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.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams walked off the practice field after limited participation and gave a positive report on his first practice since suffering a severely strained right knee in the third preseason game at San Francisco.
"We went out to see how it felt," he said. "And it felt great."
But that's not the end of it. Not yet.
"Questions?" Williams said when asked if there were any questions that he would play on Sunday at Chicago. "I'll tell you tomorrow. Hopefully, it won't be sore tomorrow and we'll go from there."
If Williams gets up Thursday with unusual soreness, the Vikings are likely to back off and not practice him on Thursday. If he's not too sore, the Vikings will ramp up his work when they put the pads on for an afternoon practice. Either way, he'll only be limited in Thursday's practice.
"[Thursday morning] is pretty much the key," Williams said.
Also on today's injury report as being limited were cornerback Josh Robinson (quadriceps), center John Sullivan (knee) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee). Those three are expected to play on Sunday.
Two starters -- middle linebacker Erin Henderson (heel) and strong safety Jamarca Sanford (shoulder) -- are on the injury report but had full particpation in today's practice.
Not only did Leslie Frazier reassert his faith in Christian Ponder, the Vikings coach made sure to point out that the rest of his players aren't pointing fingers at the starting quarterback after Sunday's four-turnover performance in a 34-24 season-opening loss at Detroit.
"On Sunday, it was not all about Christian," Frazier said Wednesday as the Vikings amped up their preparation for Sunday's game at Chicago. "He had his mistakes. But the fact is the quarterback position is much more magnified. He just happens to play the position with the most scrutiny. We had other guys, trust me, that when we watched the tape, the scrutiny that needed to be had in those moments, they are well aware that they have to play better. They're not looking only at our quarterback and saying, `If he had done this or that, we would have won that ballgame.' We need to play better across the board."
Those hoping for a quick hook on Ponder can fahgedaboutit, too.
"You don't want to say that you can't get this turned and going in the right direction after just one week," Frazier said. "I just don't think that would be wise."
Frazier also pointed to the team's 4-0 playoff push to end last season -- particularly the playoff-clinching 37-34 win over the Packers -- as proof that Ponder has gotten the job done before.
"That Green Bay game at the end of the year, that was a terrific performance by Christian," Frazier said. "So we've seen him do it on repeated occasions. Consistent play is what we're looking for. We need a good week this week.
"[Ponder's] body of work is somewhat limited. [Sunday] was his second start on opening day and his first on the road [on opening day] a week ago. I have seen him make throws on the run. I have seen him make plays in the pocket, out of the pocket. All you have to do is throw in a tape from last December. There were a number of moments like that. We need consistent good quarterback play for our offense to thrive and for our team to be successful. Christian knows that as well as anybody. There are certain things we can't do. Our margin of error is small. So if we're turning the ball over, it just shrinks our opportunity to win. But I have seen him him make those plays in and out of the pocket."
Frazier, however, did point out that Ponder has to improve his play when things break down around him.
"Not every pocket is going to be clean in the NFL," Frazier said.
Ponder opened his weekly press conference today by saying what 99.9999 percent of all players coming off a loss say to the media. Here's part of the opening statement:
"Well, the good thing about football, especially the NFL, is you got to move on quickly," Ponder said. "Watching the film Monday and Sunday night, a lot of things are easily correctable. We'll get them fixed. We're too good of a team to be making those mistakes. We have to establish the run better. ... And we can't turn the ball over.
"There are things I can do better. That everybody can do better. The running back, the receivers. It's something as an offense, we correct as a whole."
Ponder also subtly dropped in a reference to last year's season-opener in which he directed a long, game-tying drive as time expired against visiting Jacksonville. The Vikings went on to win in overtime.
Asked when he felt the Lions game got away from the Vikings, Ponder said, "The feeling that it got away from us never happened. it was just a couple of bad mistakes. ... We were into it until the very end. We still had time with a couple of minutes left to score two touchdowns. We won a game with 14 seconds left where we had to drive 80 yards or whatever to get a field goal and we did that. So I don't think a game is really ever out of our reach."
In other news, Frazier said everyone is expected to practice today. That includes defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who missed the opener because of a badly strained knee, and center John Sullivan, whose left knee was chopped by Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh during an interception return. Sullivan finished the game. Suh did, too, but his wallet ultimately got lighter by 100 grand when the league fined him on Tuesday.
The Vikings will hold their 10th and final Organized Team Activity on Thursday at Winter Park before reconvening next week for a three-day mini-camp. And as the offseason program enters the finishing stretch, third-year quarterback Christian Ponder continues zeroing in on making good reads more consistently.
On Wednesday afternoon, before teeing off at the team’s annual golf outing, an event that benefits the Vikings’ Children’s Fund, Ponder was asked how he’s measuring himself during this OTA stretch.“
The biggest thing is decision making,” he said. “Obviously you want to complete as many balls as possible, especially in things like 7-on-7. But we’re being put into some hard situations as well. Third-and-long. Blitz. A lot of blitz drills and everything. So it’s tough. I think the defense definitely has the upper hand in these drills. But it’s good for us to see that. And it makes the quarterback make smart decisions and get the ball out quick. So you want to see completions and the right decisions.”
Ponder knows the bar has been raised for him in his third year as a starter. And with back-up Matt Cassel now in the picture, his leash might not be quite as long in 2013 if his struggles are extreme. Still, the Vikings quarterback said the key in May and June is to feel things out within the offense without feeling exorbitant pressure.
“This is a time for us as an offense to just try a bunch of new stuff and see what sticks and see what we like,” Ponder said. “And there are a lot of new plays going in and everything. So it’s a fun time. It’s fun to try out quirky plays and see what the defense does. And the defense is doing the same thing, running funky coverages and everything. But our mindset is we want to get better every day and see a progression heading into training camp.”
On the injury front, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier reported that Chad Greenway’s Thursday morning arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee went well as expected. Greenway will be out of action until training camp begins in late July.
Fellow linebacker Nate Williams, signed in April as an undrafted free agent, has also undergone minor ankle surgery and, according to Frazier, will be sidelined until camp opens in Mankato as well.
The Vikings have their share of injuries to keep tabs on, especially with Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen continuing rehabilitation on his left shoulder in which he had a labrum tear repaired shortly after last season ended. Allen has been at Winter Park the past two weeks but not on the practice field. And he won’t be back in action during mini-camp next week either.
But Frazier said Wednesday he anticipated very few injury issues to still be a concern when the team reports to Mankato. The longest shot to be ready may be second-year receiver Greg Childs, who continues attacking his recovery from torn patellar tendons in both knees.
Frazier said after Tuesday’s practice that he isn’t certain how quickly Childs will receive medical clearance to return to full action but won’t rule out the receiver getting back to practice early in training camp.
"I have my fingers crossed, hoping that that will happen," Frazier said. "I'm waiting on [head athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman and our medical staff to give us the green light. But that would be my hope. We'll see what happens. I'm not sure what direction it will go."
Center of attention
On Wednesday, Frazier also noted that the team is closely monitoring the progress of standout center John Sullivan, who had microfracture surgery on his left knee.
In Sullivan’s absence during OTAs, the Vikings have tinkered with back-up plans at center. Veteran Joe Berger has seen work there. In addition, Brandon Fusco, who started all 16 games at right guard and is the expected starter there for 2013, has also handled snaps.
“We don’t see any problems with Sully being ready to go,” Frazier said. “But you want to make sure that you have other guys prepared.”
Fusco was a center during his college career at Slippery Rock and could be an option at the position if Sullivan’s recovery was to hit an unforeseen snag or if he had any lingering knee issues that sidelined him during the season.
Sliding Fusco to center, of course, would then open up the competition at right guard where rookies Jeff Baca and Travis Bond as well as veteran Seth Olsen could figure into the mix.
Still, Frazier believes Sullivan’s recuperation will stay on track which would give the Vikings the luxury of opening training camp with the same starting offensive line that started all 16 games last year.
“We’ve still got to see a little more progress out of John Sullivan,” Frazier said. “He’s making progress. But we want to continue to see that. … You just want to see him continue to gain confidence and not be worried about the surgery but just move on. And he’s making progress. From everything that Eric Sugarman tells me, he’s on target. He’s moving in the right direction. And we’ve got enough time for him to continue to improve. Hopefully when we get started, he’ll be able to go full go right away.”
Adrian Peterson's MVP season looks a bit more incredible now that the abdominal injury he played through in December proved serious enough to require surgery.
The Vikings released this statement this morning: Adrian Peterson had a surgical procedure done today by Dr. William Meyers, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Meyers was able to successfully repair Adrian’s abdominal core muscle injury (sports hernia). We expect a speedy recovery with no long-term concerns.
Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards last season, eight short of the NFL record set by Eric Dickerson (2,105 in 1984). He was named the league's MVP on Saturday night in New Orleans, slightly more than a year after having major surgery on his left knee. Peterson was also named the league's offensive player of the year, and was first-team All-Pro.
And ... he played in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii on Jan. 27, although sparingly.
Now, it turns out, Peterson may have been pushing through severe pain for the Vikings' final six regular season games. In an interview Thursday afternoon with ESPN's Josina Anderson, Peterson said he suffered the sports hernia injury some time during the Vikings' 34-24 home win over the Lions on Nov. 11.
"I didn't know the extent I was hurt then," Peterson told ESPN. "I just remember getting twisted up pretty bad in an awkward position. ... "That next day I felt very uncomfortable in my groin and abdominal area. I thought to myself I'll just wait until I recover but I never did."
The Vikings played it safe with Peterson down the stretch of the season, repeatedly holding him out of practice in December and tailoring their approach so that he'd be as healthy as possible for game days.
"I knew I wasn't really practicing at all," Peterson said Thursday. "I wasn't able to lift because of the strain that it would put on those muscles on an upper- or lower-body workout. That was too much. It was mind over matter. It was just about doing what I had to do to push myself every week. My body was sore from the game and the sports hernia every Monday, so I did what I had to do to recover and get my body right.
"I just played through the pain. I ran on adrenaline."
Leading up to the Vikings' 36-22 victory in St. Louis on Dec. 16 -- a game in which Peterson ran for 212 yards -- he went on the injury report with what was being labeled an abdominal injury. Following his explosion against the Rams, Peterson was then listed as having an abdominal/groin issue which he said was "just normal wear and tear. I've been dealing with it the past couple of weeks. I've been doing the things I need to do as far as resting and conditioning and working out. It's all about that push to Sunday. I'll be ready to roll."
In Week 16, against Houston, Peterson carried 25 times for 86 yards. During that game, he said, the pain from the sports hernia reached its maximum.
"That was probably the worse I felt. That was the first time that I really doubted myself and questioned whether I would be able to continue the season. The pain was a 10 on a scale of 10."
Peterson rebounded in the season finale against Green Bay with 199 yards to challenge Dickerson's record and push the Vikings into the playoffs with a thrilling 37-34 win. The Vikings lost to the Packers on Jan. 5 in the wild-card playoff round 24-10 as Peterson had 99 yards rushing.
Recovery time on sports hernia surgery varies, since the seriousness of the injury varies wildly. But Peterson said his post-operative recovery time would be about 3-4 weeks.
Vikings teammate Geoff Schwartz (@GeoffSchwartz76) tweeted Thursday morning: "It's quite amazing. He's a beast. I made it 3 days in camp w/that injury before I needed surgery."
According to sportsmedicine.about.com: The typical sports hernia occurs when the muscle layer of abdominal wall in one specific area becomes thin relative to the other areas. This may result in a tear or strain in one of the abdominal muscles or the fascia of the abdominal wall. When that happens, the underlying internal organs, particularly the intestines, push up against the muscular wall and can cause significant pain. A sports hernia rarely causes any visible bulge in the muscle wall, so it is often overlooked for some time before it is diagnosed. The most common symptom of a sports hernia is a dull, aching pain in the lower abdomen or groin that gradually increases in severity. This pain generally increases with exercise or activities such as running or weight lifting.
At least three other Vikings have had surgery in the past couple of weeks. Defensive end Jared Allen had a torn labrum in his left shoulder repaired, punter Chris Kluwe had a meniscus tear in his left (non-kicking) knee fixed and center John Sullivan had a microfracture procedure on his left knee. All of those players played through their injuries this past season, none missing a game.
John Sullivan will sit out the team's June mini-camp because of last week's microfracture surgery on his left knee, but three Vikings team sources said the starting center is expected to be ready when training camp opens in late July.
Sullivan, 27, played every offensive snap during the 2012 season and was listed on the injury report with a knee injury only once, Week 13 against Chicago. But lingering pain in the knee eventually led to Sullivan having the surgery performed last week by renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Florida. Andrews also performed the knee surgery that held up well enough for Adrian Peterson to collect 2,097 yards rushing and one NFL MVP trophy in 2012.
The recovery period is three to four months. And, so far at least, the NFL doesn't play games in June. So even factoring in a four-month recovery, Sullivan should be fine for the start of training camp.
Sullivan played well enough in his fifth season to earn first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Several have argued that he deserved to play in the game because one of the NFC centers who went ahead of him was Green Bay's Jeff Saturday, who actually was benched for poor play late in the season. Sullivan also earned seven first-team All-Pro votes, including the one cast here, to finish third in the Associated Press' All-Pro voting.
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