Brian Hall’s Oct. 17 Vikings mailbag

The Josh Freeman era with the Minnesota Vikings is beginning and the readers want to know about the new starting quarterback. After weeks of hearing readers calling for anyone else at quarterback instead of Christian Ponder, some aren’t sold on the potential of Freeman.
Here’s this week’s Vikings’ mailbag:

Question: I don’t believe the signing of josh freeman will make any difference. He’s a mirror image of Christian ponder. Their numbers are about equal. When are the Vikings going to stop their quarterback experiments.
— Casey, Minneapolis
Answer: Stats-wise, there isn’t much of a difference between Ponder and Freeman this season. But Freeman has shown more potential throwing the football during his career. He’s twice had seasons of 20-plus touchdown passes and even threw for more than 4,000 yards last season. The style of offense is different in Minnesota than Tampa Bay, but Freeman has what coaches dream about. He’s big at 6-foot-6, mobile and has a strong arm.
This experiment, with the Vikings still unsure of a future starter at quarterback, is a worthy one. I believe Ponder had his chances to secure his spot and never seized the opportunity. Minnesota saw a potential starter in Freeman and have an 11-game tryout to see if he can be a long-term answer. With the season at 1-4 and the playoffs all but out of the question, now is a good time for the Vikings to see if they can develop Freeman, who Tampa Bay thought was a franchise quarterback just a couple of years ago.
Q: Is this finally the year that CB Cook need to go if he cannot stay on the field anymore? Since, he come to the league, this guy just can’t stay healthy for some reason?
— Omar, Mankato
A: Cook’s health is a big issue. Minnesota still believes he’s talented enough to be a quality starting cornerback, but he played 22 games in his three seasons before this year and never has played more than 10 games in a season. Cook has already missed one game this year because of injury.
He’s well aware of his reputation and talked about the need to play 15 games this season after missing the Week 4 game. Cook is making it hard for the Vikings to consider him a foundation piece because he hasn’t been able to stay in the lineup. It will be up to Cook to prove he can stay healthy and on the field. He also, through 26 NFL games, is still looking for his first career interception.

Q: Am I becoming the next Barry Sander, wasting my primetime behind mediocre QB’s and is Freeman really the answer?
— Adrian Peterson, Eden Prairie
A: Thanks for submission Adrian. I didn’t know you were a loyal reader. What are your thoughts on Freeman? Does he have a chance to be the answer?
Really, Peterson’s case is an interesting one. He’s the best running back in a league that has become passing-game dominated. Peterson carried the Vikings at the end of last season, but he could only take them so far even while having one of the best seasons by a running back in NFL history.
Only time will tell if Freeman can be the steady quarterback Minnesota, and Peterson, has needed. Freeman has potential. But sadly Peterson’s career is shaping up more like Barry Sanders’ career in Detroit, a special talent that could never reach the big games because of shortcomings on his team.
Q: How long are we the Vikings fans must suffer because of the Vikings organization’s refusal to get a legitimate quarterback like Fran Tarkenton and a coach like Bud Grant or Tony Dungy? Thanks.
— Dr. Ajit Thakur, Springfield, Virginia
A: Not sure what help Tarkenton would do, but I’m sure some people probably believe Grant or Dungy would be better options than Leslie Frazier at this point. Honestly, Minnesota would love to find a long-term answer at the quarterback position. The team’s front office doesn’t want yearly stop-gap solutions. It’s one reason they took a chance on drafting Ponder in the first round. Unfortunately, the move didn’t pay off as it looks like Ponder’s time as a starter with the Vikings is over.
Freeman is a worthy gamble. He isn’t costing the team much money. They have 11 games to see if he can develop into an answer at the most important position in football. And if it doesn’t work out, Minnesota will go back to the drawing board in the offseason. No doubt, the No. 1 priority for the Vikings is finding a long-term solution at quarterback.
Q: Can the Vikings address their needs at the DB position before the trade dead line?  This has been an area of concern for quite a while now. What’s Winfield’s status or is he available for hire?
— IM Brewer, San Diego, CA
A: It’s time to give up the Winfield fascination. Did the Vikings err by releasing him in the offseason? Sure and I think they would agree if they were given some kind of truth serum. (They do make that, right?) But I also don’t think there’s any chance of Winfield returning now.
If Winfield was going to come back to Minnesota, it probably would have happened weeks ago. He’s reportedly still keeping himself in shape in case he decides to make a comeback. But it’s also telling he hasn’t signed with any team, let alone the Vikings. 
The trade deadline is Oct. 29. I don’t believe we will see any type of help in the secondary come by trades. Minnesota still could continue to search the waiver wire for possible help. The Vikings will try to add help if they see an option. At 1-4 this season, the Vikings need to see what they have in Cook, Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes. Cook has to prove he can stay healthy — and an interception or two would be nice. Robinson has struggled mightily but he needs the experience. He was a third-round pick just last season. Robinson shouldn’t be playing ahead of Rhodes, who looks like a strong pick and just needs more time to adapt to the NFL.
Q: With Robinson, Allen, and Griffen all in their contract years, what was the rationale for re-signing Robinson?  Allen is a super star and Griffen is younger.  What do you think the front office strategy will be?
— Eric R, Commerce, Texas
A: I believe the mailer is referring to end Brian Robison. It wasn’t a shock to see Minnesota agree to an extension with Robison, with five of the team’s top-6 defensive lineman entering free agency.  Jared Allen is very likely looking at his last season with the Vikings. I could see Minnesota trying to sign Griffen to an extension as well. Robison was likely just the first piece of the puzzle to return.
Robison wanted to be here, has earned his next contract by being a solid starter the past three seasons and gives the Vikings some stability along the line. Griffen still could be re-signed. I think when all is said and done, Minnesota might have a starting defensive line next year of Robison, Letroy Guion, Sharrif Floyd and Griffen.

Q: The Vikings defense as allowed thirty or more points in their four losses this season. Not many games will be won, if this trend continues. The Vikings problems start with the defense and the offense line. Which ever quarterback gets the starting nod will not make any difference. The defense wins championships. The Vikings defense and offensive line must improve in order to win.
— Mike, Minneapolis
A: While so much of the focus has been on the quarterback position, the defense has been the biggest detriment this season. Not to absolve the quarterback — or the defense — blame needs to be shared when a team is 1-4 and both the offense and defense need improvement.
But the defense, particularly in the secondary, has been a big letdown. The cornerbacks are struggling to cover and the only defensive back with an interception is safety Harrison Smith, who might miss several games because of a turf toe injury. The pass rush hasn’t been as effective as past seasons either. The combination of the pass rush not getting to the cornerback and the coverage issues in the secondary has turned opposing quarterbacks into stars.
Minnesota needs Allen, Robison and Griffen to apply more pressure on quarterbacks, the defense as a whole to stand up better against the run and more improved coverage in the secondary.
Q: Although there are still 11 games left in the season, a lot of fans are probably loosing hope in this years campaign by looking at the 1-4 record. With the bright lights off playoffs dimming in the distance, one thing that does give hope to fans is the 2014 Draft. The question is, which direction should Rick Spielman and company go with pontentionally favorable draft positioning to help supplement some of the weaker parts of the lineup?
— PatD, Lubbock, Tx
A: There is still a lot of season to play out to really narrow where Minnesota might be looking in the draft, but I think we can make assumptions on three spots, in particular with how the season has gone to this point.
Freeman’s success will play a big part in the quarterback competition. If Freeman falters — or signs elsewhere in the offseason — the Vikings will be looking for their quarterback of the future. To do so, Minnesota would need to look early in the draft and all reports say next year should be a strong draft for quarterbacks. The Vikings will also continue to look at defensive backs, particularly cornerbacks, and pass rushers.
Q: Why is it that the Vikings hardly ever blitz anyone? Seems like they just sit back and think that the DB’s can cover their guys for 6 to 10 seconds. They should only have to cover for no more then 4 seconds. Also, when the Vikings are getting blitzed all the time, why don’t they throw more screen passes to slow down the rush?
— Tony Bolinger, Bakersfield, CA
A: Minnesota has actually blitzed more this season than they have in past seasons. Maybe coaches realize the defensive line isn’t applying the pressure it has in the past and are trying to manufacture ways to get to the quarterback.
Particularly the Vikings blitzed more heavily in the loss to the Browns and it seemed to help get Cleveland off its game in the second half. However, the blitzing was less effective and less used as the Browns drove for a game-winning drive. If Minnesota can’t sustain more pressure up front, I do believe more blitzing could be possible this season.
Q: I Feel for the Purple…I really do.  But coach Frazier has brought this upon himself. Because of his obvious inability to lead, surround himself with quality coaching and adapt to in-game situations, the Vikings season is now lost.  Question: Do you see ownership and Spielman going in a new direction in the next couple of weeks? Freeman, Patterson, Rhodes, Floyd in…Frazier/Musgrave/Williams out?  I’ll hang up and listen…
— Jack Fleischacher, Pine City, MN
A: Thanks for the call, er, message. If the Vikings’ season continues to spiral down, I do see a coaching change coming. I don’t think it will happen in-season and not sure if an in-season move is beneficial. But if Minnesota looks as uninspired as it did on Sunday in the loss to Carolina, Spielman and the ownership will have no choice but to move on from Frazier and his coaches.
I have always been a believer in Frazier’s ability as a head coach and his strong suit of handling adversity and issues that can sometimes arise in a locker room of 53 players. But the team has looked ill-prepared several times this season and that does fall on the coaches to an extent. Frazier is a manager and is adept at handling players, but he likely needs strong coordinators from a scheme and game plan standpoint. If Minnesota doesn’t turn around its season somewhat, Frazier won’t get the chance to see what life would be like with different coordinators.
Q: I look at the best running back in the league and  receivers that could compete with a lot of teams receivers. We have a lot of weapons that aren’t being used to their potential. Reggie Bush ran all over us on various play calls. Adrian is a better back and should and could be used the same way. Screens, shovel passes like Carolina used. I really do believe we have the weapons to compete if used correctly. Why doesn’t our so-called offensive coordinator implement plays that utilize our talent? What about Cordarelle Patterson? Lets open this offense up.
— Jim Huber, Brownton, MN
A: There were a few questions this week about the need to open up the offense and better use Adrian Peterson. Peterson has never been a big weapon in the passing game, and I’m not sure why coaches have been reluctant on doing so. Getting Peterson in space would seem to be a good thing. Minnesota is always going to be a run-first team, but creativity has been lacking this season.
Freeman should open up the offense, as he learns it, a bit with his strong arm and ability to throw the ball deep to Jerome Simpson, Greg Jennings, Patterson and Wright. Patterson’s usage on offense is still curious. He’s seen his snaps go up from earlier in the season. But last week, when Minnesota was in catch-up mode, Joe Webb was on the field more than Patterson. The Vikings have upgraded their receiver situation and still have Peterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Maybe Freeman is the one able to get them the ball.
Q: now with josh freeman on the team are the vikings going to trade or release one of the other quarterbacks like ponder or cassel?
— Michael Kray, staples,mn
A: According to Frazier, he’s never given any thought to Ponder not being on the roster all season long. I feel the Vikings have to at least entertain trades of Ponder and/or Matt Cassel. Cassel started the past two games but is now the third quarterback. He hasn’t caused any disruptions with his situation, but you’d have to believe he would enjoy the chance to go somewhere else, where he’d maybe have the opportunity to play.
Ponder said last week a trade would be tough. He changed his tune a little bit this week and said he’d have to see what’s best for him and his family. I don’t foresee any quarterback trades before the Oct. 29 deadline. I’m not sure if there are teams out there interested in Cassel or Ponder at this point, or what would be offered back the Vikings way. Minnesota should be open to all possibilities. I’m just not sure if it’s going to happen at this point.
Q: looks like the worst viking defence in many years, we are fooled all the time, is it a combination of bad players and bad coaching what do you suggest?
— mike,superior
A: Alan Williams is in his second year coaching the defense, and Frazier still has a say in the defensive structure. Williams is engaging and seems like he is a smart coach, but the defense has been beat too often this year. I believe it might be a combination of coaching and personnel. Williams had spent most of his time before coming to Minnesota as a defensive backs coach. The secondary has been the weakest point in the Vikings’ defense.
Some of that is due to personnel. Robinson has seemed ill-suited for starting duty or playing in the slot. Cook has been injured and Jamarca Sanford isn’t playing as well as he did last season when he assumed the starting safety spot. A.J. Jefferson, in his limited chances, has not looked good. Some of the issues definitely comes down to personnel. The Vikings are just too thin in the secondary and Erin Henderson might still be adjusting to his move to middle linebacker. However, Minnesota has also been beaten schematically and has had breakdowns in communication, such as the late touchdown drives earlier this year by Chicago and Cleveland. I believe the letdowns defensively fall on the coaches and the players.
Q: Brian, please kindly tell me why do we (VIKINGS) suck so much? My wife keeps making fun of me for being a hardcore Vikings fan. Is the season over for us? Or, can I still be optimistic and tell my wife (with great pride) that, we still can make it to the playoffs. Your honest opinion please.
A: I surely want to help if I can save a marriage; just think of me as the Vikings beat writer and marriage counselor. All kidding aside, I think any playoff hopes this season are gone. Being 1-4 is too big of a hole for Minnesota to dig itself out of this season. Hopefully your wife can take it easy on you. Tell her it only adds to your suffering as a fan of a 1-4 team. That said, you obviously care about the Vikings and I think they will at least give you some moments of pleasure over the final three months. Don’t give up hope for the future. After all, sports is supposed to be fun, a relief from the everyday world.
Thank you for your submissions. We’ve received very good response for our weekly mailbags and it’s because of you. Sorry we’re not able to answer each question individually. I’ve tried to hit the hot topics. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Be sure to check for upcoming mailbags.

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