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.
For a quarterback competition, things have been pretty boring as we watch for movement up and/or down the depth chart for Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and, oh yeah, Christian Ponder.
So far, through OTAs, a minicamp and one non-padded training camp practice, things have pretty much stayed exactly the same since about the time Bridgewater showed up at Winter Park sporting a quick release, a strong work ethic and poise beyond his 21 years.
Friday’s practice played out the way things have for months. Cassel was the No. 1 quarterback and threw 10 passes, completing six, during 11-on-11 competition. Bridgewater was No. 2 and threw eight passes, completing five. Ponder went third and threw only two passes, completing one.
Thursday, coach Mike Zimmer called Cassel the No. 1 quarterback, but was careful to say that could change. Friday, he was asked why he went out of his way to call Cassel No. 1 and whether he felt obliged to do that because Cassel is the veteran.
“I figured everybody would ask,” Zimmer said. “I did not feel obliged to make that statement whatsoever. It doesn’t mean that when we play the St. Louis Rams [on opening day] he’s going to be the starter, but he was going to line up with the first team. I knew you all wanted to hear something like that. That’s why I did it.
“I think I clarified that when I said it yesterday, he’s number one quarterback but he’s not declared the starter.”
Cassel was asked if he was expecting Zimmer to make that statement heading into camp.
“I would be lying if I said I was not,” he said. “I worked hard this offseason; I think I made a lot of progress. I think we made a lot of progress collectively as a group. My job going into camp is to continue to compete and work every day. Again, I still have to earn this thing.
“There is no easy way about it, you have to go out and perform and show these guys you know how to run the offence and you are going to be accountable to put these guys in a position to be successful.”
Bridgewater is really the only one of the three to make an upward move. After quickly moving ahead of Ponder, he’s gaining on Cassel and will no doubt put some heat on the 11-year veteran before Zimmer makes his decision later this preseason.
We’ll be doing a story Wednesday on new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s take on the development of Bridgewater. But for now, let’s just say after sitting down with Turner to watch practice film of Bridgewater, it was obvious that the longtime NFL coach is pleased with the progress and promise that Bridgewater is showing.
The Vikings practice again today, but the pads don’t go on until Sunday. Obviously, the quarterbacks don’t get hit in practice, but the tempo at the line and down the field ramps closer to game speed. So we’ll be learning more as the days pass.
Ultimately, if Cassel shows consistency, he can keep the job and allow the Vikings to be patient with Bridgewater, the rookie first-round draft pick. But consistency hasn’t always been a strength for Cassel over the years.
Yes, he was the best performer last year during the team’s three-headed quarterbacking fiasco. But while we should applaud his play in the wins over Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, we also shouldn’t forget the stinkers he had against Carolina at home and Cincinnati on the road.
Bridgewater is No. 2, but this competition has yet to hit its stride.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
After an interesting first day to Mike Zimmer’s training camp that included a fire alarm waking up the players in the middle of the night and an injury keeping one of the team’s top young players out of practice, the Vikings will be back at it again today at Minnesota State Mankato.
Yesterday’s afternoon practice itself was pretty uneventful, with the players practicing in shells and Zimmer easing his players into training camp. We’ll be looking for the intensity to pick up today. We’ll also be looking to see if Cordarrelle Patterson is back at practice after sitting out yesterday.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Despite the absence of hitting, it was an eventful first day to Camp Zimmer.
--- Linval Joseph is healthy and ready to roll, and Zimmer sounds pretty excited about it.
--- Patterson missed practice with a foot injury and is considered day-to-day.
--- The Vikings made a couple of minor roster moves and put three players on the PUP list.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Jared Allen is already making his presence known on the Bears defense.
--- The Packers are turning to youth on their defensive line.
--- The Lions are not optimistic about getting a deal done with Ndamukong Suh.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings will hold their morning walkthrough at 10:30 a.m. Afterwards, we will hear from coordinators Norv Turner and George Edwards. The team will practice in shells starting at 3 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The Vikings, who have been coming down to Mankato every summer since 1964, are one of just 14 NFL teams to hold their training camp away from their practice facility. According to MMQB.com, 27 NFL teams held their camp away from home back in 2000. The Vikings, by the way, are locked into holding training camp at Minnesota State Mankato for one more summer.
Mike Zimmer has promised that the Vikings would be fast and physical, but they eased into training camp this afternoon. There will be no live contact in the first couple of days of camp, so Zimmer said earlier that those practices will have more of an OTA feel. He ended up being right.
Practice started with position drills followed by some 1-on-1 work. After that, Zimmer sprinkled in some 11-on-11 team drills and a brief blitz period. There was also a lot of special teams work.
Usually at the start of training camp, the defense gets the better of the offense as the offense finds its rhythm. Today, the defense had its moments, contesting passes as Zimmer has said he hoped to see, so they’d probably get the slight edge, partially due to several errant passes from the offense.
SETTING THE SCENE: Practice was outdoors. The practice lasted around two hours. Players were in helmets and shells. The weather here was overcast and the temperature was reasonable.
BATTLE OF THE ‘BACKERS: Top pick Anthony Barr, who missed most of the spring due to an NFL rule that kept him at UCLA, started his first NFL training camp with the second-team defense. Running with the first team were Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. It will probably only be a matter of time until Barr is with the starters, but Zimmer is going to make him earn it.
SIMPSON SIZZLES: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson had a pretty solid first day, despite one bobbled pass that nearly led to an interception in team drills. In individual drills -- yes, I know, they are just 1-on-1s -- Simpson once ran a crisp deep out route, slamming on the brakes to leave his defender in the dust before making a nice, lunging grab near the sideline. On another play, he got behind the defense but Teddy Bridgewater barely overshot him. Simpson brings that vertical dimension to Norv Turner’s vertical offense, and could thrive if he can become more consistent.
LET’S TALK QUARTERBACKS: OK, maybe I should have gotten to the quarterbacks sooner, but there wasn’t a whole lot to report from this afternoon. Matt Cassel, who was throwing to the starters, completed six of his 10 attempts in team drills, though a couple of those incompletions were the result of blatant drops. Bridgewater, who was with the second-stringers, was 5-for-8. Christian Ponder was just 1-for-2, and he threw a few errant passes during individual drills.
CORDARRELLE A NO-GO: Second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson wore a bucket hat instead of a helmet today. Patterson was held out of practice after injuring his foot. The team says that he is day-to-day and no, Patterson wasn’t the guy who failed the conditioning test yesterday.
SAFETY DANCE: Robert Blanton continued to line up next to Harrison Smith with the starting defense, but I can report that 2012 and 2013 starter Jamarca Sanford has returned from injury.
DROPPING THE BALL: When it was time to practice punts, only Jarius Wright and Kain Colter went back to catch them, and Wright struggled at doing so. He let one Jeff Locke punt toward the left sideline drop in front of him and muffed another punt, which was recovered by the coverage team.
NOT CATCHING ON: The Vikings have said they hope to get Adrian Peterson more involved in the passing game, but this afternoon his terrifyingly-strong hands failed him on a few occasions.
INJURY REPORT: Beyond Patterson and the PUP guys -- CB Captain Munnerlyn (strained hammy), S Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle) and TE Chase Ford (foot) -- everyone else practiced.
Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was held out of practice today for precautionary reasons and has been listed by the team as day to day with a foot injury. A source called it a "minor" issue.
Because of the injury, Patterson didn't take his conditioning test when players reported to camp on Thursday. The first practice of camp was today. The team will won't be allowed to put full pads on and begin hitting until Sunday.
Mike Zimmer tried to curb his enthusiasm this morning, having just seen Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph in a walkthrough setting only. But Zimmer couldn’t help but gush about the big guy.
“He came in in tremendous-looking physical shape,” the Vikings head coach said. “He weighed 317, benches 500 pounds. And watching him out there in the walkthrough -- which doesn’t mean anything -- he looked like how a nose tackle is supposed to look. … I have high, high expectations of him, but they’re reserved a little bit because I’ve [only] seen him do a walkthrough.”
For the first time since joining the Vikings as a free agent in March, Joseph was on the practice field without restrictions. He had offseason surgery on his right shoulder after his 2013 season with the Giants ended and was only able to participate on a limited basis during spring workouts.
But now that doctors have cleared him for the team’s first camp practice here at Minnesota State Mankato this afternoon, Joseph is fired up -- in a subdued manner -- and ready to roll.
“I feel good coming in,” the 25-year-old said. “I battled back from my injury and I’m just ready to go and help this team win games and take us to the promised land.”
Joseph admitted it was frustrating this spring standing off to the side while watching his new teammates practice. He tried to make the most of it by taking mental reps to learn the plays, but there is no substitute for lining up against center John Sullivan and learning the playbook while butting helmets. He will get to do that today and start to acclimate himself in Zimmer’s defense.
“I’m going to do whatever they want me to do,” Joseph said. “My job right now is to stop the run and make plays and try to get sacks -- do it all.”
Zimmer said the nose tackle position is critical in his defense, which explains why he was about as giddy as Mike Zimmer can probably get during a long news conference after a walkthrough.
In Cincinnati, Zimmer had unheralded nose tackle Domata Peko to eat up double teams and allow linebackers like Vontaze Burfict to roam and make plays. The Vikings paid Joseph big bucks this spring so that he can be that guy for Zimmer here in Minnesota.
“That helps the middle linebackers not get blocked very much,” Zimmer said. “So they do a lot of dirty work that a lot of people don’t see, but it helps to give the linebackers an opportunity to stay healthy and make tackles.”
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