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.
The Vikings have released their first “unofficial” depth chart, and there are no major changes from the one that we projected yesterday afternoon.
As expected, Matt Cassel is the first-string quarterback, the five-man offensive line from 2012 and 2013 remains intact, top pick Anthony Barr is the starter at strong-side linebacker and Robert Blanton is listed as the starter next to Harrison Smith despite being out with a hamstring injury.
The only thing that qualifies as a major surprise is that Greg Jennings has apparently been cloned.
But there are a few things worth noting on this "unofficial" depth chart. Rookie Jabari Price is listed ahead of veteran cornerbacks Derek Cox and Marcus Sherels. Audie Cole is the second-string middle linebacker and Michael Mauti is listed as a third-stringer at the weak-side linebacker spot. And Matt Asiata is the primary backup to Adrian Peterson for now, not rookie Jerick McKinnon.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- GM Rick Spielman has made this roster young again.
--- Chris Crocker's arrival is not a good sign for the team's safety depth.
--- The Vikings activated S Andrew Sendejo from the PUP list.
--- Here's our best guess at what Mike Zimmer's depth chart would look like.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Packers haven't picked which game they'll honor Favre in 2015. Some free advice: maybe don't choose the Vikings as opponent— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 4, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Brett Favre is "truly honored" to be heading into the Packers Hall of Fame.
--- Marquess Wilson, the Bears’ No. 3 WR, fractured his clavicle in practice.
--- Lions RB Reggie Bush is determined to stay productive.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings are back to their normal routine, with a 10:30 a.m. walkthrough and a padded practice that starts at 3:30 p.m. Coordinators Norv Turner and George Edwards are scheduled to talk.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
As the folks at Football Outsiders pointed out in this recent ESPN piece, at least one team has gone from worst to first in its respective division in each of the past 11 seasons. So what are the odds the Vikings can do it in 2014? Based on their simulations, Football Outsiders says they have a 12.9 percent chance, the third-worst odds among the eight last-place finishers from 2013. Of course, as their projections show, anything is possible. Even the Raiders winning the Super Bowl.
The dog days of training camp have officially arrived here in Mankato.
With head coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings nearly two weeks into training camp and just four days away from their first preseason game against the Raiders at TCF, you definitely get the sense that the players are ready to start smashing helmets with someone in a jersey of a different color.
That’s not to say that today’s practice was chippy. We have yet to see anything that could be remotely described as a skirmish or an altercation during Zimmer’s first training camp. Honestly, I’m a little bummed out I haven’t been able to write the word brouhaha. Well, until now, that is.
But after nine long days in the sun, you can feel that the anticipation for an actual game is building. Zimmer will be challenged to keep his players focused on the now, as monotonous as these summer practices can become once you flip the calendar to August, instead of looking ahead to Friday.
SETTING THE SCENE: At the start of practice, the sky was overcast and a little ominous with a stiff breeze. But the nasty weather held off, and soon the sky was blue. The temperature was in the high 70s. Zimmer had the Vikings practicing in full pads for the sixth time in their past seven practices.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: After throwing a bunch of passes in team drills Saturday night, the quarterbacks weren’t asked to throw much in 11-on-11 situations today. Matt Cassel, who worked mostly with the ones, completed eight of his 10 attempts. Teddy Bridgewater completed eight of his nine attempts, including three of four in a stint with the first-team offense. And after he didn’t throw a single pass in team drills Saturday night, Christian Ponder got a chance to run a two-minute drill early in practice. He completed four of his seven attempts to third-stringers, but one of the incompletions was a drop and the other two were spikes to stop the clock. That was it for Ponder in 11-on-11 drills, though, as once again Cassel and Bridgewater hogged the huddle.
TEDDY CAN PUNT, TOO: Zimmer doesn’t fall into coachspeak as often as his peers, but he does talk a lot about situational football. During about every practice, he prepares his team for some rare and random occurrence. Today, he had quarterbacks practice pooch punts. Bridgewater can apparently punt a little bit, too. He booted both punts high into the sky. The latter of the two had a hang time of about four seconds. Jeff Locke need not worry about his job, but that was impressive.
CROCKER ISN’T EASED IN: The new guy, veteran safety Chris Crocker, wasn’t just limited to individual work and the occasional cameo during his first practice with the Vikings. Crocker was part of the safety rotation, usually with the second-team defense. Credit his familiarity with Zimmer and his defensive scheme for that. Crocker has played for Zimmer in each of the past seven seasons, and he said after practice that he wouldn’t have come out of semi-retirement for any other coach.
SPEAKING OF SAFETIES: With Crocker on the field and fellow safety Andrew Sendejo activated from the PUP list, the secondary was crowded with eight safeties, though Zimmer did let Harrison Smith take it easy, perhaps to get a better look at the other guys. Zimmer checked out a bunch of different combinations, and everyone from Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman to Crocker and rookie Antone Exum got looks with the ones or twos. This camp competition gets murkier by the day.
TALKING ‘BOUT PUNTS: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who returned punts for the Panthers, got a chance to field a few of them today, though the only thing I would take away from that is that his hamstring is healthy enough for him to practice without limitations. No, the Vikings won’t need him if they keep Marcus Sherels, who broke a punt return for a long gain down the left sideline at the end of practice. The only one standing in his way was Locke, and I wouldn’t have liked his chances.
INJURY REPORT: Rookie left tackle Antonio Richardson left practice after his left leg got rolled up on a run play. Linebacker Brandon Watts (hamstring) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) returned to practice. Remaining sidelined were safety Robert Blanton (hamstring) and tight ends Chase Ford (foot) and AC Leonard (head). Ford is no longer in a walking boot -- a good sign.
The Vikings have signed Chris Crocker, adding another man to the unsettled safety position group.
Crocker has played seven seasons under Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. He was with Zimmer in Atlanta in 2007 and joined him a season later in Cincinnati, where he played his last six seasons. In 2012 and 2013, Zimmer talked Crocker out of semi-retirement to bail out his Bengals secondary.
Now, with one of the safety positions here wide open, Zimmer has called on the 34-year-old again.
"You are always kind of ready, especially when you have a guy like Zim that you can play for," Crocker said. "We have a rapport and we talk often. At this point in my career, I really didn’t want to go anywhere else. I’m not starting over. I wanted to come here and play for a guy who has meant a lot to my career. I’ve given him everything I have. Just empty the gas tank and see where it goes."
The safety position next to Harrison Smith has been in flux since the start of spring workouts. Jamarca Sanford, a starter in 2012 and 2013, missed most of the spring, as did Andrew Sendejo, who returned from the PUP list earlier today and is about to take place in his first practice of the Zimmer era. Robert Blanton is out with a hamstring injury after opening camp with the first team.
"[Zimmer] said I could help these guys get better and also come in as a playmaker," Crocker said.
Crocker, at the very least, is familiar with Zimmer’s system. He started three games for the Bengals in 2013 and nine the previous season. In total, he has started 70 games in seven years with Zimmer.
"I’ve been in this scheme pretty much my whole career," Crocker said. "Just to come in, it’s the same terminology and I know most of the staff. I played with and against a lot of these guys, so I have a lot of familiarity. Zim is the ultimate [defensive backs] coach. So I take my lead from him. It shouldn’t be tough. Obviously, I know the scheme and I’ll help these guys learn it also."
Overall, Crocker has recorded 554 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 60 passes defended and 15 interceptions in 151 games over 11 NFL seasons with four teams. He started his career with the Browns in 2003.
To make room on the 90-man roster, the Vikings have released rookie defensive end Rakim Cox.
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.
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