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.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
We have a long way to go until the Vikings’ position battles are settled. But of all the position groups, the linebacker situation is easily the one with the least clarity four days into camp.
Take last night’s practice for example. One second you see No. 52, 54 and 57 on the field together. Then you look up and No. 55 is out there with some first-teamers in the blitz period. Then you see No. 50 or 56 or 58 getting sprinkled in with the first or second team.
Whoops, you just blinked and missed another combination.
“We are rotating a lot of different guys in a lot of different areas,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said a couple of days ago, adding, “We like the competition, we like the guys that we have got, we know it will work itself out in the end.”
My best early guess: Chad Greenway will be one starter, and could either be in the middle or at one outside linebacker spot. Mike Zimmer loves him some Anthony Barr, so I bet we see him starting on the outside, though a job isn’t going to be handed to him. As for that third spot in the base defense, your guess is as good as mine right now. What do you say we just throw some darts?
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- TE Kyle Rudolph and the Vikings envision a bright future together.
--- RB Adrian Peterson thinks the Vikings offense will be much less predictable.
--- The Vikings had a spirited practice under the lights last night.
--- Rookie CB Jabari Price is learning to play with better technique instead of relying on speed.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Kyle Rudolph said the first thing he will do with his money is keep a promise to his HS strength coach and buy the school a new weight room.— Matt Vensel (@mattvensel) July 28, 2014
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Could Jimmy Clausen be the Bears’ backup quarterback?
--- The Lions have called off contract talks with DT Ndamukong Suh.
--- Pass rusher Julius Peppers is settling in with the Packers.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Today is a scheduled off day for Vikings players, and for us, too. Time to catch up on laundry.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
We have yet to see a Vikings quarterback throw an interception in team drills through the first four days of training camp. And yes, before you ask, that’s including Christian Ponder. What are we to make of that? I guess it depends on whether you are a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty guy or gal. On one hand, offensive coordinator Norv Turner has stressed ball control, so the lack of picks is a good thing. But Zimmer wants his defensive backs to contest passes, and while they have done a decent job deflecting passes and jarring them from receivers, interceptions are even better.
A reminder that this isn't your father's NFL came a 9:13 p.m. tonight when the Vikings concluded their second practice in full pads and fourth overall before being sprung free for their first day off of training camp on Tuesday. Les Steckel's 1984 boot camp, this is not. But that's not coach Mike Zimmer being soft by any stretch. That's just the modern NFL collective bargaining agreement trying harder to protect and preserve the league's players.
It's probably not a coincidence that Zimmer chose a night practice the day before an off day. Players exiting the locker room at about 10 p.m. are less likely to end up somewhere they shouldn't be than if they had been going pedal to the metal up I-169 around 5 p.m. So the rookie head coach gets veteran savvy points for that decision, even though he said it had more to do with changing the routine of camp.
SETTING THE SCENE: A decent-sized crowd for a Monday night filled nearly one side of Blakeslee Stadium's bleachers and a smattering of the other side as the Vikings practiced for about an hour and 45 minutes. The weather was perfect and the air cool enough to chase off the skeeters who usually gnaw us to pieces when the Vikings practice under the lights.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: Here's something you don't overhear very often when you're around the Vikings these days: "I wish Christian Ponder had played more." That unidentified fan was bemoaning the fact that Ponder, the No. 3 quarterback, played virtually no role in tonight's practice. He threw two passes, going 1 of 2 with a touchdown during the goal-line session. Nothing changed in the QB competion -- again. Matt Cassel worked with the first unit, rookie Teddy Bridgewater with the second unit and Ponder with the third unit. The third-team reps were more limited tonight that they have been in previous training camp practices. Cassel completed 6 of 9 passes, including touchdown passes to Rhett Ellison and Matt Asiata during the goal-line session. Bridgewater completed 7 of 8 passes, including a touchdown pass to fullback Zach Line during the goal-line session. So far in camp, Bridgewater has remained with the second unit. But look for that to change as he gets some first-team reps. It's coming. He seems to be getting more comfortable. He's got that quick release and he seems to trust himself. When first-round picks do that, they're going to be moved up the ladder. Teddy seems like he'll be a climber, not a slider.
BLAIR'S BIG NIGHT: This is where we'll tell you how a place-kicker performed in a training camp practice with virtually no pressure whatsoever. In this case, Blair Walsh isn't fighting for his job. Yeah, he went 2 of 5 from 50 yards and beyond last year after going an NFL record 10 of 10 as a rookie the year before. But let's just say he's not feeling any heat at the moment. But tonight was the first time he kicked in training camp. He made 6 of 7 field goal attempts. He was 2 of 2 from 50 and beyond (50 and 52) and missed wide right from 44 yards.
SHERELS STILL SCRAPPING AT CB: Another camp, another round of "Ya know, Marcus Sherels might not make this team" talk. It happened last year, when he made the team and set a team record while finishing second in the league in punt return average. This year, when one looks at all the young cornerbacks on the roster, one catches himself thinking that Sherels, a cornerback, could be in trouble again since it's difficult to keep a player who only returns punts. Well, maybe it's time to stop thinking this way about the former Gopher. Not only is he an excellent punt returner, he's also a reliable backup kickoff returner, which has come in handy this camp with Cordarrelle Patterson sidelined. Plus, Sherels always bails this team out when its other corners get hurt, get in trouble or flat-out can't play. He's a scrappy little guy who gets in proper position more often than most of us give him credit for. He did that perfectly during an individual drill. Giving up five inches in height to receiver Kamar Jordan, Sherels undercut the pass route, reached through Smith's arms and swatted a pass away incomplete. Sherels isn't a starting-caliber corner. But he's a good enough backup to earn a roster spot as a key return guy.
WHERE'S AP? NOT IN GOAL-LINE, THAT'S FOR SURE: Zimmer smiled earlier today when asked how many reps Adrian Peterson will get during the preseason. The answer; Not many. "I don't need to see him play," Zimmer said. That goes for full-go goal-line drills as well. Each of the three units competed in three goal-line snaps tonight. Carrying the ball for the first-team offense was backup Asiata. Asiata was stopped for a 1-yard loss on first-and-goal from the 2. The first-team offense then beat the first-team defense on touchdown passes to Ellison and Asiata. The second-team offense scored twice in three attempts, once on a dive by rookie Jerick McKinnon and another time on the Bridgewater pass to Line. The third-team defense gave up only one touchdown -- the Ponder pass to AC Leonard -- while stopping rookie free agent running back Dominique Williams short of the goal line twice.
BARR'S PHYSICAL PRESENCE EVIDENT ON SACK: Defenders aren't allowed to touch the quarterbacks, which was a good thing for Matt Cassel on one pass attempt that would have ended with him being clobbered by blitzing rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Barr. Barr, who already looks unusually large for a 4-3 outside backer, showed off some power and quickness on an inside blitz during an 11 on 11 session. Safety Robert Blanton also had a sack on Cassel.
INJURY REPORT: PATTERSON SEES LIMITED ACTION: As promised by Zimmer earlier in the day, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson dressed in full pads and ran a handful of routes during individual drills against the defensive backs. He wasn't running full speed, but Patterson has done enough off to the side with the athletic trainers the past fiew days for us to believe the Vikings when they say it's not a serious injury. Meanwhile, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hamstring) remains on PUP. He could return Wednesday, Zimmer said. As for safety Andrew Sendejo (back), he shows no signs of coming off PUP anytime soon.
Running back Adrian Peterson said "not to take anything away from the coaches we had before," but then his brutal and, frankly, refreshing honesty, well, took a lot away from coaches the Vikings had before, particularly Bill Musgrave, Norv Turner's predecessor as offensive coordinator.
After today' morning walk-through, Peterson was asked a general question about his feelings on Turner's offense. We'll toss that into the softball questioning category since Turner's offensive expertise and track record as an offensive coordinator is pretty much universally accepted.
"This is what I've been looking for the past seven years," Peterson started out. "And now I feel like we have an offense that fits our talent and what we have as far as the players at their positions and what they're able to do. I'm pretty excited for what Norv Turner is putting in for us. It's putting guys in opportunities to make plays and be more versatile as an offense. So I'm stoked about that."
Later, we threw him a follow-up question to ask why, exactly, this is the offense he's been waiting seven years for.
"Not to take anything away from the coaches we had before, but just being more versatile as an offense," he said. "I just call it what it is. I feel in the past, we were predictable. You guys wrote stories about being predictable in the past seven years. You won't be able to write that story this year. That's pretty much all that I'm saying. You won't be able to do that because this offense is so versatile."
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
The Vikings don’t care about your delicious dinner. They don’t care that your ribs are falling off the bone. They just want to sign Kyle Rudolph before he explodes.
On Sunday night, as a group of unsuspecting Vikings beat reporters chowed down at Number 4 restaurant in Mankato, the Vikings signed the 24-year-old tight end to a five-year contract extension that makes him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the game.
Is Rudolph worth it? We might not know until a couple of years from now. After all, we are talking about a guy who made the Pro Bowl -- and was named MVP -- after catching nine touchdowns in 2012 and then missed half of 2013 with a fractured foot. But seemingly everyone around Vikings training camp seems to think Rudolph is poised for a breakout season under coordinator Norv Turner.
It had to be an interesting negotiation considering what Rudolph accomplished in 2012 and what injury kept him from accomplishing in 2013. I can’t help but think of Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, a comparable player I covered in Baltimore.
Pitta put up nice numbers in 2012, but he fractured and dislocated his hip early in training camp and missed most of the 2013 season. Still, the Ravens rewarded him with a big extension that is similar to the five-year, $36.5 million deal that Rudolph signed late last night.
Anyway, the talk of training camp today is going to be Rudolph’s big deal, and you can be sure his Vikings teammates will be giving him plenty of grief after he got nearly $20 million guaranteed.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Cordarrelle Patterson is feeling better, but hasn’t been cleared yet.
--- Mike Zimmer is not afraid of a little bit of rain.
--- The Vikings know that playing offensive line in the NFL isn’t getting any easier.
--- Norv Turner wants a “physical presence” at fullback.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Lions coach Jim Caldwell "absolutely" believes a deal will get done with DT Ndamukong Suh.
--- Packers WR Randall Cobb says he hasn’t done enough to get a new deal.
--- Bears RB Matt Forte is apparently showing no signs of slowing down.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After a rainy but seemingly productive first day in pads, Camp Zimmer continues Monday with a morning walkthrough then a rare night practice that should ratchet the intensity up a bit. A larger crowd is expected at Blakeslee Stadium for the practice, which runs from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Bill Barnwell does a great job writing about the NFL for ESPN’s Grantland site. He recently did a series looking at the best and worst contracts in the league. Two Vikings players made his list of the worst contracts, and you might not be able to guess who without peeking. I’ll give you a moment to muster up a guess. … Just a few more seconds. ... OK, pencils down. They were WR Greg Jennings and DE Everson Griffen. Go ahead and clink on that link to hear Barnwell’s logic.
Another day, another opportunity to get to know more about new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. During today's two-hour practice, the first in full pads during the Zimmer era, we learned that the hard-nosed coach will emphasize the running game and isn't afraid of practicing in the rain.
The 11-on-11 drill periods during the entire first half of practice were dedicated to running the ball and stopping the run. It was obviously designed that way so the coaching staff could finally get a look at these players in pads. Zimmer had talked the day before about needing to see how the offensive and defensive lines handled their "pad levels, how we strike, how we get off blocks."
SETTING THE SCENE: In recent past years, even the possibility of rain sent practices indoors to a small gymnasium that made practice essentially a second walk-through. Today, the Vikings opened practice in a soft rain. The skies cleared, although it remained unseasonably chilly throughout the practice. Toward the end of practice, a brief, but heavy rain fell. But rather than run for cover like a bunch of reporters, Zimmer and the Vikings continued to run 11-on-11 passing drills before wrapping up with some special teams work. Zimmer sets aside multiple periods for special teams work during his 2-hour practices.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORG: An unofficial tally of practice throws during 11-on-11 competition saw Matt Cassel complete 11 of 13 passes, while Teddy Bridgewater went 10 of 11 and Christian Ponder 4 of 7. Most of the passing work focused on shorter routes and check-down passes to the running backs. Ponder had one drop among his three incompletions. There was no movement in the pecking order. Cassel is still the No. 1 QB, while Bridgewater was No. 2 and Ponder a distant No. 3. Bridgewater appears to be gaining momentum daily though. Cassel was being wise Friday when he said he still had a long way to go in this competition.
GREENWAY EXPERIMENT CONTINUES: The Vikings definitely are exploring the possibility of playing longtime strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway in the middle and Gerald Hodges, a second-year player, at Greenway's regular spot and Audie Cole at the other outside spot. In addition to playing his usual spot, Greenway also got some more first-team reps today at middle linebacker in place of Jasper Brinkley. Greenway had a strong middle rush during a blitzing period. He pushed Adrian Peterson back into Cassel for a sack. Peterson isn't the best pass protector in the world, but knocking him backward the way Greenway did isn't an easy thing to do.
VINTAGE AP MOVE IN TRAFFIC: If I had to pick a winner during the 11-on-11 segment that focused on the run, I'd say the defensive front gets the nod. Running backs were backed up several times as the line of scrimmage moved backward. The offense also had some nice plays. Peterson had one move that looked like some of the things he did en route to 2,097 yards rushing in 2012. On one particular play, he burst through a seam in the middle, did one of those vintage hops to his right and shot down the field. The Vikings don't tackle in practice, but there's a good chance the defense wouldn't have tackled him on that play even if he were fair game.
TEDDY TO MR. MANKATO: The guy who's turning heads most consistently down here is receiver Adam Thielen. It's a nice story considering he went to school here and is a long-shot prospect who certainly looks like an upgrade to Joe Webb, the No. 5 receiver a year ago. Thielen clearly has gotten stronger and is in even better shape than he was last year when he made the practice squad. He's also confident and has been a consistent standout since OTAs began. Today, Bridgewater threw him a deep-out pass that Thielen came down with in tight coverage. The pass was perfect in its trajectory, spin, velocity and accuracy. If Bridgewater can repeat that throw with poise under pressure and release quickness, he'll be the starter sooner than later.
KEEP AN EYE ON PRICE: If not for Thielen, the guy who might be turning the most heads is cornerback Jabari Price, the rookie seventh-round draft pick. He doesn't have ideal size, but he fights hard for the ball and has a knack for being close enough to make a play on the ball. During individual drills today, he lined up across from Jerome Simpson on one snap. He muscled Simpson out of his original route and then got a hand on the incompletion about 10 yards downfield. Two officials working practice threw flags on him for pass interference. Price threw his arms up and complained about the call. It definitely was a penalty, but it was impressive how hard Price competed for the ball. That hasn't always been the case for Vikings corners in recent years.
HE SAID IT: Speaking about his former teammate and still longtime friend Jared Allen, defensive end Brian Robison smiled and said, "I told him I hope his streak of losing game in Chicago continues." Allen, now a Bear, lost his last six games at Soldier Field.
INJURY REPORT: Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson remained sidelined because of a foot injury. Zimmer continues to say Patterson is day to day and could return as early as Monday. ... Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn remains on PUP because of a hamstring injury. He appears to be getting closer to practicing. Meanwhile, safety Andrew Sendejo, also also is on PUP because of back and ankle issues, doesn't appear close to returning from injuries that have sidelined him since the end of last season.
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