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 receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was held out of practice today for precautionary reasons and has been listed by the team as day to day with a foot injury. A source called it a "minor" issue.
Because of the injury, Patterson didn't take his conditioning test when players reported to camp on Thursday. The first practice of camp was today. The team will won't be allowed to put full pads on and begin hitting until Sunday.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
Pushing carts stocked with flat-screen TVs and video-game systems -- in Everson Griffen’s case, an old Nintendo 64 -- and pulling wheeled suitcases into the dorms, Vikings players on Thursday reported to the quiet campus of Minnesota State Mankato for the start of training camp.
After dropping off their stuff in their rooms, they took their physicals and had to run the team’s conditioning test, something Adrian Peterson said previous coaching staffs never asked players to do. But the Vikings didn’t put on helmets or pick up any footballs. That all comes today.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Wanting to focus on football today, the Vikings made Mike Priefer available yesterday.
--- Chase Ford is expected to miss all of camp, but Matt Kalil and Linval Joseph are good to go.
--- Adrian Peterson wants to know who is going to start at quarterback soon, too.
--- This is more than a day old, but oh well, here is my pre-camp Q&A with Mike Zimmer.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Packers WR Jordy Nelson wants to get paid.
--- The Lions put WR Golden Tate and DE Ziggy Ansah on the PUP list at the start of camp.
--- The Bears are learning to deal with high expectations.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Camp Zimmer officially kicks off at Minnesota State Mankato with a morning walkthrough that starts at 10:30 a.m. The first full practice runs from 3 p.m. to approximately 5:10 p.m. and players will be in helmets and shells. The first full-padded practice isn’t until Sunday afternoon.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Ten different quarterbacks have started a game for the Vikings since Peterson entered the league in 2007. No wonder the guy is hoping for a little stability at the position this season.
MANKATO, Minn. – If Mike Zimmer somehow forgets the No. 1 decision he faces as a rookie head coach, there's a certain former NFL MVP who could probably remind him.
Tucked away in today's transcript of Adrian Peterson's first interview of training camp was his thoughts on the quarterback situation and the importance of coming to a quick, definitive decision when it comes to deciding whether to start Matt Cassel, Teddy Bridgewater or even the long, long, long shot, Christian Ponder.
“I feel like it’s going to be very important for us,” running back Adrian Peterson said Thursday as players reported to Minnesota State Mankato for the start of training camp. “It’s not a secret. The quarterback position really hasn’t played well.”
Peterson went on to express confidence in Cassel and Ponder because of their efforts to improve this offseason and rookie Bridgewater, a first-round draft pick who was meticulously researched by the Vikings prior to the draft.
“I feel like we have three good quarterbacks right now,” Peterson said. “Basing everything off OTAs and the minicamps, of course Matt Cassel is our guy, with Christian Ponder and Bridgewater right there. I have confidence in our organization from the top to the bottom, the head coach.”
Zimmer said the first-team reps will not be split evenly between the three quarterbacks when practice begins on Friday. But that’s subject to change based on daily performance on the field and in the classroom.
“In my mind, I have Cassel as the No. 1 quarterback going into camp, but I don’t have a starter in mind yet,” Zimmer said. “They’re going to determine who the starter is on the practice field about how they go about their business, how they perform in the preseason games.”
Barring something completely unforseen, the competition is between Cassel and Bridgewater. Asked essentially if he'd have the courage to start a rookie quarterback, Zimmer said, "The Minnesota Vikings, (General Manager) Rick (Spielman) and myself, we’re really not afraid to do anything. It’s really about doing what we feel is best.
"If we do make a mistake, pick the wrong guy or play the left corner the wrong guy to play, then we’ll try to fix it at that time. That’s part of adjusting. I have no problem playing a rookie quarterback, or a ninth year veteran or a fourth year veteran. We’re going to do what we think is best collectively as a group. I’m lucky as heck to have Norv Turner here to help with this decision. I was lucky to have him in the draft process to help there and honestly our scouts. I know I keep saying these kinds of things and people think that I’m saying it, but it is true. I’ve been in a lot of organizations and these are first class people that know their jobs very, very well."
One area where the Vikings need to get much better, on both sides of the ball, is on third down.
Of course, it is easy to look at where the Vikings ranked defensively and point to that as the bigger issue, but the offense’s inability to convert on third down was also very costly a season ago.
You can probably spread the blame throughout the offense from the pass protectors to the guys running the routes. But in the end, there is a reason why the quarterbacks make the big bucks. And on third down last season, the Vikings quarterbacks ranked among the NFL’s least efficient.
According to Pro Football Focus, only former Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, now with the Seahawks, fared worse than Matt Cassel on third down. Christian Ponder was not much better.
On the 80 dropbacks that PFF charted, Cassel completed just 37 of his 70 attempts for 536 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. His accuracy percentage -- completion percentage taking drops into consideration -- on third down was near the bottom of the league at just 62.9 percent, lower than quarterbacks such as Josh Freeman, Thaddeus Lewis and Brandon Weeden.
Interestingly, it was the shorter conversions that gave Cassel the most trouble. He ranked near the bottom of the league on both 3rd-and-medium and 3rd-and-short. When it came to the latter, Cassel completed just one of his 10 attempts with a NFL passer rating of zero point zero.
As for Ponder, he completed 41 of his 66 third-down attempts for 443 yards and his accuracy percentage was a little higher than Cassel's at 66.7 percent. He threw three interceptions on the down, though, with no touchdowns. Ponder also took 12 sacks, a lot on only 92 dropbacks.
The Vikings converted 36.4 percent their third downs, last in the NFC North and 19th in the NFL.
With seven career interceptions in five seasons, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn leads Chris Cook, his predecessor as a Vikings starter, by, well, seven career interceptions.
While seven picks in 77 regular season games doesn't qualify Munnerlyn as the next Deion, the five returns for touchdowns do tend to jump off the screen. Among active NFL players, he's fifth in career interception returns for touchdowns and 15th in career non-offensive touchdowns.
If that's not enough, consider this: In his past 28 games, Munnerlyn has four interceptions, all of which have been returned for touchdowns.
"I think it's my punt return skills coming into play," Munnerlyn said last week when we talked to him for Sunday's story. "That’s something I pride myself on. It seems like every time I get the ball, I end up in the end zone. Me being a punt returner, all I see are offensive lineman out there when I intercept the ball. I figure, `Man, if I get past these receivers, there’s no offensive lineman who is going to tackle me.'"
In his career, Munnerlyn has intercepted Carson Palmer (Bengals), Jake Delhomme (Browns), Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Josh Freeman (Buccaneers), Sam Bradford (Rams) and Geno Smith (Jets). He's had touchdown returns of 74 yards (Freeman), 45 yards (Bradford), 41 yards (Smith), 37 yards (Delhomme) and 31 yards (Wilson).
But as a punt returner, he's never scored a touchdown in 75 returns. His longest return is a 37-yarder and his average is 9.0.
Munnerlyn, a seventh-round pick in 2009, returned punts in 2009 (9.0 average), 2010 (10.9) and 2012 (5.1). He also has four career kickoff returns for a 29.8-yard average, but hasn't returned on since 2012.
When Munnerlyn became a starter in 2011, the Panthers turned to Armanti Edwards as a punt returner. He finished last in the league with a 5.5-yard average.
The Panthers gave the job back to Munnerlyn in 2012. In 14 returns, he averaged 5.1 yards. The Panthers decided it was time to go get Ted Ginn, who averaged 12.2 yards last season.
On paper, it would seem that Munnerlyn wouldn't be a punt returner candidate in Minnesota. After all, Marcus Sherels finished second in the league last season with a franchise-record 15.2-yard average.
But Sherels is one of those NFL players who is perpetually scrapping to save his spot on the roster. He's undersized, doesn't have great speed and is overmatched when forced to play cornerback. But he's also very good at being durable, reliable and just good enough to force coaches to keep him.
For now, Sherels is the No. 1 punt returner. Munnerlyn, however, has been fielding punts as well just in case.
Asked if he thinks he'll be able to put those return skills to work as a punt returner, the 26-year-old Munnerlyn sounded like he'd prefer that Sherels keep the job.
"Oooh, I don't know about returning punts [this year]," he said. "That was back in my younger days. This is my sixth year. I don't know if the body can hold up and take all those hits."
Here are some other leftovers from our chat with Munnerlyn:
On the key to playing corner in the slot: "You got to have patience in the slot. Everything moves so fast, but you have to be smart, have the leverage that your coach wants you to play. And you have to be a great tackler because those guys catch those five-yard routes and if you’re not a good tackler, they can turn those five-yard routes into 10, 15 yards. I figure you just have to have want-to. The want-to to make plays. Being on the outside, you have a little room for error. If you slip here or there, you can catch up. in the slot, if you slip and the quarterback sees it and he can make that throw quick and you’re done."
On whether the NFC North or NFC South has the better receivers: "I think the NFC North has the biggest receivers. Hands-down. But both of divisions are stacked with receivers. But I have to go with the NFC North. They got Megatron. They signed Golden Tate [Detroit]. They got Brandon Marshall and my former college teammate, Alshon Jeffery in Chicago."
On whether the NFC North has a tight end that compares to Jimmy Graham: "I don’t think so. I can’t think of a tight end off the top of my head who’s on his level right now. He’s a beast, he’s tough and he likes to talk. But he backs it up."
On the best receiver in the game today: "It's Megatron [Calvin Johnson]. He’s a big body. With those guys, I feel I have to get up and press those guys because if I just play off, it’s going to be just pitch and catch because of their body frame and stuff like that. Being a smaller corner, I have to get up and press and knock their timing off."
On how he was used against Atlanta's receivers: "I didn't shadow anybody because I played in the slot in passing situations. Most of the time, I followed Julio Jones, but then on third down, we put our other corner on him and I slid inside and usually faced Harry [Douglas] or Roddy [White]."
On how he was used against New Orleans: "Same thing. I always on [Marques] Colston most of the time. I thank the coaches for that now because it helped me out playing taller receivers. I'm going to need that playing in the NFC North. He always was the slot guy. And my coaches would put me against Jimmy Graham, too. They told me to get in his face, press him and try to knock off his timing off so Drew Brees couldn't find him."
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