It’s getting tougher by the day for coach Leslie Frazier to project a positive outlook during a 2-9 season that reached an even lower low Tuesday when four key contributors ended up on injured reserve.
“I don’t know many times you’d ever see four guys go on injured reserve on the same day; it just doesn’t happen very often to anybody,” Frazier said Wednesday as the Vikings returned to practice in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Broncos at Mall of America Field. “But in our business, there are no excuses, as you know. You got to line up and play. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. We really believe in that next-man-up mentality.”
Of course, the Vikings are running out of men. Or at least ones that are any good and are familiar to the Vikings. On Tuesday, long-snapper Cullen Loeffler (fractured lower back), receiver Michael Jenkins (knee) and safeties Husain Abdullah (concussion) and Tyrell Johnson (torn hamstring) were placed on injured reserve.
Defensively, rookie sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond will start and be backed up by Jarrad Page, a six-year veteran who was signed off the street on Tuesday. Page started for Philadelphia earlier this season before being released. At cornerback, Benny Sapp, who was out of work just two weeks ago, could become the fourth different player to start at left cornerback if Asher Allen (shoulder) doesn’t heal in time.
Meanwhile, the pickings are just as slim at receiver. With Jenkins going down, the Vikings have only one receiver — Percy Harvin — with more than nine catches on the season. Harvin, a slot receiver, is the No. 1 receiver by default.Devin Aromashodu, who has nine catches, is the No. 2 receiver, and veteran journeyman Greg Camarillo, who has four catches, becomes the No. 3 receiver.
The team also will be working in rookie sixth-round draft pick Stephen Burton on Sunday. Burton made the team despite a horrendous training camp. He was on the practice squad the first seven weeks. After spending three weeks on the active roster, he was released last week and then re-signed when Jenkins was injured.
The Vikings, however, go into the Denver game thinking they can beat the surging Broncos if their run defense remains gap sound and contains unconventional quarterback Tim Tebow.
“It’s kind of like defending the Wildcat on every play,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “You can’t lose your gap or Tebow can really make you pay for it. With him, you have two guys in the backfield who can really run with it.”
Frazier was asked what his mindset is heading into this game. A loss would mark the worst start in franchise history, topping the 1961 expansion team’s start.
“I think our team has been fighting week in and week out,” Frazier said. “We haven’t made enough plays to get over the top in some games. I’m more angry with myself in not being able to get us to where we need to be so we wouldn’t be 2-9. But I think our guys have fought week in and week out and tried to put us in a position in the fourth quarter to have a chance to win games. We just have to find a way to get over the hump and find some confidence and build on that. Hopefully, that will be this weekend.”
Frazier said he won’t have time to figure out what he should have done better until after this season.
“Maybe when the season is done, I’ll be able to go back and reflect on some of the things that have occurred this season and try to ascertain what could have been done differently so we don’t find ourselves in this position again,” he said. “As you’re going through the season, you’re getting ready week to week and you’re trying to come up with a game plan and a plan to try and get the guys to fight hard every week. I’ll have a better assessment when we’re done.”
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 7-5. The Vikings are 4-2 at home, winning the last meeting at the Metrodome, 28-20 in 2003. The Broncos won the last overall meeting, 22-19 in overtime in 2007.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
–The finest 5 minutes, 18 seconds of former Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson’s failed five-season stint in Minnesota came during the 2007 regular-season finale at Denver. Trailing 19-3 and needing a win and a Washington loss toDallas to reach the playoffs, Jackson orchestrated a speedy 16-point comeback to send the game into overtime. He threw two touchdown passes to Bobby Wade and ran in both 2-point conversion attempts.
But on the second snap of overtime, bad T-Jack surfaced. He lost a fumble after being sacked. The Broncos immediately sent K Jason Elam in to kick the game-winning 30-yard field goal as the Vikings fell to 8-8. Jackson dropped to 8-4 as a starter, but the future seemed potentially bright for the second-year pro.
He kept the starting job to open the 2008 season, but was benched after a 0-2 start. Jackson never regained the job on a full-time basis, leading to Brett Favre playing for the Vikings in 2009 and 2010. Jackson left via free agency without any interest whatsoever from the Vikings before this season. Quite a tumble for the guy who was then-rookie head coach Brad Childress’ hand-picked QB of the future in 2006.
–Adrian Peterson had 36 yards rushing in that 22-19 overtime loss to the Broncos in 2007. It capped his rookie season and gave him the NFC rushing title with 1,341 yards. But that’s not what Peterson will remember most from that game. No, what he’ll remember most is head coach Brad Childress benching him for the first series because he missed the team bus. His replacement, Chester Taylor, fumbled the ball near the goal line on that opening series. After the game, Peterson handled the situation perfectly.
“I understand,” Peterson said. “Everybody is looked at in the same way, no matter a starter or not. If you’re late for something, that’s the consequence.”
–The 2007 Denver game also brings up bad memories of Vikings WR Troy Williamson. Williamson was the seventh overall pick of the 2005 draft. He not only was taken with the pick that was acquired in the Randy Moss trade, he also was supposed to replace the greatness of Moss with blazing downfield speed.
Williamson had the speed, but as Childress once noted, “the No. 1 job of a receiver is to receive.” Williamson’s hand-eye coordination was so poor, he went to a Nike vision specialist that had ties to the Vikings. A big deal was made about all the tests, drills and so forth Nike performed to help Williamson before the 2007 season.
Nike’s vision department took a black eye with Williamson’s performance in 2007, particularly that Broncos game. With the Vikings needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Williamson was wide open by 20 yards when he dropped what would have been a 72-yard touchdown.
Photos of the drop showed Williamson still looking up while the ball had already passed through his hands. Williamson also dropped what would have been a first down.
“I think I should have focused on it a little more,” Williamson said of the 72-yard drop. “I was too much worried about that I was too wide open. I was so wide open, it seemed to take forever, and it kind of moved on me at the last minute.”
It might have been the only time — at least publicly — that a Vikings receiver complained about being too wide open.
–On Oct. 19, 2003, the Vikings played the Broncos at the Metrodome.
It was supposed to be the test the Vikings needed to pass in order to prove that their 5-0 record was for real. The Vikings’ first five opponents were a combined 8-20, but the Broncos came in with a 5-1 record.
The Vikings won 28-20 and were walking on air at 6-0.
“We have to be better before we can beat some of these teams we’re playing in the coming weeks,” then-coach Mike Tice said. “But this feels pretty good.”
It was one of the last feel-good moments of that season. The Vikings lost their next four games, finished 3-7 down the stretch and joined the 1978 Redskins as the only teams to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 — Number of different left cornerbacks that have had to play this season. Antoine Winfield (injured reserve), Chris Cook (felony domestic assault charges), Asher Allen (shoulder injury) and now Benny Sapp, who was out of football two weeks ago.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “He’s 5-1 this year. You can’t argue that. … But we don’t like those Gators too much.” — QB Christian Ponder, former Florida State quarterback talking about Sunday’s matchup with Denver’s Tim Tebow, the formerUniversity of Florida quarterback.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Vikings will start the process of evaluating young players to see what their worth is for the 2012 season.
Tuesday, the team placed four key contributors on injured reserve: free safety Husain Abdullah (concussion), backup safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring), receiver Michael Jenkins (knee) and long-snapper Cullen Loeffler (back).
Replacing them on the roster are: rookie receiver Stephen Burton, safeties Jarrad Page and Andrew Sendejo and long-snapper Matt Katula.
Burton, a seventh-round draft pick of the Vikings this year, was horrible in training camp but hung around for the first 10 games, including seven on the practice squad, before being released last week.
Now, with the team decimated at receiver, the Vikings might throw him in and see what he can do in a game.
Page, 27, is in his sixth NFL season, including five starts in Philadelphia earlier this season. Sendejo went undrafted out of Rice in 2010 and ended up playing in the UFL and then two games with the Cowboys. Neither safety is expected to be in the team’s plans for 2012, but the safety position is so weak, who knows?
Katula, a seven-year veteran who last played eight games in New England in 2010, is strictly a five-week rent-a-player. The Vikings consider Loeffler the best long-snapper in the league and extended his contract during the season.
The one player to keep an eye on this week is free safety Mistral Raymond. With Abdullah and Johnson out of the picture, Raymond, a promising sixth-round draft pick, will make his NFL starting debut. If Raymond lives up to his promise, it will help a team that has massive holes throughout its roster.
–DE Jared Allen has gone back-to-back games without a sack since setting the team record with sacks in 11 consecutive games. Allen is still second in the league with 13 1/2 sacks, but he’s no longer on pace to break the NFL record for sacks in a season (22 1/2). Allen’s pace has slowed to 20.
–WR Devin Aromashodu has started the past four games, but still remains a bit player in the offense. He has just four catches in those games, including none against the Packers on Nov. 14. Aromashodu has only nine catches on the season.
–NT Christian Ballard, who can play anywhere along the defensive line with the possible exception of right end, is getting more comfortable at nose tackle. In the past two weeks, he has started in place of ineffective Remi Ayodeleagainst the Raiders and posted a career-high three quarterback pressures against the Falcons.
–DE Everson Griffen had his fourth sack of the season on Sunday. That gives him a season-high four and was a reminder that he needs to be on the field more often. Griffen is a quick, strong, powerful pass rusher who also is effective rushing from a linebacker position. He also has a team-high 15 special teams tackles.
–OL Joe Berger, who has started the past four games at right guard for the injured Anthony Herrera, had the missed assignment that led to the Falcons tackling Toby Gerhart for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on Sunday. Berger, whose career experience has come mostly at center, was supposed to pull and kick out LB Sean Weatherspoon, the guy who made the tackle. Berger pulled, but turned upfield too soon and blocked the wrong man.
–LS Cullen Loeffler (back) was placed on injured reserve. The team signed seven-year veteran Matt Katula, who played 10 games for the Patriots last season and five years with the Ravens before that. Loeffler is one of the best long-snappers in the game. Obviously, the same rhythm won’t be there with holder Chris Kluwe and kicker Ryan Longwell.
–FS Husain Abdullah was placed on injured reserve after missing back-to-back games because of his second concussion in four weeks. His absence clears the way for the Vikings to finally take a look at rookie sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond.
–S Tyrell Johnson was placed on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury sustained in Atlanta last week. He tore a hamstring ligament from the bone and had surgery Wednesday. He’ll be recovering for six months. Johnson’s career with the Vikings likely ended as well. He’s been a four-year disappointment after the team traded up in the second round to draft him. He was given every opportunity to win the strong safety job, but couldn’t beat out former seventh-round draft pick Jamarca Sanford. Then he got hurt in his second start at free safety. Even if he were healthy, the Vikings would be better off taking a look at rookie Mistral Raymond, which they now have no choice but to do.
–WR Michael Jenkins was placed on injured reserve because of a knee injury sustained in Atlanta last week. He tore a meniscus and will have surgery on Thursday. The Vikings probably will have no choice but to take a look at Stephen Burton, a rookie sixth-round draft pick who was released last week after spending most of the season on the practice squad. Burton was re-signed after Jenkins went down with the knee injury.
–RB Adrian Peterson, who missed Sunday’s game because of a high left ankle sprain, didn’t practice Wednesday and probably won’t try to until Friday. The Vikings are hopeful that he can return, but will be ultra conservative with him.
–CB Asher Allen is day to day with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He was limited in practice on Wednesday.
–RG Anthony Herrera, who has missed the past four games because of a damaged lateral collateral ligament in his left knee, is moving around well and practicing again. He’s a possibility for Sunday. He was limited in practice on Wednesday.
–MLB E.J. Henderson missed practice because of a shoulder injury. He’s not expected to miss Sunday’s game.
–TE Kyle Rudolph, who missed Sunday’s game because of a quadriceps injury, appears on his way to returning on Sunday. He was limited in Wednesday’s practice.
GAME PLAN: Facing Tim Tebow and his primitive passing skills might seem like a breather for a depleted secondary that’s faced Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers twice in the past five games.
If the Vikings can stay gap sound against the run and not lose containment when Tebow takes off running — easier said than done — this is a winnable game at home.
The status of Vikings RB Adrian Peterson’s high left ankle sprain is uncertain. But even if the team has to go with Toby Gerhart at running back, the offense can still put up some points if it finds a way to max protect and get Percy Harvin the ball. Again, that will be easier said than done since the Vikings now have no other wideout with at least 10 catches. Harvin will receive extra attention, but it’s not like that wasn’t already happening before Michael Jenkinsended up on injured reserve because of a knee injury.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings OLB Chad Greenway, who has 39 tackles the past two weeks, vs. Broncos unconventional QB Tim Tebow, who has 78 rushes for 455 yards (5.8) and three touchdowns this season — The responsibility for Tebow goes way beyond any one player, but Greenway is now being credited with having 22 tackles two weeks ago against the Raiders and 17 last week against the Falcons. Too many of the tackles come too far downfield, so he’ll have to have better positioning and take better angles. If the Vikings are gap sound across the board, they should be able to contain Tebow. And if they do that, Tebow could be in trouble facing the Vikings’ pass rush at the Metrodome.
Vikings OTs Charlie Johnson and Phil Loadholt, who have been inconsistent at best this season, vs. Broncos SLB Von Miller — Miller, the second overall draft pick this year, has 4 1/2 sacks during Denver’s current four-game winning streak. He has 10 1/2 on the year and has a chance of breaking Jevon Kearse’s NFL rookie record of 14 1/2 set in 1999. Johnson is a one-year stopgap left tackle that most likely will be replaced after this season. Loadholt has a future with the team and would be a candidate to switch to left tackle if he wasn’t so inconsistent and susceptible to speed rushers.