I’ve been meaning to write this post for about two weeks. Now I’m finally getting around to it. Here’s a look at some of the pleasant and not-so-pleasant individual performances from the first half of the Vikings season.
Christian Ponder: I had never watched Ponder play before the preseason got going. I expected he’d be a cerebral, smart kid who could handle the big stage. But I’ve been surprised by his scrambling ability and speed. He’s got a better arm than advertised. His performance on third downs has been impressive. The Vikes might have something here.
Brian Robison: The Vikings starting left defensive end has gone three games without a sack and ESPN 1500’s Tom Pelissero suggested he might be wearing down. But his 17 tackles and 4.5 sacks compare pretty well with the guy he replaced – Ray Edwards, who has 19 tackles and two sacks with Atlanta. And he’s doing it for almost half the guaranteed money ($6.5 million vs. Edwards’ $11 million.)
Erin Henderson: Henderson won the weakside linebacker job by default, but he’s kept it on merit. He played his best game as a pro in the win against Carolina (five tackles, two passes defensed.) He seems to be getting better in pass coverage. The tackling has been solid. I don’t think anyone is missing Ben Leber. Better yet, Henderson’s only 25.
Everson Griffen: He’s been a demon on special teams coverage units. How often is Griffen (listed at 6’3 and 273 pounds) one of the first guys down the field chasing the opposing punt or kick off returner? I’ve never seen anyone so big do that. He’s also got three sacks in limited playing time. You wonder if the Vikings should play Griffen inside on a permanent basis instead of wasting snaps on Remi Ayodele, Fred Evans and Letroy Guion (more on that in a moment.)
Visanthe Shiancoe: Modest stats (23 catches, 241 yards, two touchdowns), but Shiancoe’s been a reliable option for the Vikings, even if his blocking is just average. I expect his second half will be better than the first half, too, as Ponder has been making more use of Shiancoe since taking over for Donovan McNabb as the starting QB.
Chris Cook: The second-year cornerback isn’t on here for what’s happened on the field, where he has been pretty good, but for what’s happened off the field. You’ve got a guy here who could be a very good cornerback in this league and stands to make a lot of money. Yet he almost threw it away by allegedly choking and beating his girlfriend. Cook, it’s time to get some counseling and turn your life around.
Ryan Longwell: Something’s wrong with one of the game’s most accurate kickoffs. Since signing with the Vikings in 2006, any field goal less than 50 yards has almost been automatic for Longwell. This season his three misses have been from 38, 38 and 45 yards and he’s missed them all badly. His kickoffs are still no hell, either.
Kevin Williams: Maybe it’s not having anyone good playing beside him inside, but the former All-Pro has been pretty much invisible out there. We’re not seeing the penetration on run plays were used to. There are no tipped passes – a Williams specialty in the past. No quarterback pressures. And certainly no sacks. Is Williams almost done at 31?
Remi Ayodele/Letroy Guion: Can you remember a single play Ayodele has made this season? Me neither. Guion might be the biggest disappointment on this list. He looked good in limited snaps toward the end of last year and he looked great during the preseason. He’s been anything but for the first eight games of 2011.
Tyrell Johnson: The Vikings 2008 second-round draft pick makes this list for failing to even live up to my modest preseason expectations. Johnson’s poor angle contributed mightily to Brandon LaFell’s 44-yard catch and run play on a fourth-and-15 on Carolina’s final drive two weeks ago. Negative stuff seems to happen whenever Johnson gets in the game. Bad angles, poor tackling, combined with ball skills: What’s to like here?