What Chase Ford’s Broken Foot Means for the Vikings

       

(Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY) Chase Ford suffered a major setback, out for a couple months with a broken foot.

(Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY) Chase Ford suffered a major setback, out for a couple months with a broken foot.

       On Thursday, news broke that Vikings TE Chase Ford had a broken foot. Friday, Ford was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which he’ll probably remain on for several months, as foot fractures typically take 6-8 weeks to heal. Ford himself has says he doesn’t expect to be back for the start of the season.

       This is a somewhat important loss for the Vikings offense. Ford, an undrafted free agent in 2013, came on strong at the end of last year after an injury to Kyle Rudolph. He has the physical attributes of a pass-catching tight end, but wasn’t that bad of a blocker, either. Coming into this year, Ford was expected to be the second-string TE, but now the Vikings are left to find someone else to fill that role.

       On Friday, Minnesota also signed Mike Higgins, a tight end who played for the Saints last year. The Vikings signed Higgins as an UDFA back in 2011, but he was cut following camp. Higgins really doesn’t have a chance to make the team; he was brought in to provide four true tight ends in training camp.

       With Ford out, AC Leonard has an open path to the #2 tight end spot. Dismissed from the University of Florida after he was charged with battery, Leonard was maybe the biggest land in the 2014 UDFA crop. On the field, Leonard compares well to many of the best tight ends in the league. He is tall, fast and has hops. Even if Ford was healthy, I think Leonard still would have beaten him out; expect AC to have a substantial role in this offense. He projects an Aaron Hernandez-type wide receiver-tight end hybrid. Norv Turner loves his tight ends, and Leonard is a nice little (big, actually) project for him to work on.

       With Leonard most likely taking Ford’s place, there will be one offensive spot left empty on my predicted roster. That will be occupied by fullback Zach Line. In my Pre-Camp Prediction article about the fullbacks, I said there would be a two-horse race between Leonard and Line for that last spot. With Leonard basically getting a free pass onto the roster, Line should be able to secure a place as well. He can be a dynamic fullback in the Turner offense, with the ability to block, catch passes, and rush. With Line, Peterson, and McKinnon in the backfield along with Patterson and Jennings out wide, the Viking offense will be dangerous.

      Forgive me if this sounds mean, but Ford’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Vikings. In my mind, not only is AC Leonard a better tight end than Chase Ford is, but Zach Line is also more valuable to the offense than Ford. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when Ford returns, he is the one who ends up getting cut. If not him, I think Line will be the one released, or maybe like last year he is placed on Injured Reserve with a phantom injury.

      It will be interesting to see how this whole saga plays out during camp and once Ford returns. My guess is one of Leonard, Line and Ford will end up getting “hurt” and placed on IR.

Pre-Camp Predictions: The Fullback Position

       

(Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune) Zach Line has a rough road ahead of him if he wants to become the Vikings' fullback.

(Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune) Zach Line has a rough road ahead of him if he wants to become the Vikings’ fullback.

        This is the 4th post in our “Pre-Camp Predictions” series. We’ll revisit these predictions during and after training camp.

        This post will probably turn out to be utterly pointless because the Vikings might not even carry a fullback.

         In 2013, Norv Turner’s Browns didn’t have a true fullback, as Chris Ogbonnaya was more of a versatile block-and-catch running back. In 2012, Turner also went with Le’Ron McClain, who is more of a skill player than a blocker. 

         The past two years, Turner has cut his former starting fullback. That doesn’t bode well for Jerome Felton, who can’t really do much else other than block. Felton is a Pro Bowl fullback and has done great things in Minnesota, paving the way for Adrian Peterson’s record-setting 2012. But there doesn’t seem to be a spot for him in Norv Turner’s offense. While that’s upsetting to many of his admirers including myself, there is trade potential here. I think Rick could work his magic and get a 5th round pick, or maybe a contributor at cornerback or elsewhere. I hate to count Felton out this early, but it just doesn’t seem likely he’ll be with the team in week 1.

         Norv’s affinity for tight ends has been well-documented. The final spot on the offense should be a battle between Zach Line and AC Leonard. I think Leonard has the upper hand, as he is the fast, big and athletic tight end that Turner loves. Line, an undrafted free agent in 2013, has shown that he can both block and make things happen with the ball in his hands. If Line made the roster, I envision him catching short passes and pitches along with Jerick McKinnon. 

         Felton is clearly the best fullback on this team, but Line has the best chance of making the roster. Line has displayed a strong work ethic and seems to be the type of guy that coaches love. In the end, it will come down to who has the better camp: Line or Leonard.

Prediction: There won’t be a fullback on the roster in 2014. Rhett Ellison can fill the hole in the offense by maintaining his role as a Jim Kleinsasser-type blocking TE. AC Leonard’s physical gifts are just to good to be passed up on.

 

Pre-Camp Predictions: Left Guard

       

(Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY) Charlie Johnson will be fighting to keep his  job at left guard come training camp.

(Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY) Charlie Johnson will be fighting to keep his job at left guard come training camp.

This is the third post in our “Pre-Camp Predictions” series. We will revisit these predictions during and after training camp.

       The left guard spot is a hole in an otherwise tight Vikings offensive line. Subpar play there last season could have contributed to Matt Kalil’s down year. Charlie Johnson wasn’t exactly a competent blocker, making left guard a definite position of need going into the offseason. 

        The selection of David Yankey out of Stanford in the 5th round was deemed a steal by many. Draft analysts had given him 2nd and 3rd round grades. It remains to be seen whether he is the spark plug this O-Line needs, but considering the Vikings’ past success in drafting late-round offensive linemen, we have reason to be optimistic.

        Yankey is quite big for a guard at 6’6″, 315 lbs. He isn’t a flashy player, but is dependable, rarely missing blocking assignments. NFL.com calls him a talented puller. He is the bruising run-blocker Charlie Johnson isn’t. Yankey’s biggest weakness is inconsistency, having some good games and some bad games. He has a high football IQ as well as high character, leading Stanford as a captain last year. He also played with OL coach Jeff Davidson’s son Nick for the Cardinal, so Davidson knows what he’s got. I think Yankey has the talent to start Week 1, but unfortunately it’s not my decision.

        It’s frustrating to watch Charlie Johnson play. He just isn’t a very good NFL player. Throughout his career, he’s really never been starting caliber. He’s stuck around so long because of his versatility. At 30, he should not be starting at left guard. He’s too slow, and isn’t nearly as powerful as Yankey and other guards. 

        Although some have speculated that Johnson might be cut after training camp, it’s hard for me to see that happening. He is entering the first year of a two-year, $5 million deal, but his versatility is too valuable to let him go. If Johnson doesn’t win the LG job, he likely will become a swing tackle as well as depth at guard. His veteran presence can help teach Yankey and other young guys such as Jeff Baca.

        Vlad Ducasse was the Jets’ 2nd round pick in 2010. He never lived up to expectations in New York, but the Vikings snatched him up in free agency. Ducasse is even more versatile than Johnson, having played both tackle positions and both guard positions in his career. He’s younger too, at 26, as well as considerably cheaper. He just isn’t that great at blocking; he’s slow and, as New Era Scouting puts it, isn’t a “quick thinker.” He’s a riskier backup than Johnson, but would save the Vikes some big bucks. Don’t expect Ducasse to challenge for the starting job.

        Other than that, a dark horse would be Baca. He rode the bench last season, but if he improves tremendously, Baca could become the third Vikings’ 6th round pick on the starting line. He’s not nearly as physically talented as Yankey, but could put up a fight. The other interior lineman, Joe Berger is a career backup, and he’ll almost surely stay that way.

The Prediction: This is my prediction, not my endorsement, but I think Charlie Johnson will be the starting left guard. If I had my choice, it’d be Yankey, but Johnson’s experience will win him the job. In the past, Davidson has almost always given his late-round picks a year to learn before stepping into a starting role. It happened with Baca most recently, as well as with Fusco, Chris DeGeare, DeMarcus Love and John Sullivan, who played but didn’t start in his first year.

Why Chris Kluwe Did Absolutely Nothing Wrong

(Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY) Chris Kluwe plans to sue the Vikings if they don't release an independent report completed by two attorneys investigating whether Mike Priefer made homophobic comments.

(Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY) Chris Kluwe plans to sue the Vikings if they don’t release an independent report completed by two attorneys investigating whether Mike Priefer made homophobic comments.

Chris Kluwe takes a lot of flak for things that aren’t his fault.

         The twitterverse has been especially rough on the punter, but there is no truth behind the accusations being thrown at him. No, this is not some elaborate scheme to earn money and become famous. It is simply a brave reprimand to a homophobe who has no business interacting with other human beings. Priefer is a despicable excuse of a man, and it is puzzling that fans are coming to his defense. I understand fandom of the team, but this isn’t about football or the Vikings; this is about Mike Priefer. Chris Kluwe is a hero, not a villain. The villain in this story is Priefer.

Debunking Arguments Against Kluwe

 

He’s sour: I don’t believe the reason Kluwe accused Priefer of homophobic comments was to screw over the Vikings organization. Kluwe gains nothing from this whole debacle, except trying to make sure this monster is unemployed. As he said in his essay, coming out against Priefer ends his chances of returning to the NFL. 

 

Kluwe freaked out over one slip of the lip: One tweeter claimed Priefer’s comments were “in the heat of the moment”, “But Kluwe took it to heart because it wasn’t for his cause.” Well I sure hope it isn’t anyone’s cause to collect all homosexuals and blow them up. No, he didn’t overreact. He was the only one who even had any courage to react. 

 

He’s arrogant: Just because someone has the courage to speak out for other people’s rights does not mean that he is an attention-craving jerk. It means that he is an influential, groundbreaking leader, a role model for our kids. No, his main priority is not to gain media coverage. Kluwe’s main priority is to prevent people from being extremely offensive and rude. I respect that.

           What I don’t get is why people claim that Kluwe is doing this for attention. Is he supposed to hear someone insult millions of already-oppressed people and just stay mum? I think we can all admit what Priefer said was wrong, but why should Kluwe stay quiet? So the team that threw a blanket over his activism for others’ rights can retain their hateful special teams coach?

           If anyone else (with any moral compass, of course) was put in Kluwe’s position, they too would have done the same thing. I don’t care if it’s Bill Parcells, I don’t want that guy having any association with my favorite football team. It’s just plain wrong.

Disclaimer: Yes, I’m still a Vikings fan. I’m not a fan of Mike Priefer. I am disappointed in the Vikings organization for not letting a player use his platform to speak out for a good cause, but that doesn’t mean they’re homophobic. Mike Priefer is homophobic (I hate him, if you can tell yet).

Pre-Camp Predictions: Middle Linebacker

(Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY) Michael Mauti will compete for the starting middle linebacker job during training camp.

(Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY) Michael Mauti will compete for the starting middle linebacker job during training camp.

This is the second post in our “Pre-Camp Predictions” series. We’ll revisit these predictions during and after training camp

 

The most hotly contested position battle this year will be the battle for starting middle linebacker. After Erin Henderson’s multiple arrests and eventual release, the spot is currently empty. Being arguably the most important position on the defense, I was surprised the Vikings didn’t really address it in the draft. Whoever it is will have talent on both sides of them, with Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway most likely grabbing the other two linebacker positions.

The Candidates

Note: I won’t name every linebacker the Vikings have, because most of them probably don’t deserve the light of day. They either aren’t middle linebackers or have little to no chance of making the team. 

Audie Cole: Cole stepped in last year as middle linebacker when Henderson left. His play was alright, but unexciting. He tallied 18 tackles in a tie against the Packers, a season high among Vikings defenders. A 7th round pick in 2012, Cole practiced at outside linebacker during OTAs. I think it’s safe to assume Barr and Greenway have those positions locked down, and Cole’s best chance to crack the starting lineup will be at the Mike. He is solid against the run, but like most Vikings linebackers, he is subpar in pass defense. Audie lacks the physical gifts many of his competitors possess, but he is a smart guy who could develop into a leader. If he shows the Zimmers he has improved against the pass, he could win the job.

Michael Mauti: Mauti could very well be the most talented linebacker on this team. Many fans including myself were dumbfounded when Audie Cole played middle linebacker over him at the end of last year. Considered by many to be one of the biggest steals of the 2013 draft, Mauti saw the field almost exclusively on special teams last year. After 3 knee injuries while at Penn State, Mauti stayed healthy last year and should be ready to go this training camp. Although he isn’t a superb athlete, Mauti has very good instincts and a nose for finding the ball carrier. A high-character guy who can become a great leader of the defense for years to come, he needs to stay healthy. If he does, it will be difficult for anyone else to wrench the middle linebacker position from Mauti.

Chad Greenway: Age has caught up to Greenway, with declining stats the pass couple of years. Whether the Vikings care to admit it or not, he is now a bottom-tier linebacker. Greenway lined up at MLB in OTAs, He has played outside linebacker his whole career, and it’s hard to see him moving to the middle and producing. I think he’ll probably go back to outside linebacker, where he belongs.

Jasper Brinkley: I don’t want to have to sit through another year with Jasper Brinkley as the leader of this defense. He’s big and strong, but lacks explosiveness. The Vikings need a playmaker at middle linebacker, and Brinkley is not one of those. He is a solid backup who isn’t a bad linebacker, but he just isn’t starting caliber. Don’t be surprised if he gets the job, though. This is his 6th year, and that experience could help with commanding the defense, as well as special treatment from coaches.

Gerald Hodges: Hodges, like Greenway, is better suited for the outside position. As the best pass defending linebacker on the team, Hodges could even take some of Greenway’s playing time. The only scenario where Hodges moves inside is if for some reason the Zimmers want both Hodges and Greenway on the field at the same time, which is very unlikely.

Prediction: Michael Mauti gets the job

Second Choice: Audie Cole

Third Choice: Jasper Brinkley

Pre-Camp Predictions: Who Gets the 5th WR Spot?

(Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press) Adam Thielen, left, and Rodney Smith will compete for the 5th WR spot.

(Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press) Adam Thielen, left, and Rodney Smith will compete for the 5th WR spot.

This is the first official post in our “Pre-Camp Predictions” series. We’ll be revisiting these predictions during and after camp.
The 5th wide receiver spot will be one of the most contentious battles in camp, with a large number of guys vying for just one spot. Last year, the opening day wide receivers were Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, and Joe Webb. It turned out to be a pretty good group, with Patterson emerging as a young star. Webb signed with Carolina this offseason, leaving a backup wide receiver spot vacant. The other four will almost surely make the team, as they are all important contributors on offense. There is an off-chance that the Vikings will enter the season with 6 receivers, but that’s unlikely, given they need all the help they can get on defense. In this article, we’ll assume only 5 WRs will make the team.

The Candidates

Erik Lora: Lora, an undrafted free agent, was Jimmy Garoppolo’s right-hand man at Eastern Illinois. His athletic abilities are very mediocre; Lora isn’t a guy who is going to blow you away with his speed or hops. He’s more of a gamer, a smart guy who is never going to give up and will fight to get open, the type of guy that coaches love. It’ll be an uphill climb for Lora, though. He’s a slot receiver, and it’s tough to see guy with limited speed succeeding in the slot in the NFL. As a scrappy competitor, Lora should make things interesting.

Kain Colter: The biggest name in a talented UDFA crop because of his union efforts at Northeastern (I’ll try to keep my affection for liberals out of this analysis), Colter is the second coming of Joe Webb. After playing QB in college, he is making the transition to slot receiver in the pros. He still hasn’t fully learned the position, but the fact that he is a quarterback should help tremendously with that. Although not extremely fast, Colter is quick and smooth, with good hands. He seems like a reliable receiver, especially as a backup. Expect him to be in consideration for the 5th spot.

Adam Thielen: A product of Minnesota State-Mankato, Thielen is the hometown hero of this bunch. He spent the past season on the practice squad, but that experience shouldn’t work too much in his favor, what with a new offense and coaches. Thielen is “sneaky fast”, and has decent measurables. At 6’2″, he has the ability to go up and get balls. There were good reports from several beat writers about him coming out of OTAs. Rick Spielman told Master Tesfatsion, “Adam (has) really stuck out.” Thielen will have a tough battle ahead of him, but with a good training camp, that 5th spot could be his.

Rodney Smith: Smith is probably the favorite to win this spot. He should have snagged the 5th position away from Joe Webb last year, but of course Leslie Frazier prohibited any rookies from getting any playing time, so that didn’t come as a surprise. He was active for 4 games last year, but did not catch a pass.  At 6’5″, Smith is a man among boys. He has surprising speed and agility for a person his size, but definitely isn’t blowing by anyone. The advantage that he brings which Lora, Colter and Thielen really don’t possess is his blocking abilities. He can obliterate many corners, as well as go up over them to catch passes. It would be surprising if Smith didn’t earn that 5th spot, although it wouldn’t come as a shock.

Kamar Jorden: Jorden was in camp with the Vikes in 2012, but broke his hand and was released. He spent 2013 with the Spokane Shock of the Arena Football League. Now that he’s healthy, Spielman has decided to give him another shot. He is similar to Lora in the fact that he doesn’t have separation speed. He does have sure hands and is a good route runner, but an average athlete won’t excel in the NFL. Jorden is a long shot to make the team.

Josh Cooper: A UDFA who signed with the Browns in 2012, Cooper is another unexciting receiver with limited measurables. He spent some time in Norv Turner’s system, which could help his chances. Still, I would be shocked if Cooper won this spot. His only chance to make the roster would be if he somehow beats out Marcus Sherels for the punt returner job, which is extremely unlikely. 

Donte Foster: Foster really has no chance at all to make the roster. Coming from Ohio University, he really just doesn’t have the skills to be an NFL receiver. A long shot to make the practice squad. He is, however, noteworthy because of this (#1 on SportsCenter):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1sdQrt77pM

Prediction: Rodney Smith gets the 5th WR spot

Second Choice: Adam Thielen

Third Choice: Kain Colter

3 Undrafted Free Agents With the Best Chance to Make the Roster

(Photo Credit: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune) Zach Line was the only undrafted free agent to make the Vikings' roster in 2014.

(Photo Credit: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune) Zach Line was the only undrafted free agent to make the Vikings’ roster in 2014.

My favorite part of training camp is the undrafted free agents. Many are relatively unknown players who are fighting for a livelihood over the course of 4 weeks. They compose Sleeper Central. And some General Managers strike gold with their UDFA’s. Some current undrafted stars include Arian Foster, Wes Welker and Antonio Gates. The Vikings themselves have had some success in the past with undrafted free agents, namely John Randle. We’ll first take a look at who the Vikings have signed in the past several years and how they’ve done.

Vikings UDFA History

2013: In 2013, one undrafted player out of 15 made the team. Zach Line had a strong training camp and was seen as a fill-in for Jerome Felton at fullback during Felton’s 3-game suspension. He did just that, playing well for the first 3 games of the season. In week 4, he was placed on Injured Reserve with some sort of tweaked knee MCL injury, probably exaggerated by the Vikings so they could clear a roster spot for Felton. It’s telling that they didn’t release Line, though. He could fit in to future plans.

2012: In 2012, no undrafted free agents out of the 15 originally signed made the roster. However, Boise State defensive tackle Chase Baker spent all of 2012 on the practice squad. In 2013, with the departure of Christian Ballard, Baker made the roster as a backup. He played sparingly, appearing in 5 games. Baker will compete for a job this summer against the likes of Kheeston Randall, Tom Johnson and Fred Evans.

2011: In 2011, 1 UDFA made the roster out of 14, Allen Reisner. Reisner was a back-up for a couple years before signing with Jacksonville last year. He is back with the Vikings this summer and will compete for a backup spot once again. Matt Asiata, like Baker, spent 2011 in the practice squad, then slowly worked his way up to actually starting a game last year. He figures to be in the mix for the third running back position.

2014 UDFAs

The Vikings signed 15 undrafted free agents, a familiar number the past two years. Below are the three with the best chance of making the roster.

AC Leonard: If any 2014 UDFA should make the roster, it is Leonard. An athletic pass-catching tight end out of Tennessee State, he was dismissed from Florida after he was charged with battery in 2o12. While his off-field problems are a concern, there is a huge upside on the field. Leonard posted a 4.5 second 40-yard dash at the combine, fastest at his position. He reminds many of Aaron Hernandez, who was practically a wide receiver lined up at the tight end position. He is not a good blocker, though. If he were to make the roster, Rhett Ellison would be the only blocking tight end. With Ellison’s injury concerns, that could prove dicey. Leonard will compete with Reisner and Chase Ford for a spot. Chance he makes the roster: 70%

Antonio “Tiny” Richardson: Many analysts gave Richardson a Top-3 round grade in the pre-draft rankings. Knee problems caused him to fall all the way out of the draft, surprising many. However, if Tiny can stay healthy, he could be a steal.  The Vikings already have two established, young tackles, so a starting spot won’t come easy or soon for Richardson. His best prospect would be to make the team as a backup to both Kalil and Loadholt. I think he would be an upgrade to Troy Kropog, who has backed up the past couple of years. Richardson could probably eat Mike Remmers and Kevin Murphy, the two other tackles with a legitimate chance of making the team, for dinner. Chance he makes the roster: 50%

Dominique Williams: The reason Williams made this list is because the Vikings have one of the most constantly changing backfields in the NFL. The loss of Toby Gerhart to Jacksonville was offset by the selection of Jerick McKinnon in the draft. The many comings and goings of Bradley Randle (who probably still deserves another shot) and the short stints of Joe Banyard and Lorenzo Booker highlight a rocky tenure for the Vikings third running back. Currently, Matt Asiata holds the position. Asiata is basically a goal-line back, good for one or two yard. Williams, of Wagner, is small at 5’9″. Weighing 205, he doesn’t have blinding speed but is quick and elusive, a quality Asiata does not possess. However, the experienced Asiata will most likely relegate Williams to the practice squad. Chance he makes the roster: 20%

This probably the best undrafted free agent class the Vikings have had in five years. Leonard and Richardson are recognizable names who could develop into starting NFL players, and Williams is a dark horse.