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 NFC

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: August 3

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: August 3, 2014 - 7:48 AM

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.

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: August 2

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: August 2, 2014 - 7:21 AM

Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

--- The Vikings are pleased with what they have seen from top pick Anthony Barr.

--- The Vikings had a sloppy practice yesterday.

--- Why the heck are the Vikings blaring that bullhorn at practice?

--- The mystery at middle linebacker continues for the Vikings.

--- K Blair Walsh thinks a 33-yard kick is a reasonable distance for the extra point.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

AROUND THE NFC NORTH

--- A look at why Lions WR Calvin Johnson is such a nightmare to cover.

--- The Packers haven’t gotten much production from recent first-round picks.

--- The Bears are looking for DE Willie Young to refine his finishing touch.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

After their 10:30 a.m. morning walkthrough, the Vikings will hold their second night practice of Camp Zimmer at 7:30 p.m. It is not a scrimmage, but there should be live tackling in some drills.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Head coach Mike Zimmer has said on several occasions that tackling ability will be a major determining factor in the battle at safety. And understandably so, because the Vikings had no safeties who ranked in the top 40 in the league in Pro Football Focus' tackling efficiency rating in 2013. Harrison Smith was the team’s most reliable tackler, missing one tackle for every 9.1 attempts and eight total tackles overall. Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo fared a little worse.

What you missed at Vikings training camp: Aug. 1

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: August 1, 2014 - 6:29 PM

Coach Mike Zimmer was asked how he's doing as he came off the practice field this afternoon.

"Not as good as yesterday," he said.

Asked for an instant evaluation of the practice, which was held in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, he said, "Sloppy."

"I didn't think we were as precise as we have been probably on both sides of the ball," Zimmer said. "Effort was good, but we've got a lot of things in, so some of the stuff runs together for them. We're making way too many mistakes for my liking. So we got to keep working it, getting this stuff right."

There's never been a training camp that didn't experience lulls like the Vikings had today. Zimmer said he went into the practice thinking this could be one of those sloppy afternoons.

"Honestly, the team is working hard," he said. "They busted their rear end yesterday. It was a very physical, fast-paced day on both sides of the ball. I kind of anticipated that it would be a little bit not as good today. That's why I brought them up early and told them, `Hey, we got to suck it up and we got to go.' That's kind of the way it goes."

SETTING THE SCENE: It was perfect weather and some imperfect performances on and off the field. Zimmer touched on how the team was just a little bit off. But he didn't know until after practice just how off one of his camera operators was while attempting to drive his lift machine from one field to another during practice. The big machine, which allows the camera operators to film practice from high above, became entangled and stuck on the chain-link fence that runs behind the fields. Fans in the nearby stands cheered when the machine was sfreed from the fence. But it wasn't able to be be moved into its normal position. As for the fence, it was destroyed. "I did not see that," Zimmer said as he turned to look. "Nice job. Whoa, look at that fence."

YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: Matt Cassel went 13 of 18 with an interception during the 11-on-11 competition. Teddy Bridgewater, who continues to get sprinkled into some first-team reps, went 14 of 20. And Christian Ponder, who remains a distant No. 3, completed 5 of 7 with the third unit. Zimmer went back to the word "sloppy" to describe today's QB play.

"We gave them a lot of different looks on defense today, too," he said. "That's part of the evaluation is it's not to line up there in the same look every time and they know where they're going before the ball is snapped. It's good for a young quarterback to see some of the things that we do on defense because that's what people are going to do to him early in the year anyway if he's the guy. So for me, if I'm the defensive coordinator, I'm going to give the guy a bunch of different looks."

SOME REST FOR GREENWAY: A day after 29-year-old Adrian Peterson got the day off from heavy lifting, 31-year-old linebacker Chad Greenway was rested today. "Just trying to take care of the older guys a bit," Zimmer said. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Brandon Watts got a significant amount of reps at Greenway's weak-side spot with the first unit. Watts is raw and a bit undersized at 6-2, 231, but the kid can run.  He also got overpowered once when he was driven to the ground by tight end Rhett Ellison.

COX GETTING COMFORTABLE AT CORNER: Bridgewater's interception came on an out route when receiver Adam Thielen slipped and fell. Backup cornerback Derek Cox was right there to make the interception right behind the fallen Thielen. Cox came in as one of the top competitors for the third cornerback job. If he's making progress toward that goal, it hasn't shown in practice. "I think he's getting more comfortable with the techniques," Zimmer said. "He's a smart guy, so he understands a lot of things. The smarter guys generally play a little bit better early."

CAN YANKEE PULL AN UPSET?: David Yankee doesn't look like your typical rookie offensive lineman. He looks more developed physically, especially when you consider he's a fifth-round draft pick. It doesn't appear that he'll unseat left guard Charlie Johnson in camp, but he seems to be progressing toward being able to step in should Johnson struggle. Yankee looks well balanced with a low center of gravity. He's also clearly an advanced technician when it comes to pulling. "The first thing you have to do is clear the line and then when he gets there, the linebackers are moving, so you have to be able to adjust on your feet to get to that guy," Zimmer said. "It's coming around and then being able to find the moving linebacker and be able to kick him out or turn him back in. He did it about a million times in college, so that helped him. He's done it so much that he's good at it."

COLEMAN WITH A NICE PICK: Cassel was working briefly with the second-team offense when a ball intended for running back Jerick McKinnon was intercepted by safety Kurt Coleman, who made a diving catch. I'm a little surprised Coleman isn't more in the mix for the opening next to Harrison Smith. But that spot is far from being determined.

HORN REMINDS PLAYERS TO PLAY TO THE WHISTLE:  The Vikings started using this obnoxious-sounding horn in practice today. Its purpose is to remind players not to quit on a play before the whistle. It's something Zimmer used when he first got to Cincinnati as defensive coordinator. Today, the horn was blown at five seconds after the snap.

"I'm trying to remind them that we have to keep playing," Zimmer said. "We have one of the best running backs in the league and if we will sustain our blocks or we will swarm on defense that we will [be more successful]. I'm just trying to remind them that we have to go hard until at least this long each and every play. Some of the pass plays take a little longer. I'm trying to get them to understand that you do your job. If you're standing over here and the ball is over there, we got to get our butt over there to help. Same thing with the offense. We can't block this guy and then stop. Let's keep blocking and stay on him. Basically, we want them to finish."

INJURY UPDATE: Safety Robert Blanton [hamstring], safety Andrew Sendejo (back) and tight end Chase Ford (foot surgery) sat out again today. Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) sat out a day after he had returned. Meanwhile, rookie free agent tight end AC Leonard missed another practice after leaving the field earlier this week because of a headache. "He's getting some tests done," Zimmer said. Asked if it was for a concussion, Zimmer said, "Honestly, I don't know. He had a headache and [the team doctors] don't think it was a concussion. So I don't really know."

Maybe it's time we're asked, 'What about Anthony?'

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: August 1, 2014 - 10:33 AM

“How’s Teddy look?” might be the most popular question asked of reporters shadowing the Vikings through this year’s Vikings mini-camp.

“Hey, what about Anthony?” might be an appropriate response.

Maybe I’m wrong, or reading too much into this for the sake of feeding the NFL beast with another blog post. But I can’t remember a time when the buzz around a rookie selected ninth overall – linebacker Anthony Barr -- at a position of tremendous need has been this relatively quiet.

Apparently, that happens when the team trades back into the first round to select a quarterback – Teddy Bridgewater – at a position of even greater long-term need, quarterback.

The talk after next week’s preseason opener will no doubt be heavy on Teddy. But, to me, the linebacker situation will deserve equally close attention because, like the quarterback position, things are very much unsettled and we’re a month away from the regular season.

Barr moved onto the first team at strong side linebacker on Wednesday. Expect him to stay there because it appears he’ll be able to compensate fairly well physically with speed, size and strength when he makes the inevitable mental mistakes that rookies tend to make.

Early on, look for the Vikings to take particular advantage of his edge-rushing abilities. But don’t rule out the team using him to cover those pesky tight ends that run well. Although Chad Greenway is the middle backer in the nickel defense, Barr currently is the No. 1 middle backer when the Vikings go with only one linebacker in the dime defense.

“His coverage is great,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He moves well. He’s got a good idea. Somebody was telling me that he takes copious notes in the meetings. He’s got pages and pages of them as we talk so he’s very, very into trying to learn what we’re trying to do and teach.

“He’s got a lot of raw, athletic ability that helps in the coverage aspect of things. There’s times when he may pull off of somebody a little bit too soon that he’s got to do better at. But for the most part, I’ve been very pleased with [his coverage].”

Zimmer said the coverage savvy will come in time. Right now, the team is still installing different coverages each day.

“We still have to keep fine tuning these techniques, because everything is new for really everybody on the football team, other than the special teams,” Zimmer said. “Each day, you can see them getting a little bit better and understanding the technique a little bit more, and the problem you run into a little bit during training camp is like we are installing another coverage [on Thursday].

“So now they have to learn that coverage, and then they have to remember what the other coverages were, and all of the different techniques out of that. The same thing offensively, a different shift or different motion, different plays. The more you put in, the more it runs together a little bit sometimes, we will start backing it down and they will get a little bit more fine tuning from there.” 

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: July 30

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated: July 30, 2014 - 7:40 AM

Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.

Remember when the Vikings arrived in the Twin Cities a few months ago for the start of the offseason working program and Greg Jennings said Norv Turner’s offense was making his head spin? He gave the juicy sound bite, but he wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed by the new offense. After all, the philosophy, the scheme and even the terminology are completely different.

Fast forward to today, the last day in July. The Vikings are now on their fourth time through the installation of Turner’s offense, according to first-string quarterback Matt Cassel, and the offensive players -- and most importantly the quarterbacks -- have gradually gotten it down.

“Each and every day we're working hard to continue learning the nuances of the offense, some checks, and also trying to see it through Coach Turner's eyes,” Cassel said Sunday night.

Cassel and fellow veteran Christian Ponder got an early advantage over first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, who didn’t join the team until May. Those guys were in the building and in the offense a month earlier. But Bridgewater has proved to be quick learner, putting him in this battle with Cassel.

“It’s a huge difference compared to where things were before,” Bridgewater said. “For me, I'm a step ahead from when I first started learning the playbook.”

Some heads are surely still spinning. But it has looked like these two QBs have theirs on straight.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

--- My colleague Mark Craig hung out with Norv and watched tape of Teddy.

--- CB Xavier Rhodes is still learning to trust his instincts at the pro level.

--- Bracing for a potential Chris Kluwe lawsuit, the Vikings hired two high-powered attorneys.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

AROUND THE NFC NORTH

--- Bears QB Jay Cutler is not resting on his success from last season.

--- Lions QB Matthew Stafford feels rejuvenated working with Jim Caldwell.

--- The Packers are cashing in at Lambeau Field.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

After a day off, the Vikings are back on the field in Mankato today. Their morning walkthrough got pushed back to 11:20 a.m., and it is now special teams only. They practice in pads at 3 p.m.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

The Vikings allowed 37 passing touchdowns last season, tied for second-most in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference. You would think with the explosion of NFL passing attacks that the dubious record would be held by a recent team, but it was actually the 1969 St. Louis Rams who allowed 38 passing touchdowns -- and that was in 14 games. The 1981 Baltimore Colts and 1961 Washington Redskins also allowed 37 in one season. Obviously, the Vikings need to be better in 2014, but the good news is Mike Zimmer's Bengals ranked 11th in 2013 with 22 allowed.

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