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 Packers

Rookie pass rushers like Barr often start slow

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: June 2, 2014 - 12:36 PM

When trying to project how first-round pick Anthony Barr will fare during his rookie season, you may want to point to what Aldon Smith and Von Miller did as rookies as the best-case scenario.

The reality is, though, that it takes most edge rushers time to find their groove at the next level.

While Smith had 14 sacks for the 49ers in his first season in 2011 and Miller was not far behind with 11.5 for the Broncos, edge rushers racking up double-digit sacks as rookies is not common.

For every Smith and Miller, there is a Vernon Gholston or Aaron Maybin who made little impact.

Looking at the 32 edge rushers selected in the previous seven drafts, those players averaged just 3.7 sacks and 20.2 tackles as rookies despite playing 509 snaps on average in their first season, according to Jeff McLane, who did some digging on rookie pass rushers for the Philly Inquirer.

Gholston and Maybin were top picks of the Jets and Bills, respectively, who did not record a sack as rookies. Gholston is the worst-case scenario, having washed out of the league without a single sack.

The Vikings, of course, are confident Barr will develop into a star pass rusher. General manager Rick Spielman has said that they projected the outside linebacker out of UCLA as the second-best pass-rushing prospect of this class behind Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.

While it appears that Barr will be facing an even steeper learning curve than his rookie peers and predecessors considering he didn’t start playing defense at UCLA until his junior year, the Vikings said that Barr, before he got sent back to California, did not look like a major project.

“I know that’s a big thing with everybody that he’s only played two years, but the things he’s done defensively he’s done pretty well,” coach Mike Zimmer, who envisions Barr playing a hybrid role like Miller does in Denver, said two weeks ago. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue whatsoever.”

Still, while the Vikings anticipate that Barr will ascend to a starting role by the time training camp ends, it might be best to curb your enthusiasm when it comes to his first-year sack total. Potent rookie pass rushers like Smith, Miller, Brian Orakpo (11 sacks for the Redskins in 2009) and Clay Matthews III (10 sacks for the Packers in 2009) appear to be exceptions to the rule.

“Everybody has a development stage,” Spielman, speaking generally about the immediate contributions of rookies, said last month. “Some hit it right off the bat. Some take some time.”

20-year perspective: Vikings' 223rd overall pick

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: May 1, 2014 - 11:13 AM

TODAY'S LOOK BACK: The 223rd overall pick.

Looking back on previous NFL drafts is oh so much clearer than looking ahead to the next one. So today, we'll go back through the past 20 drafts to give some historical perspective on the 223rd overall pick, which the Vikings own in the seventh round of next week's draft. We'll work our way up to the first round with a daily look at each round.

Pro Bowlers picked No. 223 since 1994: None.

Have the Vikings picked No. 223 since 1994?: Yes. In 1996, they took Duke tackle Jon Merrill. He never played for the Vikings or in the NFL.

Ouch 1: In 1998, the Cowboys took running back Tarik Smith. He never played a game. When the draft was over, the Rams signed linebacker London Fletcher as a rookie free agent from Division III John Carroll in Cleveland. Fletcher played 256 games over 17 seasons for three teams before retiring after last season.

Ouch 2: In 2002, the Cardinals took tight end Mike Banks. He played 18 games with no starts. Nineteen picks later, the Steelers signed defensive end Brett Keisel. And if that weren't enough, the Steelers also signed linebacker James Harrison as a rookie free agent. Keisel and Harrison helped the Steelers win a couple of Super Bowls. Harrison was the league's defensive player of the year in 2008.

Ouch 3: In 2003, the Ravens took tight end Trent Smith. He played five games. After the draft, the Chargers signed three rookie free agents -- tight end Antonio Gates, guard Kris Dielman and receiver Kassim Osgood -- who have combined on 15 Pro Bowl appearances.

Here's a year-by-year look back at the No. 223 pick:

2013: The Pick: DT Nicholas Williams, Steelers. Could Have Had: Free-agent TE Joseph Fauria, Lions.

2012: The Pick: OLB Travis Lewis, Lions. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB Vontaze Burfict, Bengals.

2011: The Pick: FB Shane Bannon, Chiefs. Could Have Had: LB Malcolm Smith (No. 242), Seahawks.

2010: The Pick: CB R.J. Stanford, Panthers. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Victor Cruz, Giants.

2009: The Pick: S Troy Nolan, Texans. Also took: Free-agent RB Arian Foster, Texans.

2008: The Pick: QB Alex Brink, Texans. Could Have Had: Free-agent FB Mike Tolbert, Chargers.

2007: The Pick: OT Mike Otto, Titans. Could Have Had: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (No. 250), Giants.

2006: The Pick: QB D.J. Shockley, Falcons. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Miles Auston, Cowboys.

2005: The Pick: WR Marcus Maxwell, 49ers. Could Have Had: NT Jay Ratliff (No. 224), Cowboys; QB Matt Cassel (No. 230), Patriots.

2004: The Pick: CB Jacques Reeves, Cowboys. Could Have Had: C Scott Wells (No. 251), Packers; free-agent WR Wes Welker.

2003: The Pick: TE Trent Smith, Ravens. Could Have Had: Free-agent QB Tony Romo, Cowboys; free-agent TE Antonio Gates, Chargers; free-agent G Kris Dielman, Chargers; free-agent WR Kassim Osgood, Chargers.

2002: The Pick: TE Mike Banks, Cardinals. Could Have Had: DE Brett Keisel (No. 242), Steelers; Free-agent LB James Harrison.

2001: The Pick: SS Than Merrill, Buccaneers. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB Antonio Pierce, Redskins.

2000: The Pick: DE James Cotton, Bears. Could Have Had: Free-agent C Shaun O'Hara, Browns.

1999: The Pick: OT Ryan Young, Jets. Could Have Had: Free-agent TE Jermaine Wiggins, Jets.

1998: The Pick: RB Tarik Smith, Cowboys. Could Have Had: Free-agent LB London Fletcher, Rams;  free-agent C Jeff Saturday, Colts.

1997: The Pick: WR Mike Adams, Steelers. Could Have Had: Free-agent NT Pat Williams, Bills; free-agent RB Priest Holmes, Ravens.

1996: The Pick: OT Jon Merrill, Vikings. Could Have Had: Free-agent K Adam Vinatieri, Patriots.

1995: The Pick: LB Jessie Cox, Colts. Could Have Had: Free-agent WR Wayne Chrebet, Jets.

1994: The Pick: None. There were only 222 picks. Could Have Had: Free-agent QB Kurt Warner, Packers; Free-agent S Robert Griffith, Vikings.

U of M pleased NFL, Vikings accommodated home schedule requests

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: April 24, 2014 - 1:09 PM

When the Vikings made their move to TCF Bank Stadium official, there were a number of scheduling requests the University of Minnesota asked the NFL and the Vikings in their facility use agreement. Only one of the restrictions was mandatory, but the Vikings schedule this season will minimize any potential conflicts.

The Vikings schedule pretty much accommodated every request in the agreement. It’s pretty impressive (and surprising) the NFL did when it has 31 other teams to consider, and it’ll make for a better experience -- for fans, the Vikings and the university – in the team’s first year at TCF Bank Stadium.

"We are pleased that the Vikings and the NFL did their best to construct a schedule within the spirit of our agreement," Gophers senior associate athletic director Chris Werle said in a statement. "It’s our goal to make the transition as seemless as possible while we host the Vikings for the next two years. Having the football teams play on the same weekend only once during the first season will certainly help alleviate strains on the nearby neighborhoods, traffic, support staff and campus grounds."

Per the agreement:

* The Vikings could use TCF Bank Stadium for one weeknight game when classes weren’t in session (on a date coordinated and approved by the school).

The one weeknight game was the only restriction the NFL and the Vikings had. The Vikings have their mandatory Thursday night game on the road against the Packers in Week 5.

* The Vikings “shall make best efforts” with the NFL to avoid schedule conflicts with the school’s academic calendar. Some of the events included move-in (Aug. 15, 25-26, 30), Welcome Week (Aug. 27-Sept 1) and Finals (Dec. 12-18).

The Vikings host their final preseason game on Aug. 16 against the Cardinals. Their home opener isn’t until Sept. 14 against the Patriots, and they’re on the road for the only game on Finals week (Dec. 14 at Detroit).

*The Vikings “shall make best efforts” with the NFL to avoid scheduling games during the Minnesota State Fair and on Gophers football home games.

The Vikings are on the road for their final preseason game (Aug 28 at Tennessee), which is the only game during the Minnesota State Fair (Aug. 21-Sept. 1).

The next suggestion is a bit more challenging, but there’s surprisingly only one weekend that both the Gophers and Vikings play at home. The Gophers host Northwestern on Oct. 11 when the Vikings host the Lions on Oct. 12.

* “The Vikings’ coordination efforts with the NFL shall also include best efforts to accommodate University’s reservation of 2 Sundays in November and 2 Sunday’s in December for University home basketball games.”

The Vikings have a bye week on Nov. 9, then a road game at Chicago on Nov. 16. In December, the Vikings have back-to-back road games against the Lions on Dec. 14 and the Dolphins on Dec. 21.

Vikings awarded a Manning (no, not that one) off waivers

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 16, 2014 - 10:18 AM

The Vikings have added a Manning at a need position.

No, sorry, it wasn't Peyton. Or even Eli or Archie.

The Vikings were awarded linebacker Terrell Manning off waivers from the San Diego Chargers today, adding another young and unproven player to the mix at that unsettled position.

Manning, 23, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012. He played five games as a rookie and made three tackles. The Packers waived him after training camp last season. The Chargers claimed him, and he suited up for one game before being released and signed to their practice squad.

Manning, who is listed at 6-feet-2 and 237 pounds, played his college football at N.C. State and was teammates with third-year Vikings linebacker Audie Cole.

Manning is now one of eight linebackers on the roster. Six of them are 25 or younger. One exception is Chad Greenway, who is the only linebacker who can currently be penciled in as a starter. The other is Jasper Brinkley, whom the team brought back after one season with the Arizona Cardinals.

Brinkley spoke with reporters this morning during a voluntary offseason workout that was open to the media, and he said he believes that he and the rest of the linebackers on the roster will get a chance to compete for starting spots. Brinkley believes he would be a good fit in Mike Zimmer's scheme as a thumping, run-stuffing middle linebacker. But youngers such as Cole, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and now maybe Manning might have something to say about that.

Plus, it also seems likely the Vikings will use at least one draft pick -- potentially a high one -- to add more talent at linebacker. They will work out playmaking LB prospects Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr this week at their "Top 30" event in addition to Preston Brown and Demarcus Lawrence.

Of course, QB is arguably their biggest need. Unfortunately, no other Mannings are available.

A quick look at the Vikings' 2014 opponents

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: April 11, 2014 - 7:03 AM

The NFL released its preseason schedule on Wednesday, which -- unless you are the rare fan who gets geeked up for exhibition games -- is noteworthy because it means the regular season schedule will be unveiled soon, too. The NFL hasn’t yet said when, but it should be in the next two weeks.

We do know who the Vikings will be playing this season. And where. We just don’t know when.

The Vikings play the NFC South in 2014. They last drew that division in 2011 as they rotate through the different NFC divisions every three years. They host the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium and will travel to play the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They play the AFC East for the first time since 2010. The New England Patriots and New York Jets will come to the Twin Cities and the Vikings will travel to play the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.

They also play the St. Louis Rams (on the road) and the Washington Redskins (at home) because those two teams, like the Vikings, finished last in their respective NFC divisions in 2013.

And, of course, the Vikings will play each of their NFC North rivals twice.

Only four opponents were playoff teams in 2013: the Packers (twice), Panthers, Saints and Patriots.

We will break down the opponents in greater detail once the schedule is announced, but here is the quick rundown of their home and road opponents this season (with 2013 records in parenthesis).

HOME: Bears (8-8), Lions (7-9), Packers (8-7-1), Falcons (4-12), Panthers (12-4), Patriots (12-4), Jets (8-8) and Redskins (3-13).

AWAY: Bears (8-8), Lions (7-9), Packers (8-7-1), Saints (11-5), Buccaneers (4-12), Bills (6-10), Dolphins (8-8) and Rams (7-9).

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