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.
The Vikings released their training camp practice schedule today. They basically have a morning walk-through from 10:30-11:30 every practice day, followed by afternoon practice from 2:30-4:45.
The scrimmage is Saturday, Aug. 3.
For those of you making plans for Mankato, here is the schedule:
Friday, July 26: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 27: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 28: Off
Monday, July 29: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 30: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Wednesday, July 31: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Thursday, August 1: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Friday, August 2: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Saturday, August 3: 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. Scrimmage at Blakeslee Field, 7-9 p.m.
Sunday, August 4: Off
Monday, August 5: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, August 6: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Wednesday, August 7: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Thursday, August 8: no practice
Friday, August 9: vs. Texans, at Metrodome.
Saturday, August 10: Off
Sunday, August 11: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Monday, August 12: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, August 13: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Wednesday, August 14: 10:30-11:30 a.m., 2:30-4:45 p.m.
Training camp ends
It'll be pretty slow on the Vikings front for the next month ... the only real news dangling out there is where former Packers LB Desmond Bishop will land, and it could be with the Vikings.
Bishop said Thursday that the New York Giants and Jacksonville might be next on his visit list, after stops at Winter Park and in Kansas City. So that situation seems likely to drag out a bit.
Nothing eventful from the Vikings mini-camp, but lots of access for the media. Here are a few leftover nuggets from coach Leslie Frazier and the team's coordinators (hey, someone transcribed all this, we might as well get some in the paper):
Frazier on his final message to his team: Just reminding them about the things they’ve got to get done in this time away and remember that they represent us in their hometowns, wherever they travel at, that we all represent one another and take care of their bodies. It’s going to be an important time away, but rest and do the things you want to do but take care of your bodies.
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer on new punter Jeff Locke: Very talented like we knew he was. He’s working very hard. I knew he would be a hard worker, I didn’t realize to this extent. He does everything I ask him to do drill wise and more. He is very contentious. He’s worked very hard as a holder as well so everything is going in the right direction. He’s got just a couple things we’re working on with his footwork, taking out some of the wasted motion that he had coming from college. He’s worked very hard at that and we’re definitely seeing some progress. He has to get his get-off a little bit quicker and overall it’s going to make him a more consistent performer and that’s obviously what we’re looking for.
Priefer on ex-Vikings punter Chris Kluwe: A lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn’t get along but I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe, based on what he’s done in his career as a man and as an athlete. For anybody that stands up for what he believes in like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that. We had a long talk after the draft. He knew the writing was on the wall and I wasn’t going to lie to him, I figured if a young guy came in and had a good rookie mini camp then that was what was going to happen. I wish him the best of luck in Oakland, I really do.
Frazier on quarterback Christian Ponder: I really like the way that he has matured mentally and just seeing how he has taken the reins from a leadership standpoint. He is more vocal than he has been in the past. His football above the neck has been impressive in the time that we’ve been out here on the field practicing. So he’s got the athletic ability but you want him to make good decisions under the center and some of the things he’s done in these practices kind of leads me to believe, along with our staff, that he’s grown a lot in that area making better decisions with the football, which should in turn help us down the line. He’s worked his tail off trying to improve his accuracy. Our coaches have put him through a bunch of different drills and through his hard work I think he’s improved in that area. Now we’ve got some things we’ve got to get done in training camp, but he’s put in the work to improve and we are seeing it.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave on Ponder: This is his second orthodox offseason. He didn’t have one initially after he was drafted so there are much fewer unknowns for him at this stage even than there were a year ago. He knows more of what to expect and let himself go a little bit and not be so guarded. We always want to be accurate and we’re always working on our feet in the quarterback room. His decision making we’re assessing every day with all these competitive periods. It’s been good.
Musgrave on balancing an offense that includes NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson: The more first downs we get, the more we get to stay on the field. Offense is so different from defense, where on defense if you’re successful you get to go three-and-out and sit on the bench. On offense we want to stay out there. So the better we become running the ball, which we’re already pretty good with Adrian, if we can be better throwing the ball we can stay out there and everybody can get more touches or more opportunities and that’s our plan, to be more productive in the passing game, to balance the running game with Adrian and then everyone will get their shot.
Musgrave on the battle for third-string quarterback between James Vandenberg and McLeod Bethel-Thompson: We like both of them. They both have done a good job. They both get the scraps. They don’t get a lot of plays. They stand back there for 15, 20, 25 minutes, get cold and then they get thrown in there and asked to perform at a high level, but both of them are very sharp and they’re working very hard. [Vandenberg has] great visualization skills. He doesn’t get a lot of turns, but I feel like he knows our system very well. He visualizes the concepts, he knows protections and when he gets in there the wheels don’t fall off. He definitely belongs up here.
Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams on rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges: He has great feet. It looks like looks like he has good instincts. I can’t wait until the pads get on to see how he hits and how he runs around and mixes it up. I think that’s what all the coaches are waiting on to see. Right now we are just in shorts and they all look great so I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm and wait until we get pads on.
Frazier on his expectations for rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd: We’d like to be able to get him in a rotation system where he’s a part of what we’re doing with our four-down when he’s getting in sometimes with Kevin [Williams] and just rotate. Hopefully it gets to the point where he’s productive enough where he can warrant increased reps as the year goes on. That would be optimum if he’s able to get in the rotation, have success and we can gradually add more reps to his play as the season goes on.
Williams on Floyd: He’s quick twitch, he can anchor in the run, he’s very disruptive at the three and he has good pass-rush moves. I know his stats may not have shown it, but he’s been tremendous in these OTAs and he’s another one where we can’t wait to get the pads on to kind of see what happens when we get the pads on and if he’s still as productive. The one thing with him, and I just mentioned it a second ago about young guys playing situational football and the situations are new to them and they make some mistakes, he’s game ready. He had a good coach at Florida and they prepared him well and it’s not too much different what we’re doing here. So a lot of things translate over to what he did in college, so we’re looking for good things from him.
The Vikings are still considering their options at middle linebacker, and will get a visit Tuesday from a familiar face.
The Green Bay Packers released inside linebacker Desmond Bishop on Monday, and he told ESPN Wisconsin he would visit the Vikings Tuesday.
Bishop, 28, missed last season because of a ruptured hamstring suffered in preseason.
The Vikings have given indications that Erin Henderson will move to middle linebacker this season after last year's starter, Jasper Brinkley, went to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.
Bishop, who was taken in the sixth round out of Cal by the Packers in 2007, is now an unrestricted free agent.
He did not participate in the Packers' organized team activities or mini-camp this spring, but told ESPN Wisconsin that he was healthy.
The NFL.com story on Bishop is here.
The Vikings have a three-day mini-camp beginning Tuesday, so Bishop will get a good look at the team in action.
Another step for Peterson
For the first time since returning to practice, running back Adrian Peterson was allowed to absorb some contact Monday.
“Today is another step in the process,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of the decision to let defenders hit Peterson, but only above the waist, and not into the ground. Frazier said Peterson responded well, looked good, was able to move and change direction. The next step is for Frazier to talk to Peterson to see how he felt after practice, and then seeing how sore Peterson's surgically-repaired knee is tomorrow morning.
“We told our defense to hit him a little bit, see how he responded,” Frazier said. “I told (running backs coach) James Saxon to tell them they will be contacting (Peterson) today.’’
Apparently it got Peterson pretty fired up. “He told James Saxon, he said, ‘Coach, you better tell those defenders to buckle up,’ ‘’ Frazier said. “I knew it would get him fired up. He did pretty good. We’ll see how he feels.’’
It was decided last week that Peterson would not appear in a preseason game. The goal has been for him to be ready on opening day. But not even Frazier knows exactly what that role will be. “I want to see what he has to say after today,” Frazier said. “Then we need to go through a whole week with him in the game plan to see how he responds.”
Guard Geoff Schwartz took part in practice for the first time since having hernia surgery Aug. 7. He didn’t take full part, only participating in offensive line drills. Still, Schwartz returned a little ahead of schedule; Frazier said Sunday he might start practicing next week.
Now there is a chance Schwartz could take full part in practice next week and be available for opening day.
--Frazier said tight end John Carlson moved better Monday, his second day back at practice since recovering from a knee injury. “He feels more comfortable with the brace now,” Frazier said. “I think he’ll be OK.”
--With Marcus Sherels nursing a sprained ankle, Reggie Jones could see some work as a punt returner Thursday in Houston. Backup running back Jordan Todman also worked out at the position, but probably won’t return a punt in the game. But he could get a kickoff return or two, Frazier said.
Ever the optimist
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is an optimist. How else to describe a coach who can look at last Friday’s preseason loss to San Diego – one in which the offense never really found a rhythm, with quarterback Christian Ponder getting sacked five times -- and find a superlative or two?
But that’s exactly what Musgrave did during his Monday meeting with the media: “We didn’t put our best foot forward (on offense)," he said. “[But] we did some things better than we ever have done them before. We want more of those things.”
Musgrave was talking about the emphasis he is putting on getting big plays through the air.
“We hit Percy (Harvin) on a 40-yarder and missed a 54-yarder (to Harvin). We’re doing a better job of achieving those chunks down the field. We did that against Buffalo (Aug. 17) as well. We want to be able to do that, which will complement our strong running game.”
Against Buffalo, Vikings QBs completed four passes for 21 or more yards, with Ponder having three of those strikes.
That said, though, Musgrave said the offense started out slowly in the team’s first two drives against San Diego. As for those five sacks, Musgrave echoed what Ponder said Sunday. Namely that he could have avoided many of those sacks by responding to the pressure better.
With starters taking the final preseason game off, Thursday’s game in Houston will be about watching which backups shine. One who figures to be playing with unmatched intensity is safety Robert Blanton, the rookie out of Notre Dame who has yet to play this preseason.
Blanton, battling a hamstring injury, has not gotten on the field. But the combination of the coaches wanting to get a good look at him and the team’s injury situation at backup safety means Blanton will log a lot of minutes in Houston.
What does defensive coordinator Alan Williams want to see?
“Just that he can get lined up, to see if he looks like he belongs, in terms of when he has a chance to make a play, see how he functions in terms of tackling,’’ Williams said. “I do recognize it will be his first live action, so we want to see if he belongs out there.”
Blanton, a fifth-round pick, played corner at Notre Dame, and Williams said that coverage ability has carried over with his switch to safety. Blanton was good enough in coverage during organized team activities that the Vikings think he can be effective covering receivers in the slot as well.
“He was aggressive,” Williams said of what he saw in Blanton before the injury. “It looked like he had good instincts.”
Schwartz returns to practice
For the second straight day, the Vikings got a player back to practice. Monday it was guard Geoff Schwartz, who donned shoulder pads and a helmet and returned to practice for the first time since having hernia surgery Aug. 7.
Meanwhile, defensive backs Chris Carr (back), Marcus Sherels (ankle), Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and Mistral Raymond (back) and fullback Ryan D'Imperio (shoulder) missed a second straight day of practice.
On Sunday, Frazier praised the play of rookie Jarius Wright as a punt returner. Wright figures to get the bulk of the return work Thursday in Houston with Marcus Sherels nursing a sprained ankle. Monday special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was complimentary of Wright as well, though more restrained.
Wright’s 24-yard punt return late in the first half set up a Vikings score against San Diego.
Priefer said Wright made good decisions. He bluffed a return that resulted in a personal foul penalty on San Diego, for example. But Priefer said Wright could have broken an arm tackle on the 24-yard return and perhaps scored.
“I don’t think he ran with enough conviction there,” Priefer said. “When he saw it on tape, I think he believed what I was telling him.”
Priefer was asked if Wright has shown enough reliability at the position to be considered the top option. He said he wouldn’t be sure until after Thursday’s game.
--Williams said he hasn’t decided who will be the No. 3 cornerback yet. Veteran Chris Carr and speedy rookie Josh Robinson are vying for playing time there. Carr has the edge in experience and he can play both outside and in the slot. Robinson, out this week with a concussion, has shown his great speed and a knack for coverage.
-- Mistral Raymond is still in the running to start at one of the safety spots on opening day, though Williams did express regret that Raymond (back spasms) wasn’t able to play Friday after a strong game against Buffalo in the second preseason game. “He looked like a starter to me in that game,” Williams said.
--Williams was asked how many defensive backs he’d like to keep on the final roster. “Ah, 20,” he joked. Ten or perhaps 11 seems like a more reasonable number, he said.
--Williams echoed head coach Leslie Frazier’s comments Sunday by praising the play of middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley’s play against San Diego.
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