Leslie Frazier is a patient man.
He's been that with the media during stressful times, answering questions about players gone astray and the future of his job. He's been that way with players, sticking with them for second chances even when those second chances aren't going to bear fruit anytime in the near future (see: Chris Cook arrest in 2011).
But his patience this year could be putting his livelihood on the line. He stood steadfastly behind Christian Ponder throughout the offseason, after Ponder finished among the lowest rated quarterbacks in 2012. Frazier pointed repeatedly to Ponder's final four games of the 2012 season that did show some signs of promise, and even at the beginning of this season when Ponder regressed back into an erratic decision-making.
Eventually, the patience with Ponder wore thin. When the third-year quarterback was expected to get at least most of the season to allow management to finish the evaluation on him, a rib injury provided the timing to pull that plug. Matt Cassel's leash became even shorter when Josh Freeman became available for a Buccaneers song.
But perhaps the most confusing testament to Frazier's patience is how he has handled the rookies this season.
Sharrif Floyd, the 23rd pick overall, is perhaps the most explainable case of lack of playing time. He has played in 36 percent of the defensive plays, but he is also playing a position – defensive tackle – where players are rotated often, and he is also playing behind position stalwart Kevin Williams.
"He's slows the game down so well. Out here in practice and whatever we're doing, he's just walking through it, it looks like," Floyd said of Williams. "It's full speed for him and it's so clean and I'm looking at him and if only I could make it feel how he makes it feel. At the end of the day, that comes with wisdom, that comes with knowledge and that comes with experience. That's what he has and that's what I'm striving for."
Interestingly, Floyd's biggest exposure to in-game experience was also his first game as a pro. With Williams out with a knee injury in the season opener, Floyd played in 42 of the 80 snaps against the Detroit Lions. Frazier admitted it was a big learning curve for Floyd then, as he wasn't playing the right technique for the right situation often enough.
How about a month later?
"He's gotten better. That first game, I'm sure he would admit this, it was tough for him," Frazier said. "Just the speed of the game and then he had been injured in training camp. He missed some time and that affected him. He's gotten better. The game has slowed down for him. He's beginning to get more penetration for us and getting closer to being exactly what we all hoped for. He's doing a very good job of separating from blocks."
Floyd said getting off blocks has never been a problem for him, despite others pointing that out as an early deficiency in his game.
"I've never had a problem shedding blocks. That's just the technique. If you're playing a technique right, you've got to play it with your hands, so I find myself playing with my hands more than I used to. That's been helping me tremendously," Floyd said.
"… I'd say my biggest difference since I started playing ball was really playing with my hands consistently and not just sometimes and not just running into (offensive linemen) with shoulders and all that, so really just playing with my hands every play has been a big difference for me right now."
But if Floyd has made solid progress, as Frazier indicated, it hasn't translated into more playing time.
Since opening the season with 42 snaps played, he hasn't been over 30 snaps since. Last week, it was a season-low 19 snaps.
Even so, with Williams still a solid starting option, it's understandable why the Vikings would take a measured approach with Floyd.
Taken on an individual basis, it's not as comprehensible with the two other first-round picks.
Cordarrelle Patterson was the second-ranked receiver on the Vikings' draft board behind West Virginia's Tavon Austin and has proven he can be quite a playmaker. He is still tied for the longest kick return touchdown of the year in the NFL – 105 yards – and one of only two players to bring one back the distance. He has also shown some slippery moves in the limited offensive opportunities he received.
Those opportunities have been few and far between. In five games, he has only been targeted 11 times for eight receptions and 85 yards. The low number of targets – just over two a game – are understandable given his lack of playing time, but the lack of playing is hard to justify.
Patterson still hasn't had more than 19 snaps in a game. The Vikings can talk about it being hard to get Patterson into the game with the success that Jerome Simpson has had this year and the two of them playing the same position. To a degree, that logic is fine, but look at the bigger picture. Against the Carolina Panthers, Jarius Wright had 32 snaps and Joe Webb had 22. Neither of them are nearly the threat that Patterson is, and it can't take that much offensive creativity to find a way to get Patterson on the field with Simpson and Jennings, not solely as an occasional replacement for Simpson.
"Part of it is Jerome Simpson has been having an outstanding first half of the season. Those guys play identical positions so it makes it a little bit tougher," Frazier said. "But we're doing some things that we think may help us in that regard. Cordarrelle is a big-play guy. We have a lot of high hopes for him and we want to keep trying to find different ways to get him the football and get him on the field as well. He has not done anything to disappoint."
The disappointment has been that through five games they still haven't figured out a way to get Patterson on the field for more than 20 percent of the season's offensive snaps while Wright has been out there for more than 47 percent of the snaps.
Xavier Rhodes' situation is unique, but no less confounding for different reasons. The cornerback, drafted 25th overall, is playing much more than Floyd or Patterson, but compared to the results in front of him, it's confusing why he hasn't become a full-time starter.
He has played in 66 percent of the defensive snaps. Last week was the first time he played in less than 50 percent of the snaps (part of the reason was because he twice injured his ankle). Being used on 32 of the 70 defensive snaps, it was his fewest snaps and the lowest percentage of snaps this year. The Panthers didn't need to go to three-receiver sets as often with a lead throughout the game, but the Vikings remain steadfast that starting left cornerback Josh Robinson is improving.
The stats, however, tell a different story.
According to the statistical web site Pro Football Focus, Josh Robinson has given up 38 receptions in the 41 times the receiver he was covering was targeted. That has been worth 479 yards receiving to the opponents in five games, including 256 yards after the catch. When quarterbacks have targeted him, they have a 131.6 passer rating. In 275 plays, Robinson has just one pass defensed.
Rhodes has shown his inexperience at times, too, but he has yielded only 14 receptions on 23 targets and a 78.0 rating to quarterbacks when they try to take advantage of him. He has four passes defensed.
"We've just got to keep bringing (Rhodes) along, keep letting him see things and let him develop," Frazier said. "That's the only way you get to be a good player in our league as a corner. You've just got to keep playing. Some of the things that he's not so good at today, he'll get better at as we get further into the season."
It's hard to argue that Floyd should be getting more time with Williams in front of him, but it seems clear that eventually Rhodes will be the starter. He should be already. And so should Patterson be finding himself on the field more often, not as a replacement for Simpson, but rather as a complement to him and Jennings.
The Vikings have shown tremendous patience with their first-round picks this year, but from this vantage point they are actually being too patient – or just not creative enough – in finding ways to get their most talented players in a position showcase it.
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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