Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings preseason dates, times released

Posted by: Matt Vensel under Vikings Updated: April 17, 2014 - 12:28 PM

The Vikings have released the dates and times of their four preseason games, in case you were holding your breath for the official times. Their preseason opponents were announced last week.

Game 1: Vikings vs. Raiders, Friday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.

Game 2: Vikings vs. Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Game 3: Vikings @ Chiefs, Saturday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.

Game 4: Vikings @ Titans, Thursday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.

The NFL has not announced when the regular-season schedule will be released (and whatever you do you, DO NOT pester them about the release date). But Pro Football Talk says the league is shooting for a Tuesday release. Here is a quick look at who the Vikings will be playing in 2014.

Kiper's latest mock draft: Vikings pick Blake Bortles

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: April 17, 2014 - 10:53 AM

New mock draft, new quarterback.

Previously ESPN’s Mel Kiper had the Vikings taking Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the eighth pick, now it’s Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles in his latest mock draft on Thursday.

Bortles was projected to go fourth to the Browns in his previous mock draft (now it’s Manziel). Bortles is raw can’t start on Week 1. That shouldn’t be a problem for the Vikings after resigning Matt Cassel. He possesses the size of a prototypical quarterback, 6-5 and 232 pounds, and has the highest ceiling out of the top three quarterbacks (Manziel and Lousiville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater).

There hasn’t been a quarterback that’s been regarded top quarterback in the draft, and it will probably become the most fascinating thing to watch in three weeks on Day 1.

Also noteworthy: Bridgewater, Kiper’s top player on his Big Board, falls out of the first round.  He has the Texans drafting Bridgewater with the 33rd overall pick. Even with all the nonsense about Bridgewater being published, it’s very hard to believe someone that talented doesn’t get drafted in the first round.

Munnerlyn gives Vikings a shot with slot receivers

Posted by: Matt Vensel under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Antoine Winfield Updated: April 17, 2014 - 8:12 AM

In his prime, Antoine Winfield, who last played for the Vikings and in the NFL in 2012, was one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks at covering shifty slot receivers. If he got beat, he usually wrapped them up and limited the damage. He was a good blitzer and excellent run defender, too.

Last season, though, the Vikings did not have a reliable defensive back who could consistently stick with slot receivers. Three Vikings played more than 50 snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. They were, in order of most snaps played, Josh Robinson (212), Robert Blanton (201) and Marcus Sherels (119). Sherels and Robinson allowed the most yards per coverage snap among slot defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. Blanton was the best of that bunch, but quarterbacks still had a 121.0 passer rating when targeting him while he covered slot receivers.

Enter Captain Munnerlyn, who was solid when operating in the slot for the Carolina Panthers.

While it wasn’t exactly Munnerlyn Island, he allowed just 1.09 yards per snap in coverage the past two years, a number that would rank among the top 12 qualifying corners in 2013, per PFF. He also surrendered just one reception for every nine coverage snaps, which was respectable. He was beaten for just one touchdown in 803 snaps in the slot while picking off a pair of passes.

“When I’m on the field, I’m the big difference. I can make a whole lot of plays in this defense,” Munnerlyn, who with 3.5 sacks last season was also an effective blitzer, said Tuesday at Winter Park. “Start outside and then slide in to play the nickel back. That’s what I’m going to do. Start outside and slide into the nickel back. Make plays. Bring the physical toughness to this secondary and go out there and get my hands on some balls and take them to the house.”

Munnerlyn has seven career interceptions. He returned five of those picks for a touchdown.

While Munnerlyn again acknowledged that he would start on the outside and move inside in sub packages, he said he isn’t sure which sideline he will defend in the base defense. Xavier Rhodes usually lined up as the left cornerback as a rookie. Munnerlyn was on the left a lot, too.

“We haven’t talked about what side. Doesn’t matter,” said Munnerlyn, who signed a three-year, $15 million contract last month. “I played both in Carolina before. So it doesn’t matter.”

And given how often offenses use three or more wide receivers -- it was on more than half of the snaps across the NFL in 2013 -- Munnerlyn will be lining up in the slot a lot of the time anyway.

Josh Freeman is joining the New York Giants

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 16, 2014 - 3:30 PM

Josh Freeman, whose tenure as the Vikings’ starting quarterback last season lasted 60 disastrous minutes, will join the New York Giants, according to his agent, Erik Burkhardt.

The Vikings signed Freeman last October after he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who made him their first-round pick in 2009. The Vikings were juggling quarterbacks, having already given starts to Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel, when they made the surprising signing.

After a blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 6, Freeman got the call a week later against the New York Giants, a game that was played on "Monday Night Football." Freeman, who was still learning the playbook, was overmatched from the start. He completed just 20 of his 53 attempts for 190 yards -- that's 3.6 yards per attempt -- with one interception. The only points the Vikings scored in the 23-7 loss came on an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Marcus Sherels.

Freeman suffered a concussion in the loss and was replaced by Ponder in their next game. He would not appear in another game for the Vikings, despite inconsistent play at the position.

Freeman will presumably get a chance to compete to be Eli Manning’s backup in New York.

Despite playing five seasons in the NFL, none more trying than his last one, Freeman is just 26, so he might still turn his career around. He has completed 57.6 percent of his career attempts for 13,724 yards and 80 touchdowns with 67 interceptions. He has a 77.8 career passer rating.

Peterson, not CJ2K, the defender of the declining RB position

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: April 16, 2014 - 9:07 AM

If there is one peer that Adrian Peterson considers his closest rival and the guy he really, really, REALLY wants to top, it would no doubt be Chris Johnson.

Peterson has never come out and said that. But anyone who has interviewed him since 2009 knows this to be the case.

When the 2009 season began, Peterson was, well, Peterson. In the eighth game of his 2007 rookie season, he ran for a league-record 296 yards. In his second season, he ran for a Vikings franchise-record 1,760 yards.

Johnson, who joined the league a year later than Peterson, was a 1,200-yard rusher as a 2008 rookie. Good, but no Peterson.

In 2009, however, things began to change, at least temporarily. For the first time in his three seasons, Peterson was being asked to name the best running back in the league.

It’s a setup question when tossed out to someone of Peterson’s abilities. Naturally, Peterson bristled at the notion that Johnson was better than him.

But Johnson kept piling up the yards before reaching the exclusive 2,000-yard club (2,006). Meanwhile, the same question kept being lobbed at Peterson and Johnson just to see what they’d say.

Johnson wasn’t shy about declaring himself the best running back in the league. Meanwhile, Peterson’s initial reaction usually was to answer the question with a question: “Who do you think is the best?” Then he’d smile and keep the conversation professional, but assert his competitive side.

In 2011, Johnson was a training camp holdout. It took the Titans coughing up $54 million over four years to get him back to work. Peterson congratulated him. Weeks later, Peterson topped him with a seven-year deal worth up to $100 million.

In 2012, Peterson joined Johnson in the 2,000-yard club, rushing for 2,097 in the season that immediately followed a knee reconstruction.

Now, two seasons later, Johnson has been released by the Titans as the age of the devalued running back position marches on. Tennessee chose a $4 million salary cap hit and no Johnson over a $10 million cap hit and Johnson. And while Johnson didn’t have the greatest season a year ago, he’s still a durable and productive back under the age of 30 (29 on Sept. 23).

Johnson has missed only one game in his career and is one of only six running backs to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six season. Four of them are in the Hall of Fame.

But a career-low 3.9-yard average per carry was lackluster enough for the Titans to dump him.

On a conference call last week, Peterson was asked about a trend that’s seen a pass-oriented league devalue running backs. Former Vikings running back Toby Gerhart’s $4.5 million in guaranteed money is the most by a 2014 free-agent running back and is less than kickers Robbie Gould ($8.85 million) and Dan Bailey ($7.5 million) and punter Pat McAfee ($5.3 million). Johnson is expected to land a relatively modest deal, and no running back is expected to be taken in the first round of the draft for a second straight year.

“You know, it’s just kind of how it is, unfortunately,” Peterson said. “There are a couple of guys who are different from that. I feel like I’m one of them.”

Peterson then made it clear that his one-time rival wasn’t one of them last season.

“Chris Johnson, maybe if he would have ran for 1,800 yards, he’d have a different story about how much he could be bringing in [this year],” Peterson said.

“It’s all about what have you done for me lately. Unfortunately for the guys who were in free agency this year didn’t have incredible numbers or incredible seasons to be able to get the type of [money] they wanted in free agency. I feel like that’s it. I feel like me and a couple of other guys are going to keep it alive as far as running backs being able to come out and keep the running back position at a top level. That comes with guys putting in the hard work and being able to produce and show that when they step on the field.”  

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT