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.
After the defense appeared to win the day yesterday, the offense struck back this afternoon.
The passing offense was much crisper today, and you could count on two hands the number of passes that hit the grass in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. First-stringer Matt Cassel fared the best of the quarterback bunch, completing 17 of his 19 attempts, with one of those passes getting swatted down at the line. Sure, there was some dinking and dunking, but Cassel did complete a few difficult throws downfield against Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
While the players are still playing without pads on and there is no live tacking, this practice was conducted with a faster pace and a little more intensity than yesterday’s training camp kickoff.
SETTING THE SCENE: After a soggy morning walkthrough, the clouds headed for the hills, creating a picturesque afternoon in Mankato with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. Players were in helmets and shells for the second straight day. The practice lasted just under two hours.
YOUR DAILY QUARTERBACK SMORGASBORD: Cassel wasn’t the only one who completed most of his passes. Bridgewater completed 10 of his 13 attempts during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills and Ponder missed on just two of his 10 throws, including one after he executed a nice pump fake but couldn’t quite connect with Kain Colter, who was unable to make a tricky twisting catch. Bridgewater made a couple of nice throws, including a perfectly-placed lob outside the numbers to wide receiver Adam Thielen for a big gain. Bridgewater overshot a few throws like that during the first two days of camp, but that completion garnered him a loud cheer from the bleachers.
SLIGHT END?: Pretty much every player will tell you this time of year that they are in the best shape of their life, but it is noteworthy that the team as a whole has slimmed down since Zimmer brought stricter standards to the team cafeteria. One of those players who has shed some weight is tight end Kyle Rudolph, who did it in the hopes it will help him get open more often in coordinator Norv Turner’s tight-end-friendly offense. Today, he certainly looked pretty good running routes, changing directions well for someone who is 6-foot-6. But will the weight loss affect his run blocking? We’ll find out soon. The pads get strapped on tomorrow.
ROCKY RHODES: It wasn’t the best day for second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes. During one stretch, Rhodes, who mans the right sideline, was beat to the inside for a chunk play by wide receiver Greg Jennings, who ran a deep post route. Quarterbacks picked on him a couple of more times for completions along the sideline, leading to some extra coaching from Zimmer.
DAY OF THE SWING PASS: Of all those completed passes today, I’d estimate that at least a third of them went to Vikings running backs. Maybe even half. After practice, Zimmer praised Adrian Peterson’s route-running. Sure, Peterson didn’t have the best day catching the ball yesterday. But he caught one in the open field today and was off to the races. After watching that, you can understand why Zimmer and the coaches are so excited about his potential in the passing game.
EARLY RETURNS: With wide-out Cordarrelle Patterson sidelined, the Vikings got a closer look at a group of potential kick returners that included Colter, Thielen, Jarius Wright, Jerick McKinnon, Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels. I’d tell you who looked the best, but no one is allowed to touch these guys. For what it’s worth, coordinator Mike Priefer seemed to bark more praise toward McKinnon and Sherels.
INJURY REPORT: Zimmer said that Patterson (foot) and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hammy) are getting closer to practicing, though he would not offer a timetable. Patterson could be spotted on the far field jogging and doing straddle exercises without a limp. As for safety Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle), Zimmer was not as optimistic. Sendejo has been dealing with the back injury since last season, and Zimmer pointed out that he has yet to see him practice. The safety position is a crowded one, so Sendejo will lose more and more ground every day he sits out.
Mike Zimmer has promised that the Vikings would be fast and physical, but they eased into training camp this afternoon. There will be no live contact in the first couple of days of camp, so Zimmer said earlier that those practices will have more of an OTA feel. He ended up being right.
Practice started with position drills followed by some 1-on-1 work. After that, Zimmer sprinkled in some 11-on-11 team drills and a brief blitz period. There was also a lot of special teams work.
Usually at the start of training camp, the defense gets the better of the offense as the offense finds its rhythm. Today, the defense had its moments, contesting passes as Zimmer has said he hoped to see, so they’d probably get the slight edge, partially due to several errant passes from the offense.
SETTING THE SCENE: Practice was outdoors. The practice lasted around two hours. Players were in helmets and shells. The weather here was overcast and the temperature was reasonable.
BATTLE OF THE ‘BACKERS: Top pick Anthony Barr, who missed most of the spring due to an NFL rule that kept him at UCLA, started his first NFL training camp with the second-team defense. Running with the first team were Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. It will probably only be a matter of time until Barr is with the starters, but Zimmer is going to make him earn it.
SIMPSON SIZZLES: Wide receiver Jerome Simpson had a pretty solid first day, despite one bobbled pass that nearly led to an interception in team drills. In individual drills -- yes, I know, they are just 1-on-1s -- Simpson once ran a crisp deep out route, slamming on the brakes to leave his defender in the dust before making a nice, lunging grab near the sideline. On another play, he got behind the defense but Teddy Bridgewater barely overshot him. Simpson brings that vertical dimension to Norv Turner’s vertical offense, and could thrive if he can become more consistent.
LET’S TALK QUARTERBACKS: OK, maybe I should have gotten to the quarterbacks sooner, but there wasn’t a whole lot to report from this afternoon. Matt Cassel, who was throwing to the starters, completed six of his 10 attempts in team drills, though a couple of those incompletions were the result of blatant drops. Bridgewater, who was with the second-stringers, was 5-for-8. Christian Ponder was just 1-for-2, and he threw a few errant passes during individual drills.
CORDARRELLE A NO-GO: Second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson wore a bucket hat instead of a helmet today. Patterson was held out of practice after injuring his foot. The team says that he is day-to-day and no, Patterson wasn’t the guy who failed the conditioning test yesterday.
SAFETY DANCE: Robert Blanton continued to line up next to Harrison Smith with the starting defense, but I can report that 2012 and 2013 starter Jamarca Sanford has returned from injury.
DROPPING THE BALL: When it was time to practice punts, only Jarius Wright and Kain Colter went back to catch them, and Wright struggled at doing so. He let one Jeff Locke punt toward the left sideline drop in front of him and muffed another punt, which was recovered by the coverage team.
NOT CATCHING ON: The Vikings have said they hope to get Adrian Peterson more involved in the passing game, but this afternoon his terrifyingly-strong hands failed him on a few occasions.
INJURY REPORT: Beyond Patterson and the PUP guys -- CB Captain Munnerlyn (strained hammy), S Andrew Sendejo (lower back and ankle) and TE Chase Ford (foot) -- everyone else practiced.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has listed running back Adrian Peterson as "questionable," meaning the guy we all assumed would miss Sunday's game against the Eagles, now has a 50-50 chance of playing.
Once again, we may find out that assuming the worst for Adrian Peterson isn't a wise thing to do.
Peterson practiced today for the first time this week. According to Frazier, Peterson planted and showed good burst off the right foot that he sprained early in the second quarter of last week's game at Baltimore.
"It was impressive when you consider the early diagnosis," Frazier said. "He's unique. Very unique. He's so different than everybody else when it comes to recovering from injuries. We've been in situations in the past where you thought he wouldn't make it and he made it. So it was always in the back of my mind the chance he would make it. He's amazing."
Frazier sounded optimistic, but was not willing to go beyond listing Peterson as questionable in part because he'll need to see how Peterson's foot responds tomorrow after going through today's workout. Frazier also indicated it could be a game-time decision on whehter to play Peterson.
Meanwhile, running back Toby Gerhart, who suffered a hamstring injury in last week's game, also returned to practice today for the first time this week. Frazier said Gerhart looked good, but was kept from testing the hamstring with the kind of cuts and burst he would typically use in a game.
Cornerback Chris Cook (knee) was a surprise addition to the injury report today. He was limited in practice and has been listed as questionable.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and right guard Brandon Fusco (knee) did not practice and were listed as doubtful. Marcus Sherels would start for Rhodes while Joe Berger would start for Fusco.
And, finally, tight end John Carlson still has not passed the NFL protocol for returning from the concussion he suffered last week. Rhett Ellison will get the start. Chase Ford also would be available.
Linebackers Larry Dean (knee) and Chad Greenway (wrist) are listed as probable.
In other news, barring an unlikely setback on Saturday, free safety Harrison Smith will be activated from injured reserve on Saturday and will have a role in Sunday's game. Smith has been on injured reserve the past eight weeks because of a turf toe injury. He returned to practice two weeks ago.
For this week's edition of "Behind Enemy Lines," we reached out to Tyler Dunne, Packers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Here are five questions we posed to Tyler in advance of Sunday's Vikings-Packers game at Lambeau Field:
1.The Packers had 55 rushing yards against the Giants. How has quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ absence affected the run offense?
That’s been really a huge adjustment for this offense. This time last year, they were trying to get teams out of those two-deep looks. They wanted the safety to come into the box to help the passing game and now they can’t get that safety out of the box. They’re getting eight, nine guys in the box trying to stop [Packers running back] Eddie Lacy. The rookie hasn’t been able to find much running room these past couple weeks.
Without Rodgers in there, it makes a huge difference. And Aaron Rodgers is really good at audibling to certain run plays. [Packers quarterback] Scott Tolzien has got just so much on his plate. It’s really difficult for him to do that right now. I think that’s really what the team’s challenge is right now is trying to run the ball against teams that know they’re going to run.
2.Tolzien started calling audibles in the third quarter of the Giants game. Was there a noticeable difference that he started on Sunday compared to replacing quarterback Jason Campbell against the Eagles?
I think it was a big difference in that they definitely had a conservative game plan to run to set up the pass. They didn’t put too much on his plate in terms of changing plays and going no huddle, but he did more as the game progressed. A lot of those deep passes did open up. [Packers head coach] Mike McCarthy said that he’s never had a quarterback complete that many deep balls in the game, all his deep balls in the game. It worked.
It’s just the turnovers. That’s really been his issue right now. In both games, he had a huge interception that just changed the complexion of the game.
3.Do you recommend bringing earplugs for Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings’ reception when he returns to Lambeau Field?
I think Greg Jennings kind of benefits from all the other craziness going on in Green Bay right now with everything at quarterback, the injuries and the significance of this game. Nobody has really been talking about Greg Jennings, or at least as much as they were before the game going into Minneapolis. But Packers’ fans can be a pretty fickle bunch. They’re not going to forget the offseason. Personally, I don’t think Greg Jennings did anything to abrasive, but this team is a religion for fans. Anytime a player crosses the border to Minnesota or anytime a player speaks out against their team, they don’t forgive and they don’t forget. I imagine it’ll be pretty loud.
4.Linebacker Clay Matthews has played the last two games with a club after missing four weeks due to a broken right thumb. How has he looked while playing with a club?
He looked better this past game. He did have movement in his four fingers, but it was still difficult for him to grab, clutch and clutch. He had a sack, but he’s still not the Clay Matthews he wants to be. He has figured out a way to play with the cast as it gets smaller and smaller but a broken thumb, it’s not like you can just cut loose and do everything you want to do regardless of the cast.
It’s still an adjustment for him but really they need him out there. They don’t have a lot of better options. I’d understand if they had somebody else in there that can play, but Nick Perry has been injured. He was coming out before he broke his foot earlier this season. Mike Neal, a converted defensive end, was really good for a while but his body has kind of worn out a little bit. They’ve been given him rest at practice.
5.Four defensive backs on the injury report this week. Is there a concern of depth at the position for Sunday’s game?
I remember [Packers defensive back] Tramon Williams just a couple weeks ago telling me this was the deepest cornerback group he’s ever been around. This is a guy who played with Charles Woodson and Al Harris too. And so he kind of chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, I guess we’re going to find out exactly how deep we are.'
Sam Shields (hamstring) has really been shutting guys down this season. Casey Hayward (hamstring) might be done for the season. The injury list just keeps getting bigger and bigger and longer and longer [Packers defensive backs James Nixon (knee) and Micah Hyde (groin)]. It’ll be interesting to see who’s healthy out there.
I think luckily they play [Vikings quarterback] Christian Ponder instead of Drew Brees, but Ponder still might be able to take advantage of some things if he’s got a healthy receiving core.
Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 16. They win, but I don’t think it’ll be a pretty game.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't come out and say Christian Ponder will start on Sunday at Seattle. But he did admit that's the likely scenario, barring an unforeseen change in Ponder's progress from a separated left [non-throwing] shoulder on Saturday.
"Christian is better," Frazier said after today's practice. "We gave him a little bit more today in practice, so that was encouraging. We'll see how he feels tomorrow with the extended work he got today and then we'll make a determination based on where he is tomorrow. We want to make sure that he feels comfortable as well as our medical staff as well.
"The way he moved around today, he looked pretty good. Hopefully, he'll wake up tomorrow without any residual effects, negative effects from the workload that we gave him. But you never know."
Frazier wouldn't say whether Matt Cassell or Josh Freeman would serve as the backup, although Cassel looks to be the No. 2. Frazier also said it's possible the team will keep all three quarterbacks active against Seattle.
In other news:
|Vikings (3928)||People (1)|
|AFC (93)||Bears (483)|
|Ex-Vikings (50)||Football on TV (53)|
|Lions (373)||NFC (1399)|
|NFL draft (293)||NFL post-season (28)|
|Packers (529)||Super Bowl (285)|
|Vikings coaches (83)||Vikings defense (260)|
|Vikings fans (119)||Vikings injury report (293)|
|Vikings management (31)||Vikings off the field (282)|
|Vikings offense (369)||Vikings quarterbacks (262)|
|Vikings road games (77)||Vikings rookies (38)|
|Vikings roster moves (41)||Vikings special teams (40)|
|Vikings training camp (140)||Injury report (350)|
|Off the field (145)||On the road (88)|
|Quarterbacks (369)||Rookies (93)|
|Roster moves (19)||Vikings draft (275)|
|Vikings trade talk (2)||Vikings players (814)|
|Adrian Peterson (1002)||Anthony Herrera (161)|
|Antoine Winfield (412)||Ben Leber (97)|
|Bernard Berrian (213)||Bobby Wade (16)|
|Brad Childress (643)||Brett Favre (812)|
|Brian Robison (178)||Bryant McKinnie (107)|
|Cedric Griffin (194)||Chad Greenway (220)|
|Chester Taylor (79)||Chris Kluwe (125)|
|Darrell Bevell (120)||E.J. Henderson (184)|
|Heath Farwell (50)||Jared Allen (427)|
|John Sullivan (215)||Kevin Williams (243)|
|Leslie Frazier (940)||Madieu Williams (78)|
|Pat Williams (156)||Percy Harvin (684)|
|Phil Loadholt (169)||Ray Edwards (173)|
|Ryan Longwell (145)||Sage Rosenfels (102)|
|Sidney Rice (273)||Steve Hutchinson (192)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (173)||Tyrell Johnson (152)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (216)||Brad Childress (647)|
|Darrell Bevell (121)||Leslie Frazier (949)|