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.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer kept a close eye on the cornerbacks – as he’s done quite often during his short tenure – in their first opportunity to work on bump-and-run in pads on Sunday.
During an individual drill working on technique, Zimmer intervenes and walks up to Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He spent the next minute informing Rhodes why he must target the one-handed jam off the line of scrimmage at the wide receiver’s chest, not the shoulder.
Rhodes nailed the technique on the final attempt before 1-on-1 battles.
“Look out, Rhodes is getting it,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray yelled as the unit jogged over to face the wide receivers.
But on the first play, Rhodes stumbled and slipped while trying to defend Greg Jennings, who completed the catch.
Rhodes has all the talent to become an All-Pro cornerback. But there’s barrier that the second-year corner will have to hurdle to reach his potential -- trusting his instincts.
“Second guessing yourself; you’re thinking you might not get there and make the tackle but thinking you can,” Rhodes said. “You’re just thinking too much.
“You have to think out there but you more have to react. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into, the route he’s doing. Everything goes hand-in-hand.”
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Rhodes looks at him as a big brother constantly seeking advice. He said Rhodes has reached out about trusting his instincts, which Munnerlyn told Rhodes not to be afraid to take chances.
“When you’re a young guy, you think entirely too much instead of just letting it go and playing football,” Munnerlyn said. “When you’re a rookie in the NFL playing defensive back, all eyes are on you and every mistake that you do. They don’t notice when a running back steps to the wrong gap or a wide receiver drops a pass. It’s like, ‘Oh everybody does that.’ But when you get beat for a couple touchdowns or a player out there catching slants and you’re not making any plays, everybody knows that.”
Rhodes learned a Cover 2 defense during his rookie season but now has to adjust to Zimmer’s defense that mixes man with zone principles at cornerback. Munnerlyn said he went through a similar switch during his first two season with the Panthers after being scared to make plays during his rookie season.
“Instead of being so close to making the plays, it’s time to make the plays,” Munnerlyn said. “And that’s what I see in him. This year, I know he’s going to be ready.”
Safety Kurt Coleman called that revelation an “aha” moment. It occurs in different moments for players, while some remain timid in the secondary. Coleman said along with the different system Rhodes has to learn, the Vikings also have only had two practices with pads.
“I think once you understand the playbook and what coaches wants you to play within that, I think that’s when you allow yourself to really let your natural ability to play,” Coleman said. “…Give it a day or two, and I think he’ll feel a lot better about himself.”
Zimmer said Rhodes is still learning about the techniques at the position but possesses a number of advantages physically, with his long arms and speed, to become a good corner.
“I probably need to do a better job of coaching him in certain ways,” Zimmer said. “…Just talking to him, coaching him; what is his hot button, what motivates him more. I am not saying he is unmotivated, I’m just saying part of coaching is trying to figure out how you can take this player and make him better.”
Until then, Rhodes’ confidence still remains high. He said he doesn’t dwell on a bad rep he watches on tape. He’s taking notes, hoping to avoid that same mistake during the next practice.
“I know it’s going to be a long process, but I’m just working at it,” Rhodes said. “It’s still a learning process; just getting better each and every day.”
Ted Wells and Roberta Kaplan are joining the Vikings legal team as they brace for a possible lawsuit from former punter Chris Kluwe just eight days before the two sides were scheduled to meet and discuss a possible settlement.
Wells provided the NFL with a report earlier this year on the atmosphere of bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room. Kaplan is best known for her work opposing the Defense of Marriage Act.
Clayton Halunen, Kluwe's attorney, said on Tuesday there's an Aug. 6 meeting scheduled between Vikings management and their lawyers. It will be the first time Kluwe and his attonrey will meet with Vikings management since July 17, the day before the team released a 29-page summary.
Halunen first felt hopeful once he heard news about the Vikings retaining Wells and Kaplan but said this afternoon he was suspicious by the moves, specifically Kaplan's recognition with the LGBT community.
"I think it’s very convenient at this stage with their fourth law firm that they’re bringing in someone from the community," Halunen said. "It sounds to me like a strategy to obtain public support because the LGBT community has been outspoken about what’s happened and the refusal to make the report public. This is merely an effort to try to address those concerns that have been made public."
A source said during the investigation there was a six-month tolling agreement signed on Aug. 1 that no law suit would be filed in the case. Halunen confirmed the tolling agreement is set to expire on Aug. 1 but both sides are working on an extension beyond the Aug. 6 meeting.
Once the tolling agreement expires, Kluwe is free to continue with his lawsuit. He has threatened to sue for more than $10 million because the team won’t release the full investigation into his claims about what he calls its culture of discrimination. Kluwe and Halunen said that “substantial” evidence was left out of the 29-page summary of the report that the team released two weeks ago.
The summary concluded Priefer did, and he has been suspended for the first three games of the regular season.
Here is the official Vikings release on adding the high-powered attorneys:
VIKINGS RETAIN ROBERTA KAPLAN AND TED WELLS
“We pride ourselves on the workplace environment that we have created, centered on diversity, tolerance and respect. In consideration of our standards and the great sensitivity to the issues raised by Chris Kluwe and his attorney - and their potential litigation – the Vikings have retained Roberta Kaplan and Ted Wells, two well-respected and extremely experienced partners at Paul, Weiss, as well as Minneapolis-based Joseph Anthony, founding shareholder and chief executive officer of Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A., to serve as the team’s counsel.” – Kevin Warren, Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs & Chief Administrative Officer.
Kaplan most recently has been recognized for successfully arguing before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of her pro bono client Edith Windsor in United States vs. Windsor, the 2013 landmark Supreme Court case in which the nation’s highest court ruled that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the U.S. Constitution by barring legally married same-sex couples from enjoying the wide-ranging benefits of marriage conferred under federal law. As a result of that case, at least 28 courts throughout the United States have since relied explicitly on Windsor and held that gay couples should be accorded equal rights under the law.
Among other areas of expertise, Wells has extensive litigation experience in complex civil and corporate litigation. He has been recognized as one of the best jury trial lawyers in the United States by numerous publications. Wells recently led the thorough investigation concerning issues of workplace conduct with the Miami Dolphins.
Anthony has tried a significant number of cases and arbitrations to verdict in Minnesota and throughout the country. For the past 15 years he has been selected to the Minnesota "Super Lawyer” list and has been ranked by Super Lawyer Magazine in the top 2 or 3 trial lawyers in the state since 2008.
At this time, the Vikings will have no further comment about this pending litigation.
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.
Surprisingly, yes. Harrison Smith is obviously a lock to start, but Robert Blanton has a leg up on Jamarca Sanford and Kurt Coleman at this point. Andrew Sendejo still hasn’t participated with a back injury, and he’s pretty behind at this point with a new scheme. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he likes how smart Blanton plays but wants to see his instincts and ability to tackle. At this point, expect Blanton to start the first preseason game against the Raiders next Friday to give Zimmer a good gauge on how Blanton can react in those situations.
Anthony Barr looked pretty impressive on Sunday in 1-on-1 drills and 11-on-11 periods. He blew right by fullback Jerome Felton, who is a pretty good blocker, in a 1-on-1 rep. We always mention Barr’s size and strength. That was on display all day in practice. In this rep, he towers over running back Jerick McKinnon. It almost looks like someone created the tallest player possible on Madden to block the shortest. Now think about other running backs having to stop that coming off the edge on third downs…
Every Monday during the offseason we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.
The pass rushing ability is there, but we haven’t had a good look at his ability in coverage due to the rain on Sunday. We’ll get a good chance to see that during Monday night’s practice.
It likely jumped after Chase Ford entered camp with a foot injury and said he won’t be available until the regular season. Leonard is getting some reps with the second team and made a few good blocks in pass protection on rookie defensive end Scott Crichton. It depends on what the Vikings think of Ford when he’s healthy, but Leonard definitely has a chance to crack the roster. Worst case scenario, the Vikings would probably put him on the practice squad, which there's a shot of getting activated during the season if there’s an injury.
The Vikings have a good foundation with some young pieces on the roster. Watch and see how some of them develop -- like wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Everson Griffen. That will be how the Vikings win more football games, which is what everyone with vested interest in the franchise should care about.
And to think we made it through one of these without mentioning Teddy Bridgewater. Oh, wait.
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