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 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.
Remember two summers ago when we all were wondering who the Vikings third cornerback would be?
Would it be Zack Bowman, a free-agent acquisition the team apparently liked? Or possibly Chris Carr, another free-agent picked they apparently liked? Story after story was filed on Bowman, Carr and the cornerback battle.
Bowman and Carr had to be in the mix, right? After all, they were on the roster that we were all looking at every day for what seems like an eternity down in Mankato.
Well, the final cuts were made and neither Bowman, nor Carr survived. The Vikings ended up making a trade after the final cuts to get A.J. Jefferson from Arizona. Jefferson ended up playing a significant role that season, starting seven of 15 games as one of the top three or four corners.
This comes to mind as safety Andrew Sendejo’s return from the physically-unable-to-perform list became a big deal today. With all due respect to Sendejo, a gutsy NFL special teams survivor, the fact that his return is a big deal speaks to just how unstable the safety spot next to Harrison Smith really is.
It also suggests the Vikings might be looking at a lot more than the eight safeties on their current roster. I asked Zimmer how much time he and General Manager Rick Spielman will be spending daily on evaluating other teams’ safeties and other players now that the preseason games have started.
“We’ve got scouts assigned to all of those games,” Zimmer said. “They’ll watch them and come up with a list of guys, potential cuts, trades and whatever else that may be made. Then we’ll sit down and discuss them.”
Back and ankle injuries have prevented Sendejo from doing anything for which Zimmer can evaluate him. And Zimmer was hired seven months ago.
Yet Zimmer said it’s not too late for Sendejo to compete for that starting position. Zimmer did, however, hint that it is getting very close to being too late.
“We’re going to watch him [today] as he goes and be careful with him,” Zimmer said. “But I need to see him. Yeah, I need to see him.”
The plan for this afternoon’s practice is for Sendejo to participate in team drills only if he looks comfortable in individual drills first.
Yes, Sendejo turned some heads last year when he went from under-the-radar special teamer to a hard-hitting replacement who started 10 games when Smith was hurt. But let’s also not forget that those 10 starts – Sendejo’s only 10 starts – came for a defense that ranked last in the league in points allowed and in the bottom three of virtually every pass defense statistic there is.
With Sendejo out, an even less established youngster stepped up momentarily in the form of Robert Blanton. Blanton has fallen back because of a hamstring injury that lingers and, according to Zimmer, should keep him out of Friday night’s preseason opener.
In Blanton’s absence, Zimmer has been auditioning Kurt Coleman, Mistral Raymond, rookie Antone Exum and an ultimate overachiever/survivor in Jamarca Sanford.
Considering the current state of the position, the money here is on Sanford pulling yet another come-from-behind victory. Then again, the pool of candidates might not be limited to what we’re looking at in Mankato.
Asked today if he has a sense of urgency today, Sendejo shrugged and said, “I always have a sense of urgency."
In other news,
Every Monday during the offseason we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.
The Vikings are expected to keep three quarterbacks. It would be very surpising if they cut Christian Ponder, has seen a slight increase in reps recently. He’s still locked in as the third string quarterback with the race for the starting position is between Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater. Both should be active for every game barring injuries and Ponder inactive. It’s smart for the Vikings to hold on to their 2011 first round pick in case Cassel or Bridgewater suffer an injury. Even if they don’t, there will be injuries that occur at the position for one the 31 other teams. Ponder is a valuable backup quarterback, in my opinion, and will be a trade asset once teams deal with injuries at quarterback.
And this is your weekly reminder that Blaine Gabbert was traded from the Jaguars to the 49ers for a sixth round pick and possible conditional 2015 pick.
Like a Fabolous mixtape, there is no competition. Head coach Mike Zimmer practically hinted that Charlie Johnson will be the starting left guard. It’s mentioned in Monday’s paper about how David Yankey needs to improve on technique. He’s not quite there yet, but it’s impressive to see how he moves as a pull guard. Yankey is a pretty athletic for a 6-6, 315-pound offensive lineman. It will be interesting to see when Yankey receives reps during the regular season and if he’ll get a chance to start later in the year. Johnson was rated as the 52nd best guard among 80 guards according to Pro Football Focus. The Vikings could use an upgrade at the position, but Johnson and the rest of the offensive line has worked together for the past three years. Look for those same five guys in St. Louis on Week 1.
Outside of those two interceptions on Bridgewater, I haven’t really noticed Cox much. The Vikings are still shuffling around at cornerback due to injuries. Josh Robinson has been sidelined with a hamstring issue, which has allowed for more reps for Cox, Jabari Price and Marcus Sherels, who had a good practice on Saturday night. I still think Robinson will be the third cornerback, but we’ll have a better idea of where things stand after Friday’s preseason game against the Raiders.
The defense is under more pressure because of how bad it was last season and general manager Rick Spielman’s decision to hire a defensive-minded head coach. The Vikings revamped their defensive line, signing defensive end Everson Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph and drafting linebacker Anthony Barr. They didn’t get a chance to make a significant upgrade in the secondary, which ranked 31st in the NFL last season. Zimmer has called himself a “fixer” on multiple occasions since his introductory press conference. The pressure is on to back that.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer will get his first opportunity to see Andrew Sendejo practice on Monday. The safety was activated off the physically unable to perform list after dealing with a back problem stretching back to start of the offseason.
He has not been a full participant in any of the offseason workouts, including training camp, up to this point. Sendejo will be behind on some of the technique with a new coaching staff with a starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith up for grabs. He'll compete with Robert Blanton, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman.
Sendejo started 10 games last season, totaling a career-high 84 tackles and one interception.
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