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Vikings satisfy their vision during Day 1 of NFL draft

By Dan Wiederer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Perhaps one day, way up the road, Rick Spielman will reveal the secrets of his first draft as Vikings general manager.

Maybe one day in the distant future, we’ll all learn more about the poker game he played from January through mid-April, hiding his hand and never letting down his guard.

At some point, conceivably, details might surface to explain how Spielman strategically attacked the first round of his first full draft as GM with such purpose and skill.

Yet all that really mattered when Thursday night ended was that the Vikings dived headfirst into the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, swung two impressive trades and emerged not only with two prospects they badly wanted — Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil and Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith — but also acquired additional picks to help them attack the weekend.

No wonder Spielman seemed to be glowing when he stepped to a lectern in the Winter Park fieldhouse late in the night. Without question, the five previous hours had gone as well as he ever envisioned.

Suddenly, big holes on the offensive line and in the back of the secondary had valuable reinforcements. And securing the Kalil-Smith combination was one the Vikings had talked about in detail as they finalized their draft board.

“You can say that was a fair vision,” Spielman said.

Kalil’s arrival, it’s figured, will accelerate the growth of last year’s top pick, quarterback Christian Ponder.

Smith is expected to bring his instincts, versatility and leadership skills to a secondary looking to suppress the nightmares of a historically bad 2011.

For Spielman, all the calling, negotiating and maneuvering Thursday provided exactly the kind of joyride he longed to be in the driver’s seat for, gaining that opportunity with his January promotion.

His first draft move was a something-for-nothing trade with Cleveland. The Vikings scared the Browns into a draft night do-si-do, fleecing them of fourth-round, fifth-round and seventh-round picks as the teams swapped places at the top of Round 1. Cleveland took running back Trent Richardson at No. 3.

Yet at no point were the Vikings in danger of losing Kalil, whom they grabbed with the next pick.

Head coach Leslie Frazier’s first reaction to that deal?

“I was like, ‘Wow!’” Frazier said. “That’s pretty good. I think Rick did a great job of setting the table leading up to the draft, just making people aware that we were willing to move and that we had three different guys we were talking about and discussing. So it worked out like a charm for us.”

To get Smith, the Vikings relinquished their Round 2 pick (35th overall) and the highest of the four fourth-rounders (No. 98) they had stockpiled.

It was a steadfast move, not one of desperation.

As far as the idea that the Vikings were torn with how to use their top pick — hinting all the way up until Thursday that they would consider Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon — much of that might have been strategic pre-draft subterfuge.

In the big picture, Kalil proved too good to pass up, especially as the Vikings do everything in their power to foster Ponder’s growth.

“We saw (Kalil) as a guy who could be a Pro Bowler for a long time,” Frazier said. “That was obvious from our standpoint. Along with what we’re trying to do with our quarterback. We wanted to make sure we do the things that are necessary to ensure that he has success. This gives us a chance to take that step in that direction.”

Spielman raved about Kalil’s 34.5-inch arms, his overall athleticism and his elite footwork. The USC star’s positive energy was also a selling point.

“The one thing that he does have is a passion for what he’s doing,” Spielman said. “He fit that bill for us.”

By 8 p.m., the first night of the draft was already an undeniable success. But with a feeling that safety depth in this draft was lacking, Spielman took no chances and charged into the 29th slot of the first round. Once there the Vikings landed Smith, whom they had grown fond of while coaching him at the Senior Bowl in January.

“We ended up getting to know each other really well,” Smith said. “And at the end of the day, they felt I was a good fit for them. And I 100 percent agree with them.”

That 100 percent figure can be a risky one to throw around on draft weekend.

But as far as wish lists go, the Vikings had Night 1 of the draft unfold 100 percent to their liking and according to their vision.

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