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.
“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.”
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
Thank you so much to the @Vikings for including me in training camp today. Truly blessed. Thank you to Coach Zimmer and all the players!— Jack Jablonski (@Jabs_13) August 1, 2014
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.
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.
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.
The days are blending in for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer eight days into training camp, and he still has another eight days until the team trots into TCF Bank Stadium for its first preseason game against the Raiders next Friday.
Zimmer said the team will begin to prepare for the Raiders on Tuesday and Wednesday but mainly plan to continue installing schemes on offense, defense and special teams.
“We’re trying to continue to get better and really not too worried about the Raiders,” Zimmer said.
The plan is to continue installing different packages until about two weeks before the season opener against the Rams. Zimmer said he wants to players to play fast for that game and not think too much.
It’s all part of a balancing act Zimmer is learning as the head coach to make sure the players understand the new installs with good retention.
“The more you put in, the more it runs together sometimes,” Zimmer said. “We’ll start backing it down, and they’ll start to get a little more fine tuning from there.”
Zimmer also said he’s not sure when safety Robert Blanton will return. He’s used Harrison Smith at both safety positions as a result of the injury, while Mistral Raymond has received first team reps.
The players will also meet with NFL officials this evening to discuss the rule changes this year and points of emphasis with illegal contact, clipping and offensive pass interference.
Jarius Wright has played a limited role in his first two seasons in the NFL.
Last year, the fourth rounder played every game but had just a slight bump in his stats. Wright, 24, finished with 26 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Now in his third year, Wright expects to take that next step as a wide receiver.
“My confidence level is at an all-time high right now,” Wright said. “Year 3 is usually the year a receiver breaks out because he’s comfortable at this level and knowledge of the football game.”
While he’s tasked with learning a new offense, Wright doesn’t think that will hold him back from his growth. He displayed flashes of his ability last year, burning Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on a double-move for a touchdown, but Wright played behind Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson. He has seen an increase in reps with the first team so far and has sprinkled in with the starters after Patterson returned from a foot injury.
“It’s not totally new anymore, but we’re still learning new things about the system and running routes depending on the coverages,” Wright said. “I can continue to get smarter and smarter that way.”
Wright has still received reps as a returner on special teams as well and expects to get some action at some point during the regular season depending on situations. He returned just one kick last season with Patterson receiving the majority of the workload. Wright only had 17 punt returns at Arkansas serving as the backup as well.
There will be ample opportunites for Wright to have that breakout season he wants. Time will tell if he'll capitialize this year.
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