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  • Vikings OL News & Chit-Chat
    by wludford on August 11, 2020 at 10:15 pm

    Normally this time of year, there would be a lot more buzz about what’s going on at Vikings training camp, who’s standing out, who’s not, what’s changed, etc., etc. But not this year. With Covid-19 protocols in place, the only way we know there is a training camp is because the Vikings release some occasional video-clips, and over the past week coaches and some key veterans did press conferences providing a little info about what’s going on. It’s a controlled message for the most part, but there are bits of insight here and there, alongside perhaps some fodder for speculation, and so I thought I’d sift through some of the offensive line tea leaves in hope of gaining something of value for the season ahead. Here are some of the key gleanings: Riley Reiff Staying Put at Left Tackle The Vikings seemed intent on replacing Reiff at left tackle by trading for Trent Williams in a trade during the opening days of the draft, but that didn’t pan out. They did draft Ezra Cleveland in the second round, who played left tackle at Boise State, leading to speculation that Reiff’s days may be numbered. There was also speculation, including my own, that the Vikings salary cap situation and prospect of a lower salary cap limit next year would compel them to part ways with Reiff, who’s a $13MM salary cap hit this year and next, saving $11MM in salary cap this year if they parted ways. But Gary Kubiak seemed to go out of his way a little bit in last week’s press conference to praise Riley Reiff, said he could do some things to help him out, and that he thinks he’ll have a good season. The Vikings later put Reiff out for a press conference - something they haven’t done in the past and typically only for leaders that are going to be employed with the team for at least the rest of the season. That, combined with the fact that Mike Zimmer, Gary Kubiak, and Reiff have all said there has been no discussion of him moving inside to left guard, strongly suggests that Reiff will be the starting left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings this season. Pat Elflein Still There at Left Guard, But For How Long? In his press conference, Gary Kubiak said that the four incumbents along the offensive line are still the starting group, at the moment. So, that means the current starting group is: LT Riley Reiff, LG Pat Elflein, C Garrett Bradbury, RG - TBD, RT Brian O’Neill. Kubiak said there was a three way competition at right guard to fill the open spot after Josh Kline was released. The three vying for the starting spot are Ezra Cleveland, Dakota Dozier, and Aviante Collins. That comes as a bit of a surprise, as Dru Samia had been mentioned a few times this off-season by both Kubiak and Zimmer as someone they think can step up, signaling he may be in the mix to start at right-guard, where he played last year. But no mention of him recently. Getting back to Pat Elflein at left guard, however, Riley Reiff had an interesting response when asked, after having new left guards next to him every year, if it was nice to have Pat Elflein returning next to him this season. His response: “Yeah, we’re all cross-trained. I think the year that Nick [Easton] went out, Mike [Remmers] bumped in there. It’s tough, but it’s also, we’ve practiced those scenarios and I’m comfortable with whoever they put next, or whomever is playing next to me. Our coaches do a great job getting us ready for game week, and we have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football in our room, and all the young guys, they’re moving along well, so I’m comfortable with whatever shakes out.” That response wasn’t exactly the one you’d expect to the question of Elflein continuing to work next to him. He never mentioned Pat, didn’t say he was looking forward to working with Pat again, etc., as you might expect. Instead he talked about cross-training, a lot of guys in the OL room, young guys moving along well, and his being comfortable whatever shakes out. That suggests left guard is still in flux. Nothing in that response suggested Reiff expects Elflein to be playing next to him this season. We’ll see. Reiff also didn’t want to confirm that Ezra Cleveland was in competition for the right-guard spot. His response to the question, which was asked after Gary Kubiak said Cleveland was competing at right guard, and since reporters aren’t allowed in the facility they haven’t actually seen anything to confirm that, was to say he wasn’t sure and to ask coach. Obviously Reiff would know where other OL guys like Cleveland are lining up, but he was probably directed not to answer those type of questions. Understandable perhaps, but still a bit odd - reporters kinda chided him about his response. What About Oli Udoh? Another guy that had been mentioned a few times as a candidate to step-up is Oli Udoh. He hasn’t been mentioned at all lately, presumably because he’s been on the Covid-19 list and hasn’t participated in practices the past two weeks. If Udoh is to compete for a starting job, it would seem with Riley Reiff entrenched at left tackle and Brian O’Neill at right tackle, and three others competing at right guard, that the only spot Udoh could compete would be left guard. I’ve talked about that possibility back in March. Udoh moving to left guard would explain Reiff’s otherwise odd response about cross-training, another right tackle moving to left guard in the past, young guys moving along, and being happy with whatever shakes out, when asked about the left guard spot. But time is running short for Udoh to get off the Covid list and onto the practice field. We’ll see what happens. A starting offensive line of LT Riley Reiff, LG Oli Udoh, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Cleveland/Collins/Samia, and RT Brian O’Neill offers a reasonably good chance of being an upgrade, both through improvement of existing players, and Udoh being an upgrade over Elflein. I wouldn’t expect much change in right guard compared to Josh Kline last season, no matter who wins the job, unless it’s Dozier in which case I’d expect a notable decline. Still Not Much Real Football Pretty much across the board in their press conferences over the past week, both coaches and players have said they haven’t really done much yet, and that goes for the offensive line as well. So far it’s been mostly strength/conditioning training, meetings and walk-throughs from what I gather. I don’t think there’s been any live drills, or really any contact at this point, so most of what is needed for the offensive line to gel is still ahead. Live practices are scheduled for next week. Riley Reiff said that with so much training time lost this year, every minute counts now. And as is always the case, linemen need live, padded drills and 11-on-11 sessions to begin to gel as a unit. Reiff was also asked if he thought the on-field product in September would be as good, given the short training schedule and no pre-season games. He said he thought it may actually be better than normal, with less distractions during the off-season and guys being able to workout, maintain their bodies better, etc. I have my doubts about that, but again we’ll have to wait and see. There will only be three weeks of real training camp prior to week one preparation this year, a loss of a week or two, depending on how you compare the quality of the training so far. It seems more like OTAs than training camp at this point. So combined with the loss of all the other off-season real practice time, there is a lot to make up in a short time. This year’s schedule has been compared to a normal college off/pre-season program, with three weeks of practice and no pre-season games before the regular season starts. In that sense, pros should be able to prepare and be ready at least as well as college players - and hopefully more so given they’re next level players. But on the other hand, the first games for many top college teams are effectively pre-season games against typically lesser, non-conference teams- not key games against division rivals. That fact really puts a premium on coaches being able to get players ready better than the other team. Having a veteran coaching staff that’s been together many years on both sides of the ball should help. But it’s still a lot to accomplish in a short time. Especially with rookie or young players.

  • And we are live!
    by SB Nation NFL on August 11, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports Welcome to Coral. Hello, all. Today, we’ve launched our new commenting platform, Coral, on this site. You can try it out below, or on any article here. As the pre-launch article said, we know it’s missing a few key pieces that might be important to you, and we’re continually evolving and improving it. Just like when we launched the previous platform, on day one it wasn’t perfect (in fact, almost everyone told us they hated it), and so we’re asking for a little patience as we grow. We’re launching here first to learn what matters most to you, to help us learn and develop the next set of features. We already have a bunch of improvements in the pipeline, which will be released before the season begins. And do keep tell using what you like and what you want to see more of (respectfully, please) – we’re here and we’re listening. There are a bunch of new things we think you’ll like: you can change the default sort across articles (Newest, Oldest, Most Recs, Most Replies), ignore annoying commenters (just click on their name), you can embed Twitter and YouTube really easily (just drop in the URL, no need to find the embed code), and we even allow you to Rec yourself (be sure to check yourself first.) Also, don’t panic: comments are only temporarily disabled on FanPosts – they’ll be back –and your old comments will return too, we’ve just archived them for now. This is all part of a big investment in SB Nation communities, and we will continue to evolve the platform over the coming months and years to support you, the best fan communities on the internet. We’ve written an FAQ to cover most of the common questions about how the system works, and we know you’ll let us know below what you think. Also, here’s an update on the features and improvements we’re already working on. This site is great because you are. Thank you for being here.

  • Announcement: We have a new commenting system coming today
    by SB Nation NFL on August 11, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports Coral will be live on Daily Norseman this afternoon. Today is a big day for Daily Norseman commenters: we’re going to be moving our comments to a brand new platform. This site is part of the first series of sites in the rollout. Yeah, we hate change too. Here’s why we’re doing it: we’ve been using the same commenting platform for more than a decade, and the tools from our earliest days aren’t built for the modern web. Making fixes and improvements to the original system gets tougher every year, and it’s not sustainable moving forward. And so we’re starting out with a new tool, called Coral. It’s not complete yet, but it does have many custom features that have been on many of our wish lists for years. We know it’ll take a bit of getting used to. We ask only that you give it a chance, try it on a few articles, and then tell us honestly what you think. This is a constant work in progress – we know it’s missing a few key pieces that might be important to you, and we’re continually evolving and improving it. Check out the latest about those coming improvements below. Just like when we launched the previous platform, ten years ago, on day one it wasn’t perfect, so we’re asking for a little patience as we grow. We’re going live now to learn what matters most to you, to help us learn and develop the next set of features. We already have a bunch of improvements in the pipeline. Tell us what you like and what you want to see (respectfully, please) – we’re here and we’re listening. This is part of a big investment in SB Nation communities, and we will continue to evolve the platform over the coming months and years to support you, the best fan communities on the internet. Some important information about the launch: Your old comment history won’t be migrated on day one, but we’ve kept it safe and will be bringing it back. We’ll be temporarily removing comments from FanPosts and FanShots, as well. We appreciate your patience through these changes. The new platform will be on all our articles on this site starting this afternoon, using the same login as always. Thanks as always for being here.

  • Tuesday Open Thread: August 11, 2020
    by Gone Fishin' on August 11, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports Okay, I’ll put that poll up that I forgot to post last week. Merry Tuesday, everyone! Hey, I mentioned a poll in the open thread last week, then I forgot to post the poll, so I’ll post it today. I think it was Tuesday of last week when I mentioned posting it anyway, and it’s Tuesday now, so I think I’m innocent of the charges of forgetting to post the poll. I can wiggle out on some sort of technicality or something. Around the DN since our last open thread: From Chris, if college football delays or cancels the 2020 season, the NFL may make some schedule changes in order to fill the Saturday network void. In a procedural move, the Vikings waived Cameron Smith. Other Vikings/NFL news, and random oddities and annoyances: NFL.com considers Antonio Brown’s employ-ability, and which team may take a chance on him. NFL.com ranks the NFL’s ten best-performing O-lines, based on expected rushing yards. From FoxSports, Captain Munnerlyn was arrested at Miami International Airport on a fugitive warrant for writing bad checks. Munnerlyn’s attorney stated that it is a misunderstanding. Many of you will remember Munnerlyn, as he played the 2014 - 2016 seasons for Minnesota. We come to today’s media selection: This here is my favorite song by the legendary group Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Ballad of Curtis Lowe. Enjoy! Again, we all know the rules, but in case someone is new: -No discussion of politics or religion-No feeding of the trolls-Take the gender hatred elsewhere, it won’t be tolerated-Keep the bad language to a minimum (using the spoiler tags, if you must)-If discussing a newer show or movie, please use spoiler tags-No pictures that could get someone fired or in serious trouble with their employer-If you can’t disagree in a civil manner, feel free to go away-While navigating the open thread, just assume it’s sarcasm. With that, the beer light is on and the bar is open. Belly up & tie one on. Don’t wash your hands, touch each other’s faces often, and try the finger food

  • Kirk Cousins Prepping to be a Play-Maker
    by wludford on August 11, 2020 at 4:54 am

    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports Love him or hate him, you have to give credit to Kirk Cousins for recognizing his short-comings, whether it be end-zone dancing, being “basically a .500 quarterback,” or not being a play-maker. After the win over the Cardinals in 2018 he talked about his end-zone dance limitations, and last summer he talked about being a .500 quarterback, how that’s not where you want to be, and saying his focus was on winning rather than gaudy statistics. That focus, along with a better scheme and coaching, led to not only some gaudy stats, but also a 10-5 regular season record last season, 11-6 overall including the post-season- a notable improvement over his .500 record previously as a starter. Both his winning percentages and passer rating were higher than Aaron Rodgers’ career averages. Cousins also showed some progress as a play-maker, particularly in the come-back win over the Broncos, and the win over the Saints in the Wild-Card Round. This past week Cousins said he was looking to build off of that, and focusing on ways to make plays when other aspects of the offense are not working. In particular, he said this in response to a question on his thoughts/take-aways from the loss to the 49ers in the playoffs: “I think one of the focuses for me this season will be to, if we’re not running the ball well, and if things aren’t going well, to be able to make those plays that can get us right back in the game, and win a game. I think you saw it in the Denver game last year where we were down, we were able to get back in it- and win. But being able to do that more, and against a team like San Francisco- not an easy task - but I think those are the challenges that when they eventually come up this season, it’s a goal and something you’re working toward to say hey, in those moments, to try to find a way to dig deep and make enough plays to win. It could be any number of ways to do it... I’m getting into the weeds a little bit on football but trying to find those ways to make those plays and come out on top against a really good team when other things aren’t clicking for us.” He went on to elaborate: “Just, you know, if we get man coverage, being able to take off and run and become more of a scrambler. If we’re off-schedule, get out of the pocket and make a play that’s kind of drawn up in the dirt. That’s just one place to begin, but I think that’s probably the biggest place to focus.” Often times a player doesn’t understand their short-comings well enough, or isn’t willing to admit them, or really put in the preparation and effort necessary to address them. Sometimes coaches don’t focus on short-comings, but focus on scheme and if you do this and that, the other things will take care of themselves. Well, that doesn’t always happen. It is also argued that some quarterbacks simply aren’t playmakers by nature. They just don’t have what it takes. Or at least do what it takes. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a play-maker right out of the gate- he didn’t even play for three years. He did, after becoming established as a starting quarterback and with continuity in scheme/coaching, take his preparation to the next level and focused on improving his improvisational/play-making skills, some of which he learned from Brett Favre. He mentioned several years ago that he spent his training camp and off-season focusing on what to do when the play broke down. That involved working on specific footwork techniques and awareness skills, communication and rapport with receivers downfield. It led to Rodgers, in his prime, becoming his most deadly when the play broke down and he moved outside the pocket. Cousins proved to be his most effective outside the pocket last season, and among the best performing QBs in the league in that regard, but this was on designed rollouts or bootlegs - not broken plays for the most part. But this is experience to build on. Cousins may have been his most deadly on rollouts to his left, which is typically the more difficult direction for a right-handed quarterback to throw properly. Rodgers was effective that way as well, adapting an unorthodox jump-throw technique he learned from Favre. Cousins doesn’t use that, but used kind of a quick shuffle or slide step get his body in position to make the throw. He’s very good with his awareness and field vision outside the pocket, and communication was good with receivers downfield, but again these weren’t broken plays for the most part, so adapting on the fly wasn’t needed. Good receivers look back after the timing for their route has passed, and will work back to the QB and/or continue to improvise their route to get open as long as their QB is still in a position to deliver the ball. But good communication and rapport between receiver and QB can go beyond that, and by preparing for broken plays in practice, receivers knowing the types of throws their QB can make best from a given situation, and positioning themselves so their QB can make that throw, is all part of the drill - and preparation. Cousins can work on that with his receivers over the next month as part of his preparation. Another thing Cousins mentioned was running more when nobody is open in man coverage, which is a more common improvisation for a QB on a broken play. When defensive backs are in man coverage, they’re facing the receiver and staying with them down field, so they’re not in position to play run defense if a QB decides to tuck and run. Often those runs result in big gains because the defense isn’t prepared to defend them. Cousins is no Lamar Jackson, but he’s mobile enough where he can take those often easy yards a defense will give him in those situations to move the sticks or turn what would be a third and long into third and manageable. The key for him is to train himself mentally for that option when it presents itself. These “play-maker” skills are no more difficult than learning all the other quarterback skills Cousins has already learned, and learned well for the most part. But perhaps the more difficult skill for Cousins to learn, but still very doable, is to improve his in-pocket awareness and plan his exit route should he need to escape the pocket. I say it may be the more difficult skill for him to learn because in the past he hasn’t been particularly elusive in avoiding rushers and escaping the pocket. Quarterbacks that scramble more often typically have that ‘plan b’ in the back of their head on every drop-back, and probably becomes part of their progression if their first or second read isn’t open, for example. If that happens, they exit the pocket and continue their progression, and ultimately improvisation as the play breaks down. The key is having an exit route in mind should he need to exit the pocket. Of course this isn’t something that can be planned with precision, but perhaps based on the play, defensive read, and knowledge of who your best pass protectors are, a more likely or preferred exit route may suggest itself pre-snap. Like most skills, after doing it for a while it becomes more instinctual. For Cousins, not having to learn a new scheme and with more experience as a starting quarterback, he has the opportunity to add this to his repertoire, as he has more time in practice and mentally to work on it. Practice Makes Progress Cousins was able to make progress on his focus last year on winning, and becoming more than just a .500 quarterback. Of course a lot of factors go into that other than just Cousins, but he was able to step-up in at least a couple games to get the win. And that made the difference between 10-6 and making the playoffs and 9-7 and a season ending in December. It also made the difference between one-and-done and going deeper into the playoffs. This off-season and training camp isn’t ideal with Covid-19, but now with a year of continuity, and in a scheme and situation he’s both comfortable with and suits him well, Cousins is in a good position to expand his skill-set. And he appears focused on improving his skills as a play-maker. It’s not a skill a QB develops overnight, but for an established quarterback that has the required physical traits, has mastered the key skills like passing accuracy, reading defenses, scheme fluency, performing well in both a clean pocket and under pressure - as Cousins has - he’s likely to make progress as a play-maker if he puts his mind to it. Time will tell. Who knows, he may even become a bona-fide grill-master in time.


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