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Appalachian State Standout Joins the Purple: A Chat with UDFA Thomas Hennigan.

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                Jimmy Murphy / May 3rd, 2022/ Photo:Google.com

The Underdogs

Throughout the organization’s history, the Minnesota Vikings have acquired their fair share of talent and contributors from the yearly pool of undrafted free agents. This includes the likes of punt-return specialist Marcus Sherels, All-Pro and Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen and even Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle John Randle. Going into the 2022 season, the Vikings roster is still populated with a substantial amount of active roster UDFA’s that have become regular contributors to the team. This includes the likes of fullback CJ Ham, emerging linebacker Blake Lynch and punt-gunner specialist Dan Chisnea. 


This 2022 class of draft picks and UDFA’s marks the first class for new GM Kwesi-Adofo Mensah and it is a class chock-full of highly accomplished young players that are eager to become a part of the new culture being established in the Kevin O’Connell era. Recently, I had the honor of being able to chat with UDFA Thomas Hennigan, a standout receiver from Appalachian State, who is one of the members of this talented incoming class.


Coming of Age

Reigning from Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, NC, Hennigan was an accomplished multi-sport athlete.  In conjunction with football, Hennigan was also an all-conference selection in basketball. While football was the sport Hennigan eventually went on to pursue in college, he discussed how football was not exactly in the forefront of his mind growing up. He described how his early years consisted mainly of basketball and soccer and that he didn’t pick up football until middle school. Hennigan went on to share that “by the time he got to high school, he was not even 100% sure about going out for football.” This eventually resulted in the head coach of the football team calling Hennigan’s residence and pitching to him the impact that he could have on the team. 


Following Hennigan’s freshman year, he transitioned into making football a major part of his life. Going into his sophomore year, Hennigan became involved in 7on7 leagues with Team NC Elite based out of Charlotte, and then this eventually culminated into a standout sophomore season that consisted of more than 100 receptions. Hennigan’s standout sophomore season led to college interest to begin to pour in and therefore officially affirmed football as his number one sport thus leading to the following springs and summers being dedicated to mastering his craft. 



At the outset of Hennigan’s junior year, the scholarship offers began to pile in. Hennigan describes however that while there were big schools that offered him such as the University of Virginia and while there were plenty of options to choose from, many of the schools that had offered Hennigan, offered him as a defensive player rather than a receiver. However, the nearby program in Appalachian State believed in his ability to play receiver and along with Hennigan feeling like it was the best fit, the assurance of being able to play the position he thrived at in high school eventually  led the Greensboro product to take his talents to the Sun Belt. 


Homegrown Star

Upon arriving to the Mountaineers, Hennigan would go on to have an immediate impact. As a true freshman, Hennigan started in all 13 games and would go from there to have a dominant 5-year career, terrorizing opposing Sun Belt secondaries with highlight-reel one-handed catches and dominating one on one jump-balls. Hennigan would go on to finish as the Mountaineer's all-time leader in receptions, 2nd all-time leader in yards, and 4th all-time leader in touchdowns. One of Hennigan’s valuable traits he also described was his durability and availability. This Iron-Man mentality manifested itself in Hennigan going on hold the FBS record for most career starts (65). 



The Next Step

Following a dominant 5 year span for the Mountaineers, Hennigan knew it was time to take the next step. He described the anxiousness of draft weekend and how he was mainly trying to keep himself busy as the rounds went by. Following the last pick, Hennigan had still not received a call. However as time went on, Hennigan eventually received a phone call from his agent informing him that he was now a Minnesota Viking and that the homegrown star of Mountaineer football was now going to get his shot at the league. 


When asked about joining the talented receiver room, Hennigan described the initial awe of realizing that he was going to be in a room with the likes of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson but ultimately concluded that he is coming into the locker room with the mindset that has taken him so far already in his career. A mindset consisting of professionalism, being coachable, and working his tail off every single day. 


With mini-camp around the corner, Hennigan is eager and excited to start to get to work for the team and make the most of the opportunity that has been given to him. 


Final Verdict

Minnesota Viking UDFA’s and late-round picks have seen their fair share of success with the franchise. And fans should be excited about the incoming App State star. Hennigan’s combination of being a sure-handed target with crisp route running ability along with also possessing the intangible skills of leadership and a ruthless competitive edge will result in a player who is ready to contribute and make some noise in the Vikings receiver room. 


From contemplating playing football going into high school, to dominating the Sun Belt to now having a shot to become a part of one of the league’s most explosive receiving corps…. Hennigan is ready to showcase his skills and ultimately confirm that the Vikings front office “did not make a mistake in their evaluations.” 






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Lewis Cine: Versatile Georgia Safety Joins the Purple

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    Jimmy Murphy / April 29th, 2022 /Photo:Google.com

The Debut

April 28th, 2022 marked the debut draft for the new Minnesota Vikings regime and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The 2022 draftee pool lacking a consensus #1 overall pick along with the presence of an arguably underwhelming quarterback class manifested in the evening possessing an aura of unpredictability. 


The Vikings front office watched as their top corner prospects in “Sauce” Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr. were each taken successively within the first 5 picks and furthermore taken at a value that would deem too high for the Minnesota front office to attempt to trade up for. With the team missing out on their top corner prospects along with seeing the plethora of talent still available, this prompted Adofo-Mensah to get on the War Room line with Detriot Lions GM Brad Holmes and eventually trade back from pick 12 to pick 32. 


With the 32nd overall pick and the first pick of the Kwesi Adofo-Mensah era, the team landed on Georgia Bulldog safety Lewis Cine, making Cine one of 5 Georgia Bulldog defenders taken on day 1. While fans may question the value of the picks gained by the Viking's front office in the trade with Detroit, there is no objecting to the fact that Lewis Cine being taken at pick 32, constitutes nothing less than a high-value steal for Minnesota. So who is Lewis Cine and how does the new first-round selection fit into the team’s scheme for this upcoming season?


Cedar Hill Prospect to Athens Star

Reigning from Trinity Christian School in Cedar Hill, TX, Lewis Cine was one of the premier defensive back recruits in the country upon arriving to the Georgia Bulldogs. As a true freshman, Cine saw snaps in all 14 games eventually making his way into the starting role towards to conclusion of the season. As a sophomore, Cine emerged as the Bulldog's full-time starter. As a junior, Cine officially established himself as a household name on the loaded Georgia defense. Cine was named 1st Team All-SEC, a semi-finalist for the coveted Jim Thorpe award, and the 2022 National Championship game Defensive MVP. Cine’s elite closing speed and brute physicality prime him to immediately contribute to the Viking’s already solid secondary featuring All-Pro Harrison Smith and budding 2nd-year star Cameron Bynum.



The Fit 

It is expected that there will be a significant amount of carryover from the Denver 3-4 scheme with new Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. This scheme emphasizes a high frequency of base-down Cover 3 and 3rd down Cover 1 with front 7 pressure. The schematics of an emphasis for Cover 3 on base-downs will either leave Lewis Cine or Harrison Smith as the single-high safety in the secondary, meaning that one of the two will roll down into the box to play the curl flat zone. This base down scheme consisting of constant safety movement and rotation will mean that between Cine and Smith, there is always going to be a physical Swiss Army knife safety rolled down towards the box. This will allow Cine to be put in positions to maximize his versatility, as he not only will be able to utilize his strong instinctual coverage skills but will also allow him to utilize his violent physicality to be a force in run support when rolled down into the box. The instances in which Cover 1 blitzes are called upon on, this will again allow Cine to maximize his versatility. If he is the single deep safety in Cover 1, his elite closing speed will allow him to cover ground quickly and provide a strong presence over the top to deter a frequency of deep balls completed. If he is rolled down into the box, his physicality will allow him to be able to provide solid coverage on big-skill positions and his off-the-charts explosiveness will also be able to put him in positions for schemed DB blitzes. 





Final Verdict

The Minnesota Vikings and the front office are eager to compete in 2022 and there is no better way to do that than by addressing a present hole on the side of the ball that put on a poor display this previous season. Lewis Cine is a violent heat-seeking missile with elite closing speed and a ruthless competitive edge. His competition in the SEC in conjunction with Georgia meant that he was always competing with and against other future NFL talent. Cine will be able to be paired and mentored by an All-Pro safety and then be schemed to maximize his elite versatility, ultimately setting up the University of Georgia product to wreak havoc on this league for decades to come. 


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Vikings Draft Scenario: Mock A+ Draft Night

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 Scott Wessels / April 28th, 2022 / Staff Image

 Taking a look at how the NFL Draft could fall the way of the Minnesota Vikings tonight, if the other teams' general managers decided to let us have our favorite players, and players that will fill obvious needs and fit schemes.

  • First Round (Pick 12) - Kyle Hamilton (Safety, Notre Dame): This is becoming closer and closer to reality every day. Hamilton is rated as top-4 talent in this draft, yet a "slow" 40 time, plus other teams' needs for cornerbacks, edge rushers, and offensive tackles have pushed Hamilton down the draft board. Many draftniks have pegged Hamilton to the Vikings, which would be a HUGE GET for the purple & gold. With Xavier Woods gone, and Harrison Smith nearing the end, he would be a perfect fit. He would immediately slot in to cover other teams' receiving tight ends, and possibly fill in as a box linebacker in nickel situations.
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The Next Franchise Corner: Trent McDuffie

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Jimmy Murphy / April 25th, 2022 /Photo:Google.com

The Time is Now

Since the departure of former Pro-Bowler and All-Pro corner Xavier Rhodes, there has been a recurring hole within the Minnesota Vikings cornerback room. While the team’s front 7 has produced All-Pros with the likes of Erik Kendricks along with the back half of the secondary producing All-Pros in Harrison Smith, the accolades and serviceable on-the-field play have not extended to the cornerback room. With the team being poised for a bounce-back season under a fresh regime, there is no better way to kick off the 2022 comeback tour than by addressing one of the defense’s biggest holes in a draft deep with corners.


With the team unlikely to make a push into striking distance for the likes of Cincy’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner or LSU’s 

Derek Stingley Jr, this would manifest in the team selecting University of Washington product Trent Mcduffie with either the 12th pick or later in the evening if they elect to trade back. To be clear, CB Trent Mcduffie is not a pick that the team is “settling” for. As stated previously, this draft is rich with corners, and Mcduffie being the arguable CB3 in this year’s draft is just a result of the board’s depth. So who is Trent Mcduffie and how does the UW product fit into the team's new 3-4 scheme for this upcoming season?


UW Star

As a highly touted recruit coming out of St John Bosco High School, Mcduffie immediately made a substantial impact upon arriving to the Washington Huskies. As a true freshman, Mcduffie was named as an honorable mention for the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. As a sophomore, he was named All-Pac 12 second team. And as a junior, he was named All-Pac-12 first team and AP 3rd Team All-American following a shutdown 2021 campaign. Standing at 5’11 and 195 pounds, Mcduffie possesses the speed, physical tools, and fearless competitive edge to be able to arrive as an immediate contributor to the Ed Donatell defense. 



The Perfect Fit

During the 2021 season, the Denver Broncos (Ed Donatell’s former team) bolstered the league’s 3rd best total defense and 8th best pass defense in the explosive AFC West. In the absence of an elite pass rush, a large portion of the credit can be attributed to the Denver secondary’s ability to keep receivers blanketed and disguise coverages in spite of the absence of an elite pressure rate from the Denver front 7. In the Donatell 3-4 scheme, it will be expected that there will be a large amount of carry-over from the Denver scheme. This scheme emphasizes a high frequency of base-down Cover 3 and 3rd down Cover 1 with front 7 pressure. This lower frequency of man coverage on base-downs will give Mcduffie the ability to be able to lurk in the flats or deep thirds for the chance to jump quick and medium routes and will also allow him to use his aggressive downhill playstyle to step up and be a force from the secondary in run support. Most importantly, however, it will allow Mcduffie to build up confidence and will limit the positions for him to be put in that would increase the likelihood of common young corner mistakes occurring. The instances in which Mcduffie will be schemed to play man will be in conjunction with heavy blitzes by the Vikings' front 7. The prolific duo of Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith getting after the QB along with McDuffie's route-hugging man coverage skills will result in a fair amount of inaccurate throws and poor decisions that the young ball-hawking Mcduffie will be able to capitalize on. 




Final Verdict

With the Ed Donatell scheme allowing Mcduffie the combination to be able to play with autonomy within his zones and be able to rack up tackles in run support on base downs, while also providing lockdown man coverage in conjunction with the Viking's talented front 7 on Cover 1 blitzes on 3rd down, there is no reason to think that picking a shutdown corner coming from a pass-happy college conference is “settling” for a pick. Mcduffie’s ruthless competitiveness, speed, and twitch combined with his blanket coverage skills will make for the perfect pick for the Vikings, regardless of where they do it. 

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Minnesota Vikings 2022 Signings: Who is Harrison Phillips?

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In a new series reviewing the Minnesota Vikings 2022 signings, we will be profiling the new Vikings, reviewing their career to date, asking where they might fit into the roster and making some bold predictions on how their careers in purple will go.

It was no secret that the Minnesota Vikings roster needed significant changes. Whilst there are some positions which were in relatively good shape following the 2021 season, there were a lot of question marks regarding many others.

The new general manager in Minnesota, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, wasted little time in making some big moves. We continue with former Buffalo Bill Harrison Phillips.




Photo from Vikings.com

Who is Harrison Phillips?

Harrison Phillips signed a three year deal with the Minnesota Vikings on March 12th. The defensive tackle had spent the previous four years in Buffalo after being selected by the Bills with the 96th overall pick of the 2018 draft. Phillips appeared in 45 games for the Bills, including 26 over the last two years. The Nebraska native has compiled 107 tackles (60 solo), 1.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, three passes defended and three fumble recoveries in his career.

Phillips also had the honor of being the Buffalo Bills' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for both the 2020 and 2021 seasons for his work through with the Playmakers Organisation, a group which supports children that are developmentally or physically different. Upon signing with the Vikings, Phillips described his role as being "like the fire hydrant at a dog show, you've got a role, you kind of get pi**ed on but you've got to do that to the best of your ability". In an era of flashy footballers, Harrison Phillips does strike you as a bit of a throwback with the kind of enthusiasm which is sometimes lost as players move into the NFL. If his personality translates onto the pitch the Vikings supporters could have a new leader in the locker room as well as on the defensive line.

Where will Harrison Phillips fit in to the Vikings?

As soon as the news of the Michael Pierce release became public it became quite clear that reinforcements would be needed at the defensive tackle position. There was the potential to move Dalvin Tomlinson to nose tackle or to see if Armon Watts was ready to cement his role as a starter, however the leadership team wasted no time in swooping in to pick up one of the more highly coveted  defensive tackles as free agency opened.

The departure of Michael Pierce after the Vikings were unable to agree to a new deal marked a disappointing end to his time in purple, after opting out of the 2020 season due to underlying health issues and the COVID pandemic, Pierce only played in six games throughout the 2021 season due to injuries. Whilst Pierce did perform very well when available, the Vikings clearly view Harrison Phillips as the safer option due to his availability, especially over the past two seasons.

Harrison Phillips is due to earn $19.5m over his three years with the Minnesota Vikings, which feels like a very reasonable contract for a player who PFF ranked 15th out of 109 qualifying defensive linemen. If he can avoid injury, "Horrible Harry" as he has been known since his high school days should be a solid contributor, particularly against the run where the Vikings have really struggled over the past few seasons.

How will Harrison Phillips fare in Minnesota?

If you watch any of the interviews Harrison Phillips has carried out since signing in Minnesota it is almost impossible not to root for him. If he can continue to develop and improve on his performances in Buffalo he should cement his place as a starter very early on. In addition to almost giving the Vikings a monopoly on players named Harrison (see also Dalvin), this signing does solidify a position of need for the Vikings and, if both Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith (more on him later) can stay healthy, the Vikings defensive line could go from being an area of concern to one of the strongest in the NFL.

Article by James Paterson

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Irv Smith Jr. Reports to Off-season Workouts

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 Scott Wessels / April 12th, 2022 / Image from Minnesota Vikings Twitter

 Good news, Vikings fans, there was an Irv Smith Jr. sighting today in Eagan at the second day of offseason workouts, as players trickled in for voluntary drills and getting a first look Kevin O'Connell's playbook. With Minnesota having a new coach, they, along with the Broncos, Raiders, Jags, Texans, and Buccaneers all get an extra session to introduce themselves to one another.

Smith, coming back from a meniscus tear he suffered during the preseason finale against the K.C. Chiefs, originally had a 4-6 month rehab ahead of him. With that now behind him, O'Connell said during the press conference that Smith will probably not hit the field to take physical reps, but "there's no reason he can't hit the ground running from a mental perspective."

Probably a smart idea, since Smith will be leaned on heavily with Tyler Conklin now residing at MetLife Stadium in a Jets uniform. Expect the Vikings to scour the middle round prospects for a draft pick in two weeks to help out Smith and Kirk Cousins, as tight end has been a big part of the Vikings passing game.

AROUND THE HORNS

  •  Another off-season attendee coming off a season lost to injury, Jaylen Twyman, showed up ready to show the new Vikings coaching staff what he's got, after they drafted him in the 6th round. The Pitt DT has had a long layoff, with his last season being 2019. He missed the 2020 season, opting out due to COVID-19, and then last year was shot four times in D.C., derailing his rookie year before it began.
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Minnesota Vikings 2022 Signings: Who is Jordan Hicks?

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 In a new series reviewing the Minnesota Vikings 2022 signings, we will be profiling each of the new Vikings, reviewing their career to date, asking where they might fit into the roster and making some bold predictions on how their careers in purple will go.

It was no secret that the Minnesota Vikings roster needed significant changes. Whilst there are some positions which were in relatively good shape following the 2021 season, there were a lot of question marks regarding many others.

The new general manager in Minnesota, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, wasted little time in making some big moves. We start with former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Minnesota Vikings 2022 Signings Jordan Hicks
                                                                   Photo from Vikings.com


Who is Jordan Hicks?

Jordan Hicks signed a two year contract with the Vikings on March 15th. The 29 year old was drafted by the Eagles with the 84th overall pick of the 2015 draft. In his 4 years as an Eagle, he totalled 254 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 6 fumble recoveries and 7 interceptions.

In March 2019 Hicks signed a 4-year $36m contract with the Arizona Cardinals, appearing in every game over each of the last 3 seasons. Hicks comfortably passed 100 tackles per year throughout his stint with the Cardinals, in addition to making 4 interceptions. One particular standout performance came in 2021 against another NFC North team in the Chicago Bears, where Hicks had 13 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 TFLs, a feat that earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award in week 13.

Where will Jordan Hicks fit in to the Vikings?

Whilst linebacker didn't feel like one of the overwhelming needs for the Vikings heading into free agency, the fact that this was the first signing made does feel significant. With cap space at a premium, the 2 year, $10m contract handed to Hicks (cap hit of $3.5m in 2022) did puzzle some of us who maybe thought there were bigger issues to address first. However, as a potential leader on the defensive side of the ball Hicks could prove to be one of the more astute signings this offseason.

When analyzing the player recruitment so far, one theme does seem to reoccur - durability. The Vikings were heavily stung by injuries in 2020 and 2021 and Hicks hasn't missed a game through injury since his Eagles days. He is also almost certainly the prime candidate for the green dot this year on defence, a responsibility held for most of last season by Nick Vigil who, incidentally, will be Hicks replacement in Arizona.

So where will Jordan Hicks fit into the 2022 Vikings defence? This signing does play into the theory that Minnesota will be moving to a 3-4 defensive front, as Hicks is predominantly an inside linebacker who will hopefully take the spot next to fan favourite Eric Kendricks. Kendricks has passed the 100 tackle mark every season since 2016 and the onus will be on the tandem to help stop the run and plug some of the holes in what was one of the leakiest defences in 2021.

As previously mentioned, I don't think that Hicks is a like-for-like replacement for any of the departing players as his projected role didn't exist in the 2021 Vikings. The nearest comparison would be the aforementioned Nick Vigil, who had a PFF grade of 42.1 for the season. Hicks’ grade was 64.4 (30th out of all linebackers) and, whilst PFF grades are not entirely accurate, it does seem like the linebacker corps for 2022 will be much stronger than last year with Jordan Hicks on board.

How will Jordan Hicks fare in Minnesota?

Providing Hicks can remain healthy, it doesn't feel like a stretch to suggest he can pass the 100 tackle mark for a fourth successive season, in what is almost a "prove it" year (the Vikings would only incur $1.5m of dead cap if Jordan Hicks is cut in 2023). The pressure will be on Hicks to impress, and to stamp his authority into the Vikings defence. If he continues to be a solid contributor and can make the occasional splash play with a forced fumble or interception he will be a welcome addition to the 2022 Minnesota Vikings and a worthwhile signing indeed.


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