Hartman: Spielman sees progress from Vikings' young players

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2012 - 1:24 AM

The good news from the team's preseason loss to the 49ers is that first- and second-year players are stepping up.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder scrambled in the first quarter of the 17-6 loss to the 49ers on Friday.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman liked the performance of many of the young players in the team's 17-6 exhibition loss to the 49ers on Friday night. One of them was quarterback Christian Ponder, who marched the team down the field for two field goals in his first two drives by passing for 80 yards, completing four of nine attempts.

"We watched the development of Ponder to see where he's at now and where he was a year ago. I thought that was an encouraging sign," Spielman said. "Defensively we probably didn't do as well against the run as we'd have liked. There's some things that can get cleaned up."

The biggest thing coming out of the first exhibition game, he said, was to try to see how the rookies and second-year players are progressing.

"Guys are fighting for those roster spots, every one of these games is important," Spielman said. "On special teams I was very excited about our young kicker [rookie Blair Walsh, who converted field-goal attempts of 26 and 39 yards] and what he was able to do in those tough, windy conditions at Candlestick."

Spielman was also impressed with No. 1 draft choice, left tackle Matt Kalil.

Spielman said he thought Kalil was a little nervous the first two plays but settled down after that. He believes Kalil has the chance to be a unique left tackle in the NFL. Spielman also felt the Vikings' other first-round choice -- safety Harrison Smith -- performed well when he got the opportunity.

"There were a lot of guys that stepped up and did some good things in the game," Spielman said. "You saw [linebacker] Audie Cole make some plays in the second half, he had a nice sack, made a couple nice tackles. [Andrew] Sendejo, the safety, has been battling. He's had a really good camp. You saw [wide receiver] Stephen Burton make some plays in the passing game. I thought Marcus Sherels showed up and played well on defense. Harrison Smith, you saw a couple other guys in the secondary, Brandon Burton made some nice plays as well. There's a heated battle going on in a lot of spots on our roster, and that's something you definitely want to see."

Right guard is a concern with little experience there, but Spielman thought Slippery Rock grad Brandon Fusco had a good first start. The only other guard with experience, Geoff Schwartz, had sports hernia surgery but hopes to be ready before the regular-season opener at home against Jacksonville on Sept. 9.

"I feel very good about the young offensive line and some of the parts that we put in place," Spielman said. "Just like anything, the more they play together, the more they'll continue to grow and get better."

Spielman said he is excited about how well players from last year's and this year's draft have performed.

"Hopefully those guys are going to continue to improve and get better," he said. "There was a lot of positives and also a lot of things that we know we need to get better at, as well."

As for the status of Adrian Peterson and the running back's progress after knee surgery, Spielman said: "He may be out there starting this week. Our main goal is when he's 100 percent healthy to get him ready to go. Our goal has always been to have him ready for the Jacksonville game. We'll see where it ends up."

Jones healthy

One of the big-time players on the Gophers football squad is sophomore wide receiver Marcus Jones, who started the first seven games of his freshman season in 2011, but a knee injury kept him off the field the rest of the year.

In those seven games, Jones showed himself to be a tremendous all-around asset to the offense and special teams. He grabbed nine receptions for 142 yards and had 370 kick return yards, including a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Purdue on Oct. 8.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill is high on Jones, who did well in Friday's scrimmage.

"Marcus has done a good job at receiver, punt returner, kick returner," Kill said. "He studies and works hard. I'd take 100 of them like him. He's consistent and you know what you're getting with Marcus."

Weber impresses

Former Bears quarterback Jim Miller, who did the color on the Broncos' 31-3 victory over the Bears on Thursday, said one player who stood out in his opinion during the game was former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber.

"Adam Weber was impressive," Miller said. "I like that guy. I liked him coming out of college. I know he doesn't have the prototype quarterback size (6-3, 210 pounds) but he can do some things back there."

Weber was effective for the Broncos. He entered in the fourth quarter and went 2-for-5 for 42 yards with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Ingram. His former Gophers teammate, Eric Decker, caught the only two passes thrown his way for 29 yards.

Jottings

• Twins General Manager Terry Ryan lived in Janesville, Wis., in his early years, the same city where Paul Ryan, Milt Romney's recent vice presidential nominee, resides. Terry Ryan said he is a distant cousin of Paul Ryan and that he knew other members of the Ryan family well, but not Paul. "It's been many years since I've been to Janesville," the GM said.

• It didn't look like much of a move for Danny Valencia when the Twins traded him to Boston last week, because the Red Sox immediately sent him to Class AAA Pawtucket, where he went 3-for-3 in his first game. But Valencia caught a huge break when Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks broke his right wrist Friday, an injury that could keep the AL Rookie of the Year candidate out for the rest of the season. Valencia made his Red Sox debut Saturday off the bench and figures to get a lot of playing time at third for them. Boston manager Bobby Valentine acknowledged that Valencia seemed to fall out of favor with the Twins, telling reporters Saturday: "There was something that they didn't like over there." Valencia went 0-for-4 with an RBI on Sunday in the Red Sox's 14-1 victory over Cleveland.

• Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe is rehabbing with Class AAA Rochester and is 0-for-8 through two games.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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