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.


Mystery at the middle linebacker spot continues

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: August 1, 2014 - 1:49 PM

We’re a week into training camp, and the only clarity we have when it comes to the Vikings’ vacant middle linebacker position is that Chad Greenway probably isn’t going to be that guy. Head coach Mike Zimmer has moved him back to the outside exclusively so he can settle in on the weak side.

So who is in the running to be the Mike? It depends on the down, distance and situation, really.

Zimmer has been plugging and playing with different combinations of linebackers throughout camp and said yesterday that the team could possibly go with a committee at the middle linebacker spot.

“We are trying to get the best guys on the field in each situation so we’re looking at a lot of different guys,” Zimmer said, adding, “The more you can do the more value you have to this football team.”

In their base 4-3 defense, the Vikings have been using Jasper Brinkley, who is more of a downhill thumper than a cover guy, in the middle. We have also seen young linebackers Michael Mauti and Audie Cole, who had a pick-six of Teddy Bridgewater during yesterdays’ practice, at the Mike, too.

In the nickel package, with the Vikings using four down linemen, we have seen Greenway manning the middle. We have also seen rookie Brandon Watts get some snaps in that role. In the dime, we have seen different guys, too, including Gerald Hodges and, interestingly, top pick Anthony Barr.

Another question is who will wear the green dot? The middle linebacker is typically the defender who wears a headset in his helmet to communicate with the coaching staff. It is usually the Mike because, well, he is in the middle of all 11 defenders, making it easiest to relay the play calls and checks before the snap. Ideally, you give that responsibility to a veteran who is never going to come off the field. I’m guessing that was part of the appeal with experimenting with Greenway at the Mike.

So yeah, like I said, we don’t have much clarity when it comes to who will be between Barr and Greenway in the base defense and who Zimmer will plug into his sub packages. But the good news is that the Vikings still have a five more weeks and four preseason games to figure everything out.

Vikings K Blair Walsh: 33-yard PAT a good start

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion under Vikings Updated: August 1, 2014 - 12:40 PM

Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was one of five kickers to miss an extra point try last season. Not one kicker missed more than one attempt, while 30 kickers made all of their attempts.

The NFL competition committee took notice in the offseason and will make PATs a little more difficult during the first two weeks of the preseason.

Preliminary discussions began with making extra points a 43-yard attempt but the NFL settled on experimenting with 33-yard PATs. Walsh was adamant about establishing extra points at 38 yards during the offseason but said a 33-yard attempt is a good start.

“If you start going to that 40-49 yard range, you’re going to have games decided by whether guys can make extra point tries from that distance,” said Walsh, who went 43 of 44 on PATs last season. "I don’t think that’s what the commissioner wants or the competition committee.

“I think you’re still going to get a couple of timely misses if you had it all year. I just don’t know if that’s how people want the games to be decided. You already get enough grief from people that say games shouldn’t be decided by kicker. I obviously disagree with that. So it just makes your kicker more and more important and more valuable.”

Walsh said he’s practiced from 33 yards since OTAs after the NFL announced the change. He said he’s also practiced at TCF Bank Stadium, where the Vikings will play their first two preseason games, and hasn’t missed an attempt yet from the new spot.

“You can’t always get attempts in a preseason game because you don’t know how it’s going to go,” Walsh said. “Being in that stadium for the first time, those will be like short attempts for us.”

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said nothing will change from a protection standpoint during the first two weeks. While PATs will still be spotted at the 2-yard line and not the 15 during the regular season, Priefer understands that will probably change at some point in the future.

“I’ve kind of accepted that fact,” Preifer said. “It’s going to be tougher for the northern cities that have the wind and the weather. A 33-yard field goal, to me, is still not a chip shot."

Maybe it's time we're asked, `What about Anthony?'

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: August 1, 2014 - 10:33 AM

“How’s Teddy look?” might be the most popular question asked of reporters shadowing the Vikings through this year’s Vikings mini-camp.

“Hey, what about Anthony?” might be an appropriate response.

Maybe I’m wrong, or reading too much into this for the sake of feeding the NFL beast with another blog post. But I can’t remember a time when the buzz around a rookie selected ninth overall – linebacker Anthony Barr -- at a position of tremendous need has been this relatively quiet.

Apparently, that happens when the team trades back into the first round to select a quarterback – Teddy Bridgewater – at a position of even greater long-term need, quarterback.

The talk after next week’s preseason opener will no doubt be heavy on Teddy. But, to me, the linebacker situation will deserve equally close attention because, like the quarterback position, things are very much unsettled and we’re a month away from the regular season.

Barr moved onto the first team at strong side linebacker on Wednesday. Expect him to stay there because it appears he’ll be able to compensate fairly well physically with speed, size and strength when he makes the inevitable mental mistakes that rookies tend to make.

Early on, look for the Vikings to take particular advantage of his edge-rushing abilities. But don’t rule out the team using him to cover those pesky tight ends that run well. Although Chad Greenway is the middle backer in the nickel defense, Barr currently is the No. 1 middle backer when the Vikings go with only one linebacker in the dime defense.

“His coverage is great,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He moves well. He’s got a good idea. Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach.

“He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with [his coverage].”

Zimmer said the coverage savvy will come in time. Right now, the team is still installing different coverages each day.

“We still have to keep fine tuning these techniques, because everything is new for really everybody on the football team, other than the special teams,” Zimmer said. “Each day, you can see them getting a little bit better and understanding the technique a little bit more, and the problem you run into a little bit during training camp is like we are installing another coverage [on Thursday].

“So now they have to learn that coverage, and then they have to remember what the other coverages were, and all of the different techniques out of that. The same thing offensively, a different shift or different motion, different plays. The more you put in, the more it runs together a little bit sometimes, we will start backing it down and they will get a little bit more fine tuning from there.” 

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: August 1

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: August 1, 2014 - 8:25 AM

Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

-- Rookie cornerback Jabari Price has made a good impression on head coach Mike Zimmer so far.

-- The Vikings met with a five-team officiating crew to discuss the rule changes this year.

-- Rookie defensive tackle Isame Faciane anxious for the first preseason game.

-- Zimmer will continue to install plays for most of August leading up to the season opener.

-- Wide receiver Jarius Wright mixing in with the first team.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

AROUND THE NFC NORTH

-- Lions coaching staff tweaking quarterback Matthew Stafford’s game.

-- Packers still seeking production from recent first-round picks.

-- Linebacker Lance Briggs wants to retire a Bear.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

It’s a normal schedule with the walkthrough at 10:30 a.m. and practice at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had just 446 snaps last season but finished tied for 20th with 10 missed tackles among wide receivers. Nobody had fewer snaps in the top 20 than Patterson, with Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones with the second fewest snaps, 555, and just 13 missed tackles. Former Seahawks and current Lions wide receiver Golden Tate led the lead with 21 missed tackles in 790 snaps. Patterson should receive double the amount of snaps he got last year and has a chance to lead wide receivers in that category.

What you missed at Vikings training camp Thursday

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: July 31, 2014 - 6:23 PM

Vikings rookie defensive tackle Isame Faciane is hearing a familiar voice in his ear for his first training camp. His defensive line coach at FIU was none other than Andre Patterson, the Vikings’ defensive line coach.

The undrafted free agent spent last season under Patterson before he was hired by the Vikings. Faciane is attempting to crack the roster as a flexible defensive tackle that can play both three-technique and nose tackle.

Faciane has seen an increase in reps over the last two days mixing in with the second team. He’s felt improvement getting over his stance and improving as a pass rusher over the last three days as Patterson continues to stress technique.

“Run to the near hip and have my hips down on the field while I’m rushing,” Faciane said about his improvement as a pass rusher. “It’s just repetitive things I keep telling myself and just self-taught throughout the whole practice.”

With the first preseason game next Friday against the Raiders, Faciane knows that will be a big opportunity to receive more reps in practice. Patterson reminds him and the rest of the defensive line about how crucial their preseason play will be in deciding whether some will crack the 53-man roster.

“I’m itching to get out there and especially play somebody different,” Faciane said. “Going against my teammates for training camp and OTAs gets old after a while. You’re ready to see different people and different foes.”

Here’s a rep featuring Faciane and defensive tackle Fred Evans against (from left to right) guard David Yankey, center Joe Berger and guard Vladimir Ducasse. Faciane stunts to his right and brings pressure against Yankey.

SETTING THE SCENE: It was another nice day in Mankato. Temperatures hovered around 80 degrees with mostly sunny skies and not a drop of rain in sight. It was a decent turnout too for a Thursday afternoon.

TEDDY 2-PICKS: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw two interceptions during 11-on-11 periods. It was the first time Bridgewater threw a pick in team sessions during training camp. Linebacker Audie Cole made a great jump to cut off Bridgewater’s throw during a simulated two-minute drill period for a touchdown. Cornerback Derek Cox made a nice grab diving for a low pass from Bridgewater for the second interception. Bridgewater, however, did receive a few reps again with the first team in between both interceptions.

AP RESTING: Running back Adrian Peterson dressed but was held out of individual drills and team periods. It appeared to be nothing more than a day off for the 2012 NFL MVP. Matt Asiata received the first team reps with Jerick McKinnon getting most of the second team reps.

Here’s a pass protection drill the running backs worked on featuring McKinnon. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson emphasized footwork in this drill.

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SAFETY ROTATION: Safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) was held out of practice again, which allowed Jamarca Sanford to receive the majority of the first team reps next to Harrison Smith. Rookie Antone Exum also sprinkled in some reps with the first team at safety.

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