Brett Jones Jersey

Brett Jones decided to look around, but ultimately decided to stay in Minnesota.

The Vikings announced they had re-signed the veteran center, who was acquired in a trade with the Giants last August.

Jones was more of a priority after they lost center Nick Easton to the Saints, but Jones had some other interest out there.

He started three games for the Vikings last year, and adds some interior depth to a team that still needs some help up front.

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They released former guard Mike Remmers and replaced him with former Titans guard Josh Kline, and could easily justify more moves to add help to their line.

EAGAN, Minn. — Going into this week’s NFL draft, Kirk Cousins doesn’t seem too concerned about the Vikings’ offensive line.

Yes, Cousins played behind a line that last season allowed more quarterback pressures than any team in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. But he said during spring drills last week that he likes the linemen on the roster as the team begins preparations for the 2019 season.

“We’ve done very, very well with five linemen playing for us who are in this building today,” Cousins said about portions of last season. “So, my point is we can win and we play at a very high level with the best we have in our building right now. And if we solidify that group with more people, so be it.”

The Vikings are expected to take an offensive lineman high in the draft, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. But it sounds as if Cousins wouldn’t be too upset if they don’t use their first-round pick on one.

Barring a trade, the Vikings will select No. 18 Thursday. If all the blockers they really like are off the board then, it’s not out of the question they could select a tight end or defensive lineman and then grab an offensive lineman in the second round.

The five linemen Cousins spoke about who are still around from last season are tackles Riley Reiff, Brian O’Neill and Rashod Hill, and centers Pat Elflein and Brett Jones. The Vikings added guards Josh Kline and Dakota Dozier in free agency over the past couple of months.

They also enter the season with a new offensive line coach, Rick Dennison. The Vikings’ linemen were disrupted when Tony Sparano died just before the start of training camp and was replaced by co-offensive line coaches Clancy Barone and Andrew Janocko. Barone was not brought back, but Janocko was retained with the same title.

Put it all together, and the question is: Are the Vikings willing to draft someone other than an offensive lineman in the first round?

“That’s a legitimate pressure from the outside world (to take an offensive lineman),” said Charles Davis, an NFL Network draft analyst and Fox game analyst. “But I think there’s even more pressure to not reach for a guy you don’t believe in just to satisfy the fact that you picked an offensive lineman this year. If that guy’s not there, if you don’t believe in that player with the first-round pick, I’m still of the opinion you go elsewhere.”

Whether that happens obviously depends on how the draft unfolds. Will there be a run on offensive linemen? And, if so, would Vikings look to trade up?

The Vikings will watch with interest what happens with Iowa tight ends E.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. With tight end Kyle Rudolph entering the final year of his contract, then mentioning last week that he hasn’t been offered an extension, there is a need at that spot.

“Tight end might be another place where you can increase the running game with better blocking, and if the Hockenson kid from Iowa fell to 18, I think the Vikings might run to it,” Davis said.

Hockenson, considered by most to be the top tight end in the draft, can catch as well as block. He had 49 receptions for 760 yards last season.

Meanwhile, his teammate is the second-rated tight end. Fant, who caught 39 passes for 519 yards, could be a better receiver than Hockenson, but he’s not nearly as good a blocker.

“At one point in one of my mocks, I did have Noah Fant going to the Vikings,” draft analyst Dane Brugler said. “It’s funny, whenever I have a non-offensive lineman going to the Vikings, I hear from Minnesota fans just saying, ‘It has to be an offensive lineman.’ But those two Iowa tight ends are certainly interesting if (the Vikings) get wiped out on the offensive linemen they like.”

Problem is, both of those tight ends also could be gone by No. 18. That could leave a third option: a defensive lineman.

Shamar Stephen is in line to replace the departed Sheldon Richardson at three-technique defensive tackle, but the Vikings might be able to do better. And with Everson Griffen taking a pay cut and turning 32 in December, he could be gone after 2019.

“It’s a strong defensive line class,” Brugler said. “Christian Wilkins of Clemson could fit the bill as a Sheldon Richardson replacement. I could see him falling to 18.”

Wilkins isn’t the only Clemson defensive lineman the Vikings will be looking at closely if they decide not to take an offensive lineman. Others who could be enticing if still on the board are edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.

Ameer Abdullah Jersey

With the 2019 NFL Draft now, officially, just a few days away, it’s time to take a look at the Vikings’ biggest areas of need. I’m going to do a quick series of articles throughout the next couple of days to look at what I think the team’s biggest needs lie and where they could potentially look for a player at those spots. This is just one man’s opinion, and your mileage may vary.

We’ll start with what I feel is the team’s fifth-biggest need, that being the running back position.

Current Vikings running backs: Dalvin Cook (starter), Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas, C.J. Ham (fullback)

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We’ve gotten glimpses of what Dalvin Cook is capable of over the past two seasons. He’s great at catching the ball out of the backfield, he can get tough yardage between the tackles, and he has the speed to break long runs when he gets to the second level. The problem with Cook thus far certainly hasn’t been his talent. . .it’s been his availability.

Since the Vikings drafted Cook, they have played in 34 games, counting the postseason. Cook has played in 15 of those games. He has just two career games where he’s carried the ball 20 or more times, and he hasn’t done that since Week 3 of his rookie season. Until Cook shows that he can be on the field consistently and be someone that the Vikings can rely upon, having a solid backup for him is going to be a necessity.

The loss of Latavius Murray this offseason is significant, because he served as that solid option for the Vikings for the past couple of years, whether as part of a tandem with Jerick McKinnon in 2017 or carrying most of the load last season. With Mike Zimmer, apparently, wanting to continue to emphasize running the football, that need becomes even bigger, which is why I have it in my Top 5 Vikings needs.

Of the options currently on the roster, Mike Boone probably has the best chance of emerging as an in-house option, but he only saw 11 season. (For comparison, Stefon Diggs carried the ball 10 times.) Roc Thomas now has off-field issues to deal with, and I’m not sure if anyone considers Ameer Abdullah as a guy that’s going to get serious time at the running back spot. I mean, he might, but it seems that the Vikings view him as more of a special teams option at this point.

With Latavius Murray signing with the Saints this offseason, the Vikings find themselves in need of a back-up running back.

Many believe that could come through the draft considering the running backs on the roster (Ameer Abdullah, Roc Thomas and Mike Boone) aren’t exactly inspiring.

The aftermath of the Nebraska spring game provided a cool moment for Husker fans, and one that star quarterback Adrian Martinez called “an honor.”

The Heisman Trophy candidate went 100 yards with former Husker star Ameer Abdullah, who helped broadcast the spring game on the Big Ten Network. Abdullah received his own Heisman consideration in 2013 and left Nebraska with 4,588 career rushing yards and 46 touchdowns.

The two touched on a variety of topics during a 100-yard walk of the practice facility in Lincoln.

Martinez wrapped the interview with the kind of statement you want the face of your program to make about the Husker offense.

“It’s limitless,” Martinez said. “It really utilizes space well. When you have guys like coach Frost, coach (Troy) Walters, coach (Mario) Verduzco, really talented guys across the offensive staff, it puts the power in the players hands. It allows us to make plays. I’m thankful for that, and just a message for any talented ball players out there, if you have a skill and want to come make some plays, this is the place to do it.”

Both Abdullah (Alabama) and Martinez (California) came a long way to enroll at Nebraska, and both players found a perfect fit.

“A lot of different things (brought me to Nebraska),” Martinez said. “Ultimately it came down to the coaches, finding a community that fit me and was supportive and the right opportunity. God willing, the opportunity presented itself at the perfect time for me. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

If the Vikings can finally have running back Dalvin Cook healthy for a full season, with knee and hamstring trouble having limited him to just 15 of 32 games over his first two years, their offense will get a big lift.

They’ll need a complement, though, after letting Latavius Murray leave as a free agent. Ameer Abdullah was re-signed, but don’t rule out the possibility of the Vikings taking a running back in the middle rounds.

“It’s controlling the game. It’s the mentality, the physicality. If you look at the teams playing really good on offense this year, the final four teams, they ran the ball,” Zimmer said. “Everybody says this is passing, this and that, but the good offenses run the football.”

Danielle Hunter Jersey

Danielle Hunter’s emergence as the premiere pass rusher on the Vikings defense has been all the more special considering he doesn’t turn 25 until October 29th.

In 2018 Hunter finished with 14.5 sacks (4th most behind Aaron Donald, J.J. Watt and Chris Jones), 21 tackles for loss (2nd behind Donald) and 19 quarterback hits. It was a sensational campaign for the now fifth year veteran, and he earned himself his first career trip to the Pro Bowl as well as being named to the Associated Press’ Second Team All-Pro.

With that said, just how good has Hunter been before hitting the age of 25? Well, his 25.5 sacks before his age 24 season were the 10th most in NFL history. He’s also one of eight players (Shawn Merriman, Aldon Smith, Robert Quinn, Terrell Suggs, Mario Williams, Von Miller and Derrick Thomas) with at least 30 career sacks before turning 24.

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Furthermore, since quarterback hits (sacks and hits after the pass was thrown are included) were fully charted by the NFL beginning in 2006, Hunter’s 58 QB hits are ninth all time before the age of 25.This was one of my favorite pressures from any pass rusher in 2018. Hunter looks as if he’s going to perform a rip move on left tackle Jason Peters and briefly slows himself. Peters gets ready for the move, and that’s when Hunter goes for the shallow swim move against Peters’ upper body.

This move is done so effortlessly that it’s hard for me to believe it could be executed this well. Hunter’s lightning fast footwork is also breathtaking on this play, and with the easy leverage he puts heavy pressure on Carson Wentz. While he doesn’t get the sack Hunter is rewarded with a QB hit and Wentz is flagged for intentional grounding, so I guess Plan B wasn’t a bad option either.

The point I wanted to make with those two clips is that Danielle Hunter’s pace in play before the age of 25 is special. He has a versatile combination of pass rushing moves and combines them with great footwork and selling points. He’s already off to a better start to his career than Everson Griffen was, and Griffen himself has been sensational on the field recently.

The expectation from draft analysts is that he will be selected in the middle of the first round, in part because of the exceptional number of quality defensive line prosepects. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter mocked him at 17th to the New York Giants, one pick before the Vikings.

The question is whether the need at defensive end is pressing enough for the Vikings to spend a first-round pick. For 2019, it might not be. But the Vikings do lack rotational pass rushers outside of Stephen Weatherly, who showed significant signs of progress last season. Gary could rotate in during pass-rush situations as an interior defensive linemen as Brian Robison did after Hunter took over the starting role in 2017.

At 277 pounds, Gary weighs as much as Tom Johnson, who has been the Vikings’ pass rushing specialist at the three-technique defensive tackle spot. Last year’s fourth-round pick Jalyn Holmes, who moved from outside to inside defensive line, weighs 283 pounds and had nearly identical wingspan and bench reps to Gary.
And as long as Hunter stays healthy it can only get better from here. He’s got plenty of sacks left in his young, young career.

Total yards allowed/game: 335.0 (10th); Rushing yards allowed/game: 110.1 (10th); Passing yards allowed/game: 224.9 (8th); Points allowed/game: 22.5 (T-16th); Sacks/pass attempt: 8.67 percent (4th); Interception rate: 1.41 percent (29th)

Icebreakers: The Vikings snapped a two-game home losing streak against the Lions (the first since 1990-91) by sacking Matthew Stafford 10 times to set a single-game franchise record. The dominant defensive performance was led by Danielle Hunter, who recorded a career-best 3.5 sacks and returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. … The 10-spot topped the previous record of sacks on Stafford among all teams (seven by Minnesota in Detroit on Oct. 25, 2015) and gives the Vikings 63 in 18 games against the tough quarterback who has been taken down 329 times in 141 career games. … This is the third time in four seasons for Detroit’s visit to Minnesota to occur in November.

You can bet if the Minnesota Vikings draft anyone that plays on the defensive side of the ball in the first round of Thursday’s draft that fans will be confused and frustrated. But in a deep offensive line draft it’s plausible that the Vikings could select the top player remaining regardless of position. Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary fits the bill as position of need down the road and Vikings-style defensive lineman .

Over his three seasons as a significant part of the Wolverines’ defense, Gary picked up 13 sacks and 62 hurries on 670 pass-rush snaps and ranked seventh in the draft class in run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.

In the past, Vikings GM Rich Spielman has talked about trying to find “clones” of successful NFL players. If that’s the case, Gary should be getting a good amount of consideration at TCO Performance Center. Like superstar edge rusher Danielle Hunter, Gary did not have the most impressive sack numbers but pressured the QB often and stuffed the run.

He also put together a monstrous performance at the NFL Combine. Gary ranked in the 97th percentile with a 4.58 40-yard dash, 95th percentile in vertical jump, 87th in the broad jump and did 26 bench press reps. In comparison, Hunter ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and ranked in the 84th percentile in the vertical, 98th in broad and did 25 bench press reps (per Mockdraftable).

Hunter reached his full potential in part because he was able to work with Andre Patterson, who has headed up the development and/or refinement of every Vikings D-line star under Mike Zimmer. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein points to Gary’s need to grow as a pass rusher to maximize his physical tools. Zierlein wrote:

Eric Kendricks Jersey

EAGAN, Minn. — When the Minnesota Vikings arrived this week for offseason workouts, they still had last season’s finale on their minds

To make the playoffs, the Vikings needed a win or a tie Dec. 30 at U.S. Bank Stadium against Chicago, which had clinched the NFC North and didn’t have much on the line. But Minnesota lost, 24-10, and finished a season that had begun with Super Bowl aspirations 8-7-1.

“We left a lot on the table,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “The main goal is to go win the Super Bowl, and we left that on the table. We didn’t achieve our goal, so we have a bitter taste in our mouth.”

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Not making the playoffs gave players three extra weeks before the start of spring drills than they had in 2018, when Minnesota advanced to the NFC Championship Game. So, they’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what went wrong.

“For me, it feels super long, especially if you don’t make the playoffs,” safety Harrison Smith said this week. “It gets boring. You’re trying to find things for you to stay busy. So, it’s great to be back in the building and have some semblance of preparing for something and working towards a goal together.”

The Vikings failed to make the playoffs despite ranking fourth in the NFL in total defense, their third straight season in the top four. But they were without middle linebacker Eric Kendricks for the final two games of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Eric Kendricks couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when recalling the moment he learned one of his best friends was staying in Purple.

And that was moments after Harrison Smith, one of the toughest players on the team, became choked up when talking about Anthony Barr’s decision during free agency.

Yes, Barr’s defensive teammates were both ecstatic and emotional Tuesday that the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker recently chose to continue his career with the Vikings.

“Yeah, he’s with us,” Kendricks said with that smile on his face. “It’s dope. So dope.”

Perhaps nobody is as close to Barr as Kendricks is, as the two were former college teammates at UCLA. Take away the 2014 season — when Barr was a rookie and Kendricks was flourishing with the Bruins — and the duo have played alongside each other since the 2011 season.

The linebackers, both California natives, were working out in Los Angeles last month when free agency began. And for a day or two, it looked as if Barr was heading to the New York Jets.

But when Barr had a change of heart, it felt as if Kendricks was kind of along for the ride.

“I was working out with him at the time. Every morning he’s on the phone going through it while we’re working out, but I tried to stay out of it as much as I could,” Kendricks recalled Tuesday morning from Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. “I sent him a text when it started going down and I was just like, ‘Man, it’s going to be weird not playing with you.’

“Everyone was asking me if I’d thought about it yet … I’d thought about it, but I hadn’t really processed it at that time. Everybody was just kind of on me about it,” Kendricks added. “So I sent him a text … Hey, it’s going to be weird not playing with you … and he was like, ‘Hold on, wait a second.’ And I was like, ‘Oh.’ It kind of played out how it did, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Instead, Kendricks and teammates cleaned out their lockers the day after losing to the Bears.

“It’s definitely hard when you see everybody in the playoffs, chasing the Super Bowl,” Kendricks said. “That definitely sucks. But it also gives you a chance to reflect on yourself, your own performance a little bit. What you could have done a little bit better, what the team could have done better.”

The defense hasn’t changed much. The most major difference is the absence of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who left for Cleveland as a free agent and will be replaced by Shamar Stephen, who returns after being with Minnesota from 2014-17.

On offense, departures included backup running back Latavius Murray, who signed with New Orleans, and starting guards Mike Remmers and Tom Compton moving on. Remmers was released and Josh Kline was signed as his likely replacement on the right side. Compton joined the New York Jets after not getting an offer to return, and the Vikings eventually signed Jets free agent Dakota Dozier as a candidate to replace him at left guard.

There also were changes on offense with the coaching staff. Gary Kubiak, who coached Denver to a win in Super Bowl 50, was named assistant head coach/offensive adviser and Rick Dennison offensive line coach/run game coordinator. Kevin Stefanski was retained as offensive coordinator after serving in that role for the final three games of 2018.

“Just getting back to work, building a foundation,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “We’re learning football all over again, if you will.”

The Vikings are moving forward, but can’t help but look back.

“It’s always hard when you don’t meet expectations,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “Everyone knows how our expectations were this time last year, coming off playing in the NFC Championship Game. … We have to earn our way back.”

Trae Waynes Jersey

MINNEAPOLIS — It has been a priority of Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to have an abundance of cornerbacks dating back to his days as a defensive coordinator. While some may laugh off his “just one more” philosophy of filling out a roster with as many cornerbacks as possible, Minnesota’s situation at the position is no joking matter.

On paper, the Vikings have plenty of depth between Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes on opposite sides of the secondary and Mackensie Alexander coming along at nickel corner. Then there’s Mike Hughes and Holton Hill, two promising second-year players.

Last season, Rhodes missed time with injuries and didn’t play up to his ability, according to Zimmer. He vowed at the NFL owners meetings to help Rhodes, who will be 29 in June, get back to his 2017 Pro Bowl form, but that remains to be seen.

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There has been no public timeline revealed for 2018 first-round pick Hughes, who is coming off a season-ending ACL tear that interrupted his encouraging rookie season. At the NFL combine, Zimmer said he didn’t know whether Hughes would be ready for the start of the season.

Hill was suspended by the NFL earlier this month for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Alexander and Waynes, who is set to play out his fifth-year option in 2019, are free agents after this season. The pre-draft rumor mill has circulated with Waynes as a possible candidate for a draft-night trade. But given the multitude of questions at the position, Minnesota isn’t in the best spot to lose any of its depth.

The Vikings are one injury away from being in a further bind, which is why replenishing their depth is always on the table.

“We’re always going to keep looking for corners because they get hurt and it’s important in our defense that we have them,” Zimmer said at owners meetings.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay doesn’t list cornerback in his top-five needs for the Vikings, who have the 18th pick in the first round. Mel Kiper Jr. sees them going offensive line, defensive tackle and running back — in that order — with their first three picks. Offensive line is the largest need, and the team’s thinking reflects that after Minnesota hosted more than 15 offensive linemen throughout the pre-draft process. But there’s reason to believe cornerback depth could alter their draft plans.

“Nobody wants to see a team continually swing and miss at the same position or just keep plugging away at the same position in the draft,” Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson said on SKOR North. “If you look at the Vikings’ cornerback group over the last couple of years, it hasn’t been good. Holton Hill was the second-best graded cornerback on the team last season … in far fewer snaps than some other guys but they’re not in a good position at cornerback despite big money tied up in Xavier Rhodes and the first-round pick tied to Trae Waynes.

“This is a team that could easily upgrade at cornerback and if the right guy is there at 18, I don’t think it’s a bad position to again try and upgrade at that spot. I think they’re in this strange position where they’ve thrown a lot of resources at the cornerback position but it’s still not become the strength that it should have been given that investment. So the answer to that isn’t to run away and try and focus on another position, it’s to keep going until you fix it because cornerback remains one of the most important positions in the NFL and is one of the most vital facets when it comes to winning games. So if you’re not good there, you need to get better.”

Monson expects Byron Murphy, Greedy Williams and DeAndre Baker will be the first three cornerbacks off the board and likely not available if the Vikings wait until the second round, but there are other corners with second- and third-round grades. They are players with talent but more flaws to their game who could certainly fill in as reserve options for a group struggling with depth.

Given Minnesota’s history of drafting cornerbacks high, altering its strategy to bolster a group that remains in question could be the way to go.

I did a “realistic” mock draft for the Vikings a couple days ago in anticipation of the NFL draft at the end of the month, but I didn’t include any trades in that mock draft to keep it simple. But the reality is that Rick Spielman has made more trades while the draft is in-progress than any other team or GM in the league since he became the Vikings GM in 2012, so a more realistic draft scenario for the Vikings would include at least one, if not multiple trades.

Additionally, the Vikings are a little short on salary-cap space to sign all of their current draft picks, and they’ve been looking to trade both Trae Waynes and Everson Griffen this spring, so that could mean some trades during the draft this year.

Of course it’s very difficult to predict any trade, big or small, but there are some trades that make some sense based on team needs, draft capital, salary cap space, this year’s draft class, and scheme fit that could be beneficial to both sides.

Laquon Treadwell Jersey

In 2016 and 2017 with the Broncos, Taylor combined for 29 catches for 351 yards and two touchdowns.

This is a depth signing, and maybe the Vikings are hoping they get some luck as they search for a third wide receiver behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Before the draft, the Vikings have Thielen, Diggs, Taylor, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra and Jeff Badet under contract.

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We’re a little over a week away from the start of the 2019 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to kick off next Thursday night from Nashville.

Each NFL team, including the Vikings, will look to fill roster needs for the long-term by adding fresh talent to the organization.

While it remains to be seen which direction Minnesota will go, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his staff have some wiggle room with eight total draft picks.

Derrik Klassen of ESPN recently wrote that while offensive line might be Minnesota’s biggest need, he believes that the Vikings also could look to invest in a running back.

Dalvin Cook’s talent has never been a question in the NFL. However, he has suited up for only 15 of the team’s 32 games over the past two seasons due to an ACL tear in 2017 and lingering hamstring issues in 2018. In an ideal world, the Vikings can move forward with Cook as the clear feature back, but it would be foolish to be confident in Cook’s health at this point.

Furthermore, the backup group of Michael Boone, Roc Thomas and Ameer Abdullah is not a depth chart the Vikings should be aiming to start the season with. Even if they just take a late-round swing, the Vikings need to add a running back.

Cook led the Vikings with 615 rushing yards in 2018 despite missing five games with the aforementioned hamstring injury.

The 2017 second-round pick has 969 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his career and has averaged an impressive 4.7 yards per carry, but has missed time in the past two seasons due to injury.

The trio of running backs behind Cook on Minnesota’s roster didn’t see much action in 2018 since Minnesota had Latavius Murray then, but the veteran signed with New Orleans this offseason.

Boone and Thomas combined for 19 carries for 77 yards and no touchdowns in limited reps this past season, while Abdullah didn’t have a carry after joining the team midway through the season.

The Vikings might have the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL, but where does the group stack up as a whole?

Conor Orr of The MMQB recently looked at, and ranked, the wide receiver situation for each NFL team and appears to think highly of the Vikings.

Orr has Minnesota with the third-best collection of receivers in the league, as he used the quartet of Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell and Chad Beebe to evaluate the Vikings group.

I would make a comment like, man if they could only get more out of Treadwell, but how many targets are there going around? Both Thielen and Diggs are incredibly productive and hover at the 70% catch mark.

Thielen and Diggs each topped 100 catches and 1,000 yards in 2018, becoming the first pair of Vikings teammates to accomplish that feat.

The Vikings are led by Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, fan favorites who make up perhaps the best wide receiver duo in the league. And neither is going anywhere for a while. Thielen signed a multi-year extension on Monday, and Diggs signed one this past June. After the stars, there are plenty of candidates who could earn snaps going forward. Former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell enters his fourth season in the NFL, and Chad Beebe impressed in training camp and limited snaps in 2018. Brandon Zylstra looks to build off the rookie season he mainly spent on special teams. Jeff Badet spent the 2018 season on the practice squad. Minnesota added Jordan Taylor, who was recently with Denver, on Monday.

Ben Gedeon Jersey

The Vikings likely will get one starting linebacker back Sunday, but another could be sidelined.

Anthony Barr is expected to return against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium after missing three games with a hamstring injury. However, Ben Gedeon missed his second straight day of practice Thursday because of a concussion suffered in Sunday’s 25-20 loss at Chicago.

Also missing practice Thursday were safety Andrew Sendejo (groin), who has missed five straight games, tight end David Morgan, who sat out against the Bears, and wide receiver Chad Beebe (hamstring). Beebe had been limited in Wednesday’s practice.

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Barr was a full practice participant for the second straight day. He said on Monday he expects to return against the Packers.

Returning to practice as a full participant Thursday was defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who sat out Wednesday because of a shoulder injury and an issue not related to injury.

Listed as limited Thursday were wide receiver Adam Thielen (calf, low back) and guards Mike Remmers (low back) and Tom Compton (knee).

If Gedeon can’t play against the Packers, he would be replaced by Eric Wilson. Wilson took over for Barr after he suffered a right hamstring injury Oct. 21 against the New York Jets.

“The fact David had kind of a unique skill set as a tight end that we were able to do some things with, that has affected us a little bit,’’ said head coach Mike Zimmer.

Before being hurt Nov. 4 against Detroit, Morgan had played 30 percent of the snaps in the first nine games as Minnesota’s second tight end. With Morgan out against Chicago, the Vikings rushed for just 22 yards, their second-lowest total of the season.

If Morgan can’t play against the Packers, the Vikings could play a second straight game with just two tight ends. Against Chicago, starter Kyle Rudolph played 61 of the 67 offensive snaps and rookie Tyler Conklin was in for just nine snaps.

One option could be to elevate tight end Cole Hikutini from the practice squad. Hikutini got into four games last season as a San Francisco rookie.

Playing the MIKE means playing alongside fourth-year VIPER Khaleke Hudson, a star in his own right, that’s shown his own ability in his time in Ann Arbor to move with impressive lateral speed. And now that spring practice has begun, Hudson is thinking the unthinkable thanks to what Ross is showing with the early returns in: Devin who?

“Josh – he’s a good dude, he’s a great athlete,” Hudson said. “He’s good sideline-to-sideline, he’s a hard hitter. He reads offensive linemen very well, and he’s where he has to be all the time.

“I feel like there won’t be a drop off at all, actually. I feel he’ll come in and do the same thing Devin Bush was doing – maybe even better.”

Certainly, spring hype is one thing — production is another. But Bush garnered similar hype as he was being groomed to replace Ben Gedeon, and Ross has often drawn comparison’s to Bush’s style of hard-hitting.

We will see in person how warranted the hype is in a few weeks, with an open practice having recently been announced for April 6 at The Big House, one week before the annual Spring Game on April 13, also to be held at Michigan Stadium.

Second-year linebacker Ben Gedeon played a career-high 44 percent of the defensive snaps Sunday in the Vikings’ 24-16 victory over San Francisco. He is starting next to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks for the second year in a row, but as a rookie Gedeon played only about 25 percent of the time on defense.

A fourth-round pick out of Michigan in 2017, Gedeon knew there was going to be a chance for more playing time this season, and he ran with that in the lead up to the season opener. Against the 49ers, he was one of five players who had four tackles on defense, and he also had a special teams tackle.

“I’ve learned a lot, that experience is super important, and I’m hoping to build on it and get better this year,” said Gedeon, who had three tackles in last December’s 16-0 victory at Green Bay. “Just how to prepare for games, technical stuff, fundamentals and learning from all of the older guys in the position group, as well.”

Gedeon said one of his biggest hurdles coming into the NFL last year was adjusting to the pace of play, especially on pass coverage. That will be a huge challenge this week if Aaron Rodgers plays this week, no matter if his mobility is limited or not.

Gedeon, 23, said that adjustment was a big focus for him over the offseason.

“That is something I was working on pretty hard. Play faster, know the defense better so I’m going to be able to play faster this year,” he said. “I wanted to go in there, work as hard as I could and wherever I could help the team is where I wanted to be.”

Gedeon said linebackers coach Adam Zimmer helped him with another huge learning curve.

“The schemes, everything we do here defensively. It always takes a little bit of time to feel comfortable in the schemes,” Gedeon said. “You can play fast after you learn all the schemes.”

Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said having junior receiver Tyler Johnson back healthy after he missed the final two games of 2017 is a big boost to the offense.

Late in the 24-17 victory over Fresno State, Johnson made an incredible catch off a throw from Zach Annex­stad, who had scrambled all over to pull off the play. It was as good of an offensive play as the team has had in years.

Fleck said that shows how impressive Johnson can be, but he also expects a lot out of one of his offensive leaders.

“I think Ty has got to continue to be more consistent, and he will tell you the same thing, but he makes big-time plays in big-time situations and that’s what great players do,” Fleck said. “We put ourselves in some tough positions with a few drops and a fumble [Johnson’s third-quarter fumble led to Fresno State’s first score]. However he continues to keep his oar in the water and never gave up.”

Johnson ranks fifth in the Big Ten in both receptions per game (5.5) and receiving yards per game (75.0).

Interestingly, Johnson, who averaged 17.2 points as a senior playing basketball for Minneapolis North, said a few close family members helped him to decide on football in college.

“It was actually a tough decision, you know I think I talked to my little brother or my mom or somebody like that and basically it just came down to the opportunity to play at a high level and being the first one in my family to do that,” Johnson said.

Dalvin Cook Jersey

When the Minnesota Vikings signed Gary Kubiak, and in turn, Rick Dennison to revamp their offense, a young man named Dalvin Cook must have smiled.

With all due respect to the Minnesota Vikings new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, let’s put him aside for a moment and discuss Gary Kubiak and offensive line coach Rick Dennison and the new offense they are installing.

The 2019 Minnesota Vikings will run to set up the pass. This is a successful formula that is as old as the league itself.

Dalvin Cook

The crucial variables to this successful formula will be Dalvin Cook’s health and his supporting staff, meaning the Viking offensive line and Minnesota’s second and third team running backs.

To illustrate just how unbalanced –and unsuccessful–the Vikings were last year as an offense, compare their numbers to the 2017 season.

In 2018, the Vikings ranked 27th in rushing attempts and 30th in yards on the ground. By way of the passing game, they ranked 6th in attempts and 13th in yards. That’s 1493 rushing (4.2 average), and 4036 passing.

They ended the season 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs.

In 2017, the Vikings ranked 2nd in rushing attempts and 7th in yards. By the pass, they were 21st in attempts and 11th in yards. That’s 1957 on the ground (3.9 average) and 3753 in the air.

The Minnesota Vikings were 13-3 and one game away from the Super Bowl.

How does this happen? The 2018 team had a better rushing average than 2017, the quarterback clearly threw for more yards, and the Minnesota defense, while taking a dip, remained one of the league’s best.

The answer begins on third down. While that credible Viking defense remained at number one in opponent third-down conversion from 2017 to 2018, the Minnesota offense went from 3rd in the NFL in 2017 to 26th in 2018.

That means the Viking offense found itself–time and time again–in third and long situations when it needed to create and sustain offensive drives.
Zone Blocking: Not Rocket Science

To understand the “run game coordinator” title that the Minnesota Vikings have given offensive line coach Rick Dennison, you must examine Dennison’s (and Gary Kubiak’s) history with a zone running scheme that dates back to before Hall-of-Fame running back Terrell Davis came to the Denver Broncos and won consecutive Super Bowls with an ancient John Elway as his quarterback.

We won’t review each season of this system. Needless to say, it has brought so much success for Kubiak and Dennison that it has enabled them to bring their blueprint to other coaching opportunities.

Suffice to say, the Broncos’ championships, in ‘97, ‘98, and then on another go-around in 2015, should speak volumes.

In a zone blocking scheme, the offensive line usually moves as a unit laterally, with each lineman blocking an area (a zone) instead of just a designated defender. This creates seams or gaps in the defensive line and formation.

The running back is then responsible in “seeing” a gap, making his cut and getting north into the second level of the defense.

Easy enough, but what it relies on is again what could be problematic for the 2019 Vikings: Dalvin Cook’s health and the quality of his teammates.

Kubiak and Dennison must see Cook as a unique athlete. He has sound physical and mental traits to fuel a zone running attack and the rare ability to break a game open with nearly every open seam he spies. Cook also has great value in the power game, as he runs extremely well in tight places, a talent not all backs possess.

It’s possible that Kubiak and Dennison saw Latavius Murray as a bit of a square peg in their offensive round holes, as Murray has a tendency to run high as a back. Kubiak doesn’t mind big backs (see Arian Foster), but what he covets most is quick feet, quick decisions, and a standard turbo button.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has fought through a ton of adversity in his first two seasons. As of now, Cook is set for a big 2019 season. His rookie season was cut short due to a torn ACL, which opened the door for his backups to shine. Jerick McKinnon stepped in and showed a ton of promise, as did Latavius Murray. Following the 2017 season, McKinnon walked away from Minnesota and headed out west to join the San Francisco 49ers.

Cook returned from injury in 2018 as the lead back in Minnesota. With McKinnon gone, there were expectations for Cook to thrive as the primary ball-carrier. However, he missed five games with a hamstring injury and finished the year with just 133 carries. Murray filled in nicely for the Vikings, but he has since left town and joined the Saints down in the bayou.

Now, Cook is the only true threat in the backfield as the Vikings prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Vikings will most likely add another running back prior to the season, whether it be via the draft or free agency. However, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Cook. He will be the veteran leader in the locker room. Not to mention Roc Thomas, one of the young options on the roster, was recently charged with felony marijuana possession. Ameer Abdullah recently re-signed with the team, but he only garnered one carry in 2018. In seven games with Minnesota, Abdullah had zero rushing attempts and one reception. That said, Abdullah does not seem like a realistic option in 2019.

One positive takeaway from Dalvin Cook’s injury history is that he hasn’t had a heavy workload. With just 207 career carries, there is a lot of tread still left on the tires. Of course, that does not come without concern. Cook needs to stay healthy and show that he can be the top back in an NFL offense.

Nothing is set in stone right now, but Dalvin Cook appears to be in prime position to finally take a big step in 2019. The Vikings have to hope he will return to his rookie self and handle a bigger load while avoiding injury and sustaining solid numbers. Minnesota is also expected to improve their offensive line in the NFL Draft, further helping the run game.

Mike Hughes Jersey

Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, many assumed that the Minnesota Vikings would be using their first-round selection on a guard or a tackle to help improve a weak offensive line. However, this is not what ended up happening.

Instead, the Vikings went ahead and chose to use last year’s first-round selection on UCF cornerback Mike Hughes. It was not a choice that many saw coming from Minnesota. But with Mike Zimmer as their head coach, maybe it was something that actually shouldn’t have been so shocking.

This year, the Vikings find themselves in a similar position as they prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. Minnesota is in need of upgrading their offensive line, but the temptation of using an early-round selection on a cornerback continues to exist with Zimmer as the team’s head coach.

Image result for Mike Hughes

During three of the last four years, the Vikings have used either a first or a second-round pick on a corner. Minnesota added Trae Waynes with their first selection in 2015, then the Vikings went ahead and picked Mackensie Alexander during the second round in 2016, and finally Hughes was taken by Minnesota with their first-round pick last year.

Interestingly enough, the Vikings have only drafted one cornerback outside of the first two rounds since 2015. So if Minnesota is going to add another a corner in this year’s draft, their recent past indicates that they will do so with a selection in either the first or second round.

Since Waynes and Alexander are entering the final seasons of their contracts, the Vikings do currently have a slight need for another cornerback.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has never been shy about his affinity for cornerbacks. After the Vikings made a somewhat surprising decision to select UCF corner Mike Hughes with their first-round draft pick last year, Zimmer explained the team’s choice by stating that, “you can never have too many cornerbacks.”

It doesn’t seem likely that Minnesota will be using their first-round selection on a corner again this year (one never knows with Zimmer though), but they do appear to be taking a good amount of interest in a young defensive back from Kentucky.

Derrick Baity is a 6-foot-2, 197 pound corner who started 41 games during his four-year career at Kentucky. In his four seasons, Baity accumulated six interceptions and 25 pass deflections to go along with 148 total tackles.

He’s not considered among the top cornerback prospects in the 2019 draft class, but he’s definitely someone that the Vikings could end up using one of their late-round selections on.

During Kentucky’s recent Pro Day, Zimmer spent some time meeting with Baity and giving him some pointers. The Vikings also met with the young corner at this year’s East-West Shrine Game.

Baity certainly has the build that Minnesota looks for in their corners. But his cover skills still need some polishing and that is something that Zimmer would probably love to help improve.

With Mike Hughes coming off an ACL tear and both Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander entering the last year of their current contracts, it seems likely that the Vikings are going to strongly consider drafting a cornerback this year.

Mike Zimmer frequently reminds reporters that a team can never have enough corners.

He did so a year ago when Minnesota tabbed Mike Hughes with the 30th overall pick. He reinforced the message after Hughes delivered a pick six in his NFL debut, becoming Minnesota’s only rookie to accomplish the feat in his first pro game.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, Hughes suffered a torn ACL in Week 6, bringing a promising campaign to a screeching halt.

Hughes and Trae Waynes (first round) and Mackensie Alexander (second round) have all been added with early picks since Zimmer’s arrival. The DB guru also helped develop 2013 first-round pick Xavier Rhodes into a Pro Bowler and All-Pro.

Matthew Coller of SKOR North noted the importance of cornerback play to both participants in Super Bowl LIII on his way to writing about an athleticism metric that has been developed by website Relative Athletic Score.

The New England Patriots were widely praised for their defensive scheme against the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, but talent and depth at the defensive back position certainly played a role. Pro Football Focus ranked the Patriots No. 2 in coverage in the NFL only behind the Chicago Bears, who sported the league’s best defense. The Rams, who slowed down Drew Brees and the Saints in the NFC Championship, had the fourth best coverage grade by PFF’s metrics.

Relative Athletic Score combines height, weight and wingspan with performance at the NFL Scouting Combine to grade athleticism on a scale of 1 to 10.

Waynes has the highest RAS among current Vikings at 8.58, followed by Rhodes at 8.37.

Turns out this is Zimmer’s type of year for cornerbacks in the draft. Many of the projected picks between the first and third rounds have athletic profiles with similarities to the current crop of corners in Minnesota.

Anthony Barr Jersey

Anthony Barr really compared signing with Jets to marrying wrong woman originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

The AFC East has been the division of spurned suitors lately.

First, it was Antonio Brown reportedly nixing a trade to the Buffalo Bills to join the Oakland Raiders instead. On Tuesday afternoon, it was Anthony Barr pulling a Josh McDaniels on the New York Jets, changing his mind after accepting their offer in free agency the night before and opting to re-sign with the Minnesota Vikings.

Image result for Anthony Barr

Barr publicly addressed his 180 on Thursday afternoon, explaining the decision with an analogy that’s pretty depressing for Jets fans.

“I had conversations with my agent and my family trying to figure out what we were going to do. … It was like OK, I think we can do New York,” Barr told NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano. “I said that and I hung up the phone and I instantly just didn’t feel right, it just didn’t feel right. Something just didn’t feel right. In my heart, I knew I wanted to be, all along I’ve been saying it for the last year and a half as I’ve gone through this process, I wanted to remain a Viking.”

“It was like you’re about to go down the altar and marry the wrong woman. I think I’m making a bad choice. I did what I felt was right for myself.”

We can understand Barr’s last-minute objection. Sure, the Jets signed running back Le’Veon Bell, but they’ve won five or fewer games in three straight seasons and haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2010. With the defending champion New England Patriots atop the heap, the AFC East power structure likely isn’t shifting anytime soon. Barr also has spent his entire career in Minnesota and feels loyalty to the team that drafted him.

That means it’s back to the drawing board for the Jets, who may have landed a keeper in Bell but let another one get away in the four-time Pro Bowler Barr.

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Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr has added to his enemies list.

Two seasons ago, he garnered the ire of Aaron Rodgers and Packers fans when he landed on the Green Bay QB after a legal hit and knocked Rodgers out for much of the 2017 season.

This offseason? Barr had agreed in principle to join the Jets as a free agent, only to reverse course and stay with the Vikings.

Jets CEO Christopher Johnson was asked about Barr during the league meetings, which started Sunday. Johnson made it clear he wasn’t happy about how things went down, though he couched his disappointment.

“We want people on our team who want to be New York Jets,” Johnson said, according to the New York Daily News. “Not everybody wants to be in New York. If he didn’t want to be here, that’s fine. It’s disappointing when someone backs out on an agreement, but we want people who are all-in.”

The Vikings played the Jets in 2018 and aren’t slated to play them again until 2022, so I imagine whatever bitterness exists now will have dissipated by then.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says a lot of that is Barr doing the greater good for the team and opening things up for his teammates.

“A lot of that is him sacrificing himself for being able to have other guys be able to be free on rushes and blitzes and things like that. That’s why he’s such an unselfish guy,” Zimmer said Thursday. “We understand that no team that we play is ever going to say, “We’re not going to worry about Anthony Barr.” That’s part of it, and sometimes we do it anyway. That’s just part of it. We’re always going to try and scheme the best way to win on that particular Sunday.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the stats sometimes, but there’s likely some truth to what Zimmer is saying. If other teams are game planning to take Barr out, that’s likely opening something up for somebody else.

Then there’s Oakland. The Raiders picked good to great top-5 players in 2014 and 2015. But then they changed management and no longer wanted said good to great players.

But at least they got three No. 1s as part of the deals that unloaded 2014 No. 5 overall pick Khalil Mack and 2015 No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper.

That’s a heck of a lot more than the discombobulated Giants have to show for two top-10 picks in 2015 and 2016.

Last fall, they dumped 2016 No. 10 overall pick Eli Apple for a fourth-rounder this year and a seventh next year. And this week, they let massive underachiever Ereck Flowers — the ninth overall pick in 2015 — walk. He joined the rival Redskins.

Washington gave him a one-year deal for $4 million. Hardly the second contract you’d expect for a top 10 pick who has yet to turn 25.

Food for thought when discussing Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr and whether his sack stats are flashy enough on one of the league’s top defenses.

In 2014, the Vikings had the eighth overall pick. They wanted Barr. Cleveland wanted cornerback Justin Gilbert bad enough to trade up one spot.

Five years later, Barr has more Pro Bowls (four) than Gilbert had starts (three) in his two seasons with the Browns.