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 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was asked at the NFL Combine in February whether it was true that he was so obsessed with football that he doesn’t think about anything else.
“Yes. I eat, sleep and breathe football,” Bridgewater responded. “There’s not a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking about football whether it’s I’m playing a game, practicing, watching film, even on the video game. A lot of people ask me what do I do on the video game. I call it taking virtual reps. Each day, I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to outwork my opponent, outsmart my opponent and just try to be the best quarterback that I can be.”
Bridgewater said on Wednesday he’s still taking “virtual reps” in the NFL as well. He said video games are so advanced that the defenses in the game are similar to those in real life.
“I try to take as many reps as I can,” Bridgewater said. “Whether it’s on a video game, playing EA Madden Football or in the playbook, just drawing it or visualizing it in my head, I try to maximize every rep I can get and every opportunity that I can take.
“It helps because you get one more rep than you had in practice, actual practice. Any chance you get to take an extra rep or go the extra step, extra mile, it’s going to be very beneficial transferring it to the field.”
*Bridgewater also touched on his deep ball accuracy, which offensive coordinator Norv Turner said has been ‘outstanding’ so far. It was considered a weakness of Bridgewater by many draft pundits.
“It’s just been all footwork – laying it and playing,” Bridgewater said on the improvement. “I’ve been able to watch Matt [Cassel], watch Christian [Ponder] and watch how those guys have had great success throwing the deep ball and try to apply some of the things that they’re doing to my game also.
*Linebacker Anthony Barr felt he’s coming along well despite his month long absence due to NFL restrictions on rookies that haven’t finished their finals.
“I was real bored,” Barr said of the layoff. “The longest four weeks, really. It was a good time for me to kind of decompress a little bit and get my mind right for this.
“There's a little bit of a learning curve, missing OTAs but it kind of is what it is,” Barr said. “I’ve just got to catch up and continue to watch film and continue to get better.”
Barr has been mixed in as a linebacker in the base 4-3 and nickel. He’s also been used with his hand in the ground while at defensive end, which Barr said he’s never done before.
“That’s something that’s still real new to me, and something I worked on when I was gone,” Barr said. “So, I’m going to continue to improve on as I continue to practice it.”
*The Vikings released a statement from general manager Rick Spielman thanking former defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who signed with the Seahawks, for 11 seasons with the franchise.
“Kevin Williams earned a place in Vikings history and continued the proud tradition of great defensive linemen to wear purple. Kevin’s work ethic, humility and team-first approach is a model for younger players. A 6-time Pro Bowler and 5-time 1st-Team All-Pro, Kevin was honored as an NFL All-Decade player for the 2000s along with a spot on the 50 Greatest Vikings squad. We wish him the best and will always count him as a member of the Vikings family.”
Former Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said in a radio interview two days ago that he was still speaking with the Vikings about a potential return. Those conversations are now over.
Williams has agreed to one-year contract with the Seahawks, the team announced on Twitter.
After the Vikings allowed Williams to reach free agency, the 33-year-old first visited with the Giants and then the Seahawks in April. He recently visited the Patriots. And in an interview this week with SiriusXM NFL Radio, he said the Vikings "might be trying to ease back into the picture."
That supposed interest was a little surprising considering the Vikings say they are happy with the depth and talent they have on the defensive line after overhauling it during a busy offseason.
In that same radio interview, Williams said he would like to join a team with a good quarterback and a chance to win. One would think Russell Wilson and the defending Super Bowl champs fit the bill.
Williams, who last offseason talked about coming to grips with the fact that he was in the twilight of his fine career, had a career-low 29 tackles last season with 3.5 sacks and one interception.
Williams, a first-round pick in 2003, was selected to six Pro Bowls in his 11 years in Minnesota. He finished his Vikings career with 463 tackles, 60 sacks, five interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
Former Vikings Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams is still looking for a team for the 2014 season after the Vikings allowed him to reach free agency back in March. He has visited the Giants and Seahawks and most recently the 33-year-old has been courted by the Patriots.
But in an interview on SiriusXM today, Williams said he has heard from another team: the Vikings.
“We had several talks since [head coach Mike Zimmer has] been there," Williams said. "They just felt they were going to try to go younger, but still they talked to [my agent] lately and they might be trying to ease back into the picture. We’ll know more maybe as the week goes on.”
It had appeared that the Vikings had moved on from Williams after they showed little interest in re-signing him before he reached free agency, signed defensive linemen Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson and Corey Wootton, brought back Fred Evans, and took nose tackle Shamar Stephen late in the draft.
Zimmer said last week that he thought the team would have good depth along the defensive line once everyone was healthy and rookies Anthony Barr and Scott Crichton were eligible to practice with the team. So it’s a little surprising to hear that the Vikings and Williams are talking again.
Williams said in the radio interview that he is fine with being a rotational player at this point in his career and he is optimistic that he will sign a deal with a team before the start of training camp. He ideally would like to play for a team with a good quarterback that has a chance to win in 2014.
“I’ve been having a few talks with some teams, the ones that I met with. They’re kind of picking up a little bit so hopefully we can knock something out in the next week or two,” Williams said. “Hopefully sooner than later, to put it like that, and I’ll be signed before camp.”
Williams, who has said he would be comfortable with retirement if the right opportunity didn’t come along, feels he still has something to give to an NFL team. We’ll see if the Vikings agree.
A lot has changed in the sports world since the last time I compiled whom NFL mock drafters were projecting to the Vikings for the blog. The Wild are one Game 7 win away from their first playoff series win in more than a decade. Donald Sterling has been banned from the NBA. And Teddy Bridgewater is no longer worthy of a top-10 pick, at least in the eyes of some draft analysts.
Remember the last time I did this mock draft roundup? Five of the 10 draft analysts I randomly picked had the Vikings selecting the Louisville quarterback with the eighth overall pick.
Now? He is allegedly plummeting down draft boards, and the mock drafters are scrambling to account for it. Only one of the 10 analysts I picked is projecting Bridgewater to the Vikings now.
So who are all these guys mocking to the Vikings instead? Start scrolling to see a small sample.
Mel Kiper, ESPN: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. “Obviously, the current tandem of Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder isn't the long-term answer,” Kiper wrote. “On the other hand, the presence of both provides a reasonable basis for drafting a quarterback, because there's no need to simply force-feed a rookie the starting role out of the gate. I think Bortles will benefit from some time in the system before he's forced to handle first-team reps. I'll say again that Bortles is a very good athlete with excellent pocket instincts and can benefit from his ability to create some yards with his legs, as we've seen from a few other young quarterbacks recently.
Brian Baldinger, NFL.com: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. “Mike Zimmer has always done it through defense everywhere he's been,” Baldinger wrote. “As much as they need a quarterback, Barr would be a great fit for Zimmer. He's only played linebacker for two years, but I think his upside is all in the NFL. Two years from now I think he'll be a Pro Bowl player.”
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama. “Why take a quarterback here and ignore a position where the Vikings need a day one starter?” he wrote. “They can come back in the second round for [LSU quarterback] Zach Mettenberger.”
Dan Kadar, SB Nation: Bortles. “Minnesota has one of the poorest quarterback situations in the NFL,” he wrote. “If Bortles is there with the eighth pick -- and he may not be -- he should be the choice for the Vikings. No other position will make as much of an impact on the franchise.”
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. “Best player on the board or quarterback? The Vikings desperately need an identity at quarterback, something Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater could bring to Minnesota,” Brugler wrote. “But more of a ‘sure thing’ might be the direction here and Aaron Donald would be Mike Zimmer's new Geno Atkins.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “How low will Teddy go? That's the popular question that seems to be sparking wide-ranging debate as this year's longer-than-usual draft season unfolds,” Banks wrote. “While some mocks have him even falling out of the first round these days, I can't see how that worst-case scenario unfolds, and I'm pushing back against the anti-Bridgewater movement. The Vikings seem like a nice fit.”
Aaron Wilson, Baltimore Sun: Donald. “Donald has an array of pass-rushing moves, including a great swim move for a shorter defensive lineman. Donald isn't small, just short,” he wrote. “He overpowers blockers with an impressive charge and dominated at the Senior Bowl. The Vikings have moved on from Kevin Williams and could use a player like Donald to plug into his spot.”
Charles Davis, NFL.com: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. “So much discussion about a QB going here,” he wrote, “but with new head coach Mike Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator, in town, a defender gets the nod.
Thor Nystrom, Rotoworld: Bortles. “Anthony Barr and Aaron Donald will be discussed, and Peter King reported that the club won’t take a QB here, but I’m banking on Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner not being content with their futures in Matt Cassell’s shaky grip,” Nystrom wrote.
Todd McShay, ESPN: Bortles. “The Vikings need a long-term answer at quarterback, but the presence of Matt Cassel (who did not play terribly last season) would allow for Bortles to sit for at least part of his rookie season, which is an ideal situation for him,” McShay wrote. “He has prototypical size and good mobility, and I think that issues with his mechanics are fixable.”
With the 2014 NFL draft a month away to the day, now seems like a good time to check in to see whom the growing number of NFL draft analysts have the Vikings picking in their latest first-round mock drafts.
Sneak preview: Their need for a long-term solution at quarterback is a reoccurring theme.
While a few notable draft analysts project that the Vikings, who need a major turnaround on defense, will address the defensive side of the ball with the eighth overall pick, the consensus is that the Vikings will select a quarterback in the first round for the second time in four years.
One quarterback in particular is being linked to the Vikings a lot.
Dan Kadar, SB Nation: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. “Although media reports may disagree, choosing Bridgewater with this pick wouldn't be a reach,” Kadar wrote. “In fact, he's our top-rated quarterback. In a sense, this would be the anti-Christian Ponder choice. Instead of reaching for a quarterback, the Vikings could sit at eight and get the best one available.”
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Bridgewater. “The Vikings have been linked to Bridgewater in recent weeks and if he's still on the board with this pick, could they really pass on him? I don't see how and they shouldn't,” he wrote.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. “At face value, Johnny Manziel and Mike Zimmer may seem like an odd couple -- but sometimes those situations work out the best,” Miller wrote. “His style of play may not be prototypical, but you can certainly appreciate his skill set and the ways in which he makes a defense uncomfortable. No one will understand that better than Zimmer given his background as a defensive coordinator.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. “If I were to rank the two or three likeliest teams to trade out of their first-round pick, the Vikings would be right in the mix,” McShay wrote. “But if they stay put, I think the Vikings take the best player available, either offensive tackle Jake Matthews or cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. I'll go with Gilbert, the top corner prospect on our board who has excellent speed, size and playmaking ability.”
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. “The re-signing of Matt Cassel gives Rick Spielman plenty of options on draft day,” Brooks wrote. “He could replace Kevin Williams with a Geno Atkins-clone who is an ideal fit in Mike Zimmer's aggressive scheme.”
Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “The Vikings still have Christian Ponder under contract, and they re-signed Matt Cassel. But Zimmer will still have a problem if he expects either of those guys to lift the Vikings out of the cellar in a very tough NFC North division," he wrote. "Bridgewater was maligned by many after a less than impressive pro day, but he has a lot of skills, he sees the field well, and though his ceiling may not be as high as Manziel’s or [UCF quarterback Blake] Bortles’, that may appeal to Zimmer, who wants a quarterback he doesn’t have to worry about.”
Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. “With Jared Allen gone, the Vikings are in desperate need of a defensive playmaker,” Farmer wrote. “Barr fills the bill.”
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. “The Vikings won't take just any quarterback at this spot in the draft for Norv Turner's offense,” he wrote. “If Carr is available he makes the most sense. Minnesota may have to jump over Oakland to get him.”
Matt Smith, NFL.com: Bridgewater. “They have a Pro Bowl left tackle in Matt Kalil, a Hall of Fame running back in Adrian Peterson and two solid receivers,” he wrote. “The need is a quarterback who is able to navigate all of those tools as efficiently as possible.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “His so-so pro day performance didn't help his cause one bit, and we're now down to debating whether he should be throwing with or without a glove,” Banks wrote. “That's the way the pre-draft fault-finding process works, especially for first-round quarterbacks. But the Vikings might represent a pretty soft landing for Bridgewater, who wouldn't have to be rushed onto the field with veteran Matt Cassel re-signed and ready to handle the starting job this season.”
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