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 met with his coaching staff during the off day Tuesday to adjust the number of reps given to certain players in preparation for their first preseason game against the Raiders next Friday.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner wouldn’t go into details about how the reps will be divided between quarterbacks Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Ponder, but he said on Wednesday he expects the preseason games will weigh heavily into Zimmer’s decision on choosing a starter.
“We will have these guys ready, and they will have an opportunity to prepare and compete for the job,” Turner said. “Whoever ends up being the starting quarterback, he will be ready to play on opening day. I don’t have any concerns about that."
Turner again reiterated that the organization won’t be afraid to start Bridgewater if he outperforms Cassel and Ponder in training camp. While the quarterbacks are wearing red non-contact jerseys during practice, Turner said Bridgewater has been outstanding handling pressure.
“He doesn’t look at the line; he feels it, keeps his eyes up the field, makes throws with people around him and throws in real tight quarters where he doesn’t have real much room to work,” Turner said. “That’s not a big concern. I think that’s one of the best things he does right now.”
The Vikings offense will install plays during the afternoon practice while the coaching staff continues to evaluate their three quarterbacks. Turner said while the current collective bargaining agreement sets certain restrictions on offseason practices, he feels it’s easier for quarterbacks to learn his offense because it allows more time to teach the system.
“Those walkthroughs aren’t necessarily to teach people how to do it; you’re teaching them the mental part of what to do,” Turner said. “…I think from a quarterback position, I think getting them up to speed in terms of what to do, this system in the way it is now is outstanding for that. You just don’t get quite as many reps.”
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.
The Vikings have agreed to a contract with free agent guard Vlad Ducasse.
Ducasse's agent, Joe Linta, confirmed the one-year deal in an e-mail.
Ducasse played the past four seasons for the New York Jets, starting five times. The 6-5, 320 pounder was a second-round draft pick by the Jets in 2010 out of UMass-Amherst.
Ducasse, 26, was born in Haiti, but moved to the United States to play high school football in Connecticut when he was 15.
He started four games for the Jets last season before losing the job to rookie Brian Winters.
The Vikings’ starting guards last season were Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco. Johnson, the starter at left guard, was recently re-signed to a two-year deal. Fusco, the right guard, is entering the final year of his rookie four-year contract. Joe Berger and Jeff Baca are also back for the Vikings at guard.
New Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is hoping the team can get a dynamic young quarterback, but still pictures running back Adrian Peterson as the key to the Vikings offense.
“We want to make big plays, we want to be an explosive offense, and we want to run the ball,” Turner said today at Winter Park.
The new Vikings coaching staff was officially named today by new coach Mike Zimmer. Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards fielded questions from the media.
Turner, a head coach for 15 NFL seasons, with three different teams, was Cleveland offensive coordinator last season.
When Turner was approached about taking the job by Zimmer, Turner said his decision was made when, “I looked at the roster, I looked at the offensive side of the ball. I think this is a group that can be real good, and I think we can be good real fast.”
Turner said the Vikings’ quarterback situation is “a process we got through, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Matt Cassel is opting out of his contract with the Vikings, which would leave Christian Ponder as the only QB on the roster as free agency begins March 8. Turner, however, said the door isn't closed on Cassel, and he also had nice things to say about Ponder.
Turner pointed to the success Seattle had after taking QB Russell Wilson in the third round.
“When you have the No. 1 defense in the league, it’s easier to play quarterback,” Turner said. “Everyone is in agreement to adding a young quarterback to the organization, so it’s just a matter of going out and getting him.”
Turner, who was coaching San Diego when Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record of 296 yards as a rookie, said he has talked to Peterson.
“He understands the biggest thing to me is we are trying to win,” Turner said. “And he’s at the point in his career where he wants to make the playoffs and have some success in the playoffs and whatever it takes for us is what he wants to do.”
Edwards, who has been offensive coordinator for Washington and Buffalo, was linebackers coach in Miami last season.
“We have some good young talent that we can come in and develop,” said Edwards. “We don’t think we’re that far off.”
The Vikings gave up the most points of any NFL team last season, and are expected to undergo a lot of defensive changes.
“We can’t change everything schematically, but we want to put people in the right positions,” Edwards said.
He said he hadn’t done much evaluating of players, adding “we’re really just getting started here.”
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel will opt out of his team-friendly contract before Friday’s deadline, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. Cassel's deal would have been worth $3.7 million this season, but had the option to forgo the final season of a two-year, $7.4 million deal he signed last year with the Vikings.
Calls to Cassel's agent, David Dunn, were not immediately returned.
The move makes sense for Cassel. It's a very thin free agency class for quarterbacks this offseason, headlined by Michael Vick, Josh McCown, Kellen Clemens and Josh Freeman, who spent the final 12 games of the season with the Vikings.
Cassel would climb, arguably, to the top of that free agent class as a serviceable quarterback looking for a multi-year deal. He’ll likely get more money than he would’ve received if he decided to remain with the Vikings under his current contract.
Of course, Cassel could also re-sign with the Vikings for more money after free agency opens March 11. At the moment, Christian Ponder is the only quarterback on the Vikings' roster.
Whether the Vikings can sign Cassel remains unknown given the demand at quarterback. Six of the top 11 teams in the NFL Draft need a quarterback. Given the free agency class and the uncertainly of how many rookie quarterbacks would be ready to start immediately, Cassel could be looked at as a starting short-term quarterback for a franchise that seeks to develop its future quarterback through the draft.
If Cassel didn’t opt out of his deal, the Vikings would owe him a $500,000 roster bonus (which is part of the $3.7 million) if he is still on the team a week after the official league season begins March 11.
Cassel, 31, played in nine games for the Vikings this season, starting six. He was 25th in the NFL in passer rating (81.6). Cassel started Week 4 against Pittsburgh in London when Christian Ponder was injured and led the Vikings to their first victory. Freeman was signed the following (bye) week, and Cassel struggled in a loss to Carolina. He returned to backup status, replacing Ponder in three games, twice because of injury. In Week 13, he beat Chicago after replacing an injured Ponder in the second half, and claimed the starting job with a strong performance in a loss at Baltimore the following week. In a Dec. 15. victory over Philadelphia, he had the best performance by a Vikings QB this season — 26-for-35 for 382 yards and two TDs. His passer rating of 90.7 was 13th in the NFL at that time, but fell after a loss to Cincinnati and a season-ending victory over Detroit.
Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, signed a four-year contract for $10.15 million that is fully guaranteed. His signing bonus of $5.8 million is paid out evenly over the four years. For 2014, his salary is $1.76 million with another bonus of nearly $1.5 million. If the Vikings cut him this offseason, they would be on the hook for that money and a $3.2 million salary cap hit.
Cassel's career has been full of ups and downs. He was a backup to Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer at USC, and is the only modern-era quarterback who never started a college game to have started an NFL game.
The Patriots drafted Cassel in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2005 draft, and he was a backup to Tom Brady for four seasons in New England. In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game, and Cassel played the rest of the season, leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record. With his four-year contract expiring, the Patriots gave him the franchise tag early in 2009 and traded him to Kansas City for linebacker Mike Vrabel and a second-round draft choice.
Cassel's big season with the Patriots paid off. The Chiefs signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract that included $28 million in guaranteed money. He started in 2009, and in 2010 made the Pro Bowl as Kansas City won the AFC West. He injured his hand after 10 games in 2011, however, and after starting in 2012 he eventually lost his job to Brady Quinn.
Cassel was released last March, and the Vikings quickly signed him to back up Ponder. Here's Mark Craig's feature story on Ponder, written before last season.
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