Thursday, August 23, 2012

Throwing it down with Vikings Territory: The six questions edition

Every now and then at Kick Ass Blog, we like to collaborate with, and feature, other Viking bloggers – like The Daily Norseman's Arif Hasan . One blog we've had a habit of working with the past few months is Vikings Territory, a fine site run by Adam Warwas. Last week I got a brainwave and asked Adam if he wanted to contribute to a post where we both answered six Viking-centric questions based on what we've seen during the preseason. Warwas agreed and what follows is the fruit of our labor. What you read below is the first part of the post. For the second part, you'll have to go to Adam's site (the link can be found at the end of this post). 

1. Are you satisfied with the play of quarterback Christian Ponder so far? And what about backup Joe Webb?
Adam: Ponder has yet to show me that immeasurable trait I love to see in a quarterback: the ability to take over a game and carry his team on his shoulders. I’m not saying he doesn’t have it, but until I see it I will probably be a little more skeptical than the rest. Ponder looks way more comfortable this preseason than he did last year. With an improved offensive line, I expect to see improved quarterback play, and so far I would say that’s what I have seen. I am cautiously optimistic about our franchise quarterback at this point.
I love Webb as a change-of-pace quarterback, but would not want him starting for my organization. If I were in charge of the roster, I would be trying damn hard to upgrade the backup quarterback situation so that I could bump Webb to number three on the depth chart and only plan on using him in certain situations (i.e. the Blazer package). It makes me uncomfortable knowing that Joe Webb is our plan B.
Darren: Satisfied? No. Encouraged? Yes. I’ve seen a more patient quarterback so far and Ponder seems to understand the offense much better, which you’d hope would happen with an offseason to study and prepare. His arm strength and athleticism is not in question. One caveat: he hasn’t even played three quarters of preseason football, so it’s hard to get a good read on how much better he is this year, but he clearly looks better. Will he be good enough to turn what looks like a 4-12/5-11 team into borderline Wild Card team? I don’t think so. I think he still needs to refine the mental aspect of his game (reading defenses, etc.) and the Vikings need to get him more receiving weapons.
Webb looks like the same guy to me – a great running threat but a subpar passer. I don’t think he’ll ever look good as your standard, “drop back in the pocket and survey the field” type of quarterback. But I’m fine with him being the backup guy in 2012. This is a good year to let him focus solely on becoming an NFL quarterback because Minnesota isn’t expected to do much this season. If Webb shows improvement, he becomes a trading chip if nothing else, which will help the Vikings rebuilding effort in 2013. And behind Webb is Sage Rosenfels (I’m assuming he will beat out McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the #3 QB job), who has shown he can be a capable backup if Ponder gets hurt (again) and Webb stinks it up in his place.  
2. The Vikings secondary – same old, same old or looking like a much improved unit?
Adam: A little bit of both, I think. One safety position has been upgraded by leaps and bounds, in my assessment, by drafting Harrison Smith. The Vikings got a starting caliber safety out of the deal, but I can’t say I think they have someone of that level to play across from him. Whoever wins the battle to start across from Smith will, in my opinion, still be a liability.
At cornerback, however, I think we have seen a good enough overall play to consider this an improved unit. Whether or not we see the “same old, same old” will depend greatly on Antoine Winfield’s ability to stay off the injury report and Chris Cook’s ability to stay out of the police report. Speaking strictly about talent though… these guys assembled by Rick Spielman are capable of giving our division foes a run for their money.
Darren: I think it’s going to be much improved. I wasn’t a big fan of the Vikings trading up to get Smith – I thought they should have taken a wide receiver like Stephen Hill in the second round. But Smith is an impressive young guy. Smart. Tough. Confident. He already looks like he’ll be the Vikings best safety since Robert Griffith (one of my favorite all-time Vikings, by the way). I’m going to disagree a bit with Adam about the state of the strong safety spot. Head coach Leslie Frazier hasn’t named a starter there yet, but Mistral Raymond looked like a completely different player against Buffalo than he did against San Francisco. He was even willing to tackle. I think Minnesota has something in Raymond.
As long as Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson stay healthy for the entire season, the Vikings corners have the potential to be solid. I’m particularly interested to see how Robinson performs Friday night against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Chris Carr hasn’t looked too good and Robinson played well against Buffalo. If Robinson has a strong game against a QB like Rivers, I’ll feel better that he’s a legit talent, not Marcus McCauley 2.0. Also, the fact the Vikings secondary is more talented and deeper than last year means the coaches should be able to mix up coverages more than they did in the past, and blitz effectively. 
3. Should Vikings fans be worried about the play of middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley yet?
Adam: No. Vikings fans should be worried about his durability, but Brinkley will be a fine player if given ample time to get his feet under him. Like many parts of this roster, he will experience some growing pains, but I think we will look at Brinkley as a serviceable option in the middle when the season is over.
My problem here is that Spielman had numerous options to get some big-time talent at middle linebacker during this last free agency period and passed. Brinkley will have to be even better than serviceable or else passing on guys like Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton, and Dan Connor could look like a huge mistake.
Darren: I read that Brinkley looked tentative against the Bills. But I didn’t think he played all that badly. However, he didn’t really flash, either. So I am a bit worried about him. He’s supposed to be a downhill thumper, yet I’m not seeing him doing a whole lot of thumping. Brinkley said this week he’s still getting his sea legs back. Here’s hoping he finds them sooner rather than later.

To read the rest of the Q & A, click on this link.

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