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.


A number to suggest Harvin will (or should) return kickoffs this week

Posted by: Mark Craig under Quarterbacks, Rookies, Vikings, Super Bowl, Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Percy Harvin, Vikings special teams Updated: September 6, 2012 - 1:56 PM

Here's a number that suggests Percy Harvin will be on the field the first time Jacksonville kicks off on Sunday at Mall of America Field.

35.7

That's the average yards per kickoff return for the teams that played the Jaguars this preseason. That also was the worst kick coverage performance in the league during the preseason.

Granted, it's a number that scrubs and guys who are no longer on the team helped compile. But it's still a fair comparison because it's not like the other 31 teams were using their best players throughout the preseason.

A look at who the Jaguars have at kicker suggests the issue is coverage-related rather than kick-related.

"[Josh Scobee] has a big-time leg," Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said today. "He's outstanding. He's very, very good. He's one of the better combination kickoff-field goal guys in the league."

The Jaguars kicked off 21 times in the preseason. Eleven of them (52.4 percent) were touchbacks.

Harvin is one of the best kick returners in the league, but the Vikings are extra careful not to give him too many touches, particularly when his value on offense skyrockets with fellow receiver Jerome Simpson suspended and running back Adrian Peterson limited at best as he returns from his left knee reconstruction.

Asked if he'll have Harvin at kickoff returner on Sunday, Priefer said, "I hope so. That's the plan. Anytime you have the best athlete on your team out there as your kickoff returner, that's what you want."

Prepping for MJD: Defensive coordinator Alan Williams isn't buying the Jaguars' claims that Maurice Jones-Drew, last year's league rushing champion with 1,606 yards, will be relegated to use on third downs because his contract holdout just ended this week.

"Did you believe that?" Williams asked reporters earlier today.

Not really, now that you mention it.

"I've seen him the last few years while I was at Indy," said Williams, the former Colts defensive backs coach. "Preseason or not, I'm not sure that if he was there that he would have been playing in the preseason anyway. So I don't take any stock in that. We'll be ready for him on first, second, third and fourth down. He's a guy you have to pay attention to. We're going to know where he's at at all times."

No advantage to facing young QBs: On the flip said, Williams said something himself that was hard to swallow.

Asked if he thinks it could be an advantage to face so many young quarterbacks early on this season, Williams said:

"I don't know because when you have a young quarterback, you don't have a ton of film on that guy. We don't have a ton of film on what [Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert] is doing in [coach Mike] Mularkey's system. I don't view that as a good thing. When you know what you're getting, you have a little bit of a comfort zone. Right now, we don't with this quarterback. No, it's not a comfort zone for our secondary whatsoever. I'd rather be able to prepare them for what we think they're going to see."

Well, there's plenty of film out there on Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But it's safe to say the Vikings would prefer facing three rookies and two second-year guys in their first nine games.

Rookie as `calming' influence: If you think rookie free safety Harrison Smith looks mature beyond his greenhorn status, Williams agrees with you.

"He's a physical ballplayer, he's smart and he does not look like a rookie out there in terms of the plays overwhelming him," Williams said. "He looks like he belongs. It's nice to have a guy out there that settles the defense, settles the secondary. We also have some other guys. [Antoine Winfield] is a guy who is a calming influence on your secondary, on your team. So he's another guy who is like that, gets lined up, is smart and who plays smart."

Asked if he's ever had a rookie be a "calming influence" in the secondary, Williams said:

"I've played with rookies before. When I was in Indy, Antoine Bethea was a rookie and played every ballgame through the Super Bowl and played great ball. Bob Sanders, when he came in as a rookie, he played when he got healthy he played a ton of ball. That's OK. As long as they're good football players. And Harrison is a good football player."

Branch will move around: Reports on second-round draft pick Andre Branch say the young defensive end will be a factor on a pretty good Jaguars defense this year.

Said Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: "For a rookie, he's very good. He'll be matched up against [left tackle] Matt Kalil a bunch. On third downs, they'll switch him over to [right tackle] Phil [Loadholt's] side. He's been very active and really impressive for a young guy."

Peterson getting between 25 and 35 reps in practice: Musgrave said "there's not too much doubt" that running back Adrian Peterson will be able to play on Sunday. "We've seen progress every day," Musgrave said. In case you're the last person in the Milky Way that didn't know, Peterson had his left knee reconstructed a little more than eight months ago. The question of every nanosecond between now and kickoff will continue to be "Will Adrian play on Sunday?'

Musgrave said Peterson's reps have been increased from 18 last week to between 25 and 35 this week. Asked how much contact has come with those reps, Musgrave said, "I'd say he's taken what a normal player would take in practice." And that means very little contact, no tackling to the ground and no targeting of the legs by defenders.

Musgrave said Peterson's practice load is about equal to what Toby Gerhart is getting. 

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