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 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was asked at the NFL Combine in February whether it was true that he was so obsessed with football that he doesn’t think about anything else.
“Yes. I eat, sleep and breathe football,” Bridgewater responded. “There’s not a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking about football whether it’s I’m playing a game, practicing, watching film, even on the video game. A lot of people ask me what do I do on the video game. I call it taking virtual reps. Each day, I’m trying to get better. I’m trying to outwork my opponent, outsmart my opponent and just try to be the best quarterback that I can be.”
Bridgewater said on Wednesday he’s still taking “virtual reps” in the NFL as well. He said video games are so advanced that the defenses in the game are similar to those in real life.
“I try to take as many reps as I can,” Bridgewater said. “Whether it’s on a video game, playing EA Madden Football or in the playbook, just drawing it or visualizing it in my head, I try to maximize every rep I can get and every opportunity that I can take.
“It helps because you get one more rep than you had in practice, actual practice. Any chance you get to take an extra rep or go the extra step, extra mile, it’s going to be very beneficial transferring it to the field.”
*Bridgewater also touched on his deep ball accuracy, which offensive coordinator Norv Turner said has been ‘outstanding’ so far. It was considered a weakness of Bridgewater by many draft pundits.
“It’s just been all footwork – laying it and playing,” Bridgewater said on the improvement. “I’ve been able to watch Matt [Cassel], watch Christian [Ponder] and watch how those guys have had great success throwing the deep ball and try to apply some of the things that they’re doing to my game also.
*Linebacker Anthony Barr felt he’s coming along well despite his month long absence due to NFL restrictions on rookies that haven’t finished their finals.
“I was real bored,” Barr said of the layoff. “The longest four weeks, really. It was a good time for me to kind of decompress a little bit and get my mind right for this.
“There's a little bit of a learning curve, missing OTAs but it kind of is what it is,” Barr said. “I’ve just got to catch up and continue to watch film and continue to get better.”
Barr has been mixed in as a linebacker in the base 4-3 and nickel. He’s also been used with his hand in the ground while at defensive end, which Barr said he’s never done before.
“That’s something that’s still real new to me, and something I worked on when I was gone,” Barr said. “So, I’m going to continue to improve on as I continue to practice it.”
*The Vikings released a statement from general manager Rick Spielman thanking former defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who signed with the Seahawks, for 11 seasons with the franchise.
“Kevin Williams earned a place in Vikings history and continued the proud tradition of great defensive linemen to wear purple. Kevin’s work ethic, humility and team-first approach is a model for younger players. A 6-time Pro Bowler and 5-time 1st-Team All-Pro, Kevin was honored as an NFL All-Decade player for the 2000s along with a spot on the 50 Greatest Vikings squad. We wish him the best and will always count him as a member of the Vikings family.”
Former Vikings Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams is still looking for a team for the 2014 season after the Vikings allowed him to reach free agency back in March. He has visited the Giants and Seahawks and most recently the 33-year-old has been courted by the Patriots.
But in an interview on SiriusXM today, Williams said he has heard from another team: the Vikings.
“We had several talks since [head coach Mike Zimmer has] been there," Williams said. "They just felt they were going to try to go younger, but still they talked to [my agent] lately and they might be trying to ease back into the picture. We’ll know more maybe as the week goes on.”
It had appeared that the Vikings had moved on from Williams after they showed little interest in re-signing him before he reached free agency, signed defensive linemen Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson and Corey Wootton, brought back Fred Evans, and took nose tackle Shamar Stephen late in the draft.
Zimmer said last week that he thought the team would have good depth along the defensive line once everyone was healthy and rookies Anthony Barr and Scott Crichton were eligible to practice with the team. So it’s a little surprising to hear that the Vikings and Williams are talking again.
Williams said in the radio interview that he is fine with being a rotational player at this point in his career and he is optimistic that he will sign a deal with a team before the start of training camp. He ideally would like to play for a team with a good quarterback that has a chance to win in 2014.
“I’ve been having a few talks with some teams, the ones that I met with. They’re kind of picking up a little bit so hopefully we can knock something out in the next week or two,” Williams said. “Hopefully sooner than later, to put it like that, and I’ll be signed before camp.”
Williams, who has said he would be comfortable with retirement if the right opportunity didn’t come along, feels he still has something to give to an NFL team. We’ll see if the Vikings agree.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said all the right things last week when he was asked if he would be content with holding a clipboard at the start of the NFL career.
Of course, he isn’t the only first-round quarterback who is carefully choosing his words when it comes to questions about his immediate future in the NFL. Coaches and executives in both Jacksonville and Cleveland, like those here in Minnesota, are preaching patience with their young passers, and Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel have said similar things as Bridgewater.
The reality is, though, that these guys are competitors who want to play.
Another reality is that all three of them probably will sooner than later.
As I wrote after Bridgewater was selected 32nd overall last month, all nine of the quarterbacks selected in the first round from 2011 to 2013 made at least five starts as rookies, including Christian Ponder, who is jockeying with Bridgewater and Matt Cassel on the Vikings’ depth chart today. Six of those first-round quarterback started for their respective teams in Week 1.
And according to ESPN Stats and Info, 69 percent of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2008 started in Week 1 and those quarterbacks, including the ones who didn’t play in Week 1, started an average of 12.3 games as rookies. Contrast that with the numbers from 1970 to 2007, when just 20 percent of the first-round QBs started right away and made an average of 5.4 starts.
One more interesting factoid from the folks over at ESPN Stats and Info: Forty-nine percent of the first-round quarterbacks since the 1970 merger started within their team's first five games.
Will Bridgewater follow suit and take over the huddle before Week 6?
The schedule appears to have some major challenges for the Vikings in the first five weeks of the season. They open the season on the road against an emerging Rams team then are tasked with defeating the respective squads of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in the following four weeks. If the Vikings -- specifically Cassel -- were to stumble and face-plant over that stretch, the team could potentially turn to Bridgewater, if they hadn’t done so already.
Of course, it’s still too early to predict how things will play out. But it’s hard to ignore recent NFL history -- and these numbers -- when it comes to first-round quarterbacks like Bridgewater.
When trying to project how first-round pick Anthony Barr will fare during his rookie season, you may want to point to what Aldon Smith and Von Miller did as rookies as the best-case scenario.
The reality is, though, that it takes most edge rushers time to find their groove at the next level.
While Smith had 14 sacks for the 49ers in his first season in 2011 and Miller was not far behind with 11.5 for the Broncos, edge rushers racking up double-digit sacks as rookies is not common.
For every Smith and Miller, there is a Vernon Gholston or Aaron Maybin who made little impact.
Looking at the 32 edge rushers selected in the previous seven drafts, those players averaged just 3.7 sacks and 20.2 tackles as rookies despite playing 509 snaps on average in their first season, according to Jeff McLane, who did some digging on rookie pass rushers for the Philly Inquirer.
Gholston and Maybin were top picks of the Jets and Bills, respectively, who did not record a sack as rookies. Gholston is the worst-case scenario, having washed out of the league without a single sack.
The Vikings, of course, are confident Barr will develop into a star pass rusher. General manager Rick Spielman has said that they projected the outside linebacker out of UCLA as the second-best pass-rushing prospect of this class behind Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
While it appears that Barr will be facing an even steeper learning curve than his rookie peers and predecessors considering he didn’t start playing defense at UCLA until his junior year, the Vikings said that Barr, before he got sent back to California, did not look like a major project.
“I know that’s a big thing with everybody that he’s only played two years, but the things he’s done defensively he’s done pretty well,” coach Mike Zimmer, who envisions Barr playing a hybrid role like Miller does in Denver, said two weeks ago. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue whatsoever.”
Still, while the Vikings anticipate that Barr will ascend to a starting role by the time training camp ends, it might be best to curb your enthusiasm when it comes to his first-year sack total. Potent rookie pass rushers like Smith, Miller, Brian Orakpo (11 sacks for the Redskins in 2009) and Clay Matthews III (10 sacks for the Packers in 2009) appear to be exceptions to the rule.
“Everybody has a development stage,” Spielman, speaking generally about the immediate contributions of rookies, said last month. “Some hit it right off the bat. Some take some time.”
For Vikings draft picks such as Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr, this past weekend’s rookie minicamp was an opportunity to meet future coworkers, settle into their new office and start to familiarize themselves with the team’s playbook and scheme on the field.
Not all of the 10 draft picks are locks to make the 53-man roster when the preseason ends, but they do have time to make an impression over the next few months.
The undrafted rookie free agents -- and even more so the couple dozen tryout guys who were invited -- could be gone in an instant, so they have less time to distinguish themselves.
So how exactly could they do that during the rookie minicamp that wrapped up Sunday?
“I think it’s just the flash part of things, the athletic ability, and then obviously knowing what to do a little bit,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Obviously, they aren’t going to know everything to do. But you see a guy with the right measurables, size-wise, and things like that and then he flashes at you a few times and gets better over the course of the weekend, those are the kinds of guys that we are really looking for.”
Zimmer said that before the first practice Friday, so we don’t know which undrafted rookies caught his eye. The minicamp featured all 10 draft picks, a handful of young veterans without NFL game experience, 15 signed undrafted rookie free agents and a couple dozen or so tryout guys.
But if they didn’t flash for Zimmer over the weekend, it is going to become even more difficult for the undrafted free agents to distinguish themselves in the coming weeks, when they will be competing against the Vikings veterans during offseason workouts, which start late next week.
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