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.
When analyzing each position for the Vikings, wide receiver is probably the deepest unit on the team featuring a blend of young, athletic talent and savvy veterans. Whoever starts at quarterback will benefit from the weapons at the position and a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph in what should be an exciting offense.
We analyzed the running backs on Thursday, now let’s shift our focus over to the wide receivers and tight ends.
WHERE THINGS STAND: Cordarrelle Patterson doesn’t lack confidence, or ability. He’s already claiming that he will be a top five playmaker this season, and it could very well happen. Once the Vikings took off the training wheels last season and just let Patterson play, he scored six touchdowns (three receiving, three rushing) in the final month of the season. His routes have improved so far as he continues to develop into a well-rounded, and eventual No. 1, wide receiver. Greg Jennings will turn 31 in September and coming off his worst season since his rookie year given the amount of games played. Jennings, along with the rest of the unit, should see improvement in the passing offense under offensive coordinator Norv Turner and a healthier quarterback situation, but it’s a big year for Jennings to bounce back in the second season of a five-year deal with the Vikings.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: The top two receivers are clear but the slot receiver is unknown at this point in a battle between Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson. Wright, in his third season, received most of the first team reps at slot up to this point with Simpson, who re-signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, receiving second team reps. Will that change during training camp? Simpson is a deep threat receiver that can stretch the field with his speed. Wright showed last year he can do a little of just about everything in a limited role last year. Youth pitted against experience, but both should see a fair amount of snaps in Turner’s offense.
THE BURNING QUESTION: Will Rudolph make the jump this season? He could’ve taken that next step last year but a broken foot limited Rudolph to just eight games. All the signs point to the former Notre Dame tight end elevating his game though. Rudolph is in a contract season with a chance to prove his worth and tight ends have benefited from Turner’s offense with Browns tight end Jordan Cameron as the latest example last season. Rudolph’s foot is fully healed, and he hasn’t missed time up this point. If he can stay healthy, Rudolph should have a big year. And he’ll get paid in the offseason.
The Vikings and Clayton Halunen, the attorney for former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, will continue to talk and engage in settlement discussions after the two sides met Thursday, Halunen said.
Two days ago, Kluwe announced plans to file suit against the team, claiming discrimination on the grounds of human rights and religion, defamation and “tortious interference for contractual relations.” Kluwe said that he was filing the suit because the Vikings told him that they will not release the full findings of their six-month investigation into special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Both the Vikings and the independent investigators hired by the team -- including former U.S. Department of Justice attorney Chris Madel and former Minnesota Supreme Court justice Eric Magnuson -- disputed that claim. In a statement, the investigators said Tuesday they “at no time” said “that the Vikings ‘would not provide a copy of the report to either Kluwe or the public.’”
Kluwe clarified in a Wednesday interview with Vikefans.com, saying the Vikings told Kluwe and Halunen that they planned to release only a summary of their findings, not their full report.
Vikings officials have not said whether any or all of the findings would be made public.
Kluwe has accused Priefer of expressing anti-gay sentiments during the 2012 season and he also believes his public support of marriage equality led to his release before the 2013 season.
Halunen said Tuesday that he thought “this case was all wrapped up” because he was working with the Vikings on the terms of a settlement that was to be “in concert with the release of the report.” Halunen said that Kluwe, who has not kicked in an NFL game since the Vikings released him, would receive $1 million from the Vikings to donate to charities that support LGBT causes.
New head coach Mike Zimmer has trumpeted that competition will reign supreme during his first Vikings training camp. But if any starter has already been etched into stone onto Zimmer’s depth chart, it is Adrian Peterson at running back. That doesn’t mean there is nothing to see here. A new coordinator and an interesting rookie should spice up the position this summer.
After looking at the quarterbacks yesterday, our next position breakdown is the running backs.
WHERE THINGS STAND: Back on the field after offseason groin surgery, Peterson was an active participant in Zimmer’s first offseason program. And he spent a lot of that practice time snagging passes, something he hasn’t been asked to do much of during his superlative Vikings career. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner in his past stops utilized running backs such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles in the passing game. Peterson has seemingly embraced the change in his role, saying that he doesn’t mind sacrificing rushing yards if it helps the team (and also helps keep him fresh). Make no mistake, though, pounding the rock with Peterson is still going to be a focal points of the Vikings offense. Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard are competing with third-round pick Jerick McKinnon for carries behind Peterson, who turned 29 in March. Jerome Felton, a 2012 Pro Bowler, returns at fullback, but he could be pushed by 24-year-old Zach Line.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: While Peterson has the top tailback spot locked up, there is an opportunity for others to get on the field on third down. The Vikings drafted McKinnon in the hopes that he could become their third-down running back. He didn’t catch many passes in Georgia Southern’s triple-option offense, but he looked comfortable running routes and making catches during offseason workouts. Pass protection will be important, though, and McKinnon admittedly has a lot of learning to do in that area because of the offense he played in during college. Meanwhile, Zimmer and Vikings like Asiata’s versatility and reliability, so he will be in the mix, as well. And don’t rule out Peterson hogging a big chunk of the third-down snaps, too.
THE BURNING QUESTION: How are the Vikings going to use McKinnon? We got a glimpse during offseason workouts and the minicamp, but we will get a better idea during training camp. McKinnon is quick, shifty and one of the most athletic players on the roster. To put his skill set to use, though, they will have to take Peterson off the field -- or find creative ways to use them together. Could a Sproles-type hybrid role be in the plans for the rookie? We’ll soon find out.
When the Vikings open their training camp next weekend, the three players everyone will be watching closest will be the guys wearing the red jerseys. You don’t need me to tell you that the quarterback position is the most important in the game, and choosing the right one may very well be the most important decision new head coach Mike Zimmer makes during his first camp.
So to kick off our position-by-position training camp preview, let’s start with the quarterbacks.
WHERE THINGS STAND: Last month, at the start of the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp, Zimmer declared that the quarterback competition was open and that veterans Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder and first-round rookie Teddy Bridgewater all would get a shot. But Cassel is the favorite, right? “I’ve never said that,” Zimmer said. “I know I’ve heard other people say it but I’ve never said it.” While Zimmer didn’t see any sense in declaring a starter or even his frontrunner in June, the distribution of reps throughout the minicamp -- and all other offseason workouts open to media for that matter -- spoke volumes. Cassel and Bridgewater split the majority of the June reps, with Cassel spending most of those workouts throwing to the starters.
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: While I have learned while covering the NFL to never say never when it comes to pretty much everything, it appears that this is shaping up to be a two-way battle between Cassel and Bridgewater with Ponder likely watching from the sideline when he isn’t throwing to journeymen and undrafted rookies. In March, the Vikings re-signed Cassel to a two-year, $10 million contract to be the “bridge” to their quarterback of the future, which turned out to be Bridgewater, the 32nd overall pick in May’s draft. The fact that Bridgewater was the last pick in the first round theoretically buys the Vikings some time to avoid rushing him out onto the field. But Bridgewater was the most pro-ready quarterback prospect in this year’s draft and recent history shows that first-round quarterbacks end up starting sooner than later.
THE BURNING QUESTION: Obviously, who Zimmer picks is kind of important, but when will Zimmer actually make the decision? Zimmer said during the minicamp that he has a date in mind by which he wants to make the decision, not that he was sharing it with us reporters. But he did acknowledge that it will be important for the chosen starter -- whether it is Cassel or Bridgewater or even Ponder -- to settle in with the starters so the offense can get into a groove by Week 1.
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.
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