Settling the Dust-Week 2
Author: Josh Fiedler
If you are one of the regular readers of this vikings.com column (or if you are one of the guys or gals that I tend to hang out with over a drink or two while watching preseason football) and are back for its fourth season, you know that I have always placed a high value in winning these games. I think that too little emphasis is placed upon the outcome, as it is "only preseason" and "the games don't matter." I have always been of the mindset that going 4-0 is a heckuva lot better than going 0-4â€”not that that has necessarily changedâ€”and these games need to be played to win almost as much as if they were regular season games. But I have now tamed down my stance on thatâ€”at least if this team continues to use its preseason games as the coaching staff did on Saturday night.
Admittedly, I am not old enough and have not been around long enough to remember, distinctly, much of what happened in the pre-Dennis Green preseason era. I cannot tell you much about how Jerry Burns ran the majority of his preseason games and I definitely am too young to recall Bud Grant's or Les Steckel's run. That being said, the Childress Era is already one with a markedly different feel to it than seasons in the somewhat recent past. For the first time, it seemed as if they players on the field were attempting to accomplish more than simply outscoring their opponents. It seemed as if they were being put out on the field for a purposeâ€”to compete for a spot on the team. Gone are the days of giving Obafemi Ayanbadejo his 10-12 carries a preseason game only to have him make it to the last round of roster cuts and bid him goodbye all before calling him back again the next year. Replacing those times, it now seems as if this staff legitimately is using these gamesâ€”not just the practices that most of us fans do not seeâ€”to test both some of the experienced players, as well as the young guys, to see what they can bring to the field come the regular season. I am not sure how common it is around the league, as I will be honest and say that I do not watch a great deal of preseason week one and week two games, but maybe the reason we Vikings have been more interested in winning than other teams seem to be is because that is all we have going for us. In the past we have not gotten to see a lot of the position battles as during the Tice and Green regimes most of those decisions were made based upon play during camp, and not necessarily as much on their play during the games.
As I mentioned, it seems as if Brad Childress and his staff are testing both some of the veterans who have maybe been around a while but have never really taken a starting role and ran with it, while also attempting to see which if their rookies and young guys with little or no NFL experience can contribute to this team. On Saturday night there were a few of the "old" guys who seemed to have been given plenty of time to show their stuff, and I can only believe it was in an effort to determine if they are going to contribute or if it is time to cut ties. Two of these guys were Spencer Johnson and Dontarrious Thomas. While most would probably scoff at the notion that Thomas doesn't already have a roster spot locked up, I am not so sure. While the position is not exactly loaded with talent or depth, Thomas has struggled at times keeping up with the speed of the NFL game in his first two years after being taken in the second round of the 2004 draft out of Auburn. He had done relatively well on special teams, finishing 3rd overall on the team in each of this first two years, but has done nothing at the linebacker position to ensure himself a guaranteed role. An extremely smart individual, loaded with a ton of talent, I have always been confused as to why Thomas has not quickly evolved into a solid NFL player. I recall watching him in mini camp following the '04 draft and being as impressed with Thomas as any other new player on the field. In both of the first two games, Thomas has looked better than in the past and I look to him to provide this team a solid player at a somewhat murky position.
The other guy, Johnson, is another young player out of the Auburn system. After going undrafted he did use the preseason in 2004 to prove worthy enough to even start a few games that year, but I never got the feeling that the Tice staff was all that enamored with the job he did. I, on the other hand, felt that Johnson could have seen more time than he was given. Granted, the two guys in front of himâ€”Kevin and Pat Williamsâ€”certainly deserved the time they were given, Johnson could probably play one of the end spots to see more playing time. Inside is a better fit for him, but I thought the coaching staff could have done more to use him. Saturday night he did himself no harm in playing a solid game. I look to Johnson to be the first avenue the coaching staff looks should either of the Williams suffer injury or falter whatsoever.
Finally, there were a couple of the youngest guysâ€”one on each side of the ballâ€”who seemed to have been granted a fair amount of time to strut their in-game stuff. Heath Farwell at linebacker and Jason Carter at wide receive made some nice plays and might have catapulted themselves up the depth charts a bit. While Farwell was likely to have been given every chance to make the team, if for no other reason than his special teams prowess, he has done well enough to deserve second-string consideration in the LB ranks. Carter's role, as well, was likely more defined in the area of special teamsâ€”especially with the uncertain future of Koren Robinsonâ€”as he was a kickoff return man at Texas A&M, but he has also done a nice job at the wide receiver spot. After Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor, and Marcus Robinson there is a bit of a logjam for the final couple of spots at wide receiver. With 11 guys listed on the Vikings roster at that position, having a game like he did Saturday night in which he hooked up with the blossoming Tavaris Jackson for a long TD catch, certainly helps his chances of making this team.
While I am not going to give up entirely my rants on how much momentum can be built for the regular season by winning preseason games, I now can see how these contests can go a long ways in developing players and defining roster spots as well.
Many pundits out there have suggested we should make a quick run at Ashley Lelie out of Denver or Jerry Porter out of Oakland, both disgruntled receivers in their current systems. At this point, my vote (not that I have one) would be to hold tight. These players, for one, are not going to all of a sudden turn over a new leaf with their current teams and I'd have to believe the asking price can go nowhere but down...here is hoping Chad Greenway makes a full and speedy recovery. He is just one of those guys you have to cheer for...seeing Warren Moon get inducted to the football Hall of Fame recently reminded me of an interview I did with him only a couple of years ago. He mentioned that the Vikings are still a team he follows very closely and does cheer for them to do well...in Ray Edwards, Greg Blue, and Dustin Fox, the Vikings have three young players who could cause a lot of excitement on special teams for the time being and on the defensive side of the ball in the not too distant future...it may be because it's still baseball season, or because the team is ran by a Selig, but I must say my distaste for the Brewers is stronger than it is for the Packers...the Reggie Bush fantasy football commercial on ESPN where he gets his buddy to take him so he can then select Larry Johnson is good stuff...speaking of good stuff and ESPN there are no better sports talk shows than Mike & Mike in the Morning and the Jim Rome Show. All of these guys have a great "shtick"...Mewelde Moore's injury is another disappointment in what has been a far too injury-riddled career...one of my top column advisers (who is far more fashionable than I) noted the new referee outfits are a step back...
I agreed with your take on Kornheiser. Near the end of the game he started to worry about the possibility of overtime and how it was getting past his bedtime and how happy he was when the Vikings decided to go for the win as opposed to the tie. What a whiner. Kornheiser reminds me of my kids when they were five. Maybe Tony should have had an afternoon nap. I know that Coach Childress made the right call. It's preseason for crying out load and who wants to risk any starters getting hurt in a preseason game ala Clinton Portis with the â€˜Skins. Anyway that's my two cents worth.
By the way, I am a Vikings/Chargers fan here in the heart of Chiefs country. Believe when I tell you that Tony Richardson was an under used asset under the Dick Vermeil regime.
I seem to have a problem. Every Vikings Jersey I buy, the player ends up leaving the team. Years ago I traded my brother my Moss jersey for his Cris Carter jersey. Not long after, Carter left the team. I then bought a new Moss jersey, and he's gone now. Last year I bought Culpepper and Burleson, and as you know, they're both gone. I was just wondering your opinion on what new jersey I should buy. I don't want a player that's going to be leaving any time soon, but I don't want a player who I can't necessarily brag about. I was thinking Troy Williamson since he's looking good this year and he's young. I also live in Wisconsin so it would be nice if Sharper would stay around longer and I could get his jersey and rub it in to the Packer fans that he is no longer theirs. One other player I'm thinking about is Chester Taylor. Let me know what you think.
Thanks, Jake and Rooster, for the fun e-mails. And, Jake, to answer your question I would likely go with Sharper being you are in the heart of Packer territory. Either that or you could go with the path rarely taken and suit up in a kicker's jersey by purchasing a Ryan Longwell version. The readers came ready to play this week as I received a substantial number of e-mails that were fun to read. Keep them coming and I will keep publishing a couple of the better ones. Until next time, it's been a pleasure...
That's all for this week, folks, contact me via the electronic mail (or e-mail) and let me know what is on your mind. As in years past we'll have the e-mail bag close out the column.