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.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Who is George Edwards and what exactly does he do around here?
--- S Jamarca Sanford is used to having to battle for a starting position.
--- Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater finished last night’s practice strong.
--- GM Rick Spielman is quizzing coach Mike Zimmer on in-game decisions.
--- OLB Anthony Barr is working to become a better pass rusher.
--- C John Sullivan is hoping for improved health and improved play in 2014.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Packers rookie WR Jared Abbrederis tore his ACL in camp.
--- Lions rookie TE Eric Ebron is starting to show improvement.
--- Two Bears rookie defensive tackles are getting rave reviews.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After last night’s night practice, Zimmer is giving players the day off. They’ll be back tomorrow.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Few, if any, NFL teams used running back screens less often than the Vikings did a season ago. Less than 1.8 percent of Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder’s attempts were running back screens, according to Pro Football Focus. Those percentages should be on the rise with Norv Turner calling the plays. We have already seen Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon get involved in the screen game in camp practices, and both looked dangerous in the open field, particularly Peterson.
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.
Mike Zimmer tried to curb his enthusiasm this morning, having just seen Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph in a walkthrough setting only. But Zimmer couldn’t help but gush about the big guy.
“He came in in tremendous-looking physical shape,” the Vikings head coach said. “He weighed 317, benches 500 pounds. And watching him out there in the walkthrough -- which doesn’t mean anything -- he looked like how a nose tackle is supposed to look. … I have high, high expectations of him, but they’re reserved a little bit because I’ve [only] seen him do a walkthrough.”
For the first time since joining the Vikings as a free agent in March, Joseph was on the practice field without restrictions. He had offseason surgery on his right shoulder after his 2013 season with the Giants ended and was only able to participate on a limited basis during spring workouts.
But now that doctors have cleared him for the team’s first camp practice here at Minnesota State Mankato this afternoon, Joseph is fired up -- in a subdued manner -- and ready to roll.
“I feel good coming in,” the 25-year-old said. “I battled back from my injury and I’m just ready to go and help this team win games and take us to the promised land.”
Joseph admitted it was frustrating this spring standing off to the side while watching his new teammates practice. He tried to make the most of it by taking mental reps to learn the plays, but there is no substitute for lining up against center John Sullivan and learning the playbook while butting helmets. He will get to do that today and start to acclimate himself in Zimmer’s defense.
“I’m going to do whatever they want me to do,” Joseph said. “My job right now is to stop the run and make plays and try to get sacks -- do it all.”
Zimmer said the nose tackle position is critical in his defense, which explains why he was about as giddy as Mike Zimmer can probably get during a long news conference after a walkthrough.
In Cincinnati, Zimmer had unheralded nose tackle Domata Peko to eat up double teams and allow linebackers like Vontaze Burfict to roam and make plays. The Vikings paid Joseph big bucks this spring so that he can be that guy for Zimmer here in Minnesota.
“That helps the middle linebackers not get blocked very much,” Zimmer said. “So they do a lot of dirty work that a lot of people don’t see, but it helps to give the linebackers an opportunity to stay healthy and make tackles.”
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.
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