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.
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.
As I wrote in this story in today’s newspaper, Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr has been wearing a few different hats for the Vikings, who are already putting the rookie’s versatile skill set to use. But one of the things that excites them most is his upside as a pass rusher coming off the edge.
Barr had 23.5 sacks in two seasons as a 3-4 outside linebacker at UCLA. His size and his success in that scheme left some draft analysts scratching their heads, saying he wasn’t a fit for the Vikings. The Vikings quickly made it clear, though, that they had a special role in mind for their top pick.
That role includes rushing off the edge in sub packages or blitzing up the gut as a stand-up ‘backer.
Barr has already impressed veteran teammate Brian Robison with his pass-rushing prowess.
“He’s got good speed,” Robison said yesterday. “A lot of us are speed rushers on this team. The one thing that we do well is beat guys with speed then try to set up other moves off of that. I think he’s no different. He’s a great speed guy off the edge and has decent moves to go along with it.”
Barr showed off one nice counter move during yesterday’s practice. After lining up over the outside shoulder of left tackle Matt Kalil, he burst off the line toward the inside. Kalil shuffled to his right to deny a path to quarterback Matt Cassel, but Barr dusted him with a spin move to the outside. He chased after Cassel but couldn’t get there in time as the quarterback had quickly rolled to his right.
While Barr is usually with linebackers coach Adam Zimmer during position drills, he also spends time working with defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who is helping him with his pass-rushing moves.
“I’ve just got to continue to work at that and hopefully I can make an impact when I’m asked to rush the passer,” said Barr, who is trying to get used to rushing from a three-point or four-point stance.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings still have to develop him "a little bit more" as a rusher.
"In college, you can run around guys," Zimmer said. "You can't do that here in this league."
Still, they expect immediate contributions from Barr, who should start right away. They have been impressed with him from a mental standpoint, saying he has been a sponge, soaking up Xs and Os.
“He’s really one of those guys that want to learn,” Robison said. “With rookies, you sometimes have to pull them along, but he’s doing a great job of getting into our defense, getting into our book, learning our schemes and things like that. We look forward to him having a huge year for us.”
Earlier this week, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that he and the coaching staff would huddle on Tuesday and come up with a plan to redistribute reps to the players. That plan apparently included giving Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr work with the starters.
Midway through practice, during an 11-on-11 drill, Bridgewater stepped into the huddle with the first-team offense and took five or six snaps. It was not his sharpest practice, though. He missed on a few throws, leading Zimmer to remark after practice that Bridgewater wasn’t as accurate as usual. Soon, Cassel was back on the field, but the crowd buzzed for a while after Bridgewater’s cameo.
Barr, meanwhile, spent most of the practice with the first team. He flashed a couple of times off the edge and on one play hurried Bridgewater. But Zimmer didn’t exactly give him a glowing review.
“The only time I noticed him, he was late on a blitz,” he said. “And I talked to him about it.”
SETTING THE SCENE: After a day off, the Vikings were back in pads. I’ve got to say, today was the nicest day so far. It was partially cloudy and pleasant, with temperatures in the 70s.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK BLURB: This was the dullest day for the quarterbacks since training camp began. Well, except for Christian Ponder, who threw an accurate five-yard dump-off to a running back on his only pass of the day in team drills. I was a little scatterbrained today so these numbers are unofficial, but I had Cassel at 7-for-11 during team drills and Bridgewater at 8-for-13. The quarterbacks particularly struggled in the blitz period.
SPEAKING OF THE BLITZ PERIOD: We got a brief look at some of the mayhem Zimmer intends to bring in obvious passing situations. Zimmer tinkered with three-man and four-man defensive lines in his sub packages. On one play, it was Barr and Brian Robison rushing from the edges. On another, it was Robison and Everson Griffen. We also saw Sharrif Floyd on the inside. Zimmer has weapons to work with. The defense certainly won the blitz period today, either forcing errant passes or check-downs to a running back or tight end short of the sticks.
BACK IN A FLASH: Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson practiced fully for the first time this summer and looked unhindered by the foot injury that sidelined him for the first few practices. It didn’t take long for him make his presence known. At the start of the team takeoff drill, a quick team activity before individual work, Patterson caught a pass from Cassel and turned upfield. That got him a nice ovation from the fans, who were happy to see him back.
PINNING THEM DEEP: With only three touchbacks in his rookie season, Jeff Locke didn’t misfire often when trying to pin opponents deep. Today, he fared well while booming punts from near midfield, dropping many inside the 10-yard line and a couple of them inside the 2-yard line, though confusion between Derek Cox and Jabari Price resulted in one that should have been downed bouncing into the end zone. That couldn’t have made Mike Priefer happy.
KID’S GOT QUICKS: It seems like every day rookie running back Jerick McKinnon grabs your attention with his athleticism. Today, that moment occurred when he caught a quick swing pass from Bridgewater as he sprinted to the right. Rookie corner Kendall James took a bad angle in pursuit, and McKinnon planted his right cleat into the ground and shot up the field into the secondary.
SUBBING IN AT SAFETY: Robert Blanton did not practice, giving Zimmer a chance to try other safeties such as Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Kurt Coleman with the first-team defense. Coleman made a couple of nice plays, including one where he raced to the sideline to jar the ball loose from the grasp of tight end Kyle Rudolph. This competition is wide open.
INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) returned to practice after being activated from the PUP list this morning, but he did not do much. Blanton and cornerback Josh Robinson also have hamstring injuries, Zimmer said. Rookie tight end AC Leonard left practice with a headache. For more on those injuries and other nuggets, read this post-practice blog.
It was an offseason of change for the Vikings, from the coaching staff to the stadium in which they will play their home games in 2014. Of all the things that will be different this season, the defensive line is up there. The Vikings overhauled that group this spring, letting two fan favorites go in free agency, signing an emerging nose tackle and putting their faith in two young players.
After looking at the big guys on the other side of the line, let’s break down the D-line today.
WHERE THINGS STAND: Outside of Brian Robison, the defensive line looked, well, different this spring without a pair of longtime defensive cornerstones in Kevin Williams and Jared Allen. The Vikings allowed those two to leave in free agency, instead hitching their wagon to talented but unproven youngsters in Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen. Still, new head coach Mike Zimmer, who relied on a deep defensive line rotation in Cincinnati, said last month that he thinks the Vikings will have enough talent and depth along the defensive line. He couldn’t say definitively, though, because a few key contributors were either sidelined by injuries or ineligible to practice due to NFL rules. Griffen and free-agent signee Linval Joseph, a big nose tackle, were limited this spring, as was versatile backup defensive end Corey Wootton. And fellow end Scott Crichton was stuck at Oregon State until the mandatory minicamp. The return of those four to active duty will boost the defensive line in training camp, giving Zimmer’s coaching staff a lot to evaluate.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: The Vikings have four defensive ends who can probably be penciled onto the 53-man roster in Robison, Griffen, Crichton and Wootton. And Joseph and Floyd, one of their 2013 first-rounders, are expected to be the starting defensive tackles. But the battle to back those two up should be interesting. Veterans Fred Evans and Tom Johnson will compete with younger players in Kheeston Randall, Chase Baker and Shamar Stephen, a 2014 seventh-rounder.
THE BURNING QUESTION: Can Floyd and Griffen live up to lofty expectations? Floyd had his moments in a rookie season that included 2.5 sacks, but he has yet to distinguish himself as a starter in the league and the coaching staff has said he too often is thinking instead of reacting on the practice field. Griffen had 17.5 sacks in four seasons as a part-time player, and after the team opted to pay big money to him instead of Allen, the pressure is on the 26-year-old to produce.
Unable to build an ark big enough to contain a football field, the Vikings stayed indoors today for the last day of the team’s mandatory minicamp and the final practice of Mike Zimmer’s first offseason workout program. The indoor facility isn’t ideal for a roster of 90 players, but Zimmer and his coaching staff used the time to focus on individual technique and drill the group in situational drills.
At one point when the players were broken up by positions, Zimmer stood in the middle of a triangle of defensive position groups. He watched the linebackers and barked out something at middle linebacker Michael Mauti. Then he walked over to the defensive linemen and gave a quick pointer to defensive end Brian Robison. He turned his attention to the defensive backs, and passed along a coaching point to one of his assistants to relay to the players. It’s clear that Zimmer loves the teaching aspect of the game, and it has been fun watching him educate his players.
The final drill of the day was the two-minute offense -- in which they needed seven points, not a field goal -- and two of the three quarterbacks were able to lead their respective offenses to touchdowns.
Veteran Matt Cassel went first, but despite completing seven of his 10 attempts and converting on a 4th-and-4 play early in the drive, he was unable to get the starters into the end zone.
Teddy Bridgewater was with the second-stringers and he completed eight of his nine attempts (not including spikes to stop the clock). The lone incompletion was a drop by rookie running back Dominique Williams. With the defense backing off to avoid giving up the big play, Bridgewater gradually moved the offense across midfield with short passes, including a fourth-down completion to wide receiver Adam Thielen. With nine seconds on the clock and the ball near the 30-yard line, Bridgewater had one final shot at the end zone, and he arched a beautiful ball to rookie wide receiver Kain Colter, who made a nice catch in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
Christian Ponder was the last to go. He was sharp, too, completing seven of his eight attempts, including a short pass to wide receiver Kamar Jorden in the end zone with plenty of time to spare.
After practice, Zimmer called his players to midfield. They were joined by more than a dozen former Vikings players, including Mick Tingelhoff and Rich Gannon. After Zimmer finally broke the huddle ending the camp, the current Vikings players gave the old guys a round of applause.
Zimmer then began his press conference, and he told us that he thought he might actually miss all of his players over the next five weeks -- not that he actually shared that sentiment with them.
Zimmer talked about how he was awed with running back Adrian Peterson’s cutting ability and had some praise for Robison. But the highlight was that he said he has a date in mind by which he would like to name a starting quarterback. Sorry, guys, but he wasn’t sharing that with us today.
I’d say he was saving it for a rainy day, but, well, my shoes are still soaked from this morning.
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