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Updated: February 24th, 2012 8:40pm
Notebook: Leslie Frazier leaves open door for Cedric Griffin's return

Notebook: Leslie Frazier leaves open door for Cedric Griffin's return

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Cedric Griffin packed his belongings at the end of a tumultuous 2011 season like a player with no intention of returning to the Minnesota Vikings locker room.

But Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on Friday refused to rule out giving the veteran cornerback another chance, even saying the team is "optimistic about his return" from two knee reconstruction surgeries that seem to have sapped his explosion.

"He was coming off of a major knee surgery a year ago, and sometimes guys need a year under their belt before they can really get back to (production) they had before," Frazier said. "It remains to be seen if he's one of those guys."

At age 29, Griffin doesn't figure to be a part of the Vikings' long-term plans. He admitted as much after getting benched in a late-season loss to Detroit for playing the wrong technique on a touchdown pass and didn't play at all on defense the following week.

"I'm going to do the best that I can do and do what I do," Griffin said after that Dec. 11 game. "But that's on the team decision. So, I'm going to make my decision, what I've got to do after the season and they're going to make their decision."

The Vikings are a little more than $10 million under the 2012 salary cap and could save another $3.65 million by dumping Griffin, who is due a $4.1 million base salary and a $50,000 workout bonus next season. He has three years and $1 million of unamortized bonus proration on the extension he signed in March 2009.

One theory is the Vikings could ask Griffin to take a pay cut and then give him one more shot to provide a return on the investment they made in him three years ago. They tried the same thing last year with receiver Bernard Berrian, though, and that didn't work out.

"We've got to go back and we're doing it now, looking at all of our guys as we're trying to ascertain what free agents are going to be the guys that we're going to target prior to March 13th," Frazier said.

"Just trying to determine if we're going to approach any players or if we're going to say, 'OK, we're not touching this guy, because we're going to do whatever we're doing with this guy.' So, we still have some things that we have to go through to determine how we want to do it so that financially we can be somewhat aggressive when free agency begins."

General manager Rick Spielman said on Thursday he expects to finalize the team's plans for its own roster and free agency after meeting with Frazier, cap man Rob Brzezinski and ownership next week.

Asked if Griffin is even in the mindset to be a part of the Vikings again, Frazier pointed to Griffin's performance against Chicago in the season finale, which included his first interception since he blew out the first knee in the January 2010 NFC championship game.

"He really rebounded and played well for us," Frazier said. "Approached it the right way all throughout practice that week, and I think the last couple weeks he did that. He really had the right approach, and he played hard for us.

"I think he's in the right frame of mind. We've just got to get him to where he's 100 percent healthy and confident about the things he's capable of doing."

More work for Percy?

A rib injury knocked Percy Harvin out of four games last season, contributing to a relatively low snap total for the Vikings' top receiver. Frazier hopes that'll change in 2012.

"The workload was probably what we could afford with him," Frazier said. "We're always conscious with Percy of overusing him. He's such a main factor in our offense but also in special teams, such a threat every time he touches the football.

"One of the things I talked with him about at the end of the season or even a few weeks ago is just our being able to keep him on the field a little bit longer, even when he's not touching the football."

Harvin played only 600 snaps (57.9%) and was bothered by the rib from early in training camp. Yet he led the Vikings with 87 catches for 967 yards (11.1 average), ran 52 times for 345 yards (6.6 average) and returned 16 kickoffs for 520 yards (32.5 average), including a 103-yard touchdown at San Diego and a 104-yard return at Atlanta.

"I remember at the Senior Bowl a lot of coaches came up to me -- and I shared this with Percy -- they were telling me how they feared Percy Harvin, defensive coaches," Frazier said. "So, we have to find ways to keep him on the field, even when we're not using him and let him get his breath in between plays."

More rotation?

Jared Allen played 94.5% of the defensive snaps last season. Brian Robison (82.7%) and Kevin Williams (77.3% despite missing two games) rarely came off the field either.

For the first time, Frazier acknowledged on Friday the Vikings need to give backups such as Everson Griffen and Christian Ballard more time to keep the starters from wearing down.

"Those young guys we have playing behind our starters are going to be very good players for us," Frazier said, "but that's one of the things we want to be able to do going forward, is develop a rotational system where we can get Christian more snaps, be able to get Everson a few more snaps and take some of those reps off of Kevin Williams and Jared and hopefully extend their production."

Changing of the guard?

Frazier confirmed he considers Charlie Johnson an option at guard if the Vikings find a replacement at left tackle.

Scouts like Johnson's athleticism and ability to make blocks in space, but opinions are split on whether he has the lower-body strength to move people on the interior.

"We think he does," Frazier said. "He's shown the power, the agility to make the blocks you've got to make on a three-technique and be able to get up to the second level and block the linebackers. He's shown he can do that.

"He did it a number of times when he was here (in Indianapolis from 2006 to '10). We knew he had the swing capabilities when we signed him and moved him out to left tackle."

Starting guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera both are candidates to be released before free agency begins on March 13. Hutchinson is the older (34) and more expensive ($7 million in salary and bonuses for 2012) of the two but is believed to be open to restructuring.

"Steve can still play in this league," Frazier said. "I really believe that."

Quick hits

• The Vikings have not discussed moving SLB Chad Greenway to the middle if they don't bring back MLB E.J. Henderson, Frazier said. "He's right where he needs to be, behind Kevin Williams," Frazier said. "When Kevin is really rolling, it really helps Chad's game, and ... Chad's cover ability on tight ends, to line him up on the tight end side, it's a plus for us." WLB Erin Henderson, who is also a free agent, "has the ability to swing at all three, but he's probably best at the weakside linebacker position," Frazier said.

• Frazier came out even stronger than Spielman against the possibility of moving CB Antoine Winfield to safety. "He was banged up a year ago," Frazier said of Winfield, who missed four games with a neck injury and ended the season on injured reserve after breaking his collarbone. "But I still see him playing the nickel corner, maybe some outside. I know I've been asked before about maybe safety. I don't really see him at that position but still playing the nickel corner, playing the corner position."

• Ballard, a fourth-round pick from Iowa last year, will continue to get work at both the three-technique and defensive end. "We're excited about Christian's future," Frazier said. "He did a good job for us last season in the reps that he did get. He really showed some flashes of some things that we think are going to be really positive for our defense. We are excited about his future."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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