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.
Coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings will be without four defensive backs -- safeties Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and Mistral Raymond (back), and cornerbacks Marcus Sherels (ankle) and Josh Robinson (concussion) -- when they travel to Houston for Thursday night's preseason finale against the Texans.
That creates the possibility of the team having to play starting safety Harrison Smith and potential starting safety Jamarca Sanford more than they would like if there are further injuries at the position. The Vikings have four healthy safeties. Backups Robert Blanton and Eric Frampton are likely to play most if not all of Thursday's game. Blanton missed the first three preseason games because of a hamstring injury. Frampton didn't finish last Friday's preseason game because of a groin injury.
Other highlights from Frazier's press conference today:
MANKATO -- Touching Adrian Peterson will remain a big practice no-no until at least next week.
"At some point here real soon, maybe next week, we'll let him get a little contact," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after this morning's walk-through. "It depends a little bit on how he's feeling and where he is. We want to get him a few more reps today and increase that as we go along."
Peterson was in full pads for the first time on Tuesday. He got 10 snaps and two carries, but defenders were told and reminded often to keep their hands off the face of the franchise and the left knee that was surgically rebuilt just 7 1/2 months ago.
Peterson will practice again this afternoon, but will not play in Friday night's preseason game against Buffalo at Mall of America Field.
Meanwhile, Frazier said the healthy scratches from last week's opener -- Percy Harvin, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen and Antoine Winfield -- will play against the Bills.
"Our goal is to try to get [the starters] at least through the first quarter and maybe part of the second quarter as well," Frazier said. "We have a number of plays we want to get to."
Sullivan emerging as team leader: Frazier singled out center John Sullivan as a player who emerged as a team leader during the Vikings' three-week stay in Mankato. That makes sense since Sullivan went from being the team's second-youngest offensive line starter last year to its second-oldest offensive line starter this year.
"There are a couple of guys that I'm really impressed with, one being John Sullivan," Frazier said. "I really like the way he's stepped up. I don't want to put a bright light on him. He's kind of been in the shadows of some of the veteran players who lined up with him in the past. All of a sudden he finds himself in a leadership role. He's really beginning to take that, and we need that. [Right tackle] Phil Loadholt has been another guy doing the same thing. We have other guys stepping up on the other side of the ball, but John is the one who kind of sticks out to me."
Identity emerging as camp breaks: The Vikings break the Mankato portion of training camp after today's practice. Earlier today, Frazier talked about the identity he believes is emerging on the team.
"We feel like it's been a successful training camp," Frazier said. "A lot of the things we set out to do are being accomplished.
"We have some goals for what we want our offense, defense and special teams to look like. I think one of the things that came out of this training camp is we are coming together as a team. We're taking on the characteristics we like to have as a team. We want be a tough team. We want to be a smart team. We want to be a disciplined football team. We're seeing that in the way we're practicing. I saw some of it in the San Francisco game. Now, it's a matter of are we talented enough to go out and do the things we have to do on Sunday. But I think the foundation is being laid to do it the right way. The rest of it has to come over time."
Bethel-Thompson still competing for No. 3: The Vikings most likely will keep 33-year-old Sage Rosenfels as their No. 3 quarterback since they gave him a two-year, $3 million deal with some guaranteed money. He's also a favorite of General Manager Rick Spielman. But 24-year-old McLeod Bethel-Thompson is turning heads with what might be the strongest arm in camp.
Frazier was asked if Bethel-Thompson's best-case scenario is making the team's practice squad behind Christian Ponder, Joe Webb and Rosenfels.
"Right now, as we speak, he's fighting for that third spot," Frazier said. "Things could change, but he's fighting to get that third quarterback. We're not pigeonholing him and saying he has to be a practice squad candidate.
"We like having Sage. That was one of the reasons we signed him back, his veteran experience. We'll see how that all shakes out. But there is competition across the board, even at the quarterback position with the third spot."
Rookie receiver Greg Childs delivered the highlight reel play of the day in the final team session of this afternoon's Vikings practice. With the second unit offense and defense on the field, Childs’ 26-yard touchdown catch from Joe Webb came on a play during which cornerback Brandon Burton had near-perfect coverage. Yet with the receiver and cornerback face-to-face in the end zone, Childs leaped, reached both arms around Burton and managed to pin the ball on the cornerback’s back long enough to haul it in.
Said fellow receiver Jarius Wright, a friend of Childs’ since childhood: “I’ve seen that since our school days. Greg making catches like that? There’s nothing new for me to see.”
Added head coach Leslie Frazier: "That was a nice play. We saw him do that in college as well. That was a real nice play. Great concentration. That's what we need. We need a guy to make that hard catch for us even when he's covered. That's good to see."
Thursday's defensive standout may well have been cornerback Chris Cook, who's clearly established himself as the team's top cornerback. Cook had two eye-opening interceptions this afternoon. The first came in 11-on-11 work on a throw up the right sideline made by Christian Ponder and intended for Percy Harvin. Cook made an athletic grab and raced the other way.
Later, with the defensive backs matching up against receivers in drill work, Cook made up ground on rookie Jarius Wright and made another nifty pick of a Sage Rosenfels pass.
Cook has been superb in camp so far, a good sign as he comes back from the off-the-field troubles that cost him the final 10 games of 2011.
Aaaaand …. here we go! In many ways, the Vikings 2012 season officially gets underway today – first training camp walkthrough at 10:30 a.m., first practice at 2:45 in Mankato. And yes we know a lot can and will happen between now and Sept. 9, the day the Vikings open the regular season at home against Jacksonville. But taking the 90 players currently on the roster, here is our very early position-by-position breakdown to help you understand the personnel dynamics and guess which 53 players will make the team for the season opener.
Sage Rosenfels was supposed to be the Vikings’ starting quarterback once. In 2009, it was all lining up for him to get his chance. But then Brett Favre had one last itch he needed to scratch and Rosenfels’ first tour of duty in Minnesota was non-descript. Back for a second stint now, Rosenfels is competing with Joe Webb to be the Vikings’ back-up. He’s also has had a chance to watch Christian Ponder’s offseason growth. We visited briefly with Rosenfels on Wednesday after the team’s OTA practice to get his breakdown of where Ponder is now and where he may be headed in his second season.
Here’s some of what Rosenfels had to say:
On Ponder’s strides since the end of last season …
“Every day and every rep that he gets out here, he’s getting more and more comfortable. His approach is the way it should be. It’s very professional and very serious. And he’s genuinely always looking to get better. That approach will help him out. And I've see him making strides these past few weeks. It’s all about being really comfortable. And when a quarterback is playing comfortable, your mind makes quicker decisions. He’s starting to do that."
On how a quarterback gets the comfort dial turned to the right notch ...
"It just takes reps. First you have to get really comfortable in practice. And you have to have a lot of reps to do that. And then in games, you’ll be a little bit more comfortable every time. Over the course of weeks into years, you get more and more comfortable. I’m sure the veterans in the league that have more than 100 starts, they rarely think about the crowd or other things. They’re just so into the game because there’s no real concern about all the other stuff. I think some younger guys can get concerned with the things that are going on that have no impact on the success of the game."
On why Ponder’s skillset has the Viking optimistic that he’s their franchise quarterback ...
"Like what everybody says, he’s athletic. He’s got a strong arm. He’s a smart guy. He’s eager to learn. He’s motivated. So he has those things. But it’s up to him to use those things to his advantage. So I do see him doing that. And we’ll see what happens as time goes on. But I’m optimistic seeing the way he works."
On Ponder’s biggest hurdle going forward ...
"The hurdle is to probably just clear your mind and do it. The NFL is a whole different world that you grew up thinking about. And there’s all this sort of buildup. And the key is to just go out there and do it and perform and not always worry about the consequences. I’ve seen him do it in practice. And then at some point, it’s going to need to carry over to the games. That’s all he has to do, to go out there and actually perform."
On Ponder’s admitted tendency to be his own worst critic …
"He’s a perfectionist. You can definitely tell that. And sometimes I tell him, you need to just hose it. Sometimes he maybe tries to be too perfect with a throw. And sometimes you just have to let it rip, let it go. The corners are quick in this game. So you can’t always try to make the perfect pass. Sometimes you’d rather have a little more juice on it. Those are the types of things that I sometimes try to get across to him. You want to be as perfect as you can, especially in the individual drill work. But at the end of the day, when the team stuff’s going on, you have to just play. Because the game’s not a perfect game. You wish it was."
On the challenge of getting out of your own head …
"You practice everything you do in the offseason and the beginning of practice is all about sort of being perfect. But once the team stuff goes on, it sort of becomes mass chaos. So it’s hard to stick entirely to your fundamentals. You still have to play the game There are different speeds to this. There’s the early practice [individual work] speed. There’s the 7-on-7 speed. There’s the practice team speed. And then there’s game speed. So there’s all these things that get a little more and more crazy. Yes, you have to stick to your fundamentals but also realize there’s a game going on too."
On the value of Ponder’s charisma …
"It’s really important that a quarterback doesn’t think of himself as any better than anyone else on the team. I think he has that approach and guys respect that. I think everyone has been around, whether it’s high school of college, a situation where the quarterback put himself first. I think Christian is always eager to hang out with the guys or the offensive lineman. Go out to dinner. Go fishing. He sees himself as one of the guys. Because he is. He has a lot to learn. And he’s really one of the young guys trying to fit in with the older guys."
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