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.


Posts about Phil Loadholt

Projecting the Vikings' current two-deep depth chart

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: August 4, 2014 - 2:30 PM

Head coach Mike Zimmer maintained throughout the spring and into the summer that he had no depth chart and that he wanted to evaluate his players before worrying about where they stand.

Nearly two weeks into training camp, and four days before the Vikings have actually played a preseason game, that process is still ongoing, making the task of attempting to project Zimmer’s two-deep depth chart a foolish endeavor. But what the heck, I’m going to try it anyway.

To be clear, this projected two-deep depth chart is my best guesstimate -- not Zimmer's -- and I've based it on what we have seen up here in Mankato since the Vikings reported. And keep in mind that Zimmer, General Manager Rick Spielman and the scouting staff will continue to keep an eye on other teams for trade opportunities and preseason roster cuts. There is a chance the Vikings end up starting someone who isn’t even on the roster. But for now, we’ll base it on who’s here.

QUARTERBACK: 1. Matt Cassel. 2. Teddy Bridgewater.

RUNNING BACK: 1. Adrian Peterson. 2. Matt Asiata.

FULLBACK: 1. Jerome Felton. 2. Zach Line.

WIDE RECEIVER: 1. Cordarrelle Patterson. 2. Rodney Smith.

WIDE RECEIVER: 1. Greg Jennings. 2. Adam Thielen.

WIDE RECEIVER: 1. Jerome Simpson. 2. Jarius Wright.

TIGHT END: 1. Kyle Rudolph. 2. Rhett Ellison.

LEFT TACKLE: 1. Matt Kalil. 2. Antonio Richardson.

LEFT GUARD: 1. Charlie Johnson. 2. David Yankey.

CENTER: 1. John Sullivan. 2. Joe Berger.

RIGHT GUARD: 1. Brandon Fusco. 2. Vlad Ducasse.

RIGHT TACKLE: 1. Phil Loadholt. 2. Mike Remmers.

Notes: Asiata gets the edge over rookie Jerick McKinnon for now, but McKinnon has lately been the preferred third-down replacement for Peterson. … Chase Ford might have entered camp as the favorite to back up Rudolph at tight end, but he is sidelined indefinitely with a fractured foot. Either way, though, he and Ellison have different but useful skill sets. … Barring an upset or an injury, it appears the Vikings already have their starting five offensive linemen set in stone, at least for the season opener. … Kevin Murphy has also seen snaps at right tackle behind Loadholt.

LEFT DEFENSIVE END: 1. Brian Robison. 2. Corey Wootton.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: 1. Sharrif Floyd. 2. Tom Johnson.

NOSE TACKLE: 1. Linval Joseph. 2. Fred Evans.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END: 1. Everson Griffen. 2. Scott Crichton.                                            

STRONG-SIDE LINEBACKER: 1. Anthony Barr. 2. Audie Cole.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER: 1. Jasper Brinkley. 2. Michael Mauti.

WEAK-SIDE LINEBACKER: 1. Chad Greenway. 2. Brandon Watts.

LEFT CORNERBACK: 1. Josh Robinson. 2. Marcus Sherels.

NICKEL CORNERBACK: 1. Captain Munnerlyn. 2. Jabari Price.

RIGHT CORNERBACK: 1. Xavier Rhodes. 2. Derek Cox.

FREE SAFETY: 1. Robert Blanton. 2. Kurt Coleman.

STRONG SAFETY: 1. Harrison Smith. 2. Jamarca Sanford.

Notes: Rookie Shamar Stephen could push the veteran Evans to be the primary backup at nose tackle to Joseph. … Determining where the linebackers slot proved to be a challenge as the coaching staff has been shuffling them to see where each fits best. … Brinkley is the frontrunner to start at middle linebacker in the base defense, but he might not sniff the field when opponents use more than two wide receivers at once. … The Vikings have been using Sherels, the scrappy cornerback, with the starting defense in Robinson’s absence. … Blanton needs to get back from his hamstring injury soon to stay atop the depth chart. … The safety spots could be interchangeable.

Coordinators talk competition at linebacker, O-Line

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: July 26, 2014 - 12:55 PM

It’s turning out to be a soggy day here in Mankato.

The skies opened up a little bit during the morning walkthrough, and the Vikings scurried through the rest of the walkthrough before seeking shelter. We’ll see if Mike Zimmer wants to set the tone by practicing outside -- assuming it keeps raining -- or if he wants to play it safe and practice inside. They will be in shells, after all.

After the walkthrough, defensive coordinator George Edwards and offensive coordinator Norv Turner both stopped inside the media tent. Both are good talkers who often give insightful answers. And they both delivered when asked about competitions at a couple of critical areas.

Edwards opened his news conference by talking about how he is looking forward to finding out the answers to some of the many unanswered questions that met the Vikings in Mankato. A couple of those questions are who will start at linebacker and where will they even be playing?

“We’re rotating a lot of different guys in a lot of different areas,” Edwards said. “We still haven’t said that this guy is at this position or this guy’s the MIKE or this guy’s playing the SAM outside linebacker. So right now, this will be a process as we keep going through camp. … We like the competition. We like the guys that we’ve got. And we know it will work itself out in the end.”

Edwards said the coaching staff has an idea of which linebackers will play which linebacker position, but he said the competition at the MIKE -- aka middle linebacker -- will be more complicated because whoever mans the position will be asked to do a lot of different things, from run blitzing to dropping into coverage to cover backs or tight ends. The mental aspect is also significant.

“We think we’ve got a good group of MIKE linebackers,” he said. “We just want to see who will come to the top, competition-wise, and win out the position. Going into camp, that’s what you want as a coach. You want things to be unsettled so guys go out there and work hard every day.”

Things appear to be settled, at least for now, along the offensive line. The Vikings return a group of five linemen -- from left to right, Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt -- who have been together since the 2012 season. Turner acknowledged that continuity can be beneficial on the offensive line, but that doesn’t mean he is averse to making changes.

“Playing together helps, but obviously in this league you have to plug young players in,” he said. “So if a young player steps up and is capable, then that’s not going to be a deterrent to keep him from playing. But again, those five guys, I’m very confident that they can play at a high level.”

As Edwards said several times during his podium session, we’ll learn more about the players in all camp competitions starting tomorrow, when the Vikings are full pads for the first time this summer.

Hopefully it will stop raining by then.

Factoids and trends from recent Vikings drafts

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: May 5, 2014 - 1:06 PM

Will history repeat itself for the Vikings during this week’s NFL draft? Well, the Vikings have a lot of history -- six decades and counting -- so sure, some things are bound to feel familiar.

But what about the recent history? Which positions have they been picking? Which schools have they scoured? When have they been selecting players? And how many had staying power?

Partially to entertain and inform you but mostly just to educate myself because I’m new here, I decided to look for some trends and factoids from recent Vikings draft classes. I dug through the eight drafts from 2006 to 2013 (GM Rick Spielman came on board after the 2006 draft). Also, if I would have gone the whole way back to 1961, I wouldn’t have finished this by Thursday night.

Here is a quick look at the who, what, whens and wheres of the Vikings’ last eight draft classes (I’ll leave the whys -- or the whys?!?!? -- up to you).

--- The Vikings drafted 61 players from 2006 to 2013. Of those picks, 31 were used for defensive players, 28 were used for offensive players, one was used for a kicker and one for a punter.

--- Which positions have they targeted the most? They have selected nine linebackers, nine wide receivers and nine offensive linemen. They drafted eight cornerbacks, too. Which have they targeted the least? They have drafted just two running backs and not a single fullback (although they took Rutgers linebacker Ryan D'Imperio in the seventh round in 2010 with the idea of converting him to fullback, which they did).

--- They have drafted players from 39 different schools. Spielman and the Vikings have a reputation for coveting Golden Domers, and it’s legitimate as they have drafted four players from Notre Dame since 2006. That is tied for the most with Florida State and USC. They have selected three players apiece from Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas and my alma mater, Penn State.

--- They have drafted just one player, linebacker Nate Triplett, from the U of Minnesota.

--- The Vikings have drafted 12 players from the SEC, the most of the major BCS conferences. That should come as no surprise given the SEC’s powerhouse reputation. They have drafted nine players apiece from the Big Ten and the Pac 10, eight from the ACC and five from the Big 12.

--- The Vikings have made 35 trades involving draft picks over the past eight years, and that includes player-for-pick trades during the regular season. They had seven trades involving draft picks in both 2008 and 2012. The 2008 year was the one when they acquired Jared Allen.

--- The Vikings have selected nine players in the first round, including five the past two years. They have drafted nine in the second (but none in the past two drafts), three in the third (and just one in the past four), eight in the fourth, 10 in the fifth, 10 in the sixth and 12 in the seventh.

--- Of their nine first-round picks, only two were in the top 10 and just three were in the top 16.

--- Their earliest pick was USC tackle Matt Kalil at fourth overall in 2012. Their latest was the 237th pick in 2010, used on D'Imperio.

--- The most picks they had in one draft was 10 each in 2011 and 2012. The fewest were five, which they had in both 2008 and 2009. They will enter Thursday’s draft with eight selections.

--- The most valuable five draft picks, based on Pro Football Reference's weighted career approximate value, in order were Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, Percy Harvin, John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. Christian Ponder was the seventh most valuable, for what it is worth.

--- Of their 61 draft picks from 2006 to 2013, 27 are still on the roster (that includes Jasper Brinkley, who left and came back). But just eight Vikings drafted between 2006 and 2010 remain.

How are the Vikings spending their money?

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 14, 2014 - 7:19 AM

The Vikings were active before and immediately after the start of free agency, spending big bucks to re-sign defensive end Everson Griffen and quarterback Matt Cassel then bolstering their defense by adding defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Now, a month after the NFL’s shopping spree began, all of the marquee free agents have been snatched up and the spending has died down around the league. But G.M. Rick Spielman and the Vikings have shown they still plan to tinker with the roster, evidenced by last week’s signing of wide receiver Lestar Jean and their contract offer to free-agent safety Kurt Coleman.

As of this morning, the Vikings have just under $11 million in salary cap space remaining, according to overthecap.com, so they will likely carry financial flexibility into the 2014 season.

That space could also allow them to offer an extension to an emerging young player -- tight end Kyle Rudolph is an obvious candidate -- before that player comes close to reaching free agency.

That is a post for another day, though, because today, I wanted to take a closer look at how the Vikings have spent their money. The website overthecap.com is a valuable resource, and it allows you to look at how much money each of the 32 teams is spending for each position.

For example, even though the Vikings are still in need of a backup running back to take some of the burden from Adrian Peterson, something my colleague Mark Craig explored over the weekend, no team has committed more of their salary cap space to the running back position.

As of this morning, the Vikings had $61.28 million of their cap space allocated to offensive players and $52.93 million to defenders. Their three specialists combine for a $2.41 million cap figure.

Let’s run though the numbers and see how much the Vikings are paying at each position group.

Quarterback ($8.98 million, 20th in the NFL): The Vikings are spending $8.98 million at the quarterback position after bringing back Cassel with a two-year, $10.5 million deal. Christian Ponder, a former first-round pick turned clipboard-holder, has a cap hit of $3.23 million. A dozen teams are spending less at the position, including the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, which shows how helpful it can be to have a quality starting quarterback on a rookie deal.

Running back ($19.16 million, most in the NFL): The Vikings have the NFL’s best back in Peterson, but he also carries a premier contract. Peterson has a cap number of $14.4 million this season, the highest cap figure on the team and the highest among NFL running backs. And with $2.13 million on the cap, Jerome Felton is carries one of the highest figures among fullbacks.

Wide receiver ($12.29 million, 21st in the NFL): Greg Jennings, in the second year of his contract, will count for $7 million against the cap. But the rest of the team's wide receivers combine to make just over $5 million. At $1.64 million, Cordarrelle Patterson should be bargain.

Tight end ($1.97 million, 30th in the NFL): Only two teams are spending less money on tight ends than the Vikings. In the final year of his rookie deal, Rudolph has a cap hit of $1.47 million.

Offensive line ($23.05 million, 17th in the NFL): The Vikings have one of the NFL's better pairs of starting offensive tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but they are only counting for a combined $11.14 million in salary cap space. Center John Sullivan has a cap hit of $4.75 million. The collective cap hits of those three will go up in 2015, but only about $3 million combined.

Defensive end ($16.59 million, ninth in the NFL): Despite letting long-time sack specialist Jared Allen walk in free agency, the Vikings still have a large amount of salary committed to this critical position. Griffen's $8.2 million cap figure is second on the team to only Peterson. Fellow starter Brian Robison, who also got a new deal from the Vikings, has a $5.7 million cap figure.

Defensive tackle ($11.27 million, 11th in the NFL): Joseph, the newcomer at nose tackle, has a cap figure of $5.75 million, fifth-highest on the Vikings roster. Sharrif Floyd, a 2013 first-round draft pick and the other projected starter at defensive tackle, carries a cap hit of $1.84 million.

Linebacker ($11.03 million, 24th in the NFL): The Vikings have a lot of youngsters at this position group, and those guys come relatively cheap. Veteran starter Chad Greenway, however, has a big cap number of $7.2 million, which ranks third on the Vikings behind Peterson and Griffen.

Cornerback ($9.81 million, 25th in the NFL): Munnerlyn was a significant signing for the Vikings, who needed a corner to play in the slot. But he carries a modest cap hit of just $3.33 million. Only one other Vikings cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, has a cap hit of more than $1 million. Derek Cox, a former starter in Jacksonville then San Diego, will make just $780,000.

Safeties ($6.40 million, 21st in the NFL): Starting strong safety Jamarca Sanford has a cap hit of $2.5 million, higher than starting free safety Harrison Smith, who has a $1.95 million cap figure.

Vikings snap count: Harrison Smith eases back at safety

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: December 16, 2013 - 10:38 AM

The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.

Offense: 75 snaps

Quarterback

QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)

QB Christian Ponder – DNP

Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.

That streak is now history.

Running Back/Fullback

RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)

FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)

RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)

The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)

WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)

WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)

WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)

TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)

WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)

WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)

Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.

Offensive Line

C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)

G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)

C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)

T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)

T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)

T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)

G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)

Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.

Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)

The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.

Defense: 69 snaps

Defensive Line

DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)

DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)

DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)

DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)

DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)

NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)

NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)

DT Chase Baker – DNP

Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.

The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.

Linebacker

LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)

LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)

LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)

LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)

Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.

Secondary

CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)

CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)

FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)

SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)

SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)

FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)

CB Robert Steeples – DNP

Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.

The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.

Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)

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