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.
Cullen Loeffler was seemingly put in a difficult spot when independent investigators hired by the Vikings approached him after the 2013 season. Say one thing and he could put his boss’s job -- and his own -- in jeopardy. Deny it and he would have gone against the word of his former teammate.
Loeffler, the Vikings’ long snapper since 2004, chose to corroborate former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s claim that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer uttered an anti-gay statement during a team setting in 2012. His involvement in the investigation led to an acknowledgement from Priefer that he did make the remark that ultimately led to a three-game suspension.
Today, Loeffler said he never worried about losing his job and said he has the team’s support.
“It wasn’t difficult,” he said. “I just told the truth, as the Vikings wanted me to tell the truth. They’ve been supportive throughout the process and it wasn’t hard for me at all.”
While one can’t justify making an anti-gay comment -- especially that “nuke the gays” comment Priefer is apparently apologizing for -- at their workplace (or anywhere else, really), context is key in this situation. And Loeffler maintains he thought Priefer was joking when he said it, as he told the investigators.
And allegedly Kluwe was in on the joke, too.
“I never thought that it was a serious comment,” Loeffler said. “I always thought it was a joke. They both laughed about it. I never thought anything about it.”
Kluwe laughed about it?
“It happened so long ago,” Loeffler said. “I don’t really remember the exact reaction other than that he had laughed as well at that time.”
Loeffler said that he hasn’t talked to Kluwe “in quite some time,” their last conversation taking place before Kluwe’s made his claims public in a January article on Deadspin.com.
After a few questions about Kluwe, Loeffler said he is ready to move on from this situation and getting his focus back to snapping footballs cleanly and flying under the radar.
“I’m glad that the investigation has now come to a close,” Loeffler said. “Now back here, I’m excited about playing football and I’m ready to go.”
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."
Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph and left tackle Matt Kalil weren’t full participants over the past three months, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he expects both ready for the first practice on Friday pending a conditioning test on Thursday.
Meanwhile, tight end Chase Ford could be headed to the physically unable to perform list. Ford said he had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot on July 16. He arrived to Mankato on Thursday in crutches with a purple boot around his left foot. Ford said he had a screw placed in his foot doesn’t expect to be available until the start of the regular season.
Ford said he wasn’t sure when the injured occurred but his left foot did bother him during OTAs. He was competing for the backup tight end position with Rhett Ellison, Allen Reisner and AC Leonard.
“It’s a setback but everything happens for a reason,” Ford said. “Just got to keep the faith and keep going strong. Ain’t nothing you can do about it. What’s the point of getting worked up about something that you can’t control.”
Kalil said he’s been in Minnesota since the end of February rehabbing his left knee after an offseason procedure. He said he feels fully healthy at this point and the doctors cleared him a few weeks ago.
Kalil regressed after an impressive rookie season in 2012 and called last year an “average” performance. He wasn’t pleased with how he finished and how he prepared in the offseason last year.
“I don’t know if that was because the knee; I will never use that as an excuse but different things factor in," Kalil said. "I don’t think I prepared myself the right way in the offseason like I should have. I should’ve been in certain places.
“I got a whole different mindset this year. I’m not worried about it. It doesn’t stress me out. I know the way I prepared this offseason that I’m going to play well."
As Vikings players reported to training camp at Minnesota State Mankato this afternoon, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made his first public comments since it was announced last Friday that the team was suspending him for two to three games following the investigation into former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s claims that Priefer made anti-gay comments in a team setting.
Priefer, who is required to participate in sensitivity training, opened with a lengthy statement.
“I’d like to start off by saying that I like to set a higher standard for myself -- a higher standard of conduct, a higher standard of work ethic, a higher standard of being a father and a husband and I expect a lot from my players as well,” Priefer said. “My wife and I raise our children this way in terms of our last name and what that means. Remember who you are. In this regard, in this situation, with my comment, I failed. I didn’t just go below the bar. I went way below the bar. I made a mistake. I was wrong. I brought a lot of undue attention to the Minnesota Vikings organization and brought an unwanted distraction, and I apologize. The apology that I spoke about, that I put out on Friday, I want to reiterate that in a very humble and sincere manner.”
Priefer was then asked what he regretted most about the situation involving himself and Kluwe.
“The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I felt like I let my family down,” the emotional coach said, choking up as he finished that sentence.
Priefer wouldn’t go into specifics about what he said to Kluwe or what he said to independent investigators during their six-month investigation, referring reporters to the 29-page summary that was released by the Vikings last Friday in chorus with the announcement of his suspension.
“I spoke to the appropriate individuals and I cooperated throughout this entire process and the results are in that investigation, and now I think it’s time to move on,” Priefer said.
Later asked if he wanted the full report to be made public, he responded, “I haven’t seen the whole report, so I wouldn’t know.”
General manager Rick Spielman was also made available to media today, and he also declined to answer questions about the specifics of the investigation.
Asked if the team considered firing Priefer when determining his punishment, Spielman replied, “When the report came out last Friday I know we reviewed everything, and this is what we thought and our ownership thought was the best course of action.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he is standing behind Priefer, who he decided to keep on his staff after he replaced Leslie Frazier in January and after Kluwe’s made his claims on Deadspin.com.
“We all make mistakes,” he said. “We all try to learn from our mistakes. And I think this guy is a very high-character, quality person that I want to stand behind. Honestly, I want to stand behind him because I know what is inside of him, I know what’s in his heart. And he made a mistake, and if anyone here hasn’t made a mistake, I want you to raise your hand, because I know I’ve made plenty.”
Priefer said it “hurts” that he won’t be with his players for at least the first two weeks of the season (he won't be allowed inside the team facility). He expects to spend the first week of the regular season in sensitivity training, though he doesn’t know yet what exactly that entails. If he participates in that training, the Vikings say they will consider reducing his suspension from three games to two games. He respects their decision to suspend him and said “It’s one that I will fulfill.”
“I’m not going to change the way I coach and I’m not going to change the way I teach,” Priefer said. “But I’ve learned a lesson. I have learned a lesson here. That’s a great thing about this situation, I’m going to look back and say something good had to come from this. But I learned a hard lesson, I’ve got to be sensitive to other people in what I say and that’s not going to happen again.”
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