Sunday slant: Frazier on building and winning

Leslie Frazier believes the Vikings can win now, but the roster could still be two years from his utopia. It's taken restructuring and a patient approach, but the philosophy is shifting to long-term focus and the Vikings appear closer to that than they have in some time.

Leslie Frazier has two competing ideals about the Vikings' roster as he heads into his third full season as the head coach.

in the short term, he feels good about the 10-6 season last year and the development of QB Christian Ponder. He believes they can build off their playoff appearance in 2012 and advance in 2013.

The long-term outlook requires a bit more patience. They have made progress on the global view of their roster and their attempts to make it younger and deeper, but they aren't quite there yet.

"I think we're on our way to that, but we still need probably about two more drafts to really feel good about our roster turnover," Frazier said in an offseason conversation with Viking Update. "We still have some areas that we're trying to build with the right competition and talent at the positions.

"There were some years there where, if you go back and look, we didn't address some positions that we're addressing now and there were some people that didn't pan out that we hoped would pan out. It created a void from a talent standpoint and from a roster standpoint. I think we're on our way, but we're probably two drafts away in my mind from getting it to where you really want it. But we're much farther than we were in 2009 after that NFC Championship Game."

The 2009 roster featured some superstars, like Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen. It also had its share of up and comers, like John Sullivan, Percy Harvin and Chad Greenway.

But it also had too many old players and fringe starters to sustain success for the long term. On the old side were Favre himself, making his last big stand with a chip on his shoulder, Steve Hutchinson, Jim Kleinsasser, Pat Williams and even E.J. Henderson – all in the sunset of their careers. In addition to the lackadaisical Bryant McKinnie, there were overpaid, underperformers like Bernard Berrian, one-year wonders like Sidney Rice and confounding talents that seemed to underperform like Ray Edwards, Cedric Griffin, Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams.

From NFC Championship entrant and near Super Bowl participant in 2009, the Vikings had a big rebuilding project in front of them. Their propensity to trade away draft picks in previous years had left the back end of their roster thin, and it doesn't take more than a look at the number of picks that made the roster leading up to 2009 to see where things were headed.

In 2005, only five draft picks made the roster, "highlighted" by first-rounders Troy Williamson and Erasmus James and disappointingly followed by OL Marcus Johnson (second round), RB Ciatrick Fason (fourth) and DT C.J. Mosley (sixth). Mosley is the only one still in the NFL.

A year later, six picks made the roster, and first-round LB Chad Greenway is the only still with the Vikings. In 2007, there were another six picks that made the roster, highlighted by RB Adrian Peterson and DE Brian Robison, the only two still with the Vikings.

In 2010, that trend started to turn around. Then, seven picks – including CB Chris Cook, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen and QB/WR Joe Webb, who are still with the team – made the roster. As the trading away of draft picks started to dwindle, 2011 brought in nine picks that made the roster, and all of them are on the current training camp roster. Some of them, like Christian Ponder (first round), Kyle Rudolph (second) and Brandon Fusco (sixth) are starters.

By 2011, the draft structure had changed after the firing of Brad Childress. The Vikings went from their so-called "Triangle of Authority" to simply promoting Rick Spielman to general manager, with full power over the roster, and they incorporated character more heavily into the evaluation of draft prospects. It fit perfectly with the ideal of Frazier, their new full-time head coach.

"What kind of person is he? Does he respect other people? That intangible is important for me," Frazier said of a successful draft pick. "He may have a passion for the game, he may love the game. He may have a lot of talent, but if you can't respect people and can't respect what they're trying to get done, that's going to be a problem.

"There are going to be other players that are just as passionate as you are, just as talented as you are and you've got to be able to get along with them in the locker room. You've got to be able to handle adversity in our league, whether you are Adrian Peterson or Christian Ponder or whoever it is on our roster, you have to be able to deal with that person and you have to be able to get along with teammates. So high-character individuals is the optimum with talent. You have a chance to win when you have high-character guys."

The jury is still out on Ponder and whether he can take command of the offense like Favre did in his last good season in 2009. But Spielman and Frazier have placed the players around their quarterback to finally get a more complete evaluation on Ponder's possibilities into the future.

Frazier admits that "this is the year" for Ponder. They added Greg Jennings in free agency and Cordarrelle Patterson in the draft.

In fact, the last two drafts have produced two key components for quarterback success, a receiver like Patterson and a left tackle like Matt Kalil. The last two drafts have also provided five first-round picks overall, including Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd on defense.

Frazier and his coaching staff, and Spielman and his scouting staff, have worked together to try to find the optimum selection, making sure scheme fit is every bit as important as overall talent.

"You've got to be on the same page about personnel, what you're looking for to create the type of team and the atmosphere that you want with the type of players, the acquisition of the players," Frazier said. "But when our coaches and our staff sat down with Rick and the scouts a year ago, before the 2011 draft, and went through every position on the roster and we talked about the type of character we were looking for, the kind of guys we want to coach, talent – from A to Z, talking about each position. For Rick and the scouts to listen to what we had to say, that's the start of being able to build something that you can sustain.

"If that personnel department and the coaching staff aren't on the same page, you're flirting with disaster. You may get lucky here and there from time to time, but to be able to do what I'm hoping we'll be able to do and we talked about earlier – sustaining success – you have to be on the same page."

The philosophy at Winter Park has changed in many ways. Frazier worked to create a more trusting environment, and the structure of personnel decisions shifted from groupthink to Spielman making the final decision with input from scouts and coaches and long-term roster sustainability in mind.

Frazier is all for it. In fact, he suggested it. While his roster utopia may be two more drafts in the distance, he believes he can also win now.

"I've been on some very, very good football teams and I always want us to be in the playoffs and winning championships. That's the only way I've ever approached it," Frazier said. "Even a season ago at training camp, I said our goal is to win the NFC North and be a playoff team and build toward a championship, and you hear that coming off a 2011 season and say, ‘OK, OK, OK.' I even had one of our players, one of our senior players, that when I told the team about what our goals were and how we were going to reach our goals, he was saying to himself, and he told me this: ‘Well, I think every coach in the NFL just says that to be saying it.' But I'm speaking from experience.

"I think I know what it takes to win in this league. So when you ask about pressure to keep winning, I don't know (any) other way. I want us to do better than we did last season. Just keep growing and moving and hopefully we'll be the team that's playing New York in February."


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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