Sunday slant: Vets find renewed hope

It would have been easy for the Vikings' veterans to associate the youth movement with a season of struggle ahead. But, thanks to the steady influence of Leslie Frazier and players knowing preseason predictions are often pointless, the Vikings aren't just in the hunt, they're one of the lead dogs in the pack.

The transactions continued to pile up.

After the Vikings moved on without Brett Favre, Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Pat Williams and Ben Leber in 2011, the early 2012 transaction wire was starting to look equally as daunting.

March 10: The Vikings released Cedric Griffin, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera.

March 13: At the start of free agency, the Vikings made little effort to re-sign long-term veterans E.J. Henderson and Visanthe Shiancoe, and Jim Kleinsasser had long since announced his retirement.

The message was hammered home like a bull horn piercing the silence – this was a Vikings team that was going young. For the remaining veterans like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway and others, it would have been easy to jump to the conclusion that going young meant another step backwards for a team that endured the Favre spectacles of 2009 and 2010 without the wishful Super Bowl payoff they all hoped would accompany.

Jared Allen saw the moves the Vikings were making during the offseason and offered a glimpse into a predictable reaction.

"Honestly, a little upset. Kind of like baffled, not really knowing the direction we were going. But that's why you have to put trust in the front office, trust in the coaches. That's their job," Allen said after hindsight of a 4-1 start offered him renewed hope. "… After going through training camp and watching these guys, how hard they work and seeing these (young) guys step up and take leadership roles and just play football and not be like, ‘Oh, this is the NFL,' it's been fun."

To be sure, the Vikings have had the benefit of a relatively favorable schedule to this point. They started with two inexperienced quarterbacks – Blaine Gabbert entering his second season and Andrew Luck entering his second game – and all they could do was split those first two games. But after Adrian Peterson showed his knee was durable enough to handle a strong workload, Christian Ponder showed large advances in his decision-making and comfort with the offense, and after a meeting between defensive players and coordinator Alan Williams, wins started to fall into place.

The Vikings shocked the NFL with a hard-fought upset of the San Francisco 49ers. There were no "fluky" touchdowns or big blown calls to give them a last-second victory. It was a good, old-fashioned slobber-knocker that whet the whistle of Vikings fans and had them wondering if the team could back it up with a road win against their second straight playoff team from 2011. The Vikings did that in Detroit, and then followed that by mauling a Titans team ripe for the taking at Mall of America Field.

"Wins are always enjoyable – 2009 was fun, the three wins we had last year. It's exciting that every week you have a chance," Allen said. "With so many questions this year, it's exciting to see us answer."

Early on, however, it was Frazier who needed to provide the guidance. The youth movement enacted by general manager Rick Spielman might have backfired for veteran support had the young talent not performed; instead, the first draft class with Spielman as the full-fledged general manager has performed as well as could be hoped. First-round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith have been high-level starters at left tackle and safety, respectively, since opening weekend, and third-round pick Josh Robison is working his way into that position. Rhett Ellison and Blair Walsh are both important assets, too.

Percy Harvin said during the offseason that players were adverse to using the word "rebuilding," but how else do you term a 53-man roster that has 32 players added in the last two years, including 16 draft picks?

Frazier enacted an oft-used philosophy to impart on his players in hopes that the "buy-in" factor would prevail.

"I try to be upfront with them; I always have. I tell our players all the time, ‘Just control what you can control,'" Frazier said. "I told them … there would obviously be changes in our parting meeting before everybody went away for vacation. What those changes would be and to what extent, I had no idea, but I knew there would be changes. There always are in our league. I tried to stress to them when they left and when they came back – control what you can control, and that's your performance at practice and in games.

"That other stuff, you're not going to change. I played, too. That happens at another level. You better make sure you're concentrating on your job."

That's actually one of the benefits of the Vikings' structural change at the top. Spielman is making the personnel decisions, allowing Frazier to have a healthy separation from the hard decisions needed for successful NFL teams. Even if Frazier agrees with the moves, players know he isn't charged with the ultimate decision, unlike when Brad Childress released Randy Moss or Marcus Robinson when the season was still in session, creating detractors in the locker room.

As a former player, Frazier knows the bonds that are formed between teammates. So do the current players, but many of them come to terms with the separation of buddies and business in the NFL.

"As a player, you keep things simple from the standpoint of, just because I was close to some of those guys for a long time I understand and they understand the business of football," Greenway said. "I think with every team, myself included, they're going to move on from you or you're going to move on from the game. We were in a position as a team where obviously that's the course we were going to take. You can't get into the fact that this is a rebuilding team and I'm a veteran and I want to win. That's being selfish. It's more about how can we take the guys we have right now and make them into the team that we want to be."

Greenway and Frazier both indicated there was no special meeting to convince veterans to lead the buy-in charge or try to spread that throughout the roster.

"It wasn't like we needed a pow-wow to tell everybody we were going to be OK," Greenway said. "We just all sort of bought into what we needed to do. We just slowly progressed and ended up being where we are now."

Suddenly, "where we are now" is a very good place. It's the first time since Favre's first season that the Vikings have started the season 4-1 or better. It's the first time since 2009 that they have had a winning record of any kind at any point of the last two seasons.

In 2011, they were 1-4 in October and it seemed everything was going wrong, despite several leads early in games. They finished the season 3-13.

In 2010, it was clear from the outset that Favre returned as a favor to his teammates, and for one last eight-figure payday. The chip on his shoulder had been replaced by bone chips in his ankle. They never had a winning record that season, either, starting 2-5 and finishing 6-10, a season that brought the ascension of Frazier to head coach.

Allen knows that preseason expectations – whether from the media, fans or even the players – mean little. He's seen 6-10 teams the previous year end up in the NFC Championship Game the next season, and he's been part of teams with the Kansas City Chiefs and Vikings that had all kinds of Super Bowl aspirations attached to them but never made it to the ultimate NFL game.

For now, he's clinging to the present, which is a lot more fun than what the 2011 Vikings offered him.

"If we play our best, we have a chance to beat anybody in the NFL and we're pretty darn good if we play our best," Allen said. "For us to come in and play young and free, it's keeping me young. That's all I know. It's keeping me interested and excited."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"The transactions continued to pile up. After the Vikings moved on without Brett Favre, Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards, Pat Williams and Ben Leber in 2011, the early 2012 transaction wire was starting to look equally as daunting. March 10: The Vikings released Cedric Griffin, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera. March 13: At the start of free agency, the Vikings made little effort to re-sign long-term veterans E.J. Henderson and Visanthe Shiancoe, and Jim Kleinsasser had long since announced his retirement. The message was hammered home like a bull horn piercing the silence – this was a Vikings team that was going young. For the remaining veterans like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield, Chad Greenway and others, it would have been easy to jump to the conclusion that going young meant another step backwards for a team that endured the Favre spectacles of 2009 and 2010 without the wishful Super Bowl payoff they all hoped would accompany. Jared Allen saw the moves the Vikings were making during the offseason and offered a glimpse into a predictable reaction. \"Honestly, a little upset. Kind of like baffled, not really knowing the direction we were going. But that's why you have to put trust in the front office, trust in the coaches. That's their job,\" Allen said after hindsight of a 4-1 start offered him renewed hope. \"… After going through training camp and watching these guys, how hard they work and seeing these (young) guys step up and take leadership roles and just play football and not be like, ‘Oh, this is the NFL,' it's been fun.\" To be sure, the Vikings have had the benefit of a relatively favorable schedule to this point. They started with two inexperienced quarterbacks – Blaine Gabbert entering his second season and Andrew Luck entering his second game – and all they could do was split those first two games. But after Adrian Peterson showed his knee was durable enough to handle a strong workload, Christian Ponder showed large advances in his decision-making and comfort with the offense, and after a meeting between defensive players and coordinator Alan Williams, wins started to fall into place. The Vikings shocked the NFL with a hard-fought upset of the San Francisco 49ers. There were no \"fluky\" touchdowns or big blown calls to give them a last-second victory. It was a good, old-fashioned slobber-knocker that whet the whistle of Vikings fans and had them wondering if the team could back it up with a road win against their second straight playoff team from 2011. The Vikings did that in Detroit, and then followed that by mauling a Titans team ripe for the taking at Mall of America Field. \"Wins are always enjoyable – 2009 was fun, the three wins we had last year. It's exciting that every week you have a chance,\" Allen said. \"With so many questions this year, it's exciting to see us answer.\" Early on, however, it was Frazier who needed to provide the guidance. The youth movement enacted by general manager Rick Spielman might have backfired for veteran support had the young talent not performed; instead, the first draft class with Spielman as the full-fledged general manager has performed as well as could be hoped. First-round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith have been high-level starters at left tackle and safety, respectively, since opening weekend, and third-round pick Josh Robison is working his way into that position. Rhett Ellison and Blair Walsh are both important assets, too. Percy Harvin said during the offseason that players were adverse to using the word \"rebuilding,\" but how else do you term a 53-man roster that has 32 players added in the last two years, including 16 draft picks? Frazier enacted an oft-used philosophy to impart on his players in hopes that the \"buy-in\" factor would prevail. \"I try to be upfront with them; I always have. I tell our players all the time, ‘Just control what you can control,'\" Frazier said. \"I told them … there would obviously be changes in our parting meeting before everybody went away for vacation. What those changes would be and to what extent, I had no idea, but I knew there would be changes. There always are in our league. I tried to stress to them when they left and when they came back – control what you can control, and that's your performance at practice and in games. \"That other stuff, you're not going to change. I played, too. That happens at another level. You better make sure you're concentrating on your job.\" That's actually one of the benefits of the Vikings' structural change at the top. Spielman is making the personnel decisions, allowing Frazier to have a healthy separation from the hard decisions needed for successful NFL teams. Even if Frazier agrees with the moves, players know he isn't charged with the ultimate decision, unlike when Brad Childress released Randy Moss or Marcus Robinson when the season was still in session, creating detractors in the locker room. As a former player, Frazier knows the bonds that are formed between teammates. So do the current players, but many of them come to terms with the separation of buddies and business in the NFL. \"As a player, you keep things simple from the standpoint of, just because I was close to some of those guys for a long time I understand and they understand the business of football,\" Greenway said. \"I think with every team, myself included, they're going to move on from you or you're going to move on from the game. We were in a position as a team where obviously that's the course we were going to take. You can't get into the fact that this is a rebuilding team and I'm a veteran and I want to win. That's being selfish. It's more about how can we take the guys we have right now and make them into the team that we want to be.\" Greenway and Frazier both indicated there was no special meeting to convince veterans to lead the buy-in charge or try to spread that throughout the roster. \"It wasn't like we needed a pow-wow to tell everybody we were going to be OK,\" Greenway said. \"We just all sort of bought into what we needed to do. We just slowly progressed and ended up being where we are now.\" Suddenly, \"where we are now\" is a very good place. It's the first time since Favre's first season that the Vikings have started the season 4-1 or better. It's the first time since 2009 that they have had a winning record of any kind at any point of the last two seasons. In 2011, they were 1-4 in October and it seemed everything was going wrong, despite several leads early in games. They finished the season 3-13. In 2010, it was clear from the outset that Favre returned as a favor to his teammates, and for one last eight-figure payday. The chip on his shoulder had been replaced by bone chips in his ankle. They never had a winning record that season, either, starting 2-5 and finishing 6-10, a season that brought the ascension of Frazier to head coach. Allen knows that preseason expectations – whether from the media, fans or even the players – mean little. He's seen 6-10 teams the previous year end up in the NFC Championship Game the next season, and he's been part of teams with the Kansas City Chiefs and Vikings that had all kinds of Super Bowl aspirations attached to them but never made it to the ultimate NFL game. 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