy, and they have the best position among division teams on the waiver wire. It's also worth nothing that Harris and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre remain close friends. Let's take a closer team-by-team look:

Chicago Bears

Starter Charles Tillman has been struggling, and the Bears could move to a rotation situation when Zack Bowman (foot) returns to the field. But with Tim Jennings starting on one side and D.J. Moore providing strong depth, the Bears are pretty well set at both spots. *Update: Coach Lovie Smith said Monday he is pleased with his current depth.

Detroit Lions

Starter Chris Houston dislocated his shoulder Sunday against the New York Jets, and the Lions have banished former starter Jonathan Wade to the dime position. Alphonso Smith is starting at one position on the other side, and on Sunday, Brandon McDonald was serving in the nickel role. The Lions have been relying on Nate Vasher for depth, but Harris would certainly be an upgrade over Vasher.

Minnesota Vikings

Starter Cedric Griffin is out for the season, and teams have picked on replacement Asher Allen. Rookie nickel back Chris Cook has been uneven, and the Vikings have two veteran free-agent pickups -- Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker -- playing in the dime. Based on that depth, Harris could start or at least play nickel for the Vikings. *Update: Coach Brad Childress said Monday that "I don't know if there is a spot for us right now in that area."

Patriots moving on nicely from Randy Moss

October, 31, 2010
Brandon TateJim Rogash/Getty ImagesBrandon Tate's 65-yard touchdown reception gave the Patriots a lead they would never relinquish.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There was no disputing how much the New England Patriots feared Randy Moss.

The Patriots weren't going to let him return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday and make them look bad for trading him to the Minnesota Vikings. The Patriots played him physically, and they played him deep.

Their approach opened underneath and intermediate routes for Percy Harvin and didn't provide much run support to gang up on Adrian Peterson. But the strategy worked.

The Patriots essentially removed Moss from the game and then moved on from him with a 28-18 victory over the Vikings. Moss caught one pass for 8 yards and gave up on a play that should have been a touchdown, while the Patriots' new deep threat went 65 yards for a back-breaking score.

The game couldn't have developed any better for validating the controversial Oct. 6 Moss trade. The Patriots A) won without him, B) refused to let him do any damage and C) received team-wide contributions from the players expected to pick up the slack of his departure.

"I guess you can say it's a relief to get this one out of the way," Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. "But there's relief to get every one out of the way. There's always going to be a storyline in every game you play."

Moss' homecoming provided a substantially bigger plot than most weeks. If not for Brett Favre Ankle Watch, the return of a controversial figure to play the team that traded him away three weeks prior would have been the hottest topic.

The Patriots ostensibly put the trade behind them. Had they not kept Moss in check, had he helped the Vikings beat the Patriots with the type of explosive performance he's famous for, then second-guessing would have been rampant.

Bill Belichick made sure Moss wouldn't hurt them Sunday. They gave up the underneath to Harvin, as many Patriots opponents did to Wes Welker when Moss was on the field with him.

Harvin had six receptions for 104 yards. Peterson ran 25 times for 92 yards and a touchdown and added five catches for 50 yards.

Welker hasn't had that kind of space since Moss departed. In those three games, Welker has 14 catches for 102 yards.

But it hasn't mattered. The Patriots are undefeated over that span and have climbed atop the AFC East after the New York Jets were shut out by the Green Bay Packers.

That's why what happened Sunday renders the Moss trade more of a footnote than an ongoing debate. The Vikings threw at him three times. He had zero catches in the first half, one for 8 yards in the second half. He drew a 24-yard pass interference call on safety Brandon Meriweather, but Moss gave up on the play when the flag was thrown and he failed to catch the ball at the goal line for what would have been an easy touchdown.

Perhaps just as significant as muzzling Moss were the performances of several players who must come together to fill his void for the rest of the year.

Second-year receiver Brandon Tate showed off open-field speed with his first NFL offensive touchdown in the third quarter to give the Patriots a lead they wouldn't surrender.

Tate bailed out Tom Brady on a play that broke down. Brady pirouetted to avoid the pass rush, so Tate improvised. Tate bolted up the Vikings' sideline to separate from cornerback Asher Allen. Brady made the toss to a wide-open Tate at about the Vikings' 45-yard line. Tate ran diagonally across the field, pulling away from Allen and bidding safety Madieu Williams adieu.

"He's so dangerous in the open field," Brady said. "He's tough to tackle. It was great to see the back of his jersey, running. That was pretty sweet."

Running back Danny Woodhead had a rushing touchdown and led the Patriots in receptions with five for 45 yards. In the fourth quarter, he picked up a colossal first down on a third-and-12 reception with the Patriots up by just a field goal. Woodhead gained 16 yards to keep the chains moving, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis eventually scored to punctuate a monster second half. Green-Ellis ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns after the intermission.

Although Brady has conceded the Patriots' offense isn't as good without Moss, the team is getting along just fine, thank you.

"The coaches do a great job of using all the guys," said Deion Branch, the receiver who replaced Moss in roster terms. Branch was stretching his tight hamstring on the sideline when Tate sprinted into the end zone. "We're one solid group, a pretty good group. Nobody's selfish. We all want the football, but there's only one ball.

"It just goes to show you the depth that we have. Julian [Edelman] can do the same things. He's not on the field, but his time will come, too."

The day after the Patriots traded Moss, Belichick called a news conference and reminded everyone there's a reason they've won more games than any other team over the past decade. To paraphrase: "We know what we're doing." Belichick might as well have worn his three Super Bowl rings and theatrically wiped his brow when he said it.

"You know how I feel about Randy," Belichick said shortly after his team pushed to 6-1 and embraced Moss on the field. "I've talked about him many times. He's a Hall of Fame receiver and made a lot of great contributions here. I'm glad I had the opportunity to coach him. He was a special player to coach.

"But today he was the competition. That's the way it is in this league."

Matthews, Pickett active for Packers

October, 24, 2010
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers will have linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (ankle) for Sunday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings. That's the headline for the pre-game inactive list for both teams.

To no surprise, right tackle Mark Tauscher is inactive, meaning rookie Bryan Bulaga will start his third consecutive game.

For the Vikings, cornerback Lito Sheppard was deactivated to make room for rookie cornerback Chris Cook, who returns after missing two weeks with a knee injury. The Vikings will start Asher Allen opposite Antoine Winfield, with Cook serving as the nickel. Newcomer Frank Walker would play in the dime if necessary.

Tyrell Johnson will start at strong safety for Husain Abdullah (concussion).



Sunday, 1/25