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 before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Vikings' Spencer Nealy suspended for four games

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion under Vikings Updated: July 11, 2014 - 3:31 PM

Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy has been suspended for four games this season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances on Friday.

Nealy is eligible to return the Monday after the Vikings play the Falcons in Week 4. He can still participate in all offseason practices and preseason games.

The 24-year-old is in his second season out of Texas A&M. Nealy joined the Vikings for the final two weeks of the preseason last year before he was cut. He spent six of the final seven weeks of the regular season on the Vikings practice squad last year.

Here's the statement the NFL Players Association released on Nealy's behalf.

"Recently I learned from the NFL that I tested positive for a stimulant that is banned under the NFL policy. I worked with my agent and the union to investigate the test results, and I learned that a supplement I took contained a banned stimulant.  I understand that the NFL policy is very strict, and I take responsibility. I’m very sorry for the impact of this situation on my teammates, the Vikings organization and Vikings fans. I will work extremely hard during training camp, and during the suspension, I will stay in top shape and will be ready to contribute upon my return."

NFL names Birk director of player development

Posted by: Chris Miller under Ex-Vikings Updated: July 10, 2014 - 3:33 PM

Matt Birk's post-NFL career continues to advance rapidly.

The former Vikings and Ravens center was named the league's director of player development today.

According to a release from the NFL, Birk will "assist in developing the game at all levels of the sport, from players to coaches to front office personnel. He will also assist in the administration of NFL game day operations. Birk will guide the continued evolution of the Scouting Combine and Regional Combines as well as the annual all-star games for aspiring NFL players, such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game."

The St. Paul native was a six-time Pro Bowl pick in 15 NFL seasons who worked last season as an NFL/NFLPA appeals officer after retiring following Baltimore's victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

Vikings 4 Downs: Bridgewater, playoffs, Sanford, more Bridgewater

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: July 7, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Every Monday morning during the offseason we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.

Word is bond. Bridgewater has looked very impressive up to this point and there’s a noticeable difference when he throws the ball compared to Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. The touch has always been there but his passes don’t flutter out of his hands. It’s a smooth, quick release that even the untrained eye will tell in training camp that Bridgewater throws a better ball than Ponder and Cassel.

As offensive coordinator Norv Turner mentioned during minicamp last month, Bridgewater’s deep ball has been surprisingly good. The biggest issue has actually been overthrowing, not underthrowing, at this point. This will be the biggest position battle in training camp and the winner will have nice set of weapons around him in what should be an exciting offense to watch this year.

At the moment, I’m thinking 6-10 or 7-9, but leaning on the latter for the time being. While the NFL is strangest league where there’s always a team from the bottom that makes the playoffs the following season, but I’d be shocked if the Vikings accomplished that in Zimmer’s first year.

7-9 would be a strong start to Zimmer’s tenure however. My biggest concern is how the Vikings will progress defensively. An improvement is inevitable when it was ranked 31st in total defense last year, but how much can Zimmer fix in one season?

Oof, this is tough. One factor to consider is that Harrison played a lot more near the line of scrimmage during OTAs and minicamp. With that said, it’ll be either Jamarca Sanford or Andrew Sendejo. Both haven’t been full participants this offseason, which gave Robert Blanton and Curt Coleman first team opportunities next to Harrison.

I’d give Sanford a leg up over Sendejo because of the experience at the moment, but it’s not by much. Sendejo played well last season and both will benefit playing in this aggressive defense.

He looks the same. Skinny knees and all. #HowsTeddyLook

Rookie RB McKinnon impresses Adrian Peterson

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: July 2, 2014 - 10:01 AM

When asked who has been the most impressive player so far, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson first bunched in all the quarterbacks, then he singled out someone that really caught his eye – rookie running back Jerick McKinnon.

“He’s pretty impressive and there’s not too many guys who impress me like that, especially rookies coming in,” Peterson said. “He’s been able to do some real good things in the offense, picking it up well and just his running style.”

That shifty running style McKinnon credits to some of the college running backs he watched growing up, like Florida State’s Peter Warrick and Southern California’s Reggie Bush. 

“As a youngin’, you pick up on it and try to be like that and do some of their moves,” McKinnon said.

Like Bush during his NFL career, McKinnon will be asked to do a little of everything on offense and special teams. His versatility was one of the reason the Vikings selected him in the third round as someone to complement Peterson and Matt Asiata. McKinnon was a quarterback, running back and kick returner at Georgia Southern.

McKinnon recorded just 10 career receptions in college, however. That was hard to believe given how natural he looked over the last two months using his hands. While McKinnon was a quarterback at Sprayberry High in Marietta, Ga., he also played wide receiver. He was named wide receiver MVP of the National Underclassmen Ultimate 100 in high school, one of the many combine workouts for high school players to gain exposure.

“Being in the situation that I was in college, you really didn’t get to see a lot of it,” McKinnon said. “But I feel real comfortable with it. Coach [Norv] Turner is asking a lot from me to do different things. Whatever I can do to contribute to the team, I’m willing to do it.”

McKinnon has leaned on Turner and Peterson to help learn the offense and adapt to the NFL. McKinnon said he’s always observing Peterson and asking for advice during practice.

“When you’re learning from the best in the game, you really just got to take on everything and everything he says you got to listen to,” McKinnon said. “I just got to feed off him and all it to my game.”

Vikings 4 Downs: Zimmer, training camp, Patterson, Ochoa

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: June 30, 2014 - 8:47 AM

Every Monday morning during the offseason we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.

Ah, a non-quarterback battle question. Very refreshing to see. Outside of quarterback, the linebacker situation will the draw the most attention in training camp. We really don’t know who will be the other two linebackers next to Chad Greenway when the season opens.

But that’d be an easy cop out. I’ll give you three positions to watch. I’m looking forward to the competition at cornerback between Josh Robinson and Derek Cox as the team’s third cornerback behind Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn, the battle at left guard if David Yankey can adapt quickly and compete against Charlie Johnson and the backup tight end situation between Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, AC Leonard and Allen Reisner.

No I don’t think that will happen. I don’t even think Cordarrelle Patterson will have the most touchdown receptions on the team. Kyle Rudolph is in the best position to record double-digit touchdown receptions this season when taking into consideration Norv Turner’s offense and Rudolph’s capability as a red zone threat in 2012.

It’s nothing against Patterson, who has been the obvious pick as the Vikings’ breakout player this season. Patterson had three receptions within the opponents’ 10-yard line – all were touchdowns. He’ll record double digits in touchdowns this season, not just exclusively as a receiver. Patterson had nine last year (four receiving, three rushing and two kickoff returns), so it’s not a far-fetched idea.

I don’t think Patterson will progress enough this year to surpass some great red zone threats like Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, to name a few. Patterson is down on that list and still has a lot to prove.

One screams, the other doesn’t.

There’s a lot more energy from the coaches during practices, and they definitely have the loudest voices. Zimmer is more aggressive while Frazier was considered a laid back coach.

Is one better than the other? That’s a foolish conversation. You can win championships with both styles. During the newlywed phase of the Zimmer era, the answer will be obvious that the players will prefer Zimmer’s style. A new coach brings a sense of optimism with all the players trying to buy in. I don’t necessarily think Zimmer will be a bad coach but time will tell.

Guillermo Ochoa is a pretty good defender and doesn’t have a team. The Vikings should make a run at the Mexican goalkeeper. Not sure how his fútbol skills will translate to football, though.

Munnerlyn’s missed three regular season games in his five year career. That’s one of the last players the Vikings should be concerned about.


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