Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier
Good morning. We had a good walkthrough this morning. The guys, as you can imagine, are really excited about kicking this season off and getting started and I think everybody is, our staff, our players, I’m sure our fans as well. We’re looking forward to getting the work done this week that we need to get done and preparing for a team that is much improved in Jacksonville and going out on Sunday in front of our home fans and having a good day.
Q: What are your emotions going into this season after what you went through last year?
A: Tremendous excitement. We’re really excited about this week and this week of preparation and what’s ahead of us. We’re excited to get started.
A: We want to see Mistral go through some things with all the time he missed towards the end. I just talked with Jamarca a few minutes ago about that and just telling him to be patient and let us take a look at some things these next couple of days and we’ll make a decision as the week goes on. We have confidence in both of them and we’ll make the right decision.
Q: What do you want to see out of Mistral to be able to play him?
A: First of all, you want to make sure that there are no complications from the time that he missed with the injury that he had and then we want to see him move around a little bit, make some plays in practice and just show us that he is back into it a little bit.
Q: Are any of the guys with the ankle injuries going to practice today?
A: Marcus (Sherels) will get some reps, we want to see how he does. (Andrew) Sendejo, no.
A: Jarius, no as well.
Q: What do you expect from Maurice Jones-Drew coming back after a holdout and what do you do to prepare for him?
A: You watch the tape of him from a season ago and you better be ready to tackle and buckle it up. He’s a very, very good running back so we’re going to prepare as if he is going to play a lot. We need to do that. He’s a very good back and that’s how we’re approaching it, he’s going to play a lot on Sunday.
Q: Can running backs jump right in and not miss a beat?
A: Some guys can. Some guys are good enough when it comes to conditioning and taking care of their bodies. Some guys can come back and still play well even though they missed a lot of time. We’re preparing as if he is going to play a lot. He’s a guy you definitely don’t want to ignore on the football field and we want to be prepared.
Q: How much was Justin Blackmon in your conversation during the Draft?
A: For us,
Q: How does Justin Blackmon look to you so far?
A: He’s really become, it seems in the preseason, the focal point of their pass offense. He’s doing a good job. He has good hands, all of the things that we all knew about coming out of college, they are showing up in the preseason.
Q: Sounds like you’ll put
A: Yeah, we’re going to try and give him as much as we can. We have quite a few plays designed for him in practice and just see how he responds and see what he has to say tomorrow when we come back but we really want to put him through the paces and just see how he responds.
Q: You still don’t want any defensive players ever diving at anyone’s legs in practice right?
A: No, we won’t do that. We won’t go to the ground. We won’t tackle below the waist. We won’t hit below the waist, none of that.
Q: Is there any other way to simulate lower body contact at this point?
A: I don’t think so, realistically. What’s going to happen on Sunday, we can’t simulate that in practice at all. It wouldn’t be wise.
Q: How do you judge that? Does it become a leap of faith at some point?
A: I think it will be the same even if we waited a week from now, three weeks from now. It’s hard to simulate a game in practices. It’s almost virtually impossible. It won’t be necessarily a leap of faith, it will be based on what our medical staff says, what our coaches see and what Adrian feels as well. We’ll try to gather that information and make the right decision.
Q: You said he would be limited on Sunday. How much does the surface of the Metrodome weigh into that and how much work you give him?
A: We think we have a pretty good surface at the Metrodome. We don’t foresee any problems with the surface in regards to his injury, that’s whether it’s grass or the turf that is there. That won’t be a major factor in the decision.
Q: You don’t play on grass until Washington in Week 6, right?
A: You may be right. I’d have to look at the schedule, you may be right.
Q: Half of the teams in the League have changed over offensive coordinators going into this year. Especially with a young quarterback, how important is it to have that continuity and have you seen some of the benefits of that early?
A: That’s a big deal, to be able to have a young quarterback to come back in the same system, for us, is huge. I think Christian (Ponder) has benefitted from that this offseason. We benefitted from that. You can see his confidence from our standpoint has really grown. His grasp of our offense is a lot better. There are obviously some things we still want to see him improve on and he will as he gains more experience but you can’t underestimate the fact that he had a chance to spend an entire offseason with Bill Musgrave, with Craig Johnson, his quarterbacks coach. That’s big for our team and his development as well.
Q: I believe there are 10 first or second year quarterbacks starting in the NFL in Week 1. What do you think has led to that trend of younger guys getting to play earlier than in years past?
A: I think you have to trace it back a little bit to what’s happening even on the high school level. Someone asked me this question awhile back, but some of these seven-on-seven tournaments, it seems like the guys are so much better prepared to come in and play at our level than they ever have been. You look at what happens with the development of high school quarterbacks and then what happens now with the college game, there are so many offenses that are similar to what we’re doing, especially in the passing game and the accuracy of the quarterbacks has improved dramatically from what I can recall across the board. I trace it back to what’s happening on the high school level, the way guys are being developed.
Q: You play a lot of young quarterbacks this season. Having a young secondary, how much does that help you guys?
A: Whenever you look at an opposing team’s offense, I know from my standpoint being a former defensive guy, that’s the position you look at first on offense just to see if you can get a gauge of their quarterback and his capabilities and that kind of helps you set up your game plan, how you’re going to approach things. It’s a big deal, how competent that guy is under center as you’re trying to prepare for an opposing team and we’ll pay attention to who the starting quarterback is like we would every week and it does make a difference as you are preparing, for sure.
Q: What did Blaine Gabbert struggle with the most last year and from what you’ve seen this year, what is he doing better?
A: It just seems like whatever they are doing offensively, he seems to be a much more confident guy. He has a better understanding of where the ball should go and getting the ball out, seems to really be standing in the pocket going through his reads, his progressions. Just seems to be a lot more confident. He has a strong arm, he always did. He’s a pretty accurate guy but his distribution of the football seems to be a lot better and his pocket presence seems to be a lot better as well. He’s growing. Mike Mularkey and his staff have done a good job. He’s really improved.
A: He’s a big playmaker for us as we all know. He had a tremendous season for us last year, especially from an all-purpose standpoint. We’re going to utilize his talents. We have to be wise with how we do that. He goes so hard on every single play but we don’t want to forget Percy Harvin. I know defenses would like for us to, but we want to figure out ways to continue to use his strengths.
Q: Don’t you always have to manage his snaps though?
A: I think we do have to manage how we use him. It’s a long season and we need him every week. We do have to be smart about how we use him, especially when you look at his style of play and the way we try to use him. We put him in so many different places and utilize his talents in so many different ways. I think we do have to be smart and not put him in harm’s way as often as we possibly could. We have to be smart about how we use him.
Q: Does that take him out of the equation in the return game for the short-term?
A: Not necessarily. We want to still make sure that we’re still utilizing all of his gifts. He is a gifted returner so we’ll pick our spots again when we use him and when we don’t use him. It doesn’t mean that we won’t use him as a returner.
Q: What factors into picking those spots?
A: Sometimes the way the game is going. Sometimes the guy that is kicking off. If he’s a guy we know going in that is kicking it out of the end zone every time, maybe he is not back there. A lot of factors go into it. A lot of it is how the game is going as well.
Q: Pending Jarius Wright’s status, will you have all of the receivers up this week and see who makes plays?
A: We think we have a pretty good feel for our receivers and we’ll rotate them. We’ll see what happens with Jarius as the days go on but we’ll probably rotate the receivers through with the guys that we’ll dress.
Q: Mike Mularkey talked about when he was a player and how he would see selfishness in the locker room and it would affect the entire team. Did you run into that when you were playing?
A: You have a lot of guys who have a lot of pride about what they are doing and they want to be the best at what they are and a little bit of selfishness is not a bad thing. It’s just being able to manage that and not let it override what the team’s goals are. You want a guy to have a strong desire to be the best that he can be and it’s no different in your profession or any other profession. There are going to be some that could possibly be a little bit selfish with the way they approach things, but my job is to try to manage our team and get everybody thinking more about the team than about their own selfish desires.
Q: How much can that sabotage what you are trying to do?
A: It could undermine everything you’re trying to do, especially if it’s one of your key guys, one of your leaders. You have to be mindful of that and in the role that I’m in, you need your key guys, your star players, to understand the team concept and hopefully think about the team in certain situations before themselves.
Q: What do you guys need to see from
A: We’d like for him to just continue to progress as a player. What he did in the San Diego game gave us an indication of the Jasper we expect to see, the Jasper when we made a decision to name him as the starting middle linebacker. Those were some of the things we expected to see, the downhill attack, the ability to turn and run with receivers, to go from sideline-to-sideline, a smart football player, a guy who has potential to be a leader. We need to continue to see him grow and some of it will be based on his experience. He’s still a guy who hasn’t had a lot of starts in our League so we have to keep putting him out there and getting him experience so he can continue to gain confidence in himself, along with his teammates gaining confidence in him as well.
A: We’ll get a better feel for A.J. as the week goes on. Josh is right in the mix for that third corner position. We’ll see how progresses during the course of the week coming off of the concussion but he’s definitely in the mix.
Q: What is different about this team from last year’s team?
A: Part of it, if you get off to a tough start, one of the way you’re able to dig out of it, you need to stay healthy, you need to keep guys that are playing, playing. I have no idea what things will be like in Week 7, Week 8, Week 5, Week 4. What’s most important right now is getting off to a good start in Week 1 and that’s the approach we’re taking. To conjecture what this team might do if we get off to a slow start or what they might do if we get off to a fast start, it’s hard for me to put my mind around right now. I’m more concerned with getting off to a fast start against Jacksonville, playing well at home. That’s very, very important to us and we’re really not projecting how we would deal with a slow start. I want us to get off to a fast start for a lot of reasons. We need to build some confidence as you mentioned and getting off to a fast start would really help in doing that with a win on Sunday.
This is exciting. The atmosphere right now in this building is ecstatic. Everyone’s excited that it’s the first week of the regular season, finally, and to kick off the 2012 season. We have, and especially myself, been waiting for this since January 1st when that Chicago game ended. I was looking forward to finally getting out here and through all the OTA’s and preseason, we put in so much hard work. There’s no better time of the year than right now to kick off football season and we’re excited we are opening up at home. It’s the first time since 2007 that the Vikings have opened up at home. We’re excited to set the tone for the rest of the season and I was so impressed last year with our home crowd and it creates such a great atmosphere in the Metrodome. We’re looking to start in the right manner in the first game this Sunday and we have a great opponent in Jacksonville. They have a great defense and it’s going to be a tough challenge for us as an offense and to see where we’re at for game one. It’s a starting point for us this season to set the tone and to reach the goals that we have.
Q: What concerns you the most entering the first game?
A: Obviously, we want to get out there and play well. I don’t know if we have any concerns. We’re going out there with confidence in our abilities and what we can do. We know this game is important and we need to set the tone for the rest of the year and go out and play well, but you don’t really want to have any concerns, you have to be fully confident in what you’re doing as a team.
Q: How does going through a season like last year change your approach from year one to year two?
A: Last year was obviously a crazy year, an interesting year, 3-13 is something you want to improve upon, but I think that going into this year it just awakens me to put so much more time and effort into what I’m doing. There’s a lot for me to improve upon from last year and I have to put in the effort to do it and change those things. I think it’s important for us to start out on the right foot and set the tone for the rest of the season and build upon a 3-13 year we had last year.
Q: How big was it for you to have the same system in place throughout the entire year?
A: Very big. Not only for my comfort level of being in the same offense, but also to have that comfort level, to have that communication, with [Bill] Musgrave and coach [Craig] Johnson and that’s huge. We’ve grown in our relationship a whole lot and we’re able to communicate about things and talk about certain plays and talk about what I like and have some input on some of the things we’re doing. It creates just a whole different atmosphere and confidence between myself and the coaching staff. I’m glad I went through what happened last year and I think that being in the same offense is only going to help myself and the rest of the guys that are a part of it.
Q: How much different is the vibe in the locker room with such a young team?
A: It’s different. Every year there’s a different vibe. There’s always going to be new faces no matter where you are. The cool thing is that it is a young team and we have a chance to be together for awhile and we have a lot of young players that are ready to go out and make a first impression and do well and make a name for themselves. That’s exciting. We’re excited and we have a lot of guys that can go out and make big plays and make a name for themselves and it’ll be cool to see. This is the first year for us to be together and hopefully it’ll be that same way in 10 years.
Q: How much are you a believer that a young quarterback has to go through some growing pains?
A: I think that up to a point you accept it. I know there’s a lot for me to learn as a quarterback and there’s a lot for me to grow, but I don’t want to make mistakes. I don’t expect myself to make mistakes ever. I do know and I do realize that even the greatest make mistakes at times and those are just learning moments that you have to learn from and grow from. I expect to have a lot of improvement on what I did last year.
Q: Where is your confidence now compared to coming out of your last game?
A: It has changed a lot, just having full confidence in this offense which comes from that comfort level of realizing and knowing what I’m doing. I put in a lot of time this offseason to get better and learn from those mistakes and build up that confidence. It helps when Rick Spielman is adding pieces around me, that shows that he has confidence in me to build around me. When others show confidence in you, that just keeps building it. I think this year is going to be a lot better than last year, especially for me personally, and it starts this week.
Q: What has been the focal point in the last week and a half of practice?
A: Obviously, there is a lot of improvements that we need to make. The thing that we’ve been talking about is execution. Coach Musgrave has put a lot on our plate but we just have to execute what we’re doing and do the ordinary things extraordinary. Just going back and refining our technique. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our technique and our fundamentals. That’s what you start with, you start with a base and build on top of that and that’s what we’re doing. We’re spending a lot of time getting ready for this first game.
Q: How much extra time with
A: We have put in some time. He’s been very adamant about it and outgoing and not only trying to get in shape, but catching balls. We stayed after practice on Monday as well. He’s awesome and he’s going to do a great job. He’s trying to make up some time but he’s going to be completely fine once he gets in there. He is a heck of a player and he’s going to have a good year and really complement
Q: Have you seen anything that suggests Kyle Rudolph won’t have a good year?
A: No, he’s really impressed me in the preseason and in OTA’s. I think everyone has been impressed by him. I’m so comfortable with him, we have such great chemistry but you never know, injuries or something could happen, but we expect him to do well.
Q: How much have you watched Blaine Gabbert last year?
A: I didn’t watch him a whole lot. We didn’t play any similar teams so I didn’t see him on film; I didn’t pay much attention to him.
Q: You and Blaine Gabbert were in similar situations last year, anything you saw remind you of what you were going through?
A: It’s obvious that neither one of us had as good of years as we wanted to have. We are friends, we both trained together for the combine two years ago and have kind of hung out and talked to each other since. I think we’re both competitors and both confident in our abilities and we’re looking to bounce back from last year. I saw some stats from his preseason, he had a great preseason and he looks like he’s ready to go. Last year is probably a year we wish we would have done better but we both accept it and know that it’s going to make us better.
Q: Are you happy you are in the era where you were thrown in the fire rather than sit on the bench for five years?
A: Yeah, I guess both of us kind of snuck in towards the middle of the season. I don’t think he started from the very beginning. It was important for me to get thrown in and I would much rather learn from being out there and doing it rather than sitting on the sidelines. Now both of us, going through the OTAs and getting that time as the starting quarterback is really going to benefit us.
Q: What do you want your identity to be as a NFL quarterback?
A: Ultimately you want to be tagged with a successful career and winning games. For me, I just need to be efficient, be a smart player. Being a quarterback really boils down to two things, decision making and accuracy. Do you know where you’re supposed to go with the ball and are you accurate with it? I would love if 15 years down the road people look back and say that I was an accurate quarterback that made the right decisions and my team was successful because of it.
Q: With a young team and coming off last season, how much more important is it to get off to a good start?
A: Regardless of whether we were picked to win the NFC North or not, I think it’s always important to start off with a great start, it really sets the tone for the rest of the year. Obviously, we lost the first couple last year and we ended up going 3-13. We don’t want that to happen. We’re not going to put extra pressure on ourselves. We expect to go out, no matter what Sunday it is, and win and do well. I think it is important for us to get out there and start well and set the tone for the rest of the year.
Q: How hard was it to get confidence back last year?
A: I blame a lot of what happened last year on myself, it really didn’t have to do with what other players were doing. I was making bad mistakes and dumb decisions and I could have done a better job of helping our team turn around and play better and I didn’t. I played poorly and it was a situation that I didn’t help.
Q: Does having a younger team make it easier for you in a leadership role?
A: Yeah I think it does. It’s a lot easier to gel with someone who is around your age and has the same experience level and be able to communicate those things. The good thing is that we have a lot of veteran leadership as well between Jared [Allen],
Q: What is the comfort level amongst the players with having replacement officials?
A: It’s something we can’t control. That’s one thing we’ve always talked about and been taught as a young athlete that you can only control what you can control. That’s out of our hands, we can’t do anything about it and we just have to go out and play. If something is called or if something happens, we have to deal with it and move on, you can’t worry about it. This game is such a mental game that if you’re focused on the referees and not focused on what you’re doing, that’s not a good situation.