Dan Wiederer began covering the Vikings in 2011, enthusiastically delivering insight on the team across the Star Tribune's print and digital products. Prior to joining the Access Vikings team, he spent seven seasons covering ACC basketball at The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer. He also covered the Chicago Bears in 2003 and 2004. Follow him on Twitter @StribDW.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
The Vikings will hold their 10th and final Organized Team Activity on Thursday at Winter Park before reconvening next week for a three-day mini-camp. And as the offseason program enters the finishing stretch, third-year quarterback Christian Ponder continues zeroing in on making good reads more consistently.
On Wednesday afternoon, before teeing off at the team’s annual golf outing, an event that benefits the Vikings’ Children’s Fund, Ponder was asked how he’s measuring himself during this OTA stretch.“
The biggest thing is decision making,” he said. “Obviously you want to complete as many balls as possible, especially in things like 7-on-7. But we’re being put into some hard situations as well. Third-and-long. Blitz. A lot of blitz drills and everything. So it’s tough. I think the defense definitely has the upper hand in these drills. But it’s good for us to see that. And it makes the quarterback make smart decisions and get the ball out quick. So you want to see completions and the right decisions.”
Ponder knows the bar has been raised for him in his third year as a starter. And with back-up Matt Cassel now in the picture, his leash might not be quite as long in 2013 if his struggles are extreme. Still, the Vikings quarterback said the key in May and June is to feel things out within the offense without feeling exorbitant pressure.
“This is a time for us as an offense to just try a bunch of new stuff and see what sticks and see what we like,” Ponder said. “And there are a lot of new plays going in and everything. So it’s a fun time. It’s fun to try out quirky plays and see what the defense does. And the defense is doing the same thing, running funky coverages and everything. But our mindset is we want to get better every day and see a progression heading into training camp.”
On the injury front, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier reported that Chad Greenway’s Thursday morning arthroscopic surgery to clean up his left knee went well as expected. Greenway will be out of action until training camp begins in late July.
Fellow linebacker Nate Williams, signed in April as an undrafted free agent, has also undergone minor ankle surgery and, according to Frazier, will be sidelined until camp opens in Mankato as well.
The Vikings have their share of injuries to keep tabs on, especially with Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen continuing rehabilitation on his left shoulder in which he had a labrum tear repaired shortly after last season ended. Allen has been at Winter Park the past two weeks but not on the practice field. And he won’t be back in action during mini-camp next week either.
But Frazier said Wednesday he anticipated very few injury issues to still be a concern when the team reports to Mankato. The longest shot to be ready may be second-year receiver Greg Childs, who continues attacking his recovery from torn patellar tendons in both knees.
Frazier said after Tuesday’s practice that he isn’t certain how quickly Childs will receive medical clearance to return to full action but won’t rule out the receiver getting back to practice early in training camp.
"I have my fingers crossed, hoping that that will happen," Frazier said. "I'm waiting on [head athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman and our medical staff to give us the green light. But that would be my hope. We'll see what happens. I'm not sure what direction it will go."
Center of attention
On Wednesday, Frazier also noted that the team is closely monitoring the progress of standout center John Sullivan, who had microfracture surgery on his left knee.
In Sullivan’s absence during OTAs, the Vikings have tinkered with back-up plans at center. Veteran Joe Berger has seen work there. In addition, Brandon Fusco, who started all 16 games at right guard and is the expected starter there for 2013, has also handled snaps.
“We don’t see any problems with Sully being ready to go,” Frazier said. “But you want to make sure that you have other guys prepared.”
Fusco was a center during his college career at Slippery Rock and could be an option at the position if Sullivan’s recovery was to hit an unforeseen snag or if he had any lingering knee issues that sidelined him during the season.
Sliding Fusco to center, of course, would then open up the competition at right guard where rookies Jeff Baca and Travis Bond as well as veteran Seth Olsen could figure into the mix.
Still, Frazier believes Sullivan’s recuperation will stay on track which would give the Vikings the luxury of opening training camp with the same starting offensive line that started all 16 games last year.
“We’ve still got to see a little more progress out of John Sullivan,” Frazier said. “He’s making progress. But we want to continue to see that. … You just want to see him continue to gain confidence and not be worried about the surgery but just move on. And he’s making progress. From everything that Eric Sugarman tells me, he’s on target. He’s moving in the right direction. And we’ve got enough time for him to continue to improve. Hopefully when we get started, he’ll be able to go full go right away.”
The Brian Urlacher-to-the-Vikings rumor reading has moved from tepid to cool today after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier shot down Tuesday's report by a Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist that Urlacher was leaning toward signing with the team.
Frazier said today on NFL AM that the Vikings would continue to plan on using players already on their team at the middle linebacking spot.
Said Frazier: "Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He was a thorn in our side for many years. At this point we want to look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position then we'll see where it takes us."
Erin Henderson continues to be the leading candidate to move from the outside to the middle for the Vikings.
Tuesday's report, along with the Vikings' rookie signings, can be found here.
Here's the transcript, courtesy of nfl.com, of Frazier's chat:
On if running back Adrian Peterson has wanted to work out too hard this offseason:
“It kind of happened not by his choice. He had the abdominal strain late in the season and that has kind of slowed him this offseason as far as being able to kick things into overdrive and doing things the way he wants to do it. It has slowed him down a little bit, but he just about back to 100% doing everything he needs to be able to do to be in the best possible shape for this season.”
On if the offseason moves were geared towards easing the workload of running back Adrian Peterson:
“We would like to be more balanced. We obviously pride ourselves on being able to run the football and being able to stop the run on defense but we think in order to take that next step, as a team and as an offense, we need to be able to create that balance by being able to pass the ball a little bit better. We think with the acquisition of Greg, along with what we did in the draft, and some of the other guys coming back – a healthy Jerome Simpson, our tight end Kyle Rudolph – we think we are going to be a better team throwing the football, which should, hopefully, open up more holes for Adrian Peterson.”
On quarterback Christian Ponder:
“This will be his third season, his second season as a full time starter. We are expecting him to take another step forward. We saw glimpses in the month in December – when we went 4-0 – of what he can be. We are really excited about some of the things we saw down the stretch of the season and we are looking for him to carry that over to our next season.”
On if the Vikings are interested in linebacker Brian Urlacher
“Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He has been a torn in our side for many years. At this point, we want to take a look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position and then we will see where it takes us.”
On new Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings:
“His experience jumps out at you for sure. Knowing where we are, at the receiver position, having a guy of his caliber – a Pro Bowl player, a great player in our league for a number of years now – his leadership, his experience, his big play ability, it’s still there. He was been banged up a bit the last couple of years but he is healthy now. We are looking forward to him having a great season in Minnesota.”
On the three first round draft picks: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson:
“I like our guys. They are going to be good players for our football team. We are hoping they are going to have an impact this first season.”
On if the expects the first round picks to be week 1 starters:
“There is enough competition on our team where they don’t have to come in and start right away. But if that were to happen, it would be a good thing for our team. Each one will have a chance to start.”
On if defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is upset with how far he fell in the draft:
“He pretty excited about being a Minnesota Viking. Once you get to know Sharrif, you realize he is a very humble guy who kind of gets it for a young guy. He is not caught up on where he was taken. He is happy to be a Viking.”
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