Rick Spielman (Kevin Carden/FOXSportsNext)
The Vikings maintain that Chris Kluwe’s off-the-field views had nothing to do with the drafting of punter Jeff Locke. Plus, GM Rick Spielman talked about his Day 3 picks.
Is Chris Kluwe an endangered species with the Vikings? Not according to general manager Rick Spielman.
Spielman addressed what remained of the local draft media – a disheveled and motley crew by early Saturday evening – and it didn’t take long for the elephant in the room to be identified.
Did drafting punter Jeff Locke spell the end for Kluwe as a Viking? Spielman said the drafting of Locke created competition at the punter position, just as drafting Cordarrelle Patterson created a competition at wide receiver and Sharrif Floyd created a competition at defensive tackle – trying to shoot down the notion that Kluwe’s recent stardom as spokesman for gay marriage would have anything do with the selection of Locke.
“It has nothing to do with anything Chris Kluwe is off the field,” Spielman said. “When we’re making decisions, we’re purely making them, trying to bring in the best competition possible regardless of position. When we brought in the first three, we’re trying to create competition and see if they can upgrade us. This was just another normal personnel move. It had nothing to do with Chris Kluwe’s off-field concerns. I have no issues if Chris Kluwe wants to express his opinion. That’s his right. That’s his freedom of speech. This is just a football decision to bring in a guy to come in to compete.”
While it sounded good, the sentiment rang a little hollow. A year ago on the final day of draft weekend, the Vikings drafted kicker Blair Walsh. The immediate reaction was the same among the media types – Ryan Longwell was put on notice that there was a new, younger kicker in town. A week later, that point was hammered home by the release of Longwell, a popular teammate and successful player.
When pressed on the question, Spielman declined further comment, saying, “I’m not going to comment on anything right now. Right now, we just finished the draft and finished signing college free agents. We’ll sit down with the coaches and analyze where we’re at with everything. But right now going forward, we expect that to be a competition.”
POST-DRAFT SPIELMAN NOTES
Linebacker Michael Mauti may have been Spielman’s favorite pick of the final day. Mauti, who has blown out his ACLs three times – once on his right knee and twice on his left – was a player that, when healthy, Spielman saw as a Day 2 pick. He joked he asked head trainer Eric Sugarman “8,000 times” if Mauti had passed team medical standards at the NFL Scouting Combine. Spielman believes that if Mauti is ready for training camp in July, he could be a big time contributor in the Vikings’ defensive plans.
Gerald Hodges is expected to be used on the outside as a linebacker, but might end up being in the mix for the middle linebacker spot.
Because of the opposite spin on punts by a left-footed kicker, Spielman made the case that Locke has a good chance of making the team. He said that when the Vikings have faced a left-footed punter, they always brought in a lefty of their own to kick to the punt returners to acclimate them to the difference. Giving an opponent one more thing to think about or prepare for is a quiet victory for the team.
Sixth-round offensive lineman Jeff Baca could be a candidate to make the roster because it is believed that he could, in a pinch, play any of the five offensive line spots. He won’t be asked to, but that kind of versatility speaks well to finding him on an NFL roster, whether it’s the Vikings or not.
Spielman watched 2011 tape on seventh-round guard Travis Bond, back when he weighed 370 pounds. He attended the North Carolina-Louisville game and didn’t recognize Bond on sight because he had dropped 40 pounds and looked and played like a completely different player. Spielman joked that he had taken half of another man out of his body structure.
Defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said he was frustrated with his role at Florida State, but is excited about the prospect of being let loose in the Vikings-style defense. Spielman said Dawkins could be a situational pass-rushing defensive tackle because of his quickness as a one-gap penetrator.
Spielman pointed out that the drafting of Mauti came after the Vikings medical staff signed off. What makes that interesting is the Vikings’ track record of being able to have players with torn ACLs recover completely and resuming their NFL careers, including Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway and Heath Farwell – all sustained significant knee injuries and all returned the following year at full strength. Mauti is more than six months removed from his third ACL surgery and the anticipation is that he will be at or near 100 percent by the time training camp starts, barring any setbacks.
From the “That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It” Department comes this: Last year, Spielman was asked after the Vikings drafted three sets of college teammates (Matt Kalil and Rhett Ellison of USC, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton of Notre Dame and Jarius Wright and Greg Childs of Arkansas) if it was an intentional move. His answer was that “it was just coincidence.” For the second straight year – the NFL equivalent to lightning striking twice in the same place – the Vikings drafted three pairs of teammates (Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Dawkins, Penn State’s Hodges and Mauti, and UCLA’s Locke and Baca). Spielman’s response? Just coincidence … again. If it is more than one time, can it be coincidence?
Spielman declined to discuss the signing of veteran defensive end Lawrence Jackson, saying, “I don’t know if his contract came in yet, so once it’s officially announced, I’ll comment on him.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.