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.
The Vikings just finished their morning walkthrough and coach Mike Zimmer chatted with us for more than 18 minutes afterward before grabbing lunch and preparing for this afternoon’s practice. He covered a lot of ground, including ground covered yesterday, but there were some newsy nuggets.
For starters, the Vikings made some roster moves. They waived veteran wide receiver Josh Cooper, who had joined the team in June, and undrafted rookie tackle Matt Hall. Replacing them on the 90-man roster are second-year wide receivers Ty Walker and Andy Cruse. Walker has spent time with the Packers and Seahawks and Cruse was previously with the Texans.
The Vikings also placed three players on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is the headliner. He is dealing with a hamstring injury, and while Zimmer indicated that it isn’t serious -- “I doubt it will be very long,” he said -- those injuries can be tricky for cornerbacks. Also on the PUP list are safety Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle) and tight end Chase Ford (foot). Those three cannot do anything on the practice field until they are cleared by doctors and removed from the list.
Zimmer said that only one player failed yesterday’s conditioning test and hinted that that man won’t be allowed to practice, but he wouldn’t say who. We’ll try to get an answer for you this afternoon.
As for the decision on whether to bring in an external interim special teams coach while special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is suspended, Zimmer said he hasn’t made it yet and that he will let us know soon. And then we will let you know ASAP. Priefer is allowed to coach during camp and this morning was doing his usual thing with assistant Ryan Ficken at the end of the walkthrough.
A couple of Zimmer quotes stood out to me on the 18-plus minutes of audio tape.
The first was on Adam Thielen, the former Minnesota State Mankato standout who is obviously still a popular guy down here in Mankato. Zimmer said he has improved tremendously.
“Adam’s actually doing a terrific job,” Zimmer said. “He might have been our most improved guy in OTAs. He’s a great kid, first of all. Works his read end off. Runs routes real hard. Catches the ball good. He’s got an opportunity to make this football team.”
The second was Zimmer talking about how training camp will be different now that he has to worry about coaching and evaluating a whole 90-man roster, not just the defensive guys.
“I like to evaluate the players. The only difficult thing for me as opposed to being the defensive coordinator, I was evaluating 45 guys, I guess it was. Now I’m evaluating 90. I have to pay a little bit more attention to certain positions -- the left guard or the center or the right guard. You see the tackles all the time because you’re watching them going against the [defensive ends]. Receivers, I see all the time. So it’s just more volume, I guess, for me, trying to get that done. But I’ve got a list of things on my board that I’m going to make sure I do every single day, [and one of those things] is trying to evaluate all the players, trying to figure out how they can help us win football games and what their role can be. I try to remind myself every day to do that.”
Oh, and Zimmer said it wasn't him who pulled the fire alarm at Sears Hall around 1:30 a.m. this morning, sending shirtless Vikings scurring out of the building. "Now that I think about it, I wish it was," he said. "I'll have to use that next year."
OK, I’m going to finish my burrito now. More to come in a little bit. Practice starts at 3 p.m.
After a few weeks away on vacation, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer will return back to his comfort zone – the practice field.
The walkthrough and practice on Friday will be Zimmer’s first as a head coach, where he will be assessing players and himself.
“It’s what I love to do,” Zimmer said on Thursday as players reported to Mankato. “I love to teach. I love to coach. Once I get out there I won’t have any time to think about anything else. I’ll be going full speed.”
Zimmer has already set an aggressive tone during the minicamps and OTAs to give the team a better understanding of how training camp will run, but he said it’s a fine line on how hard he can push the players without beating them up. Friday’s afternoon practice will be the first one this offseason with pads.
“We’re going to try and be smart about it,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to have contact because that’s football. But as far as live contact, we’ll have some early in camp and then we’ll see where we’re at. I believe to be a good defensive team you’ve got to be a good tackling team so we’re going to have to work on that.”
One of the biggest challenges for Zimmer when he became a head coach was scheduling the offseason. He said he has texted Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who worked with Zimmer for the past six years, for advice and how to construct practices at training camp. Zimmer said he wanted to focus on situations, which he learned from Parcells when he served as the Cowboys defensive coordinator from 2003-06. Zimmer also took input from offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has head coaching experience with the Chargers, Redskins and the Raiders.
“I think over time you get a chance to say, ‘Well, I’d do this a lot different,’” Zimmer said. “We may change things as I continue to look at the football team, where we’re at and where we might need to adjust the camp. I think that’s a part of coaching and teaching is adjusting to the players you have.”
The environment will be different for the players, and even fans watching, at training camp with Zimmer at the helm. Players have already noticed the change on their first day in Mankato. Unlike last season, every player went through a conditioning test consisting of timed runs.
Whether the aggressive atmosphere is for better or for worse remains to be seen, but running back Adrian Peterson has been impressed with Zimmer and the coaching staff so far.
“To be honest with you, [they’re] ahead of the curve,” Peterson said comparing to previous coaching staffs he’s had with the Vikings. “That’s comes from just having guys that are buying into to what they are presenting to us and having great coaches surrounding us as well. Just the atmosphere, there’s a lot more energy in the air, in the building there’s a lot more energy from the players.”
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
Pushing carts stocked with flat-screen TVs and video-game systems -- in Everson Griffen’s case, an old Nintendo 64 -- and pulling wheeled suitcases into the dorms, Vikings players on Thursday reported to the quiet campus of Minnesota State Mankato for the start of training camp.
After dropping off their stuff in their rooms, they took their physicals and had to run the team’s conditioning test, something Adrian Peterson said previous coaching staffs never asked players to do. But the Vikings didn’t put on helmets or pick up any footballs. That all comes today.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Wanting to focus on football today, the Vikings made Mike Priefer available yesterday.
--- Chase Ford is expected to miss all of camp, but Matt Kalil and Linval Joseph are good to go.
--- Adrian Peterson wants to know who is going to start at quarterback soon, too.
--- This is more than a day old, but oh well, here is my pre-camp Q&A with Mike Zimmer.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Packers WR Jordy Nelson wants to get paid.
--- The Lions put WR Golden Tate and DE Ziggy Ansah on the PUP list at the start of camp.
--- The Bears are learning to deal with high expectations.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Camp Zimmer officially kicks off at Minnesota State Mankato with a morning walkthrough that starts at 10:30 a.m. The first full practice runs from 3 p.m. to approximately 5:10 p.m. and players will be in helmets and shells. The first full-padded practice isn’t until Sunday afternoon.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Ten different quarterbacks have started a game for the Vikings since Peterson entered the league in 2007. No wonder the guy is hoping for a little stability at the position this season.
Cullen Loeffler was seemingly put in a difficult spot when independent investigators hired by the Vikings approached him after the 2013 season. Say one thing and he could put his boss’s job -- and his own -- in jeopardy. Deny it and he would have gone against the word of his former teammate.
Loeffler, the Vikings’ long snapper since 2004, chose to corroborate former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s claim that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer uttered an anti-gay statement during a team setting in 2012. His involvement in the investigation led to an acknowledgement from Priefer that he did make the remark that ultimately led to a three-game suspension.
Today, Loeffler said he never worried about losing his job and said he has the team’s support.
“It wasn’t difficult,” he said. “I just told the truth, as the Vikings wanted me to tell the truth. They’ve been supportive throughout the process and it wasn’t hard for me at all.”
While one can’t justify making an anti-gay comment -- especially that “nuke the gays” comment Priefer is apparently apologizing for -- at their workplace (or anywhere else, really), context is key in this situation. And Loeffler maintains he thought Priefer was joking when he said it, as he told the investigators.
And allegedly Kluwe was in on the joke, too.
“I never thought that it was a serious comment,” Loeffler said. “I always thought it was a joke. They both laughed about it. I never thought anything about it.”
Kluwe laughed about it?
“It happened so long ago,” Loeffler said. “I don’t really remember the exact reaction other than that he had laughed as well at that time.”
Loeffler said that he hasn’t talked to Kluwe “in quite some time,” their last conversation taking place before Kluwe’s made his claims public in a January article on Deadspin.com.
After a few questions about Kluwe, Loeffler said he is ready to move on from this situation and getting his focus back to snapping footballs cleanly and flying under the radar.
“I’m glad that the investigation has now come to a close,” Loeffler said. “Now back here, I’m excited about playing football and I’m ready to go.”
MANKATO, Minn. – If Mike Zimmer somehow forgets the No. 1 decision he faces as a rookie head coach, there's a certain former NFL MVP who could probably remind him.
Tucked away in today's transcript of Adrian Peterson's first interview of training camp was his thoughts on the quarterback situation and the importance of coming to a quick, definitive decision when it comes to deciding whether to start Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater or even the long, long, long shot, Christian Ponder.
“I feel like it’s going to be very important for us,” running back Adrian Peterson said Thursday as players reported to Minnesota State Mankato for the start of training camp. “It’s not a secret. The quarterback position really hasn’t played well.”
Peterson went on to express confidence in Cassel and Ponder because of their efforts to improve this offseason and rookie Bridgewater, a first-round draft pick who was meticulously researched by the Vikings prior to the draft.
“I feel like we have three good quarterbacks right now,” Peterson said. “Basing everything off OTAs and the minicamps, of course Matt Cassel is our guy, with Christian Ponder and Bridgewater right there. I have confidence in our organization from the top to the bottom, the head coach.”
Zimmer said the first-team reps will not be split evenly between the three quarterbacks when practice begins on Friday. But that’s subject to change based on daily performance on the field and in the classroom.
“In my mind, I have Cassel as the No. 1 quarterback going into camp, but I don’t have a starter in mind yet,” Zimmer said. “They’re going to determine who the starter is on the practice field about how they go about their business, how they perform in the preseason games.”
Barring something completely unforseen, the competition is between Cassel and Bridgewater. Asked essentially if he'd have the courage to start a rookie quarterback, Zimmer said, "The Minnesota Vikings, (General Manager) Rick (Spielman) and myself, we’re really not afraid to do anything. It’s really about doing what we feel is best.
"If we do make a mistake, pick the wrong guy or play the left corner the wrong guy to play, then we’ll try to fix it at that time. That’s part of adjusting. I have no problem playing a rookie quarterback, or a ninth year veteran or a fourth year veteran. We’re going to do what we think is best collectively as a group. I’m lucky as heck to have Norv Turner here to help with this decision. I was lucky to have him in the draft process to help there and honestly our scouts. I know I keep saying these kinds of things and people think that I’m saying it, but it is true. I’ve been in a lot of organizations and these are first class people that know their jobs very, very well."
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