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.
GREEN BAY -- What's this? A competitive Vikings game at Lambeau Field?
Who'd have thunk it? Not many, especially those who saw last week's debacle at Soldier Field. Or last year's debacles at Soldier Field and Lambeau Field.
Today's game started out with a similar feel to the blowouts mentioned above. The Packers took a 10-0 lead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to James Jones and a 30-yard field goal that Mason Crosby banked in off the left upright.
Two Cheesehead possessions. Ten points. The Vikings also trailed in first downs, 7-0, and total yards, 127-5.
But then something strange began to happen. The Vikings offense started moving the ball both on the ground and through the air (a little bit) to tight end Kyle Rudolph. Then they scored not one, but two touchdowns -- on offense -- in one quarter to take a 14-10 lead at the half.
A 14-play, 71-yard drive was capped with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder to Kyle Rudolph. Later in the quarter, Adrian Peterson broke two tackles and showed that his new left ACL might be faster than his old one en route to a career-long 82-yard touchdown run.
Two of Peterson's longest touchdown runs -- including a 74-yarder at Seattle on Nov. 4 -- have come in the last month.
Peterson has 13 carries for 126 yards, a team-record sixth straight game with at least 100 yards rushing. The 82-yard score also is the fourth-longest play from scrimmage in team history. Chester Taylor's 95-yard touchdown run against Seattle in 2006 is the record.
Ponder has completed 5 of 8 passes for only 36 yards, but all the completions came during the 14-play scoring drive. Ponder's wide receivers have a grand total of zero catches. Rudolph has four catches for 23 yards.
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s Week 12 game with Atlanta at the Georgia Dome, here’s a look at a handful of eye-opening figures and facts.
Typically, there aren't many reasons to attend a fourth preseason game. But the Vikings' game against Houston on Thursday night might be the last time Vikings fans get a chance to see the future face of the franchise in action this season.
Christian Ponder, the 12th overall draft pick, will start the game and be followed by Joe Webb as the two of them take their battle for the No. 2 position down to the final week of the preseason. Starter Donovan McNabb's preseason is done. He didn't practice today and won't play on Thursday. The Vikings also released Rhett Bomar earlier today, so it's Ponder and Webb who will split the game. Each is expected to play a half.
Coach Leslie Frazier said it's a big game for the quarterbacks, as well as the guys trying to make the roster.
"We definitely want to see both [quarterbacks], Christian along with Joe, create some separation for that No. 2 spot," Frazier said. "Maybe this game will be an indication of which guy should be No. 2."
Based on watching practices the past month, Webb is ahead of Ponder, but not enough that the race should be called before Thursday night. Webb was the No. 2 QB in the first and third preseason games. Ponder was No. 2 in the second game.
Frazier said after a short practice today that he's still trying to decide which starters, if any, will see action on Thursday. A decision is expected after Tuesday's practice. Most of the starters won't play. The guys still fighting for positions will see limited action.
Other highlights today:
Note: The NFL draft will be held starting tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Here's an overview look at the Vikings' situation.
The issues: The Vikings are coming off a 6-10 season and last place finish in the NFC North and to date have been able to do little about it because of the NFL lockout. (Yes, the lockout is supposed to be over but clearly things aren't back to normal.) For the next three days, the Vikings will have nine picks in the seven-round draft, giving them the opportunity to improve their roster.
Draft format: The first round will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday and teams will have 10 minutes between picks. The second and third rounds will be held Friday starting at 5 p.m. Teams will have seven minutes between picks in the second round and five minutes in the third. The fourth through seventh rounds will be held Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., and teams will have five minutes between picks. (ESPN and NFL Network will cover the event.)
Vikings draft picks: First round (No. 12 overall); Second round (11th pick in the round, No. 43 overall); Third round (none, traded to New England in Randy Moss deal); Fourth round (9th pick in the round, No. 106); Fifth round (8th pick in the round, 139th overall); Fifth round (19th pick in the round, 150th overall, acquired from New York Giants in the Sage Rosenfels, Darius Reynaud trade); Sixth round (7th pick in the round, 172nd overall); Sixth round (35th pick, 200th overall, compensatory selection); Seventh round (13th pick in the round, 215th overall); Seventh round (35th pick in the round, 236th overall, compensatory selection).
Good to know: The compensatory picks were awarded to the Vikings because they lost Chester Taylor and Artis Hicks in free agency in March 2010. Compensatory picks can NOT be traded.
The Vikings draft room: Key players will include vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier, director of college scouting Scott Studwell, director of player personnel George Paton and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski. Who has final say? That’s up for debate. Spielman will have the most power but Frazier’s voice certainly will be heard. Remember, owner Zygi Wilf wants everyone to play nice this time around.
Judd’s first-round thoughts: I’ve participated in a few mock drafts of late, meaning that there has been little choice but to make a pick for the Vikings at No. 12. Personally, I don’t think that using that selection is the team’s top preference. While there might be a few players whom the Vikings would grab with the pick, I think the goal is to move down in the first round (probably take a quarterback) and also get a third-round pick. The Vikings don’t have a third-round selection because they dealt it to New England in the Randy Moss trade. The Vikings have gotten calls about moving down and if I had to guess I would say there is a good chance that happens. Now, if the speculation that quarterback Blaine Gabbert is going to fall to Minnesota at 12 turns out to be true, there is no doubt in my mind the Vikings would grab him. However, I don't see that happening.
Chip’s first-round thoughts: Frazier has said that ideally the Vikings would take a quarterback in the first two rounds and let the rookie learn on the job. If the Vikings don’t take a quarterback in the first round, I don’t think that second-tier of guys (Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder or Ryan Mallett) will still be available in the second round at No. 43. So do the Vikings take a quarterback at No. 12 or trade down, try and get a third-round pick and hope their target is still on the board? I think that depends on whether the Vikings have zeroed in on just one quarterback they like, or are they comfortable with a few of them. If they’re not comfortable taking any quarterback in the first round, they certainly have plenty of other needs too.
THE BIG PICTURE
Judd: It is no secret that the Vikings need a quarterback. Frazier again voiced confidence in Joe Webb this week but the reality is that it was Brad Childress who wanted to leave Webb at quarterback (not move him to wide receiver) and Childress is long gone. The Vikings could continue the trend of picking up a veteran quarterback (such as Donovan McNabb) and hoping it will get them by. But that provides zero chance for a long-term solution.
Frazier is a smart man and knows that in order to gain any real traction you must do it by getting a quarterback that you can build around and not someone who will be here for a couple of years before running out of steam. That doesn’t mean the Vikings couldn’t pursue a veteran like Marc Bulger in free agency – whenever that period starts -- with the hope he would serve as a bridge to a younger QB but there is a difference between a bridge quarterback and a veteran who feels he’s far from finished.
As far as this class, I have mixed feelings. There are plenty of analysts who don’t like any of the quarterbacks and don’t see them as “franchise” guys but I think that can be a cop out. How many real “franchise” quarterbacks are there in a draft? Joe Flacco certainly wasn’t one and he’s done just fine in Baltimore. Holding out until you get your ideal quarterback might sound good, but it also sounds like a potential excuse for why a team might never turn the corner.
The Vikings hired Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator and Craig Johnson as quarterbacks coach because they have faith in their ability to develop a quarterback. So it seems logical that they would follow through on this plan by trying to develop one.
While quarterback is the most discussed position, Chip pointed out in a draft preview story he did Tuesday that the Vikings have many, many needs. This is a far cry from last year when it was expected all 22 starters would be back and any draft picks could be eased in gradually.
Think about it and you realize the only area that you would absolutely not draft a player is at running back. Quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, tight end (aging group with expiring contracts), defensive line, linebacker and the secondary all could be addressed.
That’s a lot of needs for a team that made the NFC title game in the 2009 season, but that’s the reality for this franchise.
Chip: Spielman wants to turn over the roster this offseason, get younger and find some immediate help in this draft. We’ve focused a lot of our pre-draft coverage on the quarterback position because it’s obviously the most glaring need for this organization, and I’ll be surprised if the Vikings don’t take a quarterback in the first two rounds. Frazier once again expressed his desire to solve that lingering question during his pre-draft press conference this week.
Everyone knows there are no guarantees that any quarterback prospect is going to succeed, regardless of where he is selected. Each of the quarterback prospects in this class has certain weaknesses, but Frazier seems confident that Musgrave and Johnson can develop a young quarterback.
Mock drafts have been all over the place in predicting what the Vikings will do at No. 12 overall. That’s because they have a ton of needs besides quarterback. To me, cornerback is their second-most pressing area because of uncertainty with Cedric Griffin’s knees, Chris Cook’s durability and Antoine Winfield turning 34. Would the Vikings pass on Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara if he’s still available?
What if Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones is still on the board? The Vikings also need to improve their offensive and defensive lines. That’s why I think this draft is extremely intriguing for the Vikings. Lots of needs, including one very big one.
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