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.
Ted Wells is joining the Vikings legal team, a source close to the situation said, as the Vikings brace for a possible lawsuit from former punter Chris Kluwe.
Wells provided the NFL with a report earlier this year on the atmosphere of bullying in the Miami Dolphins locker room. The source said Wells was arriving in Minneapolis today.
Kluwe and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, have threatened a lawsuit after the Vikings did not make public the complete report into allegations that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer used anti-gay language. The report concluded Priefer did, and he has been suspended for the first three games of the regular season.
The source said during the investigation there was a tolling agreement that no law suit would be filed in the case for six months. That agreement is set to expire in early August, the source said, which would open the way for Kluwe to sue the Vikings. He has threatened 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.
Halunen said last week he had spoken with Vikings lawyer Joe Anthony and that they agreed to recommend to their clients that they keep talking. Wells apparently would join Anthony on the Vikings legal team.
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.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who signed a five-year extension with the team, just took a quick shower while we talked to Adrian Peterson after the morning walkthrough -- no word on whether he dried himself off with crisp new $100 bills -- then met us to talk about his new deal.
“It’s a dream true, to walk off the practice field and have Rick [Spielman call me over] and give me a big hug and say, ‘Congratulations. You earned it. We’re extremely happy to have you here for the next six years.’” Rudolph said. “Right there I couldn’t thank him enough. Publicly, I can’t thank him, the Wilf family, everyone involved to keep me here for the next six years.”
Rudolph said that negotiations with the Vikings started to pick up a couple of weeks ago. His agent, Brian Murphy, flew into the Twin Cities the day of the MLB All-Star Game and over the next two days started to build the framework of the deal with Spielman and cap guru Rob Brzezinski. Last night, after practice, Rudolph put pen to paper to make the deal official.
Now, Rudolph, a 24-year-old who was the Pro Bowl MVP in 2012, has to live up to it.
“No one is going to motivate me more than I motivate myself,” he said. “No one is going to have higher expectations than I have of myself. And that’s to be the best. I’m going to continue to go out there every day, work the way that I do to become the best tight end in this league.”
So is Rudolph going to treat himself to something nice? His first purchase will not be a new house or truck. He’s fine with the ones he’s got. No, he is going to keep a promise to his high school strength coach by helping to put in a new weight room at Elder High in Cincinnati. Pretty cool.
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