EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have experienced a significant talent decline in two seasons since reaching the NFC championship game, and with that turnover has also come a loss of leadership.
So the Vikings are not only seeking players good enough to immediately upgrade their lineup in the early rounds of this year's draft but looking for assertive, confident, polished and experienced prospects who can help strengthen team chemistry and begin to build a young core of future captains.
Their first two picks fit the mold. USC left tackle Matt Kalil and Notre Dame free safety Harrison Smith both become instant starters. They're also the type of guys familiar with the scrutiny and pressure of big-stage games with reputations as no-nonsense, hard-working players.
"That's an area that we missed a season ago because of some of the changes that we've made on our roster going into the 2011 season," coach Leslie Frazier said Friday. "As we were going through this evaluation process that has been and is a part of what we're looking and the guys that we're trying to sign. We're trying to find not only a talented guy, but a combination of talent and leadership."
Smith was Notre Dame's only captain last year, the first time since 1999 that the Fighting Irish picked just one.
"I have dealt with being a leader of a team that's gone through things. Knowing how to deal with guys and helping younger guys, interact with the coaches. Being the guy in between the players and the coaches. I think it's just given me a whole lot of experience you can't really find in any other role," Smith said.