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.
Earlier this week, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that he and the coaching staff would huddle on Tuesday and come up with a plan to redistribute reps to the players. That plan apparently included giving Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr work with the starters.
Midway through practice, during an 11-on-11 drill, Bridgewater stepped into the huddle with the first-team offense and took five or six snaps. It was not his sharpest practice, though. He missed on a few throws, leading Zimmer to remark after practice that Bridgewater wasn’t as accurate as usual. Soon, Cassel was back on the field, but the crowd buzzed for a while after Bridgewater’s cameo.
Barr, meanwhile, spent most of the practice with the first team. He flashed a couple of times off the edge and on one play hurried Bridgewater. But Zimmer didn’t exactly give him a glowing review.
“The only time I noticed him, he was late on a blitz,” he said. “And I talked to him about it.”
SETTING THE SCENE: After a day off, the Vikings were back in pads. I’ve got to say, today was the nicest day so far. It was partially cloudy and pleasant, with temperatures in the 70s.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK BLURB: This was the dullest day for the quarterbacks since training camp began. Well, except for Christian Ponder, who threw an accurate five-yard dump-off to a running back on his only pass of the day in team drills. I was a little scatterbrained today so these numbers are unofficial, but I had Cassel at 7-for-11 during team drills and Bridgewater at 8-for-13. The quarterbacks particularly struggled in the blitz period.
SPEAKING OF THE BLITZ PERIOD: We got a brief look at some of the mayhem Zimmer intends to bring in obvious passing situations. Zimmer tinkered with three-man and four-man defensive lines in his sub packages. On one play, it was Barr and Brian Robison rushing from the edges. On another, it was Robison and Everson Griffen. We also saw Sharrif Floyd on the inside. Zimmer has weapons to work with. The defense certainly won the blitz period today, either forcing errant passes or check-downs to a running back or tight end short of the sticks.
BACK IN A FLASH: Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson practiced fully for the first time this summer and looked unhindered by the foot injury that sidelined him for the first few practices. It didn’t take long for him make his presence known. At the start of the team takeoff drill, a quick team activity before individual work, Patterson caught a pass from Cassel and turned upfield. That got him a nice ovation from the fans, who were happy to see him back.
PINNING THEM DEEP: With only three touchbacks in his rookie season, Jeff Locke didn’t misfire often when trying to pin opponents deep. Today, he fared well while booming punts from near midfield, dropping many inside the 10-yard line and a couple of them inside the 2-yard line, though confusion between Derek Cox and Jabari Price resulted in one that should have been downed bouncing into the end zone. That couldn’t have made Mike Priefer happy.
KID’S GOT QUICKS: It seems like every day rookie running back Jerick McKinnon grabs your attention with his athleticism. Today, that moment occurred when he caught a quick swing pass from Bridgewater as he sprinted to the right. Rookie corner Kendall James took a bad angle in pursuit, and McKinnon planted his right cleat into the ground and shot up the field into the secondary.
SUBBING IN AT SAFETY: Robert Blanton did not practice, giving Zimmer a chance to try other safeties such as Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Kurt Coleman with the first-team defense. Coleman made a couple of nice plays, including one where he raced to the sideline to jar the ball loose from the grasp of tight end Kyle Rudolph. This competition is wide open.
INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) returned to practice after being activated from the PUP list this morning, but he did not do much. Blanton and cornerback Josh Robinson also have hamstring injuries, Zimmer said. Rookie tight end AC Leonard left practice with a headache. For more on those injuries and other nuggets, read this post-practice blog.
The Vikings were able to go through the first couple of days of training camp without the injury bug biting them. But that little bugger has reared its ugly head during the past two practices, and it has had a craving for the hamstrings of Vikings defensive backs in particular.
Safety Robert Blanton, who had been working with the first-team defense, sat out today’s practice after injuring a hamstring during Monday night’s practice. Then, this afternoon, cornerback Josh Robinson hurt a hamstring and left practice. He came back but did not resume practicing.
Coach Mike Zimmer hinted that Blanton’s injury is the more concerning of the two.
“[Robinson’s] got a tight hammy,” he said. “I don’t think it will be very long. It just got tight. It was more preventative. I told [athletic trainer Eric Sugarman] to [hold him out today.]”
Rookie tight end A.C. Leonard also left practice. Zimmer said he was dealing with a headache.
As for safety Andrew Sendejo, who is on the PUP list because of lower back and hamstring injuries, Zimmer expects him to be activated and start practicing with the team early next week.
There was some good injury news. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had full participation and seemed to get through the practice without issue. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn also suited up, but was limited to just a little bit of individual work. He said after practice that he expects his participation to ramp up tomorrow and that he hopes to be a full-go by next week.
“You don’t want to get yourself reinjured, but it feels great to be back on the field,” he said.
In non-injury news, Zimmer indicated that the Chad Greenway experiment at middle linebacker is all but over. The Vikings are keeping him at outside linebacker for now so that they can evaluate others at the position. I guess Greenway could always be a fall-back option at the Mike, but you have to figure if the coaches liked what they had seen from him in the middle, they would have kept him there. Jasper Brinkley got most of the first-team reps between Greenway and top pick Anthony Barr, who was getting his first extensive look with the ones since he was drafted.
I guess I should mention that a certain other first-rounder got some first-team reps, too. Bridgewater got at least five reps with the ones before veteran Matt Cassel was inserted back with the first team. So #HowDidTeddyLook? Zimmer said Bridgewater was a little shaky.
“Ahhhh, he didn’t look quite as accurate as he had throughout the whole camp,” Zimmer said.
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.
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