Notebook: Justin Blackmon will get to show Vikings what they missed
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - The three names tied most closely to the Minnesota Vikings as the NFL draft approached last April were Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
The Vikings ended up picking Kalil with the fourth overall selection after moving down one slot in a trade with Cleveland. One pick later the Jacksonville Jaguars took Blackmon.
On Sunday, the Vikings will get a chance to see the talented receiver they passed on when they play the Jaguars in the regular-season opener at the Metrodome.
"For us, Matt Kalil, from early on in the process was extremely high on our list as a priority," coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday when asked how much Blackmon figured into the Vikings' conversations last spring.
"With our left tackle position being what it was coming out of the season, we had targeted that area if the right guy was there, to try to solidify that position and knowing how important it is for our team, for every team, but in particular when you have a young quarterback like we have, to solidify that left tackle position."
Frazier praised Kalil and the progress he has made but also acknowledged that the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Blackmon will be a challenge to face. Blackmon, who was limited in Jacksonville's practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury, finished third on the Jaguars with 10 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.
"He's really become, it seems in the preseason, the focal point of their pass offense," Frazier said. "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."
Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey laughed when asked about the Vikings being interested in Blackmon heading into the draft.
"It's such a chess match on draft day," he said. "You have to do a lot of homework on what teams needs are and you really can't go by everything that anybody says during the draft. It's so strategically done. I think everybody knew we needed a wide receiver here and we were just going to wait. It was a wait and see."
Blackmon did have some off-the-field issues during the offseason. He was arrested in early June in Stillwater, Okla., after a breath test allegedly showed his blood-alcohol content to be three times the legal limit. He had been previously arrested on a drunken driving charge in Texas in 2010 that was eventually reduced to underage alcohol possession.
In late July, Blackmon pleaded guilty to the drunken driving charge and was given a sentence that included no jail time. Blackmon has insisted he does not have a drinking problem but vowed after the arrest to abstain from alcohol for now.
It's sounding more and more as if receiver Percy Harvin will be used on kickoff returns just as he was last season.
That is when the Vikings feel he can provide a spark.
"We want to still make sure that we're still utilizing all of his gifts," Frazier said. "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."
Harvin was selected to the 2009 Pro Bowl as a return man following his rookie season. He averaged 27.5 yards and had two touchdowns on 42 kickoff returns that season. The following year, he averaged 23.3 yards and had a touchdown on 40 returns.
He ran back the opening kickoff of the 2011 season 103 yards for a touchdown in San Diego but had only 15 returns after that. He averaged 32.5 yards on his 16 run backs.
The biggest surprise last season wasn't Harvin's limited work on returns. Rather, it was the fact he played only 600 snaps on offense, or 57.9 percent of the time. He still managed to rack up 1,832 total yards on 155 touches.
"He's a big playmaker for us as we all know," Frazier said. "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."
While Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave are likely to get Harvin in for more offensive snaps - especially in the first three games with receiver Jerome Simpson suspended by the NFL - Frazier knows he must be smart with one of his top players.
"I think we do have to manage how we use him," Frazier said. "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."
Three sit out
Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring), tight end John Carlson (knee), nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee) and guard Geoff Schwartz (abdomen) were all listed on the first injury report of the season but did not miss any practice time.
Four players did not practice for the Jaguars, including defensive ends Austen Lane (foot), Aaron Morgan (not injury related) and George Selvie (knee) and center Brad Meester (not injury related).
Cornerbacks Derek Cox (hamstring) and Mike Harris (hamstring) and guard Uche Nwaneri (ankle) were limited for Jacksonville.
Ready to go
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew ended his training camp holdout on Sunday and returned to the team despite the fact he did not get a new contract.
Jones-Drew, 27, had wanted to renegotiate the final two years of a five-year, $31 million contract that already has paid him nearly $22 million the past three seasons. However, new Jaguars owner Shad Khan refused to give into Jones-Drew's demands.
Jones-Drew, who is scheduled to make $4.45 million in 2012 and $4.95 million next year, led the NFL with 1,606 yards rushing in 2011.
But with the Jaguars employing a different offense under the newly hired Mularkey and Jones-Drew having missed so much practice time, the plan is for fourth-year running back Rashad Jennings to get the start Sunday.
Mularkey told reporters Monday that Jones-Drew will rotate in on third-down plays against the Vikings and also "get a series" in place of Jennings.
"I feel like if it was up to me I would say I would like to take every carry," Jones-Drew said Wednesday during a conference call with the Twin Cities media. "But it's not up to me. Rashad's been doing great. Obviously, he's been in the offense a couple of months longer than I have so he understands the ins and outs of it.
"I've been doing extensive studying though from Sunday until today. It's going to be a tough task. I'm learning the offense and studying the Vikings at the same time. But it's coming along well and I just want to continue to keep working that way."
Mularkey said Jones-Drew has been picking up on things quickly and has been spending extensive time with Jaguars running backs coach Sylvester Croom.
"I quiz him when I walk by him in the hallway," Mularkey said. "I'm firing things at him left and right that may occur in the game. I think he thinks he could start and play the whole game. I wouldn't do that to him. ... I have to have a couple more practices here to see where he is physically, condition wise.
"(Wednesday) we have a full pads practice. It will be a stressing practice, it's hot down here. We're going to see where he is. He hasn't taken a hit since last season. You have to get your body used to that as well. Some of his playing time will all be based on the next three days of practice. How he comes out of these practices."
When asked about Jones-Drew's potential playing time, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway simply said, "We expect to see him a lot."
Jones-Drew said he is good friends with Peterson and is rooting for the Vikings running back to make a successful return from his knee injury.
"I've always been watching (his recovery), seeing how things are going, hoping and wishing him well," Jones-Drew said. "Obviously as running backs we have to stick together because everybody is trying to devalue us or say, 'We're not this or we're not that,' which is pretty funny.
"He's coming back off something tough. I think we have all in some way or another experienced this type of adversity and the type of guy he is he's going to be able to get through that and be able to make plays. Hopefully, we'll be able to see him on Sunday. I can't wait to see how he looks."
• Mularkey, who was a tight end with the Vikings from 1983 to '88, is getting his second chance as an NFL head coach. The 50-year-old was the Bills' coach in 2004 and '05 and went 14-18 in that time. He was the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons' the past four seasons and spent three years working with current Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave on the Falcons' coaching staff.
• Veteran cornrback Chris Carr, who was released by the Vikings in the final cuts last Friday, has worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks.
Tom Pelissero contributed