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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Vikings GM open to dealing No. 23, pits early defense against ‘who?’

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rick Spielman has submitted those names with early-round picks in the last two drafts. You know, the ones that make an average fan pause and turn to the closest ear asking — ‘who is that?’

Last year’s surge, which featured 11 wins, a division title and a heartbreaking playoff loss to the then-reigning NFC Champions, suggests the Vikings and head coach Mike Zimmer should start to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to talent evaluation and development. Spielman has given his coaching staff that benefit, and he put up the early defense against media and fans on Tuesday when addressing Twin Cities media, just two days before the NFL Draft begins Thursday.

“I can truly say,” Spielman said. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years now and I’ve never been around a coaching staff, led by coach Zimmer and his staff, [this strong] on developing young talent. I think that’s becoming pretty clear and evident to the media and to the fans — taking specific guys that fit the Minnesota Vikings. And we are very in tune to what we want.

“You could see us pass by guys that [cause you to] say, ‘why would you pass by him? He’s a good football player.’ Or we may take a guy, a name that may not be familiar to you. We may pick that guy.”

The Vikings will officially be on the clock with the 23rd-overall pick, unless they aren’t. Spielman, who made three consecutive first-round deals from 2012-2014, said he’s taking all calls: “I’ve already had two calls that I can verify today about teams potentially coming up our way,” he said.

One such deal was made when Spielman traded back and drafted linebacker Anthony Barr, who was assumed to be a first-round pick, but caught some off guard as the ninth-overall pick in 2014. The UCLA product had only two years on defense after starting his college career as a running back. With the backing of Zimmer and the coaching staff, Spielman used the Vikings’ first pick on Barr to fill one of the most impactful positions in the defense. And through two years, Barr appears to be a solid selection.

Second-year defensive end Danielle Hunter drew a similar reaction when the Vikings used the 88th-overall pick on him in last year’s third round. Hunter had just 1.5 sacks as a junior at LSU, and would be the NFL’s youngest player last season at age 20. Spielman didn’t risk waiting until the fourth round and ‘reached’ on Hunter, who the coaching staff developed into an immediate player in the rotation. He finished second among all rookies with six sacks last season.

The draft isn’t a science, though math can be used to help identify trends and find value. The Vikings have done just that, recently outsourcing with a Columbia professor to help produce algorithms and bring additional meaning to a combination of raw data. But even with their recent draft success, they’re not immune to the whiff. A year before taking Hunter, they spent an earlier third-round pick (72nd) on a defensive end in Scott Crichton, who was a productive college player (23.5 sacks) at Oregon State, but hasn’t yet found success in the pros.

No matter what, the NFL draft is hit and miss. The New England Patriots recently released 2014 first-round pick Dominique Easley, a talented defensive lineman who didn’t even draw a waiver claim from the other 31 teams this month. So when being judged and graded immediately after this week’s draft, Spielman asks outsiders to not do it on name and college production alone.

“I really believe in the process we go through, the traits we’re looking for and the system fit these coaches want when we bring in these players,” Spielman said. “We have a specific criteria and our draft board gets narrowed down to specific areas in each round, and there are only certain players that are going to fit what we want.”

And they’ve added new experience to the collective voice in the room.

‘No grey area’ with new assistants

Perhaps the least-talked about change as it pertains to the Vikings’ retooled offensive line was the hiring of veteran coach Tony Sparano as the position leader. Zimmer’s first move this offseason was to relieve former position coach Jeff Davidson, two days after the playoff loss to Seattle.

Players have been getting their initial impressions this week as many are in town for the team’s official (and voluntary) workout programs and team meetings.

“He’s no-nonsense. He lives up to the billing,” center John Sullivan said of Sparano. “These are pretty light meetings right now. We’re going over stuff, but you’re limited to how much time you have. But if answers are wrong, Tony is on guys. And I can’t wait to get on the field with him, because I have a feeling it’s going to be a big change in how much we get yelled at.”

Eyebrows raised when the Vikings added two former head coaches in Pat Shurmur and Sparano to the offensive staff under veteran coordinator Norv Turner. The natural thought came about how a trio of experienced minds would mesh while orchestrating a new-look offense for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson.

So far it’s ‘great,’ Spielman said, speaking from his experience in draft meeting rooms with those coaches.

“They had some different ideas,” Spielman said. “But I know coming out of those meetings and as we talked about the players, I can truly tell you what type of player was appealing to them and what type of player wasn’t. There was no grey area with those guys, which I really appreciate. Us as a scouting department, or me personally, may not totally agree with them, but I know where they stand and that’s the most important thing.”

‘Glute activation’

The Vikings hired strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar in February, and players were just introduced to the team’s new programs last week as they arrived for the offseason’s first voluntary workouts.

Early reviews included claims the new program is quicker, but tougher. “Up-tempo,” defensive end Brian Robison described. Though none were as amusing as Everson Griffen’s summary.

“We run before we lift. We work on our explosion. We work on using our hips. We work on mobility,” Griffen said. “We work on glute activation, you know. All the key, necessary pieces you need to have a structured football player. Because it all comes from the glutes. How you move, how you jump.

“Everything comes from your glutes — your trunk.”

So, what constitutes ‘glute activation?’

“You squeeze tight. You hold, you count for a second. But you squeeze real tight,” Griffen said, turning to show media how its done. “It’s a lot of stuff [Salazar] does to help get the glute activation going .I’m telling you, glute activation. All the good guys that can run, hit and drop their hips, they have good leverage and they can explode. They can play good on one foot, off-balance. That’s the key, having good glutes and a good back.”

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn confirmed.

“What?” Munnerlyn exclaimed when hearing of Griffen’s description. “It’s crazy, but it’s actually true. I think I’m doing pretty good with it.”

Captain’s campaign

Munnerlyn can turn to his left and literally see the writing on the wall.

One of the Vikings’ ascetic changes this offseason was to add framed photographs of the franchise’s all-time Pro Bowl players in the subsequent meeting rooms. While Munnerlyn came into his own last season, solidifying himself as the team’s slot cornerback, he doesn’t think a part-time role (which was 65 percent of 2015’s playing time) should limit him from the accolades.

“The next step is making the Pro Bowl to me,” Munnerlyn said. “Taking my team to the playoffs and making the Pro Bowl. Nickel backs don’t make the Pro Bowl, so you guys need to put that out there a little bit more. A nickel should be on the ballot. I don’t now why we’re not on it. It’s a position, just like a fullback.”

The post Notebook: Vikings GM open to dealing No. 23, pits early defense against ‘who?’ appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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