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.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier declined to name a starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Dallas today. He said he had "an idea" about who was starting, and that the players know, but he probably won't announce the choice until Friday.
Master Tesfatsion reporting here from Winter Park for the rest of the Star Tribune crew.
“I got some things I want to go through, but I have an idea of what direction we’re going to go and how we’re going to practice,” Frazier said. “But not in the frame of mind where I want to acknowledge that at this point. Our team knows, and I’m sure it’ll get out there at some point. I don’t want to publicly talk about who is going to be our starter.”
Josh Freeman missed the Green Bay loss because of concussion symptoms, was eventually cleared to play, but was inactive for the game. Christian Ponder played in the 44-31 loss, backed up by Matt Cassel. From the looks of practice on Wednesday, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ponder start.
As Freeman went through the NFL protocol for concussion symptoms, he wasn’t allowed to participate in meetings last week. It limited his ability to study the playbook, which he’s only seen for a few weeks since he signed with the Vikings on Oct. 6.
“When you come in as late as he did and then have to miss the amount of time he had to miss last week as you’re trying to develop him and help him learn our offense, it definitely sets him back,” Frazier said. “There’s nothing we can do about that but work as hard as we can this week to get him back to speed and see where he is from a physical and mental standpoint.”
Running back Matt Asiata, whose father was killed in a bus-truck collision in Utah on Monday, will not practice, Frazier said. Asiata missed Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury.
Injured defensive backs Chris Cook (hip) and Jamarca Sanford (groin) won't practice today, and neither will tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle).
Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, who set an NFL record for longest kickoff return in league history (109 yards) on Sunday night against Green Bay, has been named NFC special teams player of the week.
Patterson had 228 kick return yards in the game.
“When you watch some of his runs, he’s a big receiver but he’s more of a slight guy when you look at him frame-wise,” Frazier said. “He breaks tackles. He’s a physical runner, and his vision is unparalleled. He does a great job of being able to see things that are not visible to most.”
Frazier said Patterson joked about when he’d receive NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors this season. He hasn’t been involved with the offense as often as expected for a first round selection, but Frazier said Jerome Simpson’s productivity at the “X” position has limited Patterson’s offensive snaps. Patterson has 13 catches for 133 yards this season while Simpson has 27 receptions for 422 yards.
“You can see at times we’ve already begun to try to get both on the field at the same time, but that requires a different learning when you put them at different positions,” Frazier said. “You’ve got both guys that play the ‘X’ position at wide receiver in this offense, and Jerome has played very well for us this season and that has been a part of it.”
Josh Freeman, who had concussion-like symptoms after Monday's loss to the Giants, was cleared to practice and went through drills with the Vikings today, but Christian Ponder will be the starting quarterback on Sunday night against Green Bay.
Coach Leslie Frazier said Ponder will be backed up by Matt Cassel, and that Freeman would be inactive.
Freeman said he isn't sure which hit during Monday's game injured him, but said he felt concussion-like symptoms on Tuesday morning.
Freeman said he hadn't seen comments by TV analyst Rodney Harrison where Harrison speculated that Freeman was faking the symptoms to get out of a "bad situation in Minnesota."
Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) and receiver Rodney Smith (hip) also will be inactive.
New on the injury report is defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee), who is expected to be ready to play.
Running back Adrian Peterson (hamstring) should also be ready to go.
Frazier talked about the team's struggling running game. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson had 40 runs of 15 yards or longer last year. He has only four this season, and said after the Giants game that the team needed to be "more physical."
"We are averaging a yard less (per carry) than we did last year, but it's more than just the offensive line," Frazier said. "Tight ends are a big part of our run-blocking, as are wide receivers. It's a number of things that have hurt us. And, yes, we do need to be more physical up front."
Coach Leslie Frazier finally said what everyone has been expecting him to say since Matt Cassel led the Vikings to a turnover-free 34-27 victory over the Steelers in London back on Sept. 29:
"Matt Cassel is going to be our starting quarterback on Sunday."
There, it's official. But it wasn't an easy decision. Naming Cassel the starter ahead of a now-healthy Christian Ponder along with signing former Bucs QB Josh Freeman on Monday has serious ramifications for the future of a guy who three weeks ago was still considered the team's quarterback of the future.
"I think it's always tough when you make a change at quarterback," Frazier said. "You have to take a lot of factors into it when you’re doing that. You don’t make those decisions lightly and we didn’t. We’ll see how it plays out. But this is the start of this ballgame. We’ll see how Matt does. But we’ll see how it plays out over time.”
Ponder, who missed the Steelers game because of a fractured rib, will back Cassel up on Sunday against the Panthers at Mall of America Field. As for Freeman, Frazier said, "we have not decided at this point what we’re going to do with Josh. We don’t see him being able to play this ballgame yet, based on where we are and where he is with our offense.” In that case, Freeman would be a game-day inactive.
As for what happens next week, Frazier said that will take care of itself next week. Obviously, if the Vikings win and Cassel moves the offense with the same rhythm that he did in London, well, it will be difficult to remove him. Of course, the Vikings didn't bring Freeman in to stand on the sideline for 12 weeks either.
“I think we need to sit back on Monday after the game and evaluate things and see where we are," Frazier said. "See how it goes.”
The Vikings next game after Sunday is Oct. 21 at the Giants. Asked if Freeman would be able to play in that game, Frazier said, "Probably have to look at some things next week to make that determination. I’m not sure, even as we speak, if that would be the case. But we’ll evaluate it when we come back next week.”
Cassel said he was anticipating that would start and was preparing as if he would. But he said he didn't know for sure until this morning.
"You never know in this league," Cassel said. "I wouldn't have guessed on Monday we'd have another quarterback in the room as well. You never know what's going to happen. But at the same time it's always about getting myself prepared and being accountable to my teammates, getting ready to go."
Cassel said he's not looking beyond Sunday's game.
"It's just one more opportunity," he said. "[Against Pittsburgh], we took a great approach and the guys came out and responded well. We all responded well. We played well as a team and hopefully we can build off that. For us it's always a one-game season right now to get ourselves back in to this race."
Cassel did allow himself a second to enjoy the moment.
"It's exciting," he said. "That's why you come out here and you compete through OTAs and minicamp and all that stuff."
In other news:
LONDON -- The Vikings injury report has become lengthy. Seven players either were limited or did not participate at all on Wednesday.
As addressed earlier today, quarterback Christian Ponder was limited because of a rib injury. Also limited were Kevin Williams (knee) and running back Matt Asiata (hamstring).
Three defensive backs did not practice -- Chris Cook (groin), Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) and A.J. Jefferson (ankle). Tight end Rhett Ellison also did not participate after missing Sunday's game against Cleveland because of a knee injury.
The Vikings health issues in the secondary are a major concern because they potentially could be without two starters in Cook and Sanford. General manager Rick Spielman gave a rare in-season media session today and said his staff, including assistant GM George Paton, stayed back in the Twin Cities to monitor the waiver wire so they could be in position to handle logistics if they need to make a roster move this week.
"I've been monitoring at 2 a.m. the wires for any potential moves that can be made, the logistics of making those moves, how you get that guy over to England, does he have a passport if we have to bring a player over here," Spielman said. "That's been kind of interesting. I didn't get to sleep until 2:30 this morning and had to get woken up. I called my people over there and it's 3 in the morning over there and they're asking what you're doing.
"We've got until 9 o'clock tonight to make a move but we have to do it on your (Minn) time. It's worked out great so far and we'll see anything from a personnel standpoint, if we have to do anything, that we'll be able to get that accomplished."
The injuries in the secondary create speculation about whether the team has contacted Antoine Winfield to see if he will put off retirement for now. Spielman declined to discuss their potential interest in Winfield.
"I won't get into any facts on who we talked to or what we're doing," he said. "We always look at options when there are injuries. We'll continue to that."
Asked if Winfield has been ruled in or out of consideration, Spielman said, "I can't rule anything. You never know."
Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams missed today's practice to tend to a personal matter, but his knee is good to go on Sunday in Chicago, coach Leslie Frazier said after practice.
"[Missing practice] has nothing to do with him physically," Frazier said. "He should be ready to go on Sunday."
Williams, who suffered a severely strained right knee in the third preseason game, missed the season opener at Detroit. The Lions won 34-24 and were able to run well between the tackles with running back Reggie Bush, who averaged 4.3 yards on 21 carries.
Williams was listed as probable. The Vikings listed six other players as probable. The only one with limited participation in today's practice was center John Sullivan (knee). Listed as probable with full participation were: LB Larry Dean (shoulder), LB Erin Henderson (heel), RT Phil Loadholt (knee), S Mistral Raymond (shoulder) and CB Josh Robinson (quadriceps).
For the Bears, CB Charles Tillman (knee) and DE Julius Peppers (illness) were listed as probable. Peppers was limited in practice. Tillman had full participation.
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