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.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
The Vikings don’t care about your delicious dinner. They don’t care that your ribs are falling off the bone. They just want to sign Kyle Rudolph before he explodes.
On Sunday night, as a group of unsuspecting Vikings beat reporters chowed down at Number 4 restaurant in Mankato, the Vikings signed the 24-year-old tight end to a five-year contract extension that makes him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the game.
Is Rudolph worth it? We might not know until a couple of years from now. After all, we are talking about a guy who made the Pro Bowl -- and was named MVP -- after catching nine touchdowns in 2012 and then missed half of 2013 with a fractured foot. But seemingly everyone around Vikings training camp seems to think Rudolph is poised for a breakout season under coordinator Norv Turner.
It had to be an interesting negotiation considering what Rudolph accomplished in 2012 and what injury kept him from accomplishing in 2013. I can’t help but think of Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, a comparable player I covered in Baltimore.
Pitta put up nice numbers in 2012, but he fractured and dislocated his hip early in training camp and missed most of the 2013 season. Still, the Ravens rewarded him with a big extension that is similar to the five-year, $36.5 million deal that Rudolph signed late last night.
Anyway, the talk of training camp today is going to be Rudolph’s big deal, and you can be sure his Vikings teammates will be giving him plenty of grief after he got nearly $20 million guaranteed.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Cordarrelle Patterson is feeling better, but hasn’t been cleared yet.
--- Mike Zimmer is not afraid of a little bit of rain.
--- The Vikings know that playing offensive line in the NFL isn’t getting any easier.
--- Norv Turner wants a “physical presence” at fullback.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Lions coach Jim Caldwell "absolutely" believes a deal will get done with DT Ndamukong Suh.
--- Packers WR Randall Cobb says he hasn’t done enough to get a new deal.
--- Bears RB Matt Forte is apparently showing no signs of slowing down.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After a rainy but seemingly productive first day in pads, Camp Zimmer continues Monday with a morning walkthrough then a rare night practice that should ratchet the intensity up a bit. A larger crowd is expected at Blakeslee Stadium for the practice, which runs from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Bill Barnwell does a great job writing about the NFL for ESPN’s Grantland site. He recently did a series looking at the best and worst contracts in the league. Two Vikings players made his list of the worst contracts, and you might not be able to guess who without peeking. I’ll give you a moment to muster up a guess. … Just a few more seconds. ... OK, pencils down. They were WR Greg Jennings and DE Everson Griffen. Go ahead and clink on that link to hear Barnwell’s logic.
The Vikings announced Sunday night that they have agreed to a contract extension with 24-year-old tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph and the Vikings agreed to a five-year, $36.5 million contract with $19.4 million guaranteed, including all of his 2014 base salary, according to a source. The maximum value of the deal is $40 million.
“I’m extremely excited to get this extension completed and continue my career with the Minnesota Vikings,” Rudolph said in a statement. “I’ve said all along I wanted to stay in Minnesota. I love the fans, the community and, most importantly, I’m excited about where this team is going. I’m looking forward to the 2014 season and helping this organization reach our ultimate goal.”
Earlier this offseason, Rudolph, a second-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2011, expressed an interest in remaining with the Vikings long term. But talks had been quiet between the two sides for much of the offseason before picking up recently.
“I’m very excited to get this extension done with Kyle,” Spielman said in a statement. “We drafted him, he’s done a tremendous job since he’s been here. Our whole focus on moving forward in this organization is to draft our players, develop them and keep them here. He’s one of our young guys who is going to be a building block as we go forward in the future and just very excited to get this behind us so we can look forward to seeing him produce over the coming years.”
Rudolph had 109 career catches for 1,055 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012 after scoring nine touchdowns.
Rudolph missed the final eight games of the 2013 season with a fractured foot, finishing the season with 30 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
Another day, another opportunity to get to know more about new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. During today's two-hour practice, the first in full pads during the Zimmer era, we learned that the hard-nosed coach will emphasize the running game and isn't afraid of practicing in the rain.
The 11-on-11 drill periods during the entire first half of practice were dedicated to running the ball and stopping the run. It was obviously designed that way so the coaching staff could finally get a look at these players in pads. Zimmer had talked the day before about needing to see how the offensive and defensive lines handled their "pad levels, how we strike, how we get off blocks."
SETTING THE SCENE: In recent past years, even the possibility of rain sent practices indoors to a small gymnasium that made practice essentially a second walk-through. Today, the Vikings opened practice in a soft rain. The skies cleared, although it remained unseasonably chilly throughout the practice. Toward the end of practice, a brief, but heavy rain fell. But rather than run for cover like a bunch of reporters, Zimmer and the Vikings continued to run 11-on-11 passing drills before wrapping up with some special teams work. Zimmer sets aside multiple periods for special teams work during his 2-hour practices.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: An unofficial tally of practice throws during 11-on-11 competition saw Matt Cassel complete 11 of 13 passes, while Teddy Bridgewater went 10 of 11 and Christian Ponder 4 of 7. Most of the passing work focused on shorter routes and check-down passes to the running backs. Ponder had one drop among his three incompletions. There was no movement in the pecking order. Cassel is still the No. 1 QB, while Bridgewater was No. 2 and Ponder a distant No. 3. Bridgewater appears to be gaining momentum daily though. Cassel was being wise Friday when he said he still had a long way to go in this competition.
GREENWAY EXPERIMENT CONTINUES: The Vikings definitely are exploring the possibility of playing longtime strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway in the middle and Gerald Hodges, a second-year player, at Greenway's regular spot and Audie Cole at the other outside spot. In addition to playing his usual spot, Greenway also got some more first-team reps today at middle linebacker in place of Jasper Brinkley. Greenway had a strong middle rush during a blitzing period. He pushed Adrian Peterson back into Cassel for a sack. Peterson isn't the best pass protector in the world, but knocking him backward the way Greenway did isn't an easy thing to do.
VINTAGE AP MOVE IN TRAFFIC: If I had to pick a winner during the 11-on-11 segment that focused on the run, I'd say the defensive front gets the nod. Running backs were backed up several times as the line of scrimmage moved backward. The offense also had some nice plays. Peterson had one move that looked like some of the things he did en route to 2,097 yards rushing in 2012. On one particular play, he burst through a seam in the middle, did one of those vintage hops to his right and shot down the field. The Vikings don't tackle in practice, but there's a good chance the defense wouldn't have tackled him on that play even if he were fair game.
TEDDY TO MR. MANKATO: The guy who's turning heads most consistently down here is receiver Adam Thielen. It's a nice story considering he went to school here and is a long-shot prospect who certainly looks like an upgrade to Joe Webb, the No. 5 receiver a year ago. Thielen clearly has gotten stronger and is in even better shape than he was last year when he made the practice squad. He's also confident and has been a consistent standout since OTAs began. Today, Bridgewater threw him a deep-out pass that Thielen came down with in tight coverage. The pass was perfect in its trajectory, spin, velocity and accuracy. If Bridgewater can repeat that throw with poise under pressure and release quickness, he'll be the starter sooner than later.
KEEP AN EYE ON PRICE: If not for Thielen, the guy who might be turning the most heads is cornerback Jabari Price, the rookie seventh-round draft pick. He doesn't have ideal size, but he fights hard for the ball and has a knack for being close enough to make a play on the ball. During individual drills today, he lined up across from Jerome Simpson on one snap. He muscled Simpson out of his original route and then got a hand on the incompletion about 10 yards downfield. Two officials working practice threw flags on him for pass interference. Price threw his arms up and complained about the call. It definitely was a penalty, but it was impressive how hard Price competed for the ball. That hasn't always been the case for Vikings corners in recent years.
HE SAID IT: Speaking about his former teammate and still longtime friend Jared Allen, defensive end Brian Robison smiled and said, "I told him I hope his streak of losing game in Chicago continues." Allen, now a Bear, lost his last six games at Soldier Field.
INJURY REPORT: Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson remained sidelined because of a foot injury. Zimmer continues to say Patterson is day to day and could return as early as Monday. ... Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn remains on PUP because of a hamstring injury. He appears to be getting closer to practicing. Meanwhile, safety Andrew Sendejo, also also is on PUP because of back and ankle issues, doesn't appear close to returning from injuries that have sidelined him since the end of last season.
The sight of watching Cordarrelle Patterson jog around during this morning’s walkthrough was an encouraging sign for the Vikings, but the second-year wide receiver is still on the way back.
Head coach Mike Zimmer indicated that Patterson will “probably stay with the walkthroughs for maybe another day,” leading one to guess the team plans to hold Patterson from practice until after Tuesday’s off day, but there is still a chance he could suit up for Monday night’s practice.
“It’s feeling a lot better than it did last week so I hope here soon,” Patterson said. “I hope I can practice tomorrow. It’s whatever the trainers say. I’ll just be in the training room trying to get better.”
Patterson said he injured his left foot while training in California last week. As soon as he reported to Minnesota, he took the injury straight to Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.
“It was just overtraining,” said Patterson, who scored nine total touchdowns in his rookie season. “I felt like I was running too many routes and I just kept going and tweaked my foot a little bit.”
Yesterday afternoon, Patterson was spotted jogging on the far field while his teammates practiced at Minnesota State Mankato. He then walked over to watch them from the sideline.
“It’s real tough being on the sideline, just watching those guys doing the things you wish you could do,” Patterson said. “But I feel like I’m getting mental reps and not missing anything.”
The Vikings initially said it was a minor injury, and the fact that he didn’t start out training camp on the PUP list suggested they weren’t bluffing. Zimmer is not requiring him to pass the conditioning test once Patterson is healthy. Patterson chuckled when asked about getting off the hook.
“I could do the conditioning test today if I wanted to,” he said. “I could do that backwards.”
Should Jerome Felton expect a different or decreased role with Norv Turner running the offense?
It’s a fair question considering the Browns, whose offense Turner coordinated last season, used two-back formations on just 5.2 percent of their snaps in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. That was one of the lowest figures in the league, though the Browns didn’t exactly have a bruiser like Felton -- or any established fullback for that matter -- and they also played from behind a lot.
But the Vikings, who used two backs on 24.1 percent of their snaps a season ago, have this Peterson guy who I hear is pretty good, and he can be even more dangerous when someone is plowing a lane for him. That’s why Turner is saying that the Felton should still have a role here.
“He is going to have to block and block,” Turner said. “We talked the other night to our team, we need to have a physical presence. Jerome brings that type of presence, and we are still going to have a certain percentage of two backs in the backfield, or spread out with the two backs in the backfield, that personnel group, if it gives the team problems. ... I think that there’s game situations where you need to have a fullback that can go pound it a little bit.”
Even he again uses the fullback sparingly, a good one is invaluable in short-yardage and goal line.
Felton, a 2012 Pro Bowler, will have youngster Zach Line nipping at his heels down in Mankato. But regardless of whether they keep Felton, Line or both, Turner says the fullback will have a role.
“When we are playing the way we are capable of playing, we are going to be a physical running team,” Turner said. “We’re going to be a power running team.”
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