Vikings general manager Rick Spielman engineered what appears to be a successful draft, with numerous rookies already making large contributions.
The development of those rookies and other young talent plays a big part in Spielman's evaluation of the job Leslie Frazier has done.
The team's first pick, left tackle Matt Kalil, has started and played every offensive snap for the Vikings this season. Safety Harrison Smith, another first-round pick, has also started every game this season and been part of an upgraded defensive backfield that has the Vikings ranked 14th against the pass.
Only one of the team's draft picks, seventh-rounder Trevor Guyton, is no longer with the team. Fourth-round receiver Greg Childs is on injured reserve, but eight of the 10 draft picks have contributed in various capacities this season.
"Leslie's been doing an outstanding job, knowing the situation that we were going to have a lot of new faces on this roster, and I think the coaching staff has done an outstanding job," Spielman said. "We can bring in guys that are talented, but it's our coaches who should get the credit for developing these guys. And our coaches should get the credit for playing these guys and letting them grow into the positions as they grow."
The Vikings have taken some lumps this year, especially during a streak in which they lost three of four games when 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder struggled at quarterback, but they also rebounded with a key win Sunday against Detroit to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. With a 6-4 record, the Vikings still wouldn't be in the postseason if the playoffs started today (they are currently the seventh seed), but five of their next six games are against NFC teams, giving them at least the opportunity to control their own destiny.
With a 3-13 record in 2011, the Vikings weren't expected to be in the playoff hunt, creating an interesting dynamic for Spielman and Frazier. Both want to see their young talent develop, but each of them wants to win, too.
"I think it's patience, but it's also a sense of urgency, too. Because you want to win, and when we went into the season we wanted to win," Spielman said. "We want to win every game. That's why you're in this business. Patience is a fact that you know you have a lot of new faces, you have a lot of first- and second-year guys that are contributing. But also know that you have to go out there and win ballgames, too."
Frazier has one more year left on his contract, but Spielman didn't want to discuss any contract negotiations – with coaches or players – during a session with reporters Thursday.
Vikings executives entered the season knowing they were in the rebuilding process, even if players didn't want to admit it. They took one of the NFL's oldest rosters in 2009 and 2010 and transformed it into one of the youngest in 2012. The success they have experienced has been in part, Spielman said, because of the relationship between him and Frazier to build and develop the roster together.
"The biggest thing is the open communication that we have with each other," Spielman said. "It's not about him or me, it's about us, it's about the Vikings, what's best for this team. And you can have very open and candid discussion.
"I think that was huge for us last year when I had some discussions with Leslie and then we got all the coaches and personnel people in one room: ‘Nothing personal, let's get this all aired out so we can move forward.' I think that did wonders for everybody. But everybody is on the same page. Everybody understands what our scheme is, what we're looking for in players, and it's our job to go out there and identify those players, and it works hand-in-hand with the coaches. To me, once the personnel side and coaching side gets divided, then you have no chance. To me, they have to work hand-in-hand and they have to work together every day."
Spielman said he doesn't get involved in the schemes the Vikings run, beyond knowing which players would best fit those schemes when evaluating free-agent and draft talent, but he does attend practice often. His mission there is to continuously evaluate the roster for its strengths and weaknesses.
Spielman has remained resolute throughout this calendar year that one of the important factors in evaluating Frazier is how the young talent develops.
"You know you're going to have some ups and downs, especially when you have a young roster," Spielman said. "But our coaches and Leslie do an extremely, very good job of working with these kids and any chance they have to get these guys ready to play. I think that has shown so far this year."
Spielman is the protector of the roster, constantly trying to bolster it with the addition of talent. He admits that he hates to lose, but he also won't quantify success for the Vikings – or Frazier – until the end of the season.
"I kind of look at it every week," he says, "So we won't do that until the end of the year."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Talent development part of Frazier's eval
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