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  1. #1
    singersp's Avatar
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    No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    Posted on Mon, May. 15, 2006

    [size=18px]No middle guy? No problem, yet[/size]

    Vikings happy to let middle linebacker candidates slug it out

    BY DON SEEHOLZER
    Pioneer Press


    The regular-season opener at Washington is still nearly four months off, but the Vikings' offensive and defensive starting lineups seem all but set — with one notable exception.

    As the Vikings come to the end their second offseason minicamp, they still have no clear front-runner for the key position of middle linebacker.

    That's just fine with defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin.

    "Hey, if I'm looking for comfort, I need to find a new line of work," he said Sunday. "It's a continual process. I'm not going to lose sleep on the fact that that's not sorted out right now. The reality is that we're trying to be the best that we can be. We'll have an open mind regarding a lot of positions this time of year."

    For the record, Napoleon Harris has worked with the first-team defense at middle linebacker during this three-day minicamp, but E.J. Henderson and Dontarrious Thomas also are in the mix.

    Tomlin had a quick answer when asked if the Vikings have a No. 1 guy at the position.

    "We do not," he said, "but we've got some strong candidates. We've got some guys who are working.

    "A lot of those things ultimately won't be determined until we play football in pads. This is a collision game. We're running around in shorts. We take it with a grain of salt what we see right now. That's a violent position, and that thing will be determined with the pads on."

    That last statement wasn't lost on the three contenders, who don't need to look at a calendar to know what time of year it is.

    Harris, who started three games at strong-side linebacker last season before losing his job to Keith Newman, declined to be interviewed for this story. But his competitors agreed that it's far too early to start speculating on who will emerge as the starter.

    "No guess," Henderson said. "This is only the second minicamp. A lot of things can happen. A lot of people can step up. We've still got a long way to go."

    Thomas, who started two games at middle linebacker as a rookie in 2004 and two more at weak-side linebacker last season, saw it the same way.

    "It's pretty wide open," he said. "You've just got to go out there and give great effort. We've got some good guys competing for the spot, so may the best man win."

    Thomas said he played middle linebacker in a Tampa 2 defense at Auburn.

    "I feel I fit it pretty good," Thomas said. "It's a natural fit for me."

    Henderson started 14 games at middle linebacker in 2004 in a different defense before moving to weak-side linebacker last season.

    No. 1 draft choice Chad Greenway is expected to open the regular season at that position, but Henderson said it doesn't matter to him where he lines up.

    "I'm all over the place," he said. "Either way, I think I can adapt. I think all of us can adapt anywhere they put us."

    Generally speaking, Tomlin said he's looking for a few things in whoever emerges as the starter.

    "Something goes with being the guy who stands in front of the huddle," he said. "You've got to have a man in front of that huddle with some presence. We feel like all of those guys have those kind of qualities.

    "But aside from those kind of things, you've got to be a football player. You've got to be an instinct football player. You've got to be able to play on a horizontal field and you've got to also be able to play on a vertical field."

    Running down the candidates, Tomlin said Henderson is one of those instinct football players.

    "He's got nice short-space quickness," Tomlin said. "He's a quick-key guy. His see-to-do (ratio) is very quick.

    "Dontarrious Thomas is another guy who definitely has some vertical skills and the ability to play in a vertical space. He's doing things well also."

    Tomlin said the same goes for Harris, who started at middle linebacker for Oakland against Tomlin's Tampa Bay Buccaneers four years ago in Super Bowl XXXVII.

    "All those guys are capable," Tomlin said. "It's not about capable; it's about instinctual. How quickly can they process information? And that's what we're exploring right now, playing multiple guys at that spot."

    However it plays out and whoever winds up starting, Tomlin is in no rush at this point to decide.

    "We're not looking for harmony," he said. "Harmony is usually an untruth this time of year. We're going to have an open mind and let the play sort itself out."

    Don Seeholzer can be reached at [email protected]

    No middle guy? No problem, yet

    "If at first you don't succeed, parachuting is not for you"

  2. #2
    singersp's Avatar
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    [size=18px]Muddle in middle no worry[/size]

    If comfort was what he was looking for, Mike Tomlin was saying Sunday, "I need to find a new line of work."

    Kevin Seifert, Star Tribune
    Last update: May 14, 2006 – 9:38 PM


    If comfort was what he was looking for, Mike Tomlin was saying Sunday, "I need to find a new line of work."

    Tomlin, the Vikings defensive coordinator, said he is not getting anxious about the unsettled nature of his middle linebacker position. During the first two days of minicamp this weekend, veteran Napoleon Harris -- a part-time player in 2005 -- got the majority of snaps with the first team. Dontarrious Thomas, another 2005 reserve, took most of them in April's veteran minicamp.

    There have been some indications that E.J. Henderson eventually will assume the job, but he continued to work at outside linebacker Sunday.

    "It's a continual process," Tomlin said. "I'm not going to lose sleep over the fact that it's not sorted out right now. The reality is, if we're trying to be the best that we can be, we'll have an open mind regarding a lot of positions this time of year."

    Tomlin did not handicap the race but cautioned against ruling out Harris, who was playing middle linebacker for Oakland when the Raiders met Tomlin's Tampa Bay team in Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003.

    "People tend to forget that," Tomlin said. "He's done some nice things."

    Line depth

    The draft-day addition of right guard Artis Hicks solidified the Vikings' starting offensive line. Just as significant, it left four former starters battling with several rookie free agents for one or two roster spots this summer.

    Most teams keep eight or perhaps nine offensive linemen on their final roster, including their five starters. Assuming that center/guard Jason Whittle and rookie Ryan Clark make the team, coaches must determine whether there is a spot for Adam Goldberg, Chris Liwienski, Mike Rosenthal and/or Anthony Herrera this season.

    Those players have combined to start 89 games for the Vikings, including 39 last season. All four have been working with the second-team offense during minicamp: Goldberg at left tackle, Rosenthal at right tackle, Liwienski at left guard and Herrera at right guard.

    Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the team will emphasize position flexibility as those players compete.

    "Guys on the offensive line that can play multiple positions end up being guys that are real valuable," Bevell said.

    Etc.

    • Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said that barring a change in plan, Koren Robinson will open training camp as the team's primary kickoff returner. Mewelde Moore will do the same at punt returner. Moore is wearing a yellow "no-contact" jersey during this weekend's camp while he continues his recovery from offseason surgery on his right wrist.

    • Receiver Marcus Robinson made two of the prettiest catches of minicamp. In the morning session, he reached over defensive back Dustin Fox on a deep post pattern. And in the afternoon practice, Robinson made a one-handed grab over cornerback Fred Smoot on a 60-yard pass.

    • Cornerback Cedric Griffin missed the afternoon practice for personal reasons.

    • Tomlin said rookie linebacker Chad Greenway, the Vikings' first-round pick in last month's draft "is doing some good things" but has room for improvement.

    "To be quite honest with you, he needs to do a better job of hustling," Tomlin said

    Muddle in middle no worry

    "If at first you don't succeed, parachuting is not for you"

  3. #3
    PurplePeopleEaters's Avatar
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    Interesting to hear that Napo seems like the leading candidate. I was always convinced that the guy only needed proper coaching. Should be a good contest with Napo, EJ, and Dontarrious.

  4. #4
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    I was among those disappointed with Napo last year. But I also think that it isn't fair to base anyone's performance (good or bad) based on last season. It will be interesting to see how players perform now with decent defensive coaching. I am looking forward to it.
    Zeus wrote:
    When are you going to realize that picking out the 20 bad throws this year and ignoring the 300 good ones does not make your point?

    =Z=

  5. #5
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    If these three can't cut it, we need to grab Donnie Edwards to come in and take control of the situation...the guy is a STUD and could easily give us two or three great years...SOLIDIFYING the middle of our potentially DOMINANT defense!!!
    BANNED OR DEAD...I'LL TAKE EITHER ONE

  6. #6
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    The way I see it, is everyone has a clean slate with the new coaching staff.. When we had Tice, and Cottrell as our HC, and DC, you never knew what was going to happen.. Whether it is Harris, Henderson, Thomas, it doesn't matter. We all know whoever wins the position will have earned it.

  7. #7
    2beersTommy's Avatar
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    If comfort was what he was looking for, Mike Tomlin was saying Sunday, "I need to find a new line of work."


    Whats up with that statement?? Most people who say they need a new line of work, are frustrated, sick & tired of what they're doing, and need to get out of it. Didn't he just get there not too long ago ? wtf

  8. #8
    AngloVike's Avatar
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    Its not always down to the coaching, there is an issue of whether the player fits the scheme that is in place. Some players are better suited to playing zone and some are better playing man. Unfortunately some players get labelled as busts when it's just a question of not being in the right place with the right co-ordinator.

    Everyone is starting with a clean slate under Tomlin and I'm willing to let him decide who fits and who doesn't - least it sounds like everyone will get a fair crack at things.
    Time spent annoying a Packer fan is never time wasted...


  9. #9
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    "2beersTommy" wrote:
    If comfort was what he was looking for, Mike Tomlin was saying Sunday, "I need to find a new line of work."


    Whats up with that statement?? Most people who say they need a new line of work, are frustrated, sick & tired of what they're doing, and need to get out of it. Didn't he just get there not too long ago ? wtf
    I think what he meant was, that he acknowledges the fact that it is a pressure packed job, and he wouldn't be here if he didnt want that.JMO

  10. #10
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    Re: No middle guy? No problem, yet.

    that very well could be, but he knew it was pressure filled when he took it, and folks say things for a reason..IMO

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