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.
Every day On most days, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening that day.
The Vikings don’t care about your delicious dinner. They don’t care that your ribs are falling off the bone. They just want to sign Kyle Rudolph before he explodes.
On Sunday night, as a group of unsuspecting Vikings beat reporters chowed down at Number 4 restaurant in Mankato, the Vikings signed the 24-year-old tight end to a five-year contract extension that makes him one of the highest-paid tight ends in the game.
Is Rudolph worth it? We might not know until a couple of years from now. After all, we are talking about a guy who made the Pro Bowl -- and was named MVP -- after catching nine touchdowns in 2012 and then missed half of 2013 with a fractured foot. But seemingly everyone around Vikings training camp seems to think Rudolph is poised for a breakout season under coordinator Norv Turner.
It had to be an interesting negotiation considering what Rudolph accomplished in 2012 and what injury kept him from accomplishing in 2013. I can’t help but think of Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, a comparable player I covered in Baltimore.
Pitta put up nice numbers in 2012, but he fractured and dislocated his hip early in training camp and missed most of the 2013 season. Still, the Ravens rewarded him with a big extension that is similar to the five-year, $36.5 million deal that Rudolph signed late last night.
Anyway, the talk of training camp today is going to be Rudolph’s big deal, and you can be sure his Vikings teammates will be giving him plenty of grief after he got nearly $20 million guaranteed.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
--- Cordarrelle Patterson is feeling better, but hasn’t been cleared yet.
--- Mike Zimmer is not afraid of a little bit of rain.
--- The Vikings know that playing offensive line in the NFL isn’t getting any easier.
--- Norv Turner wants a “physical presence” at fullback.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
AROUND THE NFC NORTH
--- Lions coach Jim Caldwell "absolutely" believes a deal will get done with DT Ndamukong Suh.
--- Packers WR Randall Cobb says he hasn’t done enough to get a new deal.
--- Bears RB Matt Forte is apparently showing no signs of slowing down.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
After a rainy but seemingly productive first day in pads, Camp Zimmer continues Monday with a morning walkthrough then a rare night practice that should ratchet the intensity up a bit. A larger crowd is expected at Blakeslee Stadium for the practice, which runs from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Bill Barnwell does a great job writing about the NFL for ESPN’s Grantland site. He recently did a series looking at the best and worst contracts in the league. Two Vikings players made his list of the worst contracts, and you might not be able to guess who without peeking. I’ll give you a moment to muster up a guess. … Just a few more seconds. ... OK, pencils down. They were WR Greg Jennings and DE Everson Griffen. Go ahead and clink on that link to hear Barnwell’s logic.
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.
Throughout the offseason workouts and minicamp practices we were allowed to attend, new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer often drifted toward his defensive backs to quickly chew them out or coach them up. Zimmer got his start in the NFL as a defensive backs coach with the Cowboys, so this is nothing new. But his notable focus on the secondary is also necessitated by the fact that the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL in pass defense last season. He will have a few key decisions to make on the back end down in Mankato, with two of his five starters still unsettled.
In the final installment of our “Going Camping” series, let’s take a look at the Vikings secondary.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Vikings gave Zimmer some quality young defensive backs to work with. Free safety Harrison Smith had a frustrating 2013 season, but the talent is there. Xavier Rhodes, a 2013 first-round pick, made steady progress throughout his rookie season and is seen by some in the national media as a future star. The Vikings also signed former Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who will play on the outside in the base defense and move inside in the nickel (given the way NFL offenses operate today, he will be in the slot a lot). But the rest of the secondary is uncertain. The battle at strong safety appears to be wide open, especially since incumbent starter Jamarca Sanford was sidelined throughout the spring. With Sanford and Andrew Sendejo sitting out, Robert Blanton and Kurt Coleman were given an opportunity to impress Zimmer, as was sixth-round pick Antone Exum. The Vikings must also choose their third cornerback -- which is basically a starting position in today’s NFL -- among Josh Robinson, Derek Cox and Marcus Sherels, along with rookies Jabari Price and Kendall James.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: Whoever wins the safety battle will be expected to play more snaps, but one could argue the third cornerback will be more critical to the defense. The Vikings appear to be in good shape with Rhodes lined up on the left and Munnerlyn in the slot. But opponents will look to attack the weakest link, so another cornerback needs to step up. Robinson and Cox, who both disappointed in 2013 (Cox played for the Chargers), are the most likely candidates.
THE BURNING QUESTION: How good can Rhodes be in his second season? It’s easy to assume that he will continue to ascend, especially after he had a strong spring, but the development of young cornerbacks isn’t always linear. Especially when that young cornerback has to match up against wide receivers like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Jordy Nelson.
Quick wrapup from the Metrodome, where the Vikings beat the Titans 24-23. Crowd was announced at 62,603, I'd say seats were 9-17ths occupied.
No Vikings starters played, but it was an entertaining game. Both teams punted once each, and it moved right along.
The only delay came when Vikings guard Seth Olsen was down for about 10 minutes after taking a knee to his helmet while blocking. He was strapped to a board and went off on a stretcher after being basically motionless. The Vikings announced a neck injury. Olsen was OK in the locker room afterward, going through his normal routine, but couldn't speak to the media because of the NFL's concussion protocol.
Other injuries: Bobby Felder, maybe in a battle for the reserve cornerback and No. 1 punt return spot with Marcus Sherels, left on the final play of the third quarter because of a right ankle spain. And defensive end D'Aundre Reed also sprained an ankle.
Sherels had a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception after missing Sunday's loss at San Francisco because of his father's funeral. Quite a comeback and quite a statement in his battle to make the team. Chip is writing about Sherels for the paper.
Coach Leslie Frazier said cuts will be discussed tomorrow and revealed Saturday. The team must get from 75 to 53 by 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Matt Asiata carried eight times for 32 yards and a 1-yard TD on the Vikings' opening offensive series. He was replaced by Joe Banyard, who carried 13 times for 62 yards and scored on an 11-yard pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson. MBT was 19-for-26 for 187 yards and the TD, and had one picked.
Blair Walsh missed from 45 but made from 25 in the fourth quarter. The second, with 1:38 left, decided the game.
Desmond Bishop had a nice game at linebacker with seven tackles, two for loss.
Lots of hopeful faces in the locker room, but more than a few looks of resignation from the 30 or so players how have to worry about their jobs.
Banyard, a bubble guy, said if he makes the team "I might cry. I really might cry. I will definitely have to thank the good Lord, and then I'll just cry because I know this is where I want to be."
Joe Webb, the converted QB trying to make the team as a WR, said "I am going to get a peace of mind, and hopefully the coaches will make the right decision."
Former Minnesota State (Mankato) standout receiver Adam Thielen, a long shot to make the roster: "It has been awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better situation. It has been a blast just being here."
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