Seven Points, Vikings: OTA observations

Last Thursday provided an opportunity to watch some of the young talent mix in with returning talent. Viking Update's Tim Yotter offers his take on seven points and observations from that practice and talks with players afterwards.

Point 1: The draft analysts seem to be right on Percy Harvin. Several NFL draft analysts have described Harvin as one of the – if not the – most explosive players in this year's draft. After Observing Harvin for one practice last week, I tend to agree.

Harvin isn't anywhere close to one of the taller receivers on the team (he's 5-foot-11), but his quickness puts him in a position to be used many different ways.

"He's done a good job assimilating with what it is that we're putting in for him, putting in for our system, to see about putting the ball in his hands. But I think he's done a good job because he's been playing in a few different positions," head coach Brad Childress said.

Allen routinely created separation, not because of any elite deep speed, but because of his extreme quickness in and out of his breaks. It will be especially interesting to view him in the upcoming mandatory minicamp, when he has to face the starting cornerbacks on the team, Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, to see if he can continue to beat them as routinely as he did some of the primary backups on the team.

One of the most important factors in Harvin's NFL upbringing might be to avoid overwhelming him because of the variety of ways that his quickness can be exploited – in the slot, on the outside, motioning into the backfield, in the Wildcat formation and on kick and punt returns. Even Childress agrees that the coaching staff needs to be mindful of information overload.

"You do because what you're doing is just laying down system fundamentals for starters. You just want to get the base rudiments of the offense and then you start to add some of the window dressing," he said. "We challenge them all, mentally and system-wise, but you don't want to paralyze them."

So far, Harvin looked like he was anything but paralyzed.

Point 2: Man, that's a lot of players. The start of organized team activities last week, which included four practices, was reserved for rookies and select veterans. Still, there was no shortage of warm bodies.

The Vikings had just under 60 players in attendance, as many as they usually have during the regular season – 53 players on the active roster and up to eight on the practice squad. Minicamp, which starts Friday, will bring an extremely cramped locker room and two practice fields.

If everyone attends, there will be 85 players there. NFL rosters are limited to 80 players, but since the Vikings have five unsigned draft picks, those players don't count against the roster yet. Those draft picks can still participate in practice with a signed waiver that says if they are hurt the team will still negotiate their contract in good faith. (Although a few teams have begun the process of signing their lower-round picks, the Vikings usually don't start getting into serious contract negotiations until July.)

Point 3: The right choices to stay away. Childress seems to be reading his veterans better the more time he gets under his belt as the head coach. As a rookie head coach, Childress was given extra minicamps to work with his squad and ran a grueling training camp that left the players more worn down than usual.

The past couple of years, Childress didn't have the extra minicamp as an option and his training camps have been more player-friendly. This year, Childress even elected to not invite more than a dozen starters to the OTAs.

The reason, he said, is because he knows his veterans better and they know his expectations of them.

"Still a mother hen, but mother knows what to expect from some of those guys that I didn't invite to come out onto the grass," he said. "… You know expectations of the guys. There are still things that they're doing in this building. Really, anybody that I invited, they were excited to get out there because they want to make this football team and there's no downside to getting out there and freshening what you do. Everybody that's here, we gave some thought to the why's and what for's, whether it was people that were injured, people that maybe started on this roster after the start of our year and didn't have a training camp.

None of last year's Pro Bowlers participated. It was mostly guys fighting for a roster spot that were on the field.

While veteran kicker Ryan Longwell talked his way onto the field – Childress joked that he must not have been able to find a golf game in Florida – there was one notable veteran defensive starter that did get invited and attended. Safety Madieu Williams was a good choice to bring to these practices because he didn't play the first seven games with the Vikings last year, his first year in this system, and will find a new starter alongside him in second-year pro Tyrell Johnson.

"Guys like Madieu and Tyrell, we're going to have new safeties back there – one started the first half of the year, one started the second half of the year," Childress said. "All of those factors, there's a bunch of them on why we invited different guys.

Point 4: Are the Vikings making a play-action fake with Favre? Some have interpreted the Vikings' lack of response to the potential signing of Brett Favre as them not being forthcoming in another personnel move.

In many cases, that's probably their strategy so they don't tip off other teams to their interest in a free agent, but in the case of Favre, it seems pretty clear that if the quarterback is going to play in 2009, the Vikings are his first (and maybe only) choice. So while no other NFL team would be shocked if the Vikings sign Favre, the team probably can't give a clear picture of the situation because it may have to wait almost as long as everyone else to find out if Favre can even play this year as he works through a process to try to get his throwing shoulder near full strength.

If Childress were to say the team will sign Favre if his shoulder is right and then he can't play, it would likely only irritate his current quarterbacks further with this situation. If he were to say he had no interest in Favre when he really does, that could cause his players rolling their collective eyes if they do end up signing him in the next two months.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King indicated in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column that Favre could sign this week.

"He's going to have a make a decision whether to join the Vikings very soon, probably by this weekend, because the Vikings want to know what their 2009 future is at quarterback," King wrote. "I'm told the organization won't wait for a decision much longer, and if he has to get a minor operation to snip the damaged right biceps tendon that has been giving him pain, he has to do it soon. Like, within a week."

Point 5: Tarvaris Jackson is making the right read on Favre. Jackson has been put in awkward situation once again because of the Favre drama. Last year, Jackson entered training camp for the first time with Childress saying he was the team's starter … and then Favre unretired and wanted out of Green Bay and into Minnesota.

It's become obvious that the team has an interest in the gunslinger and now has the chance to sign him without having to give up anything to another team. After weeks of speculation and increased media attention on the Vikings and Jackson in training camp, he's back in that familiar storyline once again. And, just like last year, he's handling it about as well as he possibly can.

"Going on my second year (of the speculation), last year during training camp I had to hear the same stuff. I'm pretty much used to it by now. It's expected for a guy of his caliber. I'm not really worried about that. Just trying to come out here and get better," Jackson said last week.

While he didn't sound bitter with the media for repeatedly reporting on the story, he did say he tries to avoid watching or reading the speculation. And he said he understands the Vikings' perspective on it.

"I totally understand. It's the second year I've had to go through this. You can't really blame them. He's a great player and, like you said, a future Hall of Famer. The team we have and the guys we have around us, why not?" he said.

Point 6: Sage Rosenfels may be the most upset. Rosenfels wasn't quite as forthcoming with his feelings on the Favre storyline. There could be good reason for that. Rosenfels has often been the bridesmaid during his NFL career, and this year he thought he had a legitimate chance to become married to the Vikings' starting job. His excitement at that possibility was evident at his press conference after his trade to the Vikings.

Now, he's just trying to block out the Favre talk and hope he still has a legitimate chance to win the starting job with an offense that has some intriguing weapons.

"There's only so many things I can control if life and I can't control that," he said. "All I can really control is my work in the weight room and my work out here, in the meetings, trying to get used to this offense. So all the other stuff, it really just goes off my shoulders and there's really not anything I can do about it. But I'm excited to be out here with these guys and working our tail off with the guys trying to make the 53-man roster and getting a head start on this offense."

Extra point: Yes, Phil Loadholt is big. It's interesting to hear observers comment on the Vikings' second-round draft pick. Anyone that has looked at a roster in the last month can read his size – 6-foot-8 and 343 pounds. Even so, the first-rime observers rarely watch him or walk away from a conversation with him without a comment about his size. As Viking Update's Bob Lurtsema said, defenders need a taxi cab to get around him with his big frame and 36½-inch arms.


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