Fans and media sure can be a picky pack of people.
We look at a 252-pound middle linebacker like Jasper Brinkley, call him a “two-down thumper” and complain that he lacks the speed and agility to be a “three-down playmaker.”
Then we look at a 232-pound middle linebacker like Eric Kendricks, call him a “three-down playmaker” and complain that he lacks the size of a “two-down thumper.”
Unless Brian Urlacher climbs into Hot Tub Time Machine III, returns to the year 2000 and brings his younger self back to sign with the Vikings, Kendricks looks more like the NFL’s modern version of the three-down middle linebacker than most of us realize. (Besides, we all know by now that you can’t interact with yourself when you travel back in time. Duh.).
If that’s not good enough to calm your nerves, let’s all crawl out onto a very short limb and suggest that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer might have a better idea as to the type of middle linebacker who best fits the defensive scheme he has been building for decades.
“I like big guys,” Zimmer said last week when asked about his small MLB. “But the thing about us defensively is that the way we play with our defensive line, some of the linebackers can be a little bit smaller because part of the job of the defensive line is to keep our linebackers free so that they can run and hit. I’m not concerned about his size.”
Neither is the guy who won the 2014 Butkus Award. (Note to those who think the world was created the day they were born: The Butkus Award is named after a fella named Dick Butkus. Google him. He was pretty good). Neither is the guy who made a school-record 481 tackles at UCLA, and twice led FBS schools in solo tackles for an entire season.
“I played middle linebacker throughout college,” Kendricks said. “I started off as a weakside backer, really young. Our middle linebacker, Patrick Leamer, got hurt and unfortunately had to retire, so I was forced into the middle and I had to make calls within two weeks of a game. I was kind of forced into it, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Asked if he thought he needed to gain weight, Kendricks said, “At 235 lbs, I’m pretty comfortable at it. I could play fast, I could play tough. I just feel comfortable at it. We’ll see if I need to gain weight, I’ve never had a problem gaining weight or losing weight, so we’ll see.”
The Vikings have waived wide receiver Kain Colter and guard Jesse Somsel.
Colter, best known for leading the charge for the Northwestern football team to unionize, spent last season on the Vikings’ practice squad as he tried to make the conversion from college quarterback to NFL receiver.
Somsel apparently failed to impress at last weekend’s rookie minicamp after he was signed as a rookie free agent out of Saginaw Valley State.
The moves opened up a pair of roster spots, one of which has already been claimed by former Gophers wide receiver Isaac Fruechte, who signed today.
Fruechte only caught 18 passes for the Gophers last season. He was a prep star at Caledonia High School, where he won two state titles. The Winona Daily News caught up to Fruechte before the rookie camp last weekend in this story.
Fruechte was one of a bunch of tryout guys at Winter Park over the weekend competing to be the next Adam Thielen.
Sometimes philosophy is shaped by options. I’m not sure if that’s what’s going on with the Wild as it prepares for an important offseason, but it could be at least part of why I got the sense from listening to GM Chuck Fletcher and head coach Mike Yeo field questions Monday that there will be no dramatic changes for the Wild.
Fletcher spoke at length about internal improvement. When asked how to beat Chicago as the years go on, one of the solutions he offered came from the team’s youth: that by his count 10 players the Wild dressed in Game 4 were 25 or younger, while the Blackhawks had just four such players.
Fletcher insisted that Chicago, “didn’t beat our A game,” which is fair enough. He also said the Wild’s goal “is to be consistently good.”
Mission accomplished, but back to that original point: is that a true philosophy or a philosophy that springs from the options the Wild has (or doesn’t have)? Even if Fletcher was inclined to make a major roster shakeup in an attempt to inject more (or a different kind of) talent to the team, could he really do it?
Minnesota will be pressed up against the salary cap, locked in by the big-money players it has already signed and the impending free agents of its own that it wants to sign (Devan Dubnyk, at the top of that list, reiterated Monday that he wants to be here and it sounds from Fletcher like the feeling is mutual, so expect that to be a smooth negotiation and for Dubnyk to be back).
On the youth end, the Wild has a pretty clear picture of what young players are a part of the organization’s future, and acquiring anyone of consequence in a trade would mean giving up high-end pieces in exchange.
So if Fletcher wanted to shake things up, I’m not sure he could (at least not effectively). So is his stay-the-course and hope the young guys find another gear really the course he wants to be on, or is the course he has to be on?
I’m guessing it’s a little from both columns, with self-preservation combining with wise decision-making to steer the Wild with a calm hand. Making it to the final eight teams each of the past two seasons is nothing to be ashamed of, while panicking because of a bad series against Chicago would only serve the thirstiest of fans and not the organization as a whole.
But there’s a part of me, too, that cringes when Fletcher and Yeo talk of bad bounces in the Blackhawks series, even if they do so in a respectful way that doesn’t seek to make excuses. Yes, I saw it, too: the Wild was both the least lucky and the lesser of the two teams in that series. Even if it was just one of the two, though, we all still might be writing about the offseason at the same point in time … and wondering if this is a team built to make the final eight but no more.
Time will tell. Fletcher said it is incumbent on him to make the team better, so I can’t imagine there will be no moves made. He’s been crafty before, stealing Nino Niederreiter for Cal Clutterbuck. But is that kind of move really the difference between the Wild and Blackhawks? In a different year, with the same players and a less frantic regular season, could the Wild slay that dragon?
I don’t know. I’m all for not panicking, but I’m all for big playoff goals, too. Again, though: The fact that staying on track and relying on improvement from within is the only option doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one.
But fans better hope that a quiet offseason won’t be the equivalent of a Minnesotan who would really love to live by the ocean insisting he’d rather live by a lake.
It’s been a while since I blogged up an installment of “Five Vikings stats.” The fact that the Vikings haven’t played a game since late December might have something to do with that. But today, I decided to bring it back for a special spring edition featuring five noteworthy stats from the draft class.
60.4 — opponents’ passer rating when targeting top pick Trae Waynes.
Pro Football Focus started charting college players last year, and they are not big fans of Waynes, who they felt was a second-round prospect. Why not? He didn’t fare well in many of their metrics. According to PFF, Waynes allowed 50.8 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught, which ranked 40th among cornerbacks. They said he allowed 14.9 yards per reception, which ranked 107th. And quarterbacks had a 60.4 passer rating targeting Waynes, which ranked 21st. He did impress on deep throws, allowing a passer rating of just 21.9 on those throws. Mike Zimmer voiced concerns about PFF’s work last year, so the Vikings coach would probably argue Waynes is a better prospect than they’re giving him credit for.
481 — school-record tackle total for linebacker Eric Kendricks at UCLA.
In the second round, the Vikings drafted a linebacker who was always around the football in college. In his four years at UCLA, Kendricks twice led Division I-A (FBS) in solo tackles. Last season, when he was named the 2014 Butkus Award winner, Kendricks had 101 solo tackles, which would have been enough for him to crack the top 60 in the nation in total tackles without including his 48 assisted tackles. Kendrick’s 308 career solo tackles are the most in the nation since 2005 per College Football Reference. And his 481 career combined tackles broke a UCLA record that stood nearly 40 years. Kendricks is starting off his NFL career at middle linebacker.
12.3 — run stop percentage for defensive end Danielle Hunter in 2014.
Third-round pick Danielle Hunter had three sacks in 2013 and then just 1.5 in 2014, which isn’t exactly peak production for a defensive end. He is going to need work to transform from a freak athlete to a polished pass rusher. But at least he is a pretty reliable run defender. Hunter recorded 41 stops against the run (not to be confused with tackles) in his final season at LSU, according to Pro Football Focus. That was by far the best among the edge rushers they charted. Hunter finished second in the nation in run stop percentage behind Stanford’s James Vaughters. Zimmer requires that his defensive ends defend the run, too, so the selection of Hunter makes sense.
10 — total pressures allowed by offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings in 2014.
Pro Football Focus recently listed the Vikings selecting Clemmings in the fourth round as one biggest steals of the draft. They loved his work in the running game, as he was their highest-graded offensive tackle there. He graded out well in pass protection, too, though they have concerns about him in that area. He allowed an impressive 10 total pressures in 2014 while playing right tackle at Pittsburgh. But the competition in the ACC was less than stellar, and Clemmings had slip-ups in pass protection at the Senior Bowl, where PFF tagged him with five pressures allowed in 28 snaps.
81 — catches for tight end MyCole Pruitt last season, most in Division I.
The Vikings are excited about this fifth-round pick. Pruitt played at the FCS level at Southern Illinois, but the two-time first-team All-American was the most productive tight end in Division I by many measures. Pruitt led the way in catches with 81, receiving yards with 861 and receiving touchdowns with 13. Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, to compare, was tied for the FBS lead with eight receiving scores. Now, the level of play surely factored into his production. But per PFF, in his one game against an FBS opponent this past fall, Pruitt caught 10 of his 11 targets against Purdue for 136 yards.