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 few days ago, I wrote about Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s comment that he wants a “physical presence” at fullback and his usage (or lack thereof) of fullbacks in 2013.
Today, we grabbed fullback Jerome Felton, who was a Pro Bowler in 2012, as he came off the field following the morning walkthrough. He was asked about fullbacks in Turner’s offense.
“He’s gone from using one a lot to not very much, so I think it just depends on the system and players -- if he has a fullback and what that fullback can do,” he said. “I’m confident in my ability and I think whenever we run two-back runs we’ll be successful, and that will help me get more reps.”
Felton’s situation is complicated by the fact that he is scheduled to make a little over $2.1 million this season (and $2.5 million in 2015, though that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves). If the Vikings choose to cut him and go with Zach Line or forgo a fullback, they could save $1.3 million.
“Obviously all that stuff factors into it,” Felton acknowledged. “But at the end of the day, you just control what you can control, and that’s me performing when I’m out there.”
Felton believes the question is whether Turner will use a fullback, not who should be that fullback.
“I’m confident myself,” he said. “If we’re going to use a fullback, I feel I’ll be that guy.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer met with his coaching staff during the off day Tuesday to adjust the number of reps given to certain players in preparation for their first preseason game against the Raiders next Friday.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner wouldn’t go into details about how the reps will be divided between quarterbacks Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder, but he said on Wednesday he expects the preseason games will weigh heavily into Zimmer’s decision on choosing a starter.
“We will have these guys ready, and they will have an opportunity to prepare and compete for the job,” Turner said. “Whoever ends up being the starting quarterback, he will be ready to play on opening day. I don’t have any concerns about that."
Turner again reiterated that the organization won’t be afraid to start Bridgewater if he outperforms Cassel and Ponder in training camp. While the quarterbacks are wearing red non-contact jerseys during practice, Turner said Bridgewater has been outstanding handling pressure.
“He doesn’t look at the line; he feels it, keeps his eyes up the field, makes throws with people around him and throws in real tight quarters where he doesn’t have real much room to work,” Turner said. “That’s not a big concern. I think that’s one of the best things he does right now.”
The Vikings offense will install plays during the afternoon practice while the coaching staff continues to evaluate their three quarterbacks. Turner said while the current collective bargaining agreement sets certain restrictions on offseason practices, he feels it’s easier for quarterbacks to learn his offense because it allows more time to teach the system.
“Those walkthroughs aren’t necessarily to teach people how to do it; you’re teaching them the mental part of what to do,” Turner said. “…I think from a quarterback position, I think getting them up to speed in terms of what to do, this system in the way it is now is outstanding for that. You just don’t get quite as many reps.”
The Vikings have activated Captain Munnerlyn from the physically-unable-to-perform list.
The cornerback, whom the Vikings signed away from the Panthers in free agency, started training camp on the PUP list after straining his right hamstring before the start of camp. Both he and head coach Mike Zimmer had been insisting that it was a minor injury, and Zimmer said Monday that he expected Munnerlyn to be back on the field soon. And now here we are.
That being said, hammies can be fickle, especially for corners, so they might choose to ease him into action the next couple of days. Either way, we’ll keep an eye on him.
Practice is at 3 p.m. today. We’ll see if wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who is recovering from a minor foot injury, joins Munnerlyn on the practice field. He did a little bit on Monday night.
Safety Andrew Sendejo (back and ankle) and tight end Chase Ford (foot) remain on the PUP.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
Remember when the Vikings arrived in the Twin Cities a few months ago for the start of the offseason working program and Greg Jennings said Norv Turner’s offense was making his head spin? He gave the juicy sound bite, but he wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed by the new offense. After all, the philosophy, the scheme and even the terminology are completely different.
Fast forward to today, the last day in July. The Vikings are now on their fourth time through the installation of Turner’s offense, according to first-string quarterback Matt Cassel, and the offensive players -- and most importantly the quarterbacks -- have gradually gotten it down.
“Each and every day we're working hard to continue learning the nuances of the offense, some checks, and also trying to see it through Coach Turner's eyes,” Cassel said Sunday night.
Cassel and fellow veteran Christian Ponder got an early advantage over first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, who didn’t join the team until May. Those guys were in the building and in the offense a month earlier. But Bridgewater has proved to be quick learner, putting him in this battle with Cassel.
“It’s a huge difference compared to where things were before,” Bridgewater said. “For me, I'm a step ahead from when I first started learning the playbook.”
Some heads are surely still spinning. But it has looked like these two QBs have theirs on straight.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- My colleague Mark Craig hung out with Norv and watched tape of Teddy.
--- CB Xavier Rhodes is still learning to trust his instincts at the pro level.
--- Bracing for a potential Chris Kluwe lawsuit, the Vikings hired two high-powered attorneys.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
You have to think years of good drafting (2011-2014) will pay off for #Vikings soon. Unreal talent assembled, just needs to pay off.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 29, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Bears QB Jay Cutler is not resting on his success from last season.
--- Lions QB Matthew Stafford feels rejuvenated working with Jim Caldwell.
--- The Packers are cashing in at Lambeau Field.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After a day off, the Vikings are back on the field in Mankato today. Their morning walkthrough got pushed back to 11:20 a.m., and it is now special teams only. They practice in pads at 3 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The Vikings allowed 37 passing touchdowns last season, tied for second-most in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference. You would think with the explosion of NFL passing attacks that the dubious record would be held by a recent team, but it was actually the 1969 St. Louis Rams who allowed 38 passing touchdowns -- and that was in 14 games. The 1981 Baltimore Colts and 1961 Washington Redskins also allowed 37 in one season. Obviously, the Vikings need to be better in 2014, but the good news is Mike Zimmer's Bengals ranked 11th in 2013 with 22 allowed.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer kept a close eye on the cornerbacks – as he’s done quite often during his short tenure – in their first opportunity to work on bump-and-run in pads on Sunday.
During an individual drill working on technique, Zimmer intervenes and walks up to Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He spent the next minute informing Rhodes why he must target the one-handed jam off the line of scrimmage at the wide receiver’s chest, not the shoulder.
Rhodes nailed the technique on the final attempt before 1-on-1 battles.
“Look out, Rhodes is getting it,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray yelled as the unit jogged over to face the wide receivers.
But on the first play, Rhodes stumbled and slipped while trying to defend Greg Jennings, who completed the catch.
Rhodes has all the talent to become an All-Pro cornerback. But there’s barrier that the second-year corner will have to hurdle to reach his potential -- trusting his instincts.
“Second guessing yourself; you’re thinking you might not get there and make the tackle but thinking you can,” Rhodes said. “You’re just thinking too much.
“You have to think out there but you more have to react. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into, the route he’s doing. Everything goes hand-in-hand.”
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Rhodes looks at him as a big brother constantly seeking advice. He said Rhodes has reached out about trusting his instincts, which Munnerlyn told Rhodes not to be afraid to take chances.
“When you’re a young guy, you think entirely too much instead of just letting it go and playing football,” Munnerlyn said. “When you’re a rookie in the NFL playing defensive back, all eyes are on you and every mistake that you do. They don’t notice when a running back steps to the wrong gap or a wide receiver drops a pass. It’s like, ‘Oh everybody does that.’ But when you get beat for a couple touchdowns or a player out there catching slants and you’re not making any plays, everybody knows that.”
Rhodes learned a Cover 2 defense during his rookie season but now has to adjust to Zimmer’s defense that mixes man with zone principles at cornerback. Munnerlyn said he went through a similar switch during his first two season with the Panthers after being scared to make plays during his rookie season.
“Instead of being so close to making the plays, it’s time to make the plays,” Munnerlyn said. “And that’s what I see in him. This year, I know he’s going to be ready.”
Safety Kurt Coleman called that revelation an “aha” moment. It occurs in different moments for players, while some remain timid in the secondary. Coleman said along with the different system Rhodes has to learn, the Vikings also have only had two practices with pads.
“I think once you understand the playbook and what coaches wants you to play within that, I think that’s when you allow yourself to really let your natural ability to play,” Coleman said. “…Give it a day or two, and I think he’ll feel a lot better about himself.”
Zimmer said Rhodes is still learning about the techniques at the position but possesses a number of advantages physically, with his long arms and speed, to become a good corner.
“I probably need to do a better job of coaching him in certain ways,” Zimmer said. “…Just talking to him, coaching him; what is his hot button, what motivates him more. I am not saying he is unmotivated, I’m just saying part of coaching is trying to figure out how you can take this player and make him better.”
Until then, Rhodes’ confidence still remains high. He said he doesn’t dwell on a bad rep he watches on tape. He’s taking notes, hoping to avoid that same mistake during the next practice.
“I know it’s going to be a long process, but I’m just working at it,” Rhodes said. “It’s still a learning process; just getting better each and every day.”
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