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.
Mike Zimmer has promised that the Vikings would be fast and physical, but they eased into training camp this afternoon. There will be no live contact in the first couple of days of camp, so Zimmer said earlier that those practices will have more of an OTA feel. He ended up being right.
Practice started with position drills followed by some 1-on-1 work. After that, Zimmer sprinkled in some 11-on-11 team drills and a brief blitz period. There was also a lot of special teams work.
Usually at the start of training camp, the defense gets the better of the offense as the offense finds its rhythm. Today, the defense had its moments, contesting passes as Zimmer has said he hoped to see, so they’d probably get the slight edge, partially due to several errant passes from the offense.
SETTING THE SCENE: Practice was outdoors. The practice lasted around two hours. Players were in helmets and shells. The weather here was overcast and the temperature was reasonable.
BATTLE OF THE ‘BACKERS: Top pick Anthony Barr, who missed most of the spring due to an NFL rule that kept him at UCLA, started his first NFL training camp with the second-team defense. Running with the first team were Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. It will probably only be a matter of time until Barr is with the starters, but Zimmer is going to make him earn it.
SIMPSON SIZZLES: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson had a pretty solid first day, despite one bobbled pass that nearly led to an interception in team drills. In individual drills -- yes, I know, they are just 1-on-1s -- Simpson once ran a crisp deep out route, slamming on the brakes to leave his defender in the dust before making a nice, lunging grab near the sideline. On another play, he got behind the defense but Teddy Bridgewater barely overshot him. Simpson brings that vertical dimension to Norv Turner’s vertical offense, and could thrive if he can become more consistent.
LET’S TALK QUARTERBACKS: OK, maybe I should have gotten to the quarterbacks sooner, but there wasn’t a whole lot to report from this afternoon. Matt Cassel, who was throwing to the starters, completed six of his 10 attempts in team drills, though a couple of those incompletions were the result of blatant drops. Bridgewater, who was with the second-stringers, was 5-for-8. Christian Ponder was just 1-for-2, and he threw a few errant passes during individual drills.
CORDARRELLE A NO-GO: Second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson wore a bucket hat instead of a helmet today. Patterson was held out of practice after injuring his foot. The team says that he is day-to-day and no, Patterson wasn’t the guy who failed the conditioning test yesterday.
SAFETY DANCE: Robert Blanton continued to line up next to Harrison Smith with the starting defense, but I can report that 2012 and 2013 starter Jamarca Sanford has returned from injury.
DROPPING THE BALL: When it was time to practice punts, only Jarius Wright and Kain Colter went back to catch them, and Wright struggled at doing so. He let one Jeff Locke punt toward the left sideline drop in front of him and muffed another punt, which was recovered by the coverage team.
NOT CATCHING ON: The Vikings have said they hope to get Adrian Peterson more involved in the passing game, but this afternoon his terrifyingly-strong hands failed him on a few occasions.
INJURY REPORT: Beyond Patterson and the PUP guys -- CB Captain Munnerlyn (strained hammy), S Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle) and TE Chase Ford (foot) -- everyone else practiced.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
Pushing carts stocked with flat-screen TVs and video-game systems -- in Everson Griffen’s case, an old Nintendo 64 -- and pulling wheeled suitcases into the dorms, Vikings players on Thursday reported to the quiet campus of Minnesota State Mankato for the start of training camp.
After dropping off their stuff in their rooms, they took their physicals and had to run the team’s conditioning test, something Adrian Peterson said previous coaching staffs never asked players to do. But the Vikings didn’t put on helmets or pick up any footballs. That all comes today.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Wanting to focus on football today, the Vikings made Mike Priefer available yesterday.
--- Chase Ford is expected to miss all of camp, but Matt Kalil and Linval Joseph are good to go.
--- Adrian Peterson wants to know who is going to start at quarterback soon, too.
--- This is more than a day old, but oh well, here is my pre-camp Q&A with Mike Zimmer.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Packers WR Jordy Nelson wants to get paid.
--- The Lions put WR Golden Tate and DE Ziggy Ansah on the PUP list at the start of camp.
--- The Bears are learning to deal with high expectations.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Camp Zimmer officially kicks off at Minnesota State Mankato with a morning walkthrough that starts at 10:30 a.m. The first full practice runs from 3 p.m. to approximately 5:10 p.m. and players will be in helmets and shells. The first full-padded practice isn’t until Sunday afternoon.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Ten different quarterbacks have started a game for the Vikings since Peterson entered the league in 2007. No wonder the guy is hoping for a little stability at the position this season.
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.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said all the right things last week when he was asked if he would be content with holding a clipboard at the start of the NFL career.
Of course, he isn’t the only first-round quarterback who is carefully choosing his words when it comes to questions about his immediate future in the NFL. Coaches and executives in both Jacksonville and Cleveland, like those here in Minnesota, are preaching patience with their young passers, and Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel have said similar things as Bridgewater.
The reality is, though, that these guys are competitors who want to play.
Another reality is that all three of them probably will sooner than later.
As I wrote after Bridgewater was selected 32nd overall last month, all nine of the quarterbacks selected in the first round from 2011 to 2013 made at least five starts as rookies, including Christian Ponder, who is jockeying with Bridgewater and Matt Cassel on the Vikings’ depth chart today. Six of those first-round quarterback started for their respective teams in Week 1.
And according to ESPN Stats and Info, 69 percent of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2008 started in Week 1 and those quarterbacks, including the ones who didn’t play in Week 1, started an average of 12.3 games as rookies. Contrast that with the numbers from 1970 to 2007, when just 20 percent of the first-round QBs started right away and made an average of 5.4 starts.
One more interesting factoid from the folks over at ESPN Stats and Info: Forty-nine percent of the first-round quarterbacks since the 1970 merger started within their team's first five games.
Will Bridgewater follow suit and take over the huddle before Week 6?
The schedule appears to have some major challenges for the Vikings in the first five weeks of the season. They open the season on the road against an emerging Rams team then are tasked with defeating the respective squads of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in the following four weeks. If the Vikings -- specifically Cassel -- were to stumble and face-plant over that stretch, the team could potentially turn to Bridgewater, if they hadn’t done so already.
Of course, it’s still too early to predict how things will play out. But it’s hard to ignore recent NFL history -- and these numbers -- when it comes to first-round quarterbacks like Bridgewater.
One area where the Vikings need to get much better, on both sides of the ball, is on third down.
Of course, it is easy to look at where the Vikings ranked defensively and point to that as the bigger issue, but the offense’s inability to convert on third down was also very costly a season ago.
You can probably spread the blame throughout the offense from the pass protectors to the guys running the routes. But in the end, there is a reason why the quarterbacks make the big bucks. And on third down last season, the Vikings quarterbacks ranked among the NFL’s least efficient.
According to Pro Football Focus, only former Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, now with the Seahawks, fared worse than Matt Cassel on third down. Christian Ponder was not much better.
On the 80 dropbacks that PFF charted, Cassel completed just 37 of his 70 attempts for 536 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. His accuracy percentage -- completion percentage taking drops into consideration -- on third down was near the bottom of the league at just 62.9 percent, lower than quarterbacks such as Josh Freeman, Thaddeus Lewis and Brandon Weeden.
Interestingly, it was the shorter conversions that gave Cassel the most trouble. He ranked near the bottom of the league on both 3rd-and-medium and 3rd-and-short. When it came to the latter, Cassel completed just one of his 10 attempts with a NFL passer rating of zero point zero.
As for Ponder, he completed 41 of his 66 third-down attempts for 443 yards and his accuracy percentage was a little higher than Cassel's at 66.7 percent. He threw three interceptions on the down, though, with no touchdowns. Ponder also took 12 sacks, a lot on only 92 dropbacks.
The Vikings converted 36.4 percent their third downs, last in the NFC North and 19th in the NFL.
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