Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kenechi Udeze

Kenechi Udeze retires (Star Tribune). We wish him the best.

My favorite Udeze memory was the 2004 game against the Jaguars. In a close game, the Jaguars were driving in the fourth quarter. The Vikes sealed the game when Udeze laid a beautiful sack on Byron Leftwich, which Kevin Williams picked up and ran a long, long way for a touchdown.

The Abstract and Concrete

SI's Steve Aschburner suggests that the specter of Brett Favre will haunt the Vikings all season long:

"Might as well face it: Favre is going to be with the Vikings from the start of camp Friday through the end of their season, assuming it stops somewhere shy of Miami and Super Bowl XLIV. He won't -- barring a tweet from Hattiesburg and a late-night roster move -- complete a single pass for them, but he'll be there in spirit on every pass that T-Jack or Rosenfels does not complete. He'll be a shadow lurking over each shaky performance or crisis of confidence that any of the Vikings quarterbacks has.

"Because of the Vikings' worthy but protracted flirtation with Favre, he will be their ghost of Tom Joad for 2009. Wherever the offense lets down the defense this season, he'll be there.

"Whenever they need some fourth-quarter heroics and sputter as the clock ticks away instead, he'll be there. Whenever a fan is in the mood to second-guess, well, almost anything, he'll be there."

Aschburner is probably correct: throughout the season many pundits, announcers, and fans will speculate on how things might have been different with Brett Favre. But I also think these pundits, announcers, and fans that do so will be foolish. Such speculation will focus on the name and mythology of Brett Favre, not the reality of the man and player he is right now. Not only is Brett Favre not Jesus, not only is Brett Favre not Brett Favre of 1996, but Brett Favre is no longer the Brett Favre of, say, 2004. Let's not forget that Favre is the career interception leader, has thrown 20+ INTs six times in his career, has led the league in INTs three times, and has thrown multiple INTs in six of his last 10 playoff games (including two overtime INTs), will turn 40 this season, is coming off arm surgery, and has begun to show a tendency to wear down late in the season (if Favre wasn't sure he could last 16 games at a high level, then we should be relieved he's not joining the team).

So what are these pundits and fans going to say? When Jackson or Rosenfels throws an INT, they can say "Boy, you have to wonder, Brett Favre probably would have thrown that interception a lot harder." If the Vikings are losing games in December, they can say "Well, we've seen last year that Brett Favre can look even more exhausted while losing than this QB." If the Vikings lose a playoff game, they can say "Gosh, you really have to wonder, since Brett Favre hasn't won two playoff games in a single season since the '97 season, has lost three home playoff games in this decade, and has twice thrown crushing overtime interceptions in playoff games, whether he would have lost this game differently for the Vikings."

I guess all the talk of the psychology of Rosenfels and Jackson, of the "shadow" of Favre, yada yada yada, is pretty harmless just before training camp begins. It is also utterly, completely meaningless. What's really going to matter is whether Rosenfels or Jackson outperforms the other to win the starting job. And then what matters is that Rosenfels/Jackson is able to read defenses well, handle a pass rush, find open receivers, and throw accurate passes. The "shadow" of Favre won't matter nearly as much as the very concrete performance of Rosenfels/Jackson on the field. Can the Viking QB be efficient? Can he pose a downfield threat to compliment a fine running game?

When the players step onto the field and start throwing passes around, that's what I'm going to be watching for, reading about, and writing about. That's what matters, and it's what I'm interested in. I will barely think about Brett Favre: my attention will be on the real, tangible on-the-field performances of Minnesota Viking players. It's a much less flashy story, but it's a story with concrete substance, and it is the story that will be much more meaningful to the Vikings' season.

Aschburner manages to amuse me with his metaphors:

"Minnesota's need at the quarterback position remains, made more extreme by the hemming and hawing of Favre that kept incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and acquisition Sage Rosenfels in limbo for the past few months. What should have been an offseason for Jackson to work on his swagger and career-backup Rosenfels to finally sharpen his knife for a starting job instead got spent in call-waiting hell, both hoping that Childress eventually would click back over." (highlights mine)

I guess "call-waiting hell" is a sort of limbo. I don't really know what it would mean for Jackson to work on his swagger: that sounds like more abstract talk, when what would really matter is that Jackson works on mastering the offense, reading defenses, and throwing accurate passes. And I don't know what Rosenfels is doing with a knife, and why it needs to be sharpened. If sharpening his knife means preparing to be starter, then there's nothing to worry about. Here are some things we can learn from Sean Jensen's story on Rosenfels in the Pioneer Press:

"Rosenfels said the months of Favre drama didn't affect his preparation, although he acknowledged that it was annoying."

"'I would say there were times where it got a little frustrating, because you were looking for some finality,' he said. 'I couldn't control whether he was or wasn't, but I wanted to know. But it doesn't change the way I was preparing for the season.'"


"Since the Vikings traded for Rosenfels in February, he has spent the bulk of his time at Winter Park. That has kept him away from his wife and two children, who remained in Houston.

"'I have put a lot of work into the season, but I couldn't think of any other way to go about it,' he said. 'I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and I was going to leave no stone unturned.'"

"Rosenfels said his time investment at Winter Park has helped him feel comfortable with the Vikings' offense.

"'I do feel I have a good grasp of the offense,' he said."


"[Childress] said: 'I'm not sure what's going to happen. But prepare as if he's not coming,' " Rosenfels recalled. "I would have done that, either way."

It doesn't sound to me that the Vikings' pursuit of Favre in any way prevented Rosenfels from sharpening his metaphorical knife. In the abstract, one might think it would. In the concrete, however, where what matters is practicing, training, and mastering an offense, it really doesn't.

Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels might really struggle this season. There's a chance each quarterback actually sucks. But the potential struggles and suckage will have little to do with Brett Favre. And again, I'm ready to move on and focus on the actual, real, concrete performances of these players. I'm ready to see what plays they are able and unable to make, not toss around speculation about their confidence, psyche, or swagger. And the time to focus on the concrete begins with training camp.

3. Addendum
As I think more about it, comparing Sean Jensen's story to all of these columns about the psychology/confidence/swagger of Rosenfels and Jackson is enlightening. Jensen sought out information from the relevant sources. He quotes Sage Rosenfels at length, and quotes Tarvaris Jackson's agent. Instead of idle speculation about how this could impact the Viking quarterbacks, Jensen asks them.

Aschburner has no quotes from Rosenfels or Jackson or anybody connected with them. Neither do most of the writers I've cited in the last few posts.

Of course, I don't quote Rosenfels or Jackson either. But I'm an unpaid crackpot Viking fan with a blog some people read. I don't have sources. I haven't honed connections with players and organizations. And it's not my job. Seemingly, writers for sources such as Yahoo!, The Star Tribune, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the Pioneer Press could make the effort to find out about Rosenfels' and Jacksons' reaction, to find out how they've been preparing in the offseason, to find out how they are approaching the upcoming training camp and season, to find out how prepared each believes he is to be a productive starter, rather than just speculate on it. But for the most part, they don't. Sean Jensen does. And that's why his actual reporting (something concrete) is more meaningful than all the speculative columns about the mental/emotional impact on Rosenfels and Jackson (something abstract).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rosenfels and Jackson must feel loved: sportswriters care so much about their feelings.

In the NFL, you should not attempt to improve your roster, lest you hurt the feelings of the players already on your roster.

Based on the sorts of things sportswriters are saying about the Vikings' QB situation, some of them must really believe this.

Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel writes:

"How the heck does coach Brad Childress face the top two quarterbacks he actually has this season – Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson – and convince them that he has even a modicum of respect for their abilities?"


"[Childress] doesn’t think Rosenfels and Jackson are worth a damn."


"If he can’t salvage the situation, he may not be able to save the season. No wonder the Vikings were begging Favre to reconsider, they’d so boxed themselves in he had become their only hope."

The Star Tribune's Jim Souhan

"Jackson and Rosenfels will sheepishly take first-team snaps early in camp, knowing the Vikings preferred a 40-ish serial retiree coming off arm surgery over them."

"Viking players will have to face Jackson and Rosenfels in the locker room and huddle, knowing that the current quarterbacks know that the team's stars were texting love letters to Favre."

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks

"It was the risk they took from Day 1 of the Favre fishing expedition. The failure to land No. 4 means Childress and the rest of the Vikings have to cast their eyes back on quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels and try to convince them that the staff had faith in them all along. I don't care what anyone in Vikings camp says for publication in the coming few days, it's going to be a tough sell. If your boss spent months very publicly trying to replace you, but then couldn't pull it off, job security would not come flooding back to you the day after."

ESPN's Kevin Seifert is mostly moderate, recognizing that Rosenfels and Jackson are professionals and should understand the situation, but writes:

"Jackson and Rosenfels don't have the professional pedigree to justify outrage. But it's never comforting when you start wondering which of your teammates are truly behind you -- or if your bosses put those teammates in a damaging situation by asking them to join the recruiting process."

The Pioneer Press's Tom Powers (who wrongly, in my opinion, believed that a 39 year old QB that led the league in INTs last season, has a recent history of wearing down late in the season, and a long history of throwing interceptions in the playoffs was going to transform the Vikings) writes:

"As camp begins, Vikings coaches and players have to go into damage control. Jackson and Rosenfels, pretty much kicked under the rug all summer, must put their bruised egos aside and compete for the job by default. Several of their teammates were feverishly texting Favre, trying to talk him into joining the Vikings."


"Now it's going to be awkward for the other two guys."

So, it's going to be "awkward" for Jackson and Rosenfels. A player who was benched last season, and a career backup, are going to be somehow offended that the Vikings pursued another quarterback option. Two players who already knew they might not be the 2009 starter will have their confidence shattered because their coaches and teammates considered a different quarterback.

You know what? It might be awkward. But will that have any impact on Rosenfels' or Jackson's on-the-field performance? Rarely do these sportswriters even address this question. As I wrote in May, I think the Vikings' flirtations with Favre will have no impact on the Viking QB's performance in games. They still need to prepare for games, they still need to read defenses, they still need to drop back and throw good passes. Will Brett Favre have any impact on their ability to find open receivers? To throw the ball accurately? I really, really doubt it.

And the Viking players know this. The Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins and Judd Zulgad quote Viking TE Visanthe Shiancoe:

"They have to know that it's a business, and they have to handle it like professionals [...] It's part of the business. It's nothing personal. It's just part of the game."

And the Pioneer Press's Sean Jensen writes:

"Vikings quarterback Sage Rosenfels has a message for his coaches and teammates: Save the explanations.

"Rosenfels said Tuesday that coach Brad Childress and his teammates don't have to say anything to him regarding Brett Favre.

"'I don't think it's necessary because I understand the situation,' said Rosenfels, who noted he hadn't talked to Childress as of early Tuesday evening. 'I've been around the league long enough.

"'I feel no animosity toward players or coaches.'"

Professional athletes always know they can be replaced at any time. Tarvaris Jackson, who was benched last season and saw the Vikings bring in a QB to compete with him for the starting position, knows that. Sage Rosenfels, who has been a backup throughout his career and has never been handed a starting job, knows that. If that knowledge hinders their ability to perform on the field, they are probably not good quarterbacks.

I agree with SI's Peter King:

"As for the Vikings, I disagree with those who say the loss of Favre leaves them mortally wounded. I say they're better at quarterback right now than they were at the close of the 2008 season. That's because Sage Rosenfels has a more accurate downfield arm than Gus Frerotte and more upside at this state of his career than Frerotte. Rosenfels will probably win the training camp battle against Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job. To me, that gives the Vikings a slight edge at quarterback over last year."

King focuses on Rosenfels' ability and what that means for the Vikings, not what emotions Rosenfels might be experiencing. I think that's a reasonable approach.

I'm excited for the Viking season.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Why do I have faith in Sage Rosenfels? Because I'm impressed with his efficiency numbers the last two seasons. He completed over 65% of his passes and averaged over 7.5 yards per attempt. I think he's a solid quarterback that, in a good situation, will stand in the pocket and make good throws.

Why am I not worried about Rosenfels' penchant for throwing interceptions? His interception rate the last two seasons was over 5.3%. This is a concern, but it's relative. Last year Gus Frerotte's interception rate was 5.0%. Last year Brett Favre's interception rate was 4.2%. It's not like letting Frerotte go and missing out on Favre means now suddenly the Vikes have a QB that throws a lot of INTs. And I just don't have faith that Tarvaris Jackson will become anything other than a bad QB capable of decent games in good situations against bad defenses.

At Access Vikings, Chip Scoggins quotes Rosenfels on the situation:

“I think the whole thing was sort of a weird circumstance. I understand what the organization was trying to do. We’re back to where we were when I came here, competing with Tarvaris for the starting job. I’m excited for training camp.” [...] “I’ve been really busy over the last few months,” [...] “It’s not something I followed every day like the media has. For me, it hasn’t been nearly as stressful as it was maybe for some other people out there. I’ve taken the approach of whatever happens is going to happen.”

That's the sort of mellow approach I expect from a fellow raised in "something of a hippie lifestyle" (USA Today). Hippies are awesome.

No Favre!

The Star Tribune reports.

My hope now is that Sage Rosenfels wins the starting job, and that he's a mentally strong person. He could take his own teams' coaches and players courting Favre personally and struggle on the field, if he's mentally fragile. But he's a professional athlete: he should know how it works and he should play like a professional (we've already discussed this).

Actually, a familiar, almost comfortable feeling has washed over my mind: the Viking quarterback position is unsettled, unproven, and the major question/weakness for a team that is strong in so many areas.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Viking Questions

I have many questions and concerns about the Vikings other than the quarterback position. Here are the primary ones: I intend to explore these questions more fully throughout August. Quarterback is obviously an important position, but the answers to these questions are critical to the 2009 season.

A. How will 3/5 of the offensive line perform?

B. Do Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell have the creativity/ability to use the Vikings' talented skill position players?

C. Outside of the reliably good Antoine Winfield, how will the relatively unfamiliar secondary perform?

D. Will E.J. Henderson recover from his foot injuries to perform at his previous high level?

E. Will the Vikings improve their special teams?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Suddenly Shivering

I've thought I'd feel mild relief if I found out that Brett Favre won't be joining the Vikings. But just this morning, I suddenly got cold: what if I'm wrong about Sage Rosenfels? My belief is that he's at worst mediocre, which would be fine for one year (last year the Vikes won 10 games with a Tarvaris Jackson/Gus Frerotte combo against a tougher schedule), but that he might be better (good enough for a solid 3-5 year run as starter on a contender that is defense and running game heavy), and we should find out which it is in 2009, not later.

But I could be all wrong. Instead of at worst mediocre, Rosenfels might be at worst horseshit. Then what? If Favre (whom we can be more sure would be at worst mediocre) doesn't join the team, then what? Another year like 2008, then find a long-term starter in 2010? Or find another bad one-year fix in 2010? Then what?

I hope I'm right about Rosenfels, and that we get to find out. But if I'm way, way wrong, and the Vikings don't get Favre, it could be a frustrating season (which it can only be if the Tarvaris Experience continues).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fantasy Anti-Homerism

There are many illustrations to demonstrate my Viking homerism in fantasy football (that Tarvaris Jackson has ever been on my roster is a good starting point). The low point came last season in the euphoria of the Vikings' Monday Night win at New Orleans: I traded Calvin Johnson and Matt Forte for Bernard Berrian and Willis McGahee. To trade a top-5 fantasy WR for Berrian is ridicuous. To trade a top-5 fantasy RB for Berrian is absurd. To trade both is utterly insane: it's the action of a person barely concerned with actually winning the league. I think that was the final self-destructive homer move I'll make in fantasy football.

But I've got anti-homerism, too. In my life playing fantasy football, I can only recall a handful of instances when a Green Bay Packer was on my roster (and in every instance, it was "accidentally" during an auction draft, when I was trying to bid up with a Packer fan. Never, can I recall, has a Packer been on my roster by the end of the season (in 2002 a Packer fan in our league had his own self-destructive moment, trading me Ricky Williams and Rich Gannon for Ahman Green and an injured Kurt Warner: I finished first, he finished second).

Is this post a bout of narcisistic nostalgia? No, more of a confession. Because I think just as my Viking homerism has hurt my fantasy football prospects, so too has my Packer anti-homerism hurt me. The Packers regularly have a very good offense, with a lot of good skill position fantasy producers. Frequently, I barely consider drafting these players, probably taking a lesser player at the same position rather than draft a Packer (though the Hazelweird League is filled with Viking and Packer fans, so just as there are Viking fans to reach for Vikings, there are Packer fans to reach for Packers, so it probably hasn't been disastrous). I think this is the year to set real football emotions aside, playing fantasy football with a cold-blooded calculation, seeing individual players for a bunch of statistics, not for a jersey. I think it's time to leave homerism and anti-homerism behind.

How about you? Do you let your real-life football allegiances affect your fantasy football decisions, often to your detriment?

(Is this all a ruse to make the Packer fans in the Hazelweird league think I'm targeting their guys? Probably).

By Friday?


Then perhaps we'll go back to asking questions like "How is E.J. Henderson recovering from his injury?," or "How will the starting safeties perform?" or "Will the right side of the offensive line improve?" or "Can Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell utilize the skills of the Vikings' talented stock of skill position players?" Not that those questions are interesting in July, exactly, but it's almost August when they will be interesting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On July

I don't have anything to post for two reasons. One, I've been focusing a lot on fantasy football preparation, and while I have several posts to write on the subject, I won't be doing so until after the Hazelweird draft (why would I post my rather idiosyncratic rankings here for the other Hazelweirders to see?). And two, according to The Onion, sports is going through a slump.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fantasy: Down Year or Downturn?

He's a reliable fantasy football producer, putting up good numbers year after year. And then last year the numbers were far below what we've come to expect. You have to guess. Perhaps the player is now in decline, and will never produce high value fantasy points again. Or perhaps circumstance led the player to a down year, and he is ready to return to high fantasy football production.

Several 2008 disappointments lead to this dilemma in 2009 fantasy drafts. I'm (mostly) not talking about players like Tom Brady or Carson Palmer, who missed most of the previous season with injury; whether you draft players like that is dependent on whether you think they've recovered from their injuries. I

LaDanian Tomlinson
From 2002-2007, Tomlinson averaged 2070 yards from scrimmage and 19.8 touchdowns per season; he is one of the greatest fantasy players ever. In 2007, at 29 years old, Tomlinson still produced a solid fantasy season for a first round RB (1536 and 12), but it was not what we were used to, and it was not a season to justify a top-three pick. Worse, Tomlinson has a career 4.4 yards per attempt, and in 2008 had 3.8 yards per attempt, lowest since his rookie year.

Those who draft Tomlinson this season would probably be happy with 1500 total yards and 12 total touchdowns. The question is whether 2008 indicated a decline.

Down year or downturn?

Torry Holt
From 2000-2007, Holt averaged 1,384 yards receiving and from 2003-2007 he averaged 9.6 TDs per season. In 2008, on a terrible Rams team, the 32 year old Holt had 796 yards and 3 TDs. He's switched teams, joining a Jacksonville Jaguar team long in need of a good #1 WR. Good wide receivers are often productive into their mid-30s. But is Holt no longer worthy of being a fantasy starter?

Chad Ochocinco
From 2003-2007 under the name Chad Johnson, Ochocinco averaged 1,374 receiving yards and 8.6 TDs. In 2008 the Bengals' offense struggled mightily, as Carson Palmer missed most of the season. The 30 year old Ochocinco had 540 yards and 4 TDs. Will the return of his quarterback return Ochocinco to fantasy lineups, or has Ochocinco hit his steep decline?

Matt Hasselbeck
From 2002 to 2007, you knew what you got from Matt Hasselbeck: about 1.5 TDs and somewhere over 200 yards per game. He's not a fantasy stud, but if you're using early picks on RBs and WRs, he's a solid QB to fill out your lineup. In 2007, he had a career hight 3,966 yards and 28 TDs. In 2008, at age 33, he followed up a career year by missing nine games with injury and generally stinking in the games he played (52.2% passing, 5 TDs, 10 INTs). Should he enter 2009 as a fantasy backup, or as a quality starter for a team focused on strength at other positions?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Coast Guard: Tom Brady v. Peyton Manning

The Coast Guard: policing the police. I judge writers' fantasy football arguments. I am assessing the quality of the argument, not the quality of the player being argued about. I keep my assessments of players closer to the 100% polyester vest, because those lascivious Hazelweirders read this blog.

At Yahoo!, Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston debate whether Tom Brady or Tom Brady is the better 2009 fantasy pick.

I'd call their argument a draw. Each cites very useful numbers, and each cites relevant facts. Behrens' most interesting stat is that even with Matt Cassel last season, the Patriots outscored and outgained the Indianapolis Colts. I personally side with Funston because he cites Manning's incredible year-to-year consistency; when I draft a fantasy quarterback, I like when I just know he's getting 26 TDs and 4,000 yards, which is what I know with Manning.

I'm very interested in where each Brady and Manning get drafted this season. I think it's largely a matter of personal preference which gets taken first. Does anybody have an argument for one over the other than Behrens and Funston didn't use?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"You're just postponing the inevitable."

I don't know why I should remember this; in fact, I might not be remembering it, but might be making up a memory. But I think there is an episode of Northern Exposure, when everybody in town was waiting for some sort of ice to break, and until it does, many people are excessively horny. Rob Morrow's character and Janine Turner's character are horny for each other and fantasizing over each other. In one fantasy (and this scene may have been used in the commercial promo, which is why it's ingrained in my memory), Morrow is looking at Janine Turner (probably in negligee), who erotically says,

"You're just postponing the inevitable."

This phrase has been stuck with me for decades. It comes to me at strange moments. I didn't even stick with the show (on the other hand, it's quite understandable that lines from Seinfeld and The Simpsons remain firmly at hand in my memory). My adolescent fascination with Janine Turner passed. Still that line.

Every day this summer, I click on some football news sites, expecting to see a news story about Brett Favre signing with the Vikings. This story will come with no surprise. We all expect to see it eventually. In fact, I would be surprised (and mildly relieved) to hear that Favre is not joining the Vikings. But still I check, waiting for the solid confirmation. Every day I think, you're just postponing the inevitable.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Kudos to Matt Birk

I found his 10 Things I Think I Think entertaining and insightful.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Very sad.

Sad to hear that Steve McNair, one of the all-time gamers, is dead (Yahoo!).