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.
A reminder that this isn't your father's NFL came a 9:13 p.m. tonight when the Vikings concluded their second practice in full pads and fourth overall before being sprung free for their first day off of training camp on Tuesday. Les Steckel's 1984 boot camp, this is not. But that's not coach Mike Zimmer being soft by any stretch. That's just the modern NFL collective bargaining agreement trying harder to protect and preserve the league's players.
It's probably not a coincidence that Zimmer chose a night practice the day before an off day. Players exiting the locker room at about 10 p.m. are less likely to end up somewhere they shouldn't be than if they had been going petal to the metal up I-169 around 5 p.m. So the rookie head coach gets veteran savvy points for that decision, even though he said it had more to do with changing the routine of camp.
SETTING THE SCENE: A decent-sized crowd for a Monday night filled nearly one side of Blakeslee Stadium's bleachers and a smattering of the other side as the Vikings practiced for about an hour and 45 minutes. The weather was perfect and the air cool enough to chase off the skeeters who usually gnaw us to pieces when the Vikings practice under the lights.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: Here's something you don't overhear very often when you're around the Vikings these days: "I wish Christian Ponder had played more." That unidentified fan was bemoaning the fact that Ponder, the No. 3 quarterback, played virtually no role in tonight's practice. He threw two passes, going 1 of 2 with a touchdown during the goal-line session. Nothing changed in the QB competion -- again. Matt Cassel worked with the first unit, rookie Teddy Bridgewater with the second unit and Ponder with the third unit. The third-team reps were more limited tonight that they have been in previous training camp practices. Cassel completed 6 of 9 passes, including touchdown passes to Rhett Ellison and Matt Asiata during the goal-line session. Bridgewater completed 7 of 8 passes, including a touchdown pass to fullback Zach Line during the goal-line session. So far in camp, Bridgewater has remained with the second unit. But look for that to change as he gets some first-team reps. It's coming. He seems to be getting more comfortable. He's got that quick release and he seems to trust himself. When first-round picks do that, they're going to be moved up the ladder. Teddy seems like he'll be a climber, not a slider.
BLAIR'S BIG NIGHT: This is where we'll tell you how a place-kicker performed in a training camp practice with virtually no pressure whatsoever. In this case, Blair Walsh isn't fighting for his job. Yeah, he went 2 of 5 from 50 yards and beyond last year after going an NFL record 10 of 10 as a rookie the year before. But let's just say he's not feeling any heat at the moment. But tonight was the first time he kicked in training camp. He made 6 of 7 field goal attempts. He was 2 of 2 from 50 and beyond (50 and 52) and missed wide right from 44 yards.
SHERELS STILL SCRAPPING AT CB: Another camp, another round of "Ya know, Marcus Sherels might not make this team" talk. It happened last year, when he made the team and set a team record while finishing second in the league in punt return average. This year, when one looks at all the young cornerbacks on the roster, one catches himself thinking that Sherels, a cornerback, could be in trouble again since it's difficult to keep a player who only returns punts. Well, maybe it's time to stop thinking this way about the former Gopher. Not only is he an excellent punt returner, he's also a reliable backup kickoff returner, which has come in handy this camp with Cordarrelle Patterson sidelined. Plus, Sherels always bails this team out when its other corners get hurt, get in trouble or flat-out can't play. He's a scrappy little guy who gets in proper position more often than most of us give him credit for. He did that perfectly during an individual drill. Giving up five inches in height to receiver Kamar Jordan, Sherels undercut the pass route, reached through Smith's arms and swatted a pass away incomplete. Sherels isn't a starting-caliber corner. But he's a good enough backup to earn a roster spot as a key return guy.
WHERE'S AP? NOT IN GOAL-LINE, THAT'S FOR SURE: Zimmer smiled earlier today when asked how many reps Adrian Peterson will get during the preseason. The answer; Not many. "I don't need to see him play," Zimmer said. That goes for full-go goal-line drills as well. Each of the three units competed in three goal-line snaps tonight. Carrying the ball for the first-team offense was backup Asiata. Asiata was stopped for a 1-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 2. The first-team offense then beat the first-team defense on touchdown passes to Ellison and Asiata. The second-team offense scored twice in three attempts, once on a dive by rookie Jerick McKinnon and another time on the Bridgewater pass to Line. The third-team defense gave up only one touchdown -- the Ponder pass to AC Leonard -- while stopping rookie free agent running back Dominique Williams short of the goal line twice.
BARR'S PHYSICAL PRESENCE EVIDENT ON SACK: Defenders aren't allowed to touch the quarterbacks, which was a good thing for Matt Cassel on one pass attempt that would have ended with him being clobbered by blitzing rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Barr. Barr, who already looks unusually large for a 4-3 outside backer, showed off some power and quickness on an inside blitz during an 11 on 11 session. Safety Robert Blanton also had a sack on Cassel.
INJURY REPORT: PATTERSON SEES LIMITED ACTION: As promised by Zimmer earlier in the day, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson dressed in full pads and ran a handful of routes during individual drills against the defensive backs. He wasn't running full speed, but Patterson has done enough off to the side with the athletic trainers the past fiew days for us to believe the Vikings when they say it's not a serious injury. Meanwhile, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) remains on PUP. He could return Wednesday, Zimmer said. As for safety Andrew Sendejo (back), he shows no signs of coming off PUP anytime soon.
Surprisingly, yes. Harrison Smith is obviously a lock to start, but Robert Blanton has a leg up on Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman at this point. Andrew Sendejo still hasn’t participated with a back injury, and he’s pretty behind at this point with a new scheme. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he likes how smart Blanton plays but wants to see his instincts and ability to tackle. At this point, expect Blanton to start the first preseason game against the Raiders next Friday to give Zimmer a good gauge on how Blanton can react in those situations.
Anthony Barr looked pretty impressive on Sunday in 1-on-1 drills and 11-on-11 periods. He blew right by fullback Jerome Felton, who is a pretty good blocker, in a 1-on-1 rep. We always mention Barr’s size and strength. That was on display all day in practice. In this rep, he towers over running back Jerick McKinnon. It almost looks like someone created the tallest player possible on Madden to block the shortest. Now think about other running backs having to stop that coming off the edge on third downs…
Every Monday during the offseason we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.
The pass rushing ability is there, but we haven’t had a good look at his ability in coverage due to the rain on Sunday. We’ll get a good chance to see that during Monday night’s practice.
It likely jumped after Chase Ford entered camp with a foot injury and said he won’t be available until the regular season. Leonard is getting some reps with the second team and made a few good blocks in pass protection on rookie defensive end Scott Crichton. It depends on what the Vikings think of Ford when he’s healthy, but Leonard definitely has a chance to crack the roster. Worst case scenario, the Vikings would probably put him on the practice squad, which there's a shot of getting activated during the season if there’s an injury.
The Vikings have a good foundation with some young pieces on the roster. Watch and see how some of them develop -- like wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Everson Griffen. That will be how the Vikings win more football games, which is what everyone with vested interest in the franchise should care about.
And to think we made it through one of these without mentioning Teddy Bridgewater. Oh, wait.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who signed a five-year extension with the team, just took a quick shower while we talked to Adrian Peterson after the morning walkthrough -- no word on whether he dried himself off with crisp new $100 bills -- then met us to talk about his new deal.
“It’s a dream true, to walk off the practice field and have Rick [Spielman call me over] and give me a big hug and say, ‘Congratulations. You earned it. We’re extremely happy to have you here for the next six years.’” Rudolph said. “Right there I couldn’t thank him enough. Publicly, I can’t thank him, the Wilf family, everyone involved to keep me here for the next six years.”
Rudolph said that negotiations with the Vikings started to pick up a couple of weeks ago. His agent, Brian Murphy, flew into the Twin Cities the day of the MLB All-Star Game and over the next two days started to build the framework of the deal with Spielman and cap guru Rob Brzezinski. Last night, after practice, Rudolph put pen to paper to make the deal official.
Now, Rudolph, a 24-year-old who was the Pro Bowl MVP in 2012, has to live up to it.
“No one is going to motivate me more than I motivate myself,” he said. “No one is going to have higher expectations than I have of myself. And that’s to be the best. I’m going to continue to go out there every day, work the way that I do to become the best tight end in this league.”
So is Rudolph going to treat himself to something nice? His first purchase will not be a new house or truck. He’s fine with the ones he’s got. No, he is going to keep a promise to his high school strength coach by helping to put in a new weight room at Elder High in Cincinnati. Pretty cool.
Running back Adrian Peterson said "not to take anything away from the coaches we had before," but then his brutal and, frankly, refreshing honesty, well, took a lot away from coaches the Vikings had before, particularly Bill Musgrave, Norv Turner's predecessor as offensive coordinator.
After today' morning walk-through, Peterson was asked a general question about his feelings on Turner's offense. We'll toss that into the softball questioning category since Turner's offensive expertise and track record as an offensive coordinator is pretty much universally accepted.
"This is what I've been looking for the past seven years," Peterson started out. "And now I feel like we have an offense that fits our talent and what we have as far as the players at their positions and what they're able to do. I'm pretty excited for what Norv Turner is putting in for us. It's putting guys in opportunities to make plays and be more versatile as an offense. So I'm stoked about that."
Later, we threw him a follow-up question to ask why, exactly, this is the offense he's been waiting seven years for.
"Not to take anything away from the coaches we had before, but just being more versatile as an offense," he said. "I just call it what it is. I feel in the past, we were predictable. You guys wrote stories about being predictable in the past seven years. You won't be able to write that story this year. That's pretty much all that I'm saying. You won't be able to do that because this offense is so versatile."
Vikings rookie cornerback beamed when asked about playing in pads first the first time on Sunday. He was known as an aggressive corner at North Carolina, where Price said he leaned on his natural ability to cover receivers.
That won’t cut it on this level, and Price is well aware of that as he hones the technique head coach Mike Zimmer and secondary coach Jerry Gray are teaching the corners.
“If I knew the stuff I knew now, that would be a different ballgame in college,” Price said.
Zimmer doesn't want any wasted movements once a corner jumps out of his stance. From 30 yards away, you can hear Gray yelling at corners, “Get off your heels!” in their first opportunity to incorporate bump-and-run on Sunday.
The coaches are watching hand placement, hips, feet and even shoulders once the corners get out of their stance. Price said he’d “open the gate for receivers” to dare quarterbacks to throw the ball.
“I just kind of ‘out-athleted’ everybody, if that’s a word, but it’s different for me,” Price said. “’I know I’m faster than you. I know I’m better than you.’ That type of attitude.”
Price said he likes the technique the Vikings are teaching, which allows Price and the other cornerbacks to stay on top of their receivers and make plays. Price had just two interceptions at North Carolina in four seasons.
Price has received more reps in practice with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on the PUP list and shifted from outside and slot corner spots. He said he played nickel for most of his junior season because most ACC teams moved their best receiver in the slot. Price finished third on the team that season with 76 tackles and tied a team-high nine pass breakups.
Barring any significant injury, Price won’t see too much time on defense but will get a good chance to receiving playing time on special teams. He only participated in punt coverage in college due to the snaps he received on defense, but Price said he’s looking forward to contributing on special teams this season.
“First I got to start off in special teams and the rest will face into place,” Price said.
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